Catch More Fish with an Umbrella Rig

Relaxed man fishing from the dock in river.
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However ungainly it might appear on dry land, once below the water’s surface, a properly configured umbrella rig suddenly transforms itself into a stunningly realistic imitation of a small school of baitfish. Whether trolled at various depths or cast and retrieved, it may offer one of the most productive methods for catching hungry saltwater gamesters on artificial baits.

Umbrella Rig Construction

Originally designed for freshwater bass fishing, this type of rig has also proven to be devastatingly effective when used in saltwater. Umbrella rigs are usually made from 5 rigid strands of stiff, heavy gauge wire that is fashioned from either steel or titanium, which has a smaller diameter than the same pound test of steel.​

Four of these strands are of equal length, and one is about 3 or 4 inches longer. They are all connected to a central metal or plastic head that attaches to the terminal end of the line off your reel. The longest strand is positioned in the center of the head and acts as a teaser to the other four. Each of the strands has a crimped loop at the terminal end to facilitate a clip swivel and a short length of leader, to which a hook or lure is then attached.

Targeting Specific Fish With Your Umbrella Rig

Depending upon the type of fish that you are targeting, you might want to festoon your umbrella rig with weedless plastics, swimbaits on small jig heads, or flashy metal spoons. Anglers fishing inshore for striped bass along the eastern seaboard using umbrella rigs will often use various lengths of colored surgical tubing that are rigged on special hooks in such a manner that they spin leisurely as they are pulled through the water column. Their eel-like appearance will often trigger a feeding response from a hungry striper.

Although the umbrella rig is primarily a reaction bait, some anglers prefer to hook on natural baits such as small forage fish or strips of squid. This practice also offers the additional advantage of olfactory enticement once the predator fish gets close enough to the artificial bait ball to detect it.

Trolling Speed For Catching Multiple Fish

One of the nice things about fishing with an umbrella rig is that you have the ability to catch more than one fish at a time; and the bigger those fish get, the more challenging and exciting the battle becomes.

In shallower areas, only minimal weight is generally needed to get your rig in front of the fish when trolling at slower speeds. The need for more weight escalates exponentially as the depth and/or trolling speed increases.

In cases where fish are metered at a specific depth lower in the water column, a downrigger can be used to put your rig in the strike zone. But since an umbrella rig with multiple baits exerts considerably more drag than does the single bait configuration that is usually employed with a downrigger, a stronger than normal release clip is often required. The trick is to find the balance between keeping the rig on the clip while it is being trolled and then having it release smoothly once it has been bitten.

Choosing the Right Gear

There are two basic categories for umbrella rigs; those that are designed to be trolled and those that are made with casting in mind. Generally speaking, the trolling models are a bit larger, heavier, longer, and stronger than those that are intended for casting. The central connector heads on trolling models are usually constructed of metal, while the ones on casting models are often made from much lighter high impact plastics.

Trolling these high resistance multi-lure rigs requires strong medium gage saltwater tackle, which includes a sturdy trolling rod, either a quality conventional reel or a heavy duty spinning reel that is spooled up with 25 to 40-pound test line. Braided line is preferable because of its strength and thinner diameter, although a quality monofilament line can be used if necessary.

Umbrella rigs that are manufactured for casting look almost identical to those that are intended for trolling, except for the fact that they are smaller and lighter. These rigs are well suited for onshore and inshore anglers using medium light to medium gage tackle, particularly spinning combos that help avoid backlashes. 

The Alabama Rig

The first prototype of one of these castable rigs appeared in 2011 and was fashioned by hand by its inventor, Andy Poss, who named it the Alabama Rig. Poss was originally inspired by a BBC documentary years earlier that showed tuna chasing after a school of sardines. It proved to be devastatingly effective when fished in his home waters around Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

Poss also thought that it might revolutionize competitive bass fishing. Unfortunately, it performed a bit too well for the tastes of most official tournament authorities and was viewed as offering an unfair advantage to those who might use it in professional competition. Nonetheless, for onshore and inshore anglers, his castable umbrella rig turned out to be one of the most significant upgrades in technique and fishing gear that had been seen in decades.

Since then, several knockoff versions have made their way onto the market, not to mention those DIY types that enjoy designing and making custom umbrella rigs in their own workshop or garage. But it was the innovative Andy Pass who originally helped level the playing field several years ago with his Alabama rig. 

How the Umbrella Rig Works

Casting an umbrella rig allows the angler to let the mock bait ball fall lazily toward the bottom and then suddenly swim upward, just as a school of live baitfish might do. A slow, intermittent retrieve can help cajole a reluctant predator lying in wait to burst from its hiding spot to attack the teaser, which appears to be a straggler. But when the bite is on, a faster retrieve will often draw multiple strikes from more than one fish.

Umbrella rigs may not be applicable to every saltwater fishing situation. But one thing is certain, under the right circumstances they can perform more productively than any other configuration of artificial lures that you have ever used before.