Flapper Rig 101 (Setup and Fishing Guide With Pictures)


by Robert Ceran

Are you planning to throw a flapper rig, but aren’t sure how to set it up, or how to fish it for optimal results?

While the flapper rig is a great saltwater rig for surf fishing and boat fishing, it can be a little tricky to set up and fish correctly. 

In this article I’ll show you how to set up a flapper rig, and will aso cover what bait to use with it, and how to fish it for the best results.

Flapper Rig 101 (Setup and Fishing Guide With Pictures)

What is a flapper rig (and what is it good for)?

A flapper rig is a popular surf fishing rig that consists of a weight attached to the end of the leader, as well as two to three hooks rigged on snoods above the weight.

While the overall structure of the flapper rig is similar to that of other multi-hook rigs for bottom fishing, what sets it apart from these is that the snoods of the flapper rig are tied to swivels fixed on the leader with the help of crimps.

Another difference is that the flapper rig is mostly used by sea anglers in the UK, while other double hook surf fishing setups, such as the high low fishing rig, the pompano fishing rig, and the paternoster rig are more commonly used by US anglers. 

The flapper rig is most often used for surf fishing, though it can also be fished vertically from a boat or a pier. It is baited with cut fish or other natural bait. 

Flapper rig components

Here are the tackle components that you’ll need for your flapper rig setup:

  • 2 to 6 oz sinker
  • Size 2/0 to 1/0 barrel swivel
  • Size #6 to #8 barrel swivels
  • 60 to 100 lb test shock leader (monofilament or fluorocarbon)
  • 20 to 30 lb test leader for the snoods
  • Hooks (Aberdeen hooks or circle hooks)
  • Plastic beads (4mm)
  • Crimps

Note that the shock leader needs to be strong enough so the sinker doesn’t tear off when you cast it from the beach. The snoods, on the other hand, can be significantly weaker, depending on the size of the fish that you’re targeting. 

Image showing flapper rig diagram

You can choose any of the sinkers that are used for surf fishing, including a pyramid sinker, bank sinker, or breakaway sinker (also called spider weight). 

How to make a flapper rig

In order to tie a flapper rig, start by tying your shock leader to the sinker. You can either tie it directly to the sinker, or you can tie on a snap swivel that allows you to change the sinker easily. 

A third option is to tie a surgeon’s loop at the end of the leader, and then use a cow hitch to attach the sinker (which also allows you to change it quickly).

Next, thread a crimp onto the leader line, followed by a swivel and then a second crimp. If the eye of the swivel is too large, it might get stuck on the crimps, in which case you should add two buffer beads between the swivel and the crimps. 

Image showing close up of crimped swivel on a flapper rig

Position the swivel and the crimps at the correct distance above the weight, and then use pliers to tighten the crimps and secure the swivel in place. 

Next, tie the 20 to 30 lb test leader to the crimped swivel, measure out about 1 to 2 feet of line, cut it off, and tie the tag end to a hook with a snell knot. 

You’ve now completed the first snood with a hook. Then simply repeat the same process once or twice more, depending on whether you want to tie a 2 hook flapper rig or 3 hook flapper rig. 

After you’ve completed the last snood, measure out another 1 to 2 feet of the shock leader, cut it off, and tie the tag end to the large barrel swivel. 

The total length of the flapper rig should be between 3 and 5 feet (depending on how many hooks you rig on it).

By the way, the method of crimping the swivels to the leader line also comes in handy for other setups, such as the running rig, which makes it worth learning how to do. 

What bait should you use with a flapper rig?

You can use either live bait or cut bait with the flapper rig, and since it’s a multi-hook setup, you can easily test several baits at the same time. 

The best fish to use for cut bait are mackerel, menhaden, herring, sardines, and mullet. All of these fish are oily, and release plenty of scents that attract fish.

When it comes to other baits, I like to use squid strips, shrimp or sand fleas when targeting smaller fish from the beach, such as whiting and pompano. 

How to fish a flapper rig

The flapper rig is best suited for surf fishing which doesn’t require long casting distances over 40 or 50 feet.

As such, it’s great for smaller fish, such as puppy drum, flounder, bream, surf perch, whiting, and pompano, which all come fairly close to the beach in order to feed in the surf. 

But if you need to cast your rig over long distances to reach fish in the surf, then the flapper rig is not the best option, as the snoods and hooks tend to get tangled on the shock leader during long casts. 

Photo of angler at the beach holding a sea bream caught with a flapper rig

Image source: instagram/@roberto_surfcasting

Another way to fish a flapper rig is to lower it vertically from a pier, jetty, or boat. As for surf fishing, it’s best to keep your line taut after the weight reaches the bottom, as that will allow you to detect bites with your rod tip.

When you get a bite on the flapper rig, it’s usually best to set the hook quickly, as the fish is otherwise likely to spit out the hook when it feels the resistance of the weight.