Top 11 Saltwater Bottom Fishing Rigs (Setup & Fishing Guide)


by Robert Ceran

Are you planning to do some sea fishing, but aren’t sure which bottom fishing rig is best for your purposes?

Saltwater fishing is often more complex than fishing in freshwater, which is why it’s essential to use the right bottom fishing setup to get the best results. 

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

Top 11 Saltwater Bottom Fishing Rigs (Setup & Fishing Guide)

What are the best saltwater bottom fishing rigs?

The 11 best bottom fishing rigs for saltwater are:

  • Fish finder rig
  • Pompano rig
  • High low rig
  • Knocker rig
  • Carolina rig
  • Dropper loop rig
  • Paternoster rig
  • Double drop bottom rig
  • Running ledger rig
  • Flapper rig

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

Fish finder rig

Diagram of fish finder rig

The fish finder rig is one of the most popular saltwater bottom rigs, and while it is most often used for beach fishing, it can also be used for pretty much any other type of saltwater shore fishing. 

This setup consists of a 1 to 6 ounce pyramid sinker that can slide up and down on the main line with the help of a sinker slide, as well as a swivel that connects the main line with a 2 to 3 foot mono leader tied to a snelled hook.

One of the key strengths of the fish finder bottom rig is that the pyramid sinker digs into sandy bottoms, and this helps to keep the setup in place in the face of strong tides and currents that are common in the surf. 

This setup is usually fished with cut bait, but also works well with any other kind of natural baits used in saltwater.

It catches a wide variety of saltwater fish species, including whiting, red drum, black drum, sheepshead, flounder, fluke, and striped bass. 

Pompano rig

Diagram of pompano rig

The pompano rig got its name because it was developed to catch pompano from the beach. It consists of a sinker tied to the end of the line, as well as 2 or more circle hooks attached to snoods above the weight.

What really sets this saltwater rig apart from others are the small colored floats that are threaded onto the snoods and that sit right next to the hooks.

The floats help to lift the baited hooks off the bottom, making it easier for pompano (and other fish) to find them.

The brightly colored floats also have a second purpose, which is to attract fish that hunt by sight.

The pompano rig setup is not only great for catching pompano, but also catches a wide variety of other saltwater fish that can be targeted from the shore. 

High low rig

Diagram of high low rig

The high low rig is one of the more popular multi-hook bottom rigs for saltwater fishing. It has a similar structure to the double drop rig, but instead of dropper loop knots it uses T-knot to attach the snoods to the leader line. 

The great thing about T-knots is that they are surprisingly stiff, which results in the snoods sticking out at 90 degrees from the leader line, which helps to avoid line tangles when you cast the rig out.

This feature makes the high low rig a great setup for surfcasting, as it can be cast further out into the surf than other setups. 

It’s best to use a lower pound test line for the leader, since that will allow you to break off the leader line if your setup gets snagged, without affecting the main line. 

In addition to surf fishing, the hi lo rig can also be used for vertical fishing from a pier, jetty, or boat.

Knocker rig for bottom fishing

Diagram of knocker rig

This is an unusual bottom fishing rig in that it comes with a sinker that slides up and down the leader line.

The knocker rig for fishing consists of a circle hook tied to the end of the leader, as well as a sliding egg sinker that rides up and down on the leader, and sits right on top of the circle hook when you cast the setup out. 

While this is an unusual structure, it comes with a clear advantage: it’s basically tangle free during the casting process. Given that most other bottom fishing setups tend to get tangled when you cast them, this is very significant.

The tangle free nature of this rig makes it ideal for beginners, which often struggle to do long distance casting without getting line tangles. 

Carolina rig

Diagram of saltwater Carolina rig

While the Carolina rig was originally developed for freshwater fishing, it works equally well for saltwater fishing applications, and is a staple among inshore anglers.

The strength of this versatile bottom fishing rig is that fish can grab the baited hook without feeling resistance, as the line can slide through the weight.

And if you use a saltwater fishing reel with a bait clicker, this allows you to detect bites by a clicking sound when a fish pulls line off the reel.

It is virtually identical to the slip sinker rig, and the two setups are interchangeable for all intents and purposes.

The Carolina rig consists of a sliding sinker and plastic bead riding on the main fishing line, as well as a barrel swivel that connects the main line to a leader with a bait hook of your choice.

Another great thing about the Carolina rig for saltwater is that you can use it with virtually any bait, ranging from live bait to cut bait, and even artificial lures. 

Dropper loop rig for bottom fishing

Diagram of dropper loop rig

The dropper loop rig is most often used for reef fishing, and consists of a weight tied to the end of the line, as well as a single hook attached to a snood with a dropper loop knot above the sinker. 

The reason for having only a single hook on the dropper loop rig for bottom fishing is that it’s usually fished with live bait to target big fish in deep water, such as goliath grouper, halibut, mangrove snapper, or yellowtail. 

With that being said, you can definitely also use this setup to catch smaller fish with cut bait, including sheepshead and red snapper. 

Paternoster rig

Diagram of paternoster rig

The paternoster rig is another multi-hook saltwater rig for bottom fishing that consists of a bank sinker (or similar weight) tied to the end of the line, as well as 2 to 3 hooks attached to snoods above the sinker with dropper loop knots. 

Dropper loops are easy to tie, and they also make it simple to swap the hooks by using a cow hitch. This allows you to change hook size or hook type at the drop of a hat, without having to re-tie your whole setup. 

Paternoster rigs are most often fished vertically, and make great boat fishing or pier fishing rigs that are easy to set up and use.

You can also cast this setup over short distances, but it isn’t optimal for long distance casting, as the hooks tend to get tangled with the rest of the tackle. 

Double drop bottom rig

Diagram of double drop bottom rig

While the double drop rig has a similar structure to the paternoster setup, it is tied with 3-way swivels instead of dropper loops.

This comes with the advantage that 3 way swivels can help to make the snoods stand out from the leader line, which helps to avoid line tangles.

Since the double drop bottom rig is less likely to tangle when you cast it out, it is better suited for beach fishing than the paternoster.

Photo of an angler holding a large sheepshead caught with a double drop bottom rig

Image source: instagram/@baitshopbeauties

You can also use this saltwater rig for vertical fishing from a boat or pier. 

Running ledger rig

Diagram of running ledger rig

The running ledger rig is a saltwater bottom setup that comes with a sliding ledger sinker that rides on the main line, as well as a barrel swivel that attaches the main line to a long monofilament leader with either a single or two hooks tied to it. 

Since it is tied with a sliding sinker, one of the strengths of the running ledger setup is that it allows fish to swim with the bait without immediately sensing resistance from a heavy sinker. 

That way you can fish your bait on the bottom, and watch your rod tip to detect bites.

The running ledger sea rig is most often used for surf fishing, though it can also be used for boat fishing. 

Flapper rig

Diagram of flapper rig

The flapper rig consists of a weight tied to the end of the leader line, as well as 2 to 3 hooks that are attached to the leader via crimped swivels positioned at equidistant intervals above the weight. 

Due to the crimped swivels, the snoods of the 2 hook flapper rig stick out from the leader line, which makes them less likely to get tangled with the rest of the terminal tackle when you cast out the setup. 

This property makes the flapper rig a great choice for surf fishing, and explains why it is a favorite among surfcasters.