Carolina Rig for Redfish (Setup & Fishing Guide w Pictures)


by Robert Ceran

Are you planning to use a Carolina rig to catch redfish, but aren’t sure how to set it up, or how to fish it for the best results?

While the Carolina rig is undoubtedly one of the most effective setups for red drum fishing, it can be tricky to set up, and to fish correctly.

In this article I’ll walk you through how to set up a Carolina rig for red drum, and will aso cover what bait to use with it, and how to fish it for optimal results.

Carolina rig for catching redfish

Why use a Carolina rig for redfish?

The Carolina rig is one of the best redfish rigs due to its incredible versatility. You can use it pretty much anywhere that redfish can be caught, either from a boat, or from shore.

The Carolina rig works equally well for catching redfish in the surf, from a pier, a jetty, a creek, or while drift fishing from a boat. 

Also, you can fish the Carolina rig with a wide variety of different baits, including live bait, cut bait, or artificial bait, and you can either fish it statically (the so called “bait and wait” approach), or you can fish it actively by retrieving it, and thus cover more ground in search of redfish.

I’ll cover a lot more details on these tactics, but before we dive in, I’d like to say that for me, the Carolina rig is the best all-around bottom fishing rig for redfish, and is well worth adding to your arsenal of fishing rigs.

Photo of a redfish caught with a Carolina rig

Finally, one of the key advantages of the Carolina rig is that the sliding weight slides up and down the line, which means that a red drum can grab your bait without feeling resistance from the weight.

This gives you a little more time to react when you detect a bite, and set the hook before the fish spits out the hook. 

But keep in mind that the Carolina rig performs best when the current is relatively weak. If you plan to fish in stronger currents, it’s better to use a fish finder rig for surf fishing, which comes with a pyramid sinker. 

Components for Carolina rig setup 

You’ll need the following tackle components to set up a saltwater Carolina rig:

  • Sliding egg sinker (1/8 to 2 oz)
  • Monofilament leader line (20 to 30 lb test)
  • Plastic or glass bead (6 to 8mm)
  • Barrel swivel (size 4 to 6)
  • Circle hook or Kahle hook (size 1/0 to 3/0)

Note that the size of the sinker depends on the strength of the current in your location, as well as the distance that you need to cast your rig in order to reach the redfish strike zone.

In general, it’s best to go with the lightest weight possible, while making sure that it’s heavy enough to keep your Carolina rig from being swept away by the tides or the swell of the surf. 

If you like, you can substitute fluorocarbon for monofilament when tying the leader, but mono is my go-to fishing line for tying redfish leaders. 

I prefer circle hooks because they prevent deep hooking, but you can also use a different hook type that works for you, such as an octopus hook or a bait keeper hook. 

Finally, if you’re targeting bull red drum, choose a heavier leader line (40 lb test) and a bigger hook (size 4/0 to 8/0). Big bull reds can reach weights north of 80 pounds, and you need to make sure your tackle can handle these giants. 

How to tie a Carolina rig

Diagram of Carolina rig for redfish

The first step is to measure out about 2 to 3 feet of leader line, and then tie your hook to one end of this line.

Personally, I like to use a snell knot to attach the hook, but you can also use a palomar knot or uni knot. Next, tie the second tag end of the leader to the barrel swivel, which concludes your leader setup.

In the next step, thread the slip sinker onto your main line (I like to use 30 to 40 lb test braided fishing line for this), followed by the plastic bead. Then tie the main line to the second eye of the barrel swivel, and you’re done with the rig setup. 

While the bead is optional, Carolina rig fishing is definitely possible without a bead, I like to use a bead for two reasons: it protects the knot on the swivel from getting jammed inside the lead sinker, and it also produces clicking sounds every time the weight hits it, which helps to attract fish.

What bait should you use with a Carolina rig for targeting redfish?

You can use a wide range of natural baits with a Carolina rig when inshore fishing for redfish, but most anglers prefer to use freshly cut chunks of fish, shrimp, or crabs (which are all part of the natural food that redfish eat).

Personally, my favorite bait for this setup is live shrimp. The shrimp should be tail hooked to give it the freedom to move around in the water, which works great for triggering bites from redfish.

Another option is to use live baitfish, such as pinfish or finger mullet, which can work well for catching big bull redfish, though cracked blue crabs also works for bull reds. 

Finally, you can also use artificial baits, such as soft plastic swimbaits, flukes, or shrimp imitation baits.

The beauty of this rig is that the bullet sinker can be dragged across the bottom, which stirs up sand and attracts redfish to come closer, and when they do, they’ll notice your lure. 

How to fish a Carolina rig for red fish

If you’re using live bait or cut bait, all you need to do is cast your rig out to spots where redfish are feeding.

When surf fishing, the best spot is often the trough that often runs parallel to the beach between sandbars. Also look for holes and channels with stronger current, which often attract redfish. 

At piers and jetties, you can often catch redfish quite close to the piles or rocks, respectively, as this is where they forage for small fish and crustaceans. 

Photo of a young angler holding a trophy redfish

Image source: instagram/@pcafishingclub

In creeks, look for the drop offs that run parallel to the edge of the creek, which attract feeding red drum. 

When saltwater fishing with cut bait or live bait, just cast your rig out, and then wait for a bite. If you don’t get a bite, reel in your setup every now and then, to make sure you still have bait on the hook.

If you want to use your Carolina rig with a soft plastic bait, you need to retrieve the whole setup by dragging it along the bottom, pausing it every now and again. I’ve found that slow retrieves work best, and often you’ll get bit when you pause the retrieve.

By the way, the same setup and fishing technique also work very well for catching speckled trout, flounder, and other inshore species.