The A-rig, year 2: how will it do in its sophomore year in California?

By Joel Shangle

Kent Brown with a largemouth caught throwing a California-ized version of the A-rig at Clear Lake. (Photo courtesy Kent Brown)

It came screeching out of Alabama in 2012 like a tornado in reverse, this jangle of hooks and baits and titanium wires that caused rule-makers at the two biggest bass organizations in the world – BASS and FLW – to consider abolishing it from competition.

Andy Poss created a five-headed monster on Guntersville Lake with the Alabama rig – easily one of the most revolutionary bass baits of the past 25 years – but it took few months for that monster to rear its head in California waters.

When it did, though, the California-legal version of the A-rig did some damage. Average Joe anglers caught more and bigger fish, and tournament anglers who had previously dominated with spinnerbaits, swimbaits and cranks suddenly found themselves staring up at top 5s that were heavily weighted with A-rig throwers.

“That bait made a difference,” says Kent Brown, host of Ultimate Bass Radio in Sacramento. “If you weren’t throwing that thing out of some sense of stubbornness, you cost yourself fish. It proved to be a damn effective bait. It was unbelievable last year. Unreal. The biggest spotted bass you ever caught the biggest smallmouth you ever caught, all on A-rigs. There were bags caught on the thing at Clear Lake that went 33, 34, 35 pounds, fishing literally with one rod. You could be ‘One Rod Todd’ and clean up on that bait.”

Heading into the A-rig’s sophomore year in the Golden State, it remains to be seen whether it was just the first-blush uniqueness of the bait that made it so deadly, or whether it’ll join the swimbait and ripbait as longlasting parts of the California bass arsenal.

“The jury is still out,” Brown admits. “The next 90 days will determine if this bait is going to be as good as it was last year. I think it’ll be a factor again at Clear Lake this spring – it’s just starting to scratch the surface there. It never really dominated the Delta. It was okay, but never really tore it up there last year. Shasta, Oroville, Folsom, Don Pedro, places like that, it was definitely a bait to be reckoned with. It’ll be interesting to see how it works the second time around. This year in California, we went through December/January with very little rain. The lakes have kind of stabilized – there’s not a lot of inflow coming in, and the lakes are pretty clear. I think that’s slowed the Alabama rig down a little.”

However, the timing is right for the rig to shine now as fish move from winter to pre-spawn transition water.

“Water is warming and the fish are starting to make the move shallow,” Brown says. “They’re somewhere between their winter spot and transition area where they’re headed to spawn. It’s fish that are pulling up and staging. I’m painting a picture of 30 spots on Clear Lake right now where I could find that condition, at the mouth of a canal or a point, or a warming bay. If they’re in that in-between water, the A-rig will be money.”

Making adjustments: The first versions of the A-rig fished in California – either the original Alabama rig sold by Mann’s, or similar imitators – were slightly heavy and likely discouraged anglers who threw it without trying to alter it to fit their fisheries. It didn’t take long for Golden State bait tweakers to adjust the rig to better fit the state’s clearer waters.

“I think there were a lot of guys who bought it, tried it, probably lost it and never picked it up again,” Brown says. “The first thing we got from Guntersville was heavy, but the guys in the West kind of revised it a little bit. They finessed it up a bit, took the weight out, scaled the baits down a little. The thing was just flat too heavy when we first got it, and really tough to fish in shallow water. Now we’re seeing both national manufacturers and garage-shop guys who are building it with 1/8-ounce jigheads, and A-rig setups that are unique to California.”

FLW pro John Murray echoes Brown’s observations about the West Coast alteration of the bait.

“The finesse versions of the A-rig have gotten popular, the ones you can actually cast accurately,” Murray says. “The thing that’s really caught on (out West) this year is the rig with the blades on the arms, that produce more flash. I’ve seen those out-produce the regular rigs, especially if there’s a little color in the water, or wind.”

Another trend to watch is the increase of the number of baits fished on the A-rig.

“More is better,” Brown says. “If five baits works great, then 7 to 12 baits must be better. You’re still limited to three hooks in California, but the theory is that the bigger bait ball is more attractive to a fish. No matter how many rigs you have in the bait ball, though, if you extend one back with a little longer wire and make it look like that bait is trying to catch up with his buddies, that bait will almost always get hit.”