Top 7 REEF FISHING RIGS (Setup & Fishing Guide w Pictures)


by Robert Ceran

Are you thinking about going reef fishing but aren’t sure which fishing rig is ideal for your purposes?

While reef fishing can be one of the best ways to catch lots of gamefish, it’s important to use the right fishing rigs to target reef fish successfully. 

In this article I’ll show you the best rigs for reef fishing, and will also go over how to fish them, and how to choose the best setup for your purposes.

Top 7 REEF FISHING RIGS (Setup & Fishing Guide w Pictures)

What are the best reef fishing rigs?

The 7 best reef fishing rigs are:

  • Knocker rig
  • Carolina rig
  • Fish finder rig
  • Dropper loop rig
  • Paternoster rig
  • Double drop bottom rig

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

Knocker rig

Diagram of knocker rig

For me the knocker rig is the best all around reef fishing rig, since it’s easy to use and rarely gets tangled or snagged. 

On top of that, the knocker rig is easy to set up and easy to fish, and catches a ton of fish while reef fishing, which makes it one of the best saltwater rigs for beginners

This setup has a very simple structure, and basically consists of a circle hook tied to the end of the line, as well as a sliding egg sinker sliding up and down the line above the hook. 

The peculiar thing about this reef fishing rig is that the slip sinker sits right on top of the hook (although I like to add a few plastic beads between hook and sinker). 

This setup, in which the weight slides all the way down to the hook, is very effective for avoiding line tangles when you lower the knocker rig down to the reef. 

Photo of angler on a boat holding two yellow tail snappers caught with a knocker rig while reef fishing

Image source: instagram/@miass.adventuresss

On top of being virtually tangle free during the drop, the knocker rig comes with an additional advantage: if the hook gets stuck on a rock or coral, it’s often possible to get it unstuck. 

In order to do this, whip your rod tip up a few inches, and then drop it down again. This causes the sinker to slide up the line a few inches, and when it drops back down it often knocks the hook loose from the rock (which explains how this setup got its name).

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

You can tie this setup directly to your mainline if you’re using mono as the main line, but I prefer to use a braided mainline and a monofilament leader.

If you tie the knocker rig with a leader, make sure to thread the sliding sinker onto the leader and not the mainline. 

This setup catches a wide variety of reef fish, including grouper and snapper, and can be fished with either cut bait or live bait. 

Carolina rig

Diagram of saltwater Carolina rig

The Carolina rig consists of a slip sinker that rides on the main line, as well as a leader with a snelled circle hook that’s attached to the main line with a barrel swivel. 

The leader line of the Carolina rig can be advantageous when fishing with live bait, as it gives the baitfish some freedom to move around.

However, once again it’s important to avoid the baitfish getting tangled with the main line. If this happens a lot, it’s better to switch to cut bait, or to fish your live bait with a dropper loop rig (more on that below).

If you use this rig for deep sea fishing, the leader line will tend to get snagged with the main line during the drop, which is why it’s better to use it in shallow water, and why you need the current to keep the leader away from the main line while you drop it down to the reef. 

Fish finder rig

Diagram of fish finder rig

The fish finder rig has a similar overall structure to the Carolina rig, but instead of an egg sinker, it comes with a pyramid sinker that is attached to the main line with a sinker slide (see image above).

The main advantage of the fish finder rig is that the pyramid sinker is better at digging into a sandy bottom, and will hold the rig in place in strong tides better than an egg sinker. 

This makes it a great rig for surf fishing, but the fish finder rig also comes in handy for reef fishing in shallow water. 

Similar to the Carolina rig, it’s important to avoid line tangles during the drop, and this works best if there is some current to pull the hook and leader away from the weight while you lower it down from the boat. 

This saltwater setup is most often fished with freshly cut fish, but you can also use squid strips, shrimp, or live bait. 

Dropper loop rig

Diagram of dropper loop rig

The dropper loop rig is a great option for vertical fishing from a boat, which is exactly what you need for reef fishing. 

This setup consists of a weight attached to the end of the leader with a dropper loop (which allows you to change the weight easily), as well as a single hook tied to the leader above the weight with a dropper loop knot. 

Using a single hook is best if you’re fishing with live bait, such as pilchard, mackerel or pinfish, and this live bait saltwater rig is ideal for targeting large reef fish, such as monster groupers and big snappers.

If you’re on the west coast, the dropper loop is also perfect for live bait rigging for yellowtail. 

You can also use cut bait with this saltwater fishing rig, but personally I prefer to use double hook rigs for cut bait, since that increases the odds of catching fish. 

Paternoster rig

Diagram of paternoster rig

The paternoster rig is very similar to the dropper loop rig, but instead of a single hook, it comes with 2 or 3 hooks attached to the leader with dropper loops. 

This multi hook rig for saltwater fishing is great for targeting red snappers and vermilion snappers at reefs, and you can sometimes end up hooking two of these fish at the same time. 

Having more than one hook not only increases the odds of catching fish, but it also allows you to test several baits at the same time, until you find a clear winner. 

I like to fish the paternoster rig with pieces of shrimp, squid strips, or cut fish. When fishing with cut bait, always make sure to use freshly caught fish or squid. 

Double drop bottom rig

Diagram of double drop bottom rig

The double drop bottom rig is a multi hook reef fishing rig similar to the paternoster rig, but instead of dropper loops it uses 3 way swivels to attach the snoods of the hooks. 

The advantage of using swivels is that it allows the hooks to spin around the leader without causing a line tangle. This can become important if you’re fishing in conditions with strong currents, which will quickly tangle up other saltwater fishing rigs. 

The double drop saltwater rig is also easier to tie than other setups, which makes it another attractive option for beginners.