Top 9 DEEP SEA FISHING RIGS (Offshore Rigging Guide)


by Robert Ceran

Are you planning to go deep sea fishing but aren’t sure which fishing rig is best for your purposes?

While deep sea fishing can be one of the most productive ways to catch a lot of gamefish, it’s essential to use the right fishing rigs to target offshore fish successfully. 

In this article I’ll walk you through the best rigs for deep sea fishing, and will also cover how to fish them, and how to choose the ideal setup for your purposes.

Top 9 DEEP SEA FISHING RIGS (Offshore Rigging Guide)

What are the best deep sea fishing rigs?

The 9 best deep sea fishing rigs are:

  • Knocker rig
  • Fish finder rig
  • Carolina rig
  • Dropper loop rig
  • Paternoster rig
  • Double drop bottom rig
  • Deep drop rig
  • Balloon fishing rig
  • Sabiki rig

We’ll go over the strengths and weaknesses of each of these deep sea fishing rigs below, so you can decide which one is best for you.

Keep in mind that deep sea fishing (also known as offshore fishing) is defined as saltwater fishing at a depth greater than 90 feet, or further than 9 miles out from the shoreline.

Needless to say, this means you have to use the right fishing techniques and setups for this type of fishing if you don’t want to get skunked. 

Knocker rig

Diagram of knocker rig

Most anglers I know agree that the knocker rig is the best all around deep sea fishing rig, and it is certainly the most popular setup among deep sea anglers.

This is hardly surprising, given that it combines ease of use with impressive effectiveness when it comes to catching large numbers of fish with offshore boat fishing. 

The knocker rig for fishing has a very simple structure, consisting of a size 2/0 to 6/0 circle hook tied to the end of the fishing line (I like to use a uni knot for this), as well as a sliding egg sinker that rides on the line above the hook.

The unusual thing about this deep sea fishing rig is that the sinker slides all the way down onto the hook.

With that being said, I like to thread 2 to 3 plastic beads between the sinker and the hook, as these protect the knot used to attach the hook, and also give the baited hook a little “breathing space.”

The fact that the sinker sits right on top of the hook is extremely effective for avoiding line tangles when you lower the setup down into the water.

This makes this saltwater rig so effective for deep sea fishing, as you need to be able to drop it down all the way to the bottom without getting tangled. 

If you want to use a monofilament leader with the knocker rig, that’s okay, but make sure that the sinker is rigged onto the mono leader, and not the main line. 

If you only wanted to use one rig for deep sea fishing, then I suggest that the knocker rig is the one to go for. Its ease of use also makes it an ideal saltwater fishing rig for beginners

Fish finder rig

Diagram of fish finder rig

While the fish finder rig is one of the best rigs for surf fishing, it also works very well for deep sea bottom fishing from an anchored boat. 

It consists of a 1 to 5 ounce pyramid sinker that slides up and down the main line with the help of a sinker slide, as well as a strong swivel that attaches the main line to a 1 to 3 foot leader with a circle hook tied to the end. 

The nice thing about the fish finder rig is that the pyramid sinker is better suited for holding onto a sandy bottom than a round sinker. This can be helpful if there is a strong current, and you want your setup to stay in place. 

The fish finder rig is most often baited with cut bait, but you can also use live bait, such as live pinfish or live shrimp. 

Carolina rig

Diagram of saltwater Carolina rig

The Carolina rig is one of the most versatile bottom fishing rigs available to anglers, and is also great for catching deep sea fish. 

It has the same overall structure as the fish finder rig, but instead of a pyramid sinker it is built with a sliding egg sinker. 

The egg sinker is better if you are drift fishing, or if there is a current swinging your boat around when at anchor. 

The egg sinker will be lifted slightly off the bottom due to the action of the waves, and then drops down again.

As it does so, it creates a thumping noise and stirs up a little cloud of sand, which can help to attract fish. By the way, this is also a great rig for inshore fishing

The main disadvantage of the Carolina rig is that the hook and the leader can get tangled with the main line when you lower your bait to the bottom from the boat. If this happens to you a lot, it might be better to switch to the knocker rig. 

Dropper loop rig

Diagram of dropper loop rig

The dropper loop rig is a great live bait rig for deep sea fishing. It consists of a weight attached to the end of the line with a dropper loop knot, and a single hook tied to the line above the weight, also with a dropper loop. 

The single hook is usually baited with a live baitfish, such as a mackerel, mullet or pinfish, and then dropped down to reefs or wrecks to target large offshore fish species, such as big snappers, groupers, halibut, or yellowtail. 

Photo of an angler on a boat holding a large mutton snapper caught while deep sea fishing with a dropper loop rig

Image source: instagram/@alexandra.spring

And while you can also fish this saltwater rig with cut bait or dead bait, I prefer to use double hook rigs for that kind of bait, as they increase your odds of catching fish. 

Paternoster rig

Diagram of paternoster rig

The paternoster rig is a great multi-hook deep sea fishing rig, and is tied exactly the same way as a dropper loop rig, but instead of a single hook, the paternoster rig has 2 or 3 hooks. 

This saltwater setup consists of a bank sinker or similar weight attached to the end of the fishing line with a dropper loop, as well as 2 or 3 hooks tied to the line above the weight 8 to 10 inches apart from each other. 

It’s usually best to use a leader when tying this saltwater fishing rig, and use a barrel swivel to attach the leader to your main line.

Make sure that the leader is weaker than your main line, so if you get snagged, you’ll only break off the leader. 

This saltwater setup is perfect for vertical fishing from a boat, and is usually baited with squid strips, pieces of shrimp, or chunks of freshly cut fish. 

Double drop bottom rig

Diagram of double drop bottom rig

The double drop bottom rig is another two hook setup for deep sea fishing, but comes with one key difference to the paternoster rig: it uses three-way swivels to attach the snoods of the hooks.

Using swivels instead of dropper loops provides a key advantage: if you’re fishing in strong currents, which is quite common in deep sea environments, hooks and leaders tend to spin around in the current, which quickly causes line tangles with conventional setups. 

So if you’re deep sea fishing and getting a lot of line tangles because of the current, consider switching to the double drop rig. 

Deep drop rig

Diagram of deep drop rig

The deep drop rig is the best offshore fishing rig for targeting fish in deep water, at depths over 300 feet, and can even be fished as deep as 1000 feet or more. 

This deep sea fishing rig consists of a long leader with a snap swivel tied to the end, which in turn attaches to a 1 to 3 pound lead. 

Above the weight multiple hooks are attached to the leader via sleeve swivels, which are crimped down at specific positions along the leader, with about 8 to 10 inches in between each swivel. 

Each swivel is tied to a 3 to 4 inch snood, which is in turn attached to a circle hook. You can rig as many hooks as you like on this rig, but I personally prefer using three to four hooks, since that’s easier to manage. 

At the top of the leader is a high quality barrel swivel. However, the snap swivel at the bottom end of the leader should be a cheap one, since it will be most likely to bend open if the sinker gets snagged on the bottom. 

Balloon fishing rig

Diagram of balloon fishing rig

The balloon fishing rig is a deep sea fishing setup used with live bait for large pelagic fish such as kingfish, spanish mackerel, sailfish, sharks and yellowfin tuna. 

The great thing about the balloon fishing rig is that it keeps your bait close to the surface, and can be used to cover a lot of ground with drift fishing.

A brightly colored balloon also functions similarly to a fishing bobber, allowing you to keep an eye on the whereabouts of your rig at all times, and alerting you when you get a bite, as the balloon plunges down in the water. 

Sabiki rig

Diagram of Sabiki rig

The Sabiki rig is a multi-hook rig used for vertical fishing from a boat or a pier, and is great for catching pelagic baitfish such as mackerel and sardines. 

This saltwater setup consists of a long leader up to 9 feet that is tied to a heavy bank sinker at the end. I like to use a dropper loop knot to attach the sinker (since that allows you to change the sinker easily), but you can also use a snap swivel. 

Above the sinker, there are anywhere from three to nine snoods that are about 3 inches long and spaced about 6 inches apart from each other.

The snoods are made by cutting the loops of dropper loop knots, and each of them is tied to a small feathered hook.

You can also add a colored plastic bead to the snood, and some anglers also like to add scented baits to the hooks, such as small pieces of Berkley Gulp.