Top 5 Rigs for Carp

Top 5 Rigs for Carp Fishing

Next to what my preference for bait is, perhaps the question I encounter most frequently is: what are the best rigs for Carp?

If you’ve read my previous article, Top Five Best Baits for Carp Fishing, then you know that answering such a question demands consideration of so many variables that I could not possibly narrow the selection down to one “ultimate” bait.

Much like my previous article, the problem with questions like, “what are the best rigs for Carp” is the number of variables at play that make it nearly impossible to narrow it down to one rig. Choosing one is difficult, but choosing a handful of favourites is a little easier.

So, let’s cut to the chase: here are my top-five rigs for Carp fishing!

Note: (For simplicity’s sake, this list is assuming that one is using a “semi-fixed bolt” weight set up like the one featured below.)

The Hair Rig (and Variations Thereof)

The hair rig is one of the most basic and commonly used rigs for Carp fishing. The hair rig’s main function is to separate the bait from the hook; this leaves the hook completely exposed, so as the rig enters a Carp’s mouth the hook can do so unimpeded by the bait—which allows for more predictable rig mechanics, and ultimately a greater hooking potential.

This method is a tried-and-tested classic: the hair rig was first introduced by Kevin Maddocks and Len Middleton in 1981 in the UK (here’s a link to some Carp greats). Prior to this revolutionary concept, anglers commonly fished for Carp on prestigious British lakes with baited hooks, which had worked for a number of years.

But as the fish grew accustomed to angling pressure they became increasingly tentative around rigs; in particular, they seemed to be able to tell when the bait was anchored to an angler’s line.

Carp anglers throughout the UK began working on new strategies to tackle these now tricky fish, and thus hair rigs were born—and indeed it worked!

Though originally the hair rig commonly comprised a length of 1-2 lb monofilament line affixed to the shank of the hook with a whip-knot, eventually the easily tied knotless-knot method replaced the whip-knot as the standard. Since Maddocks and Middleton shared their incredible idea with the angling magazines in the ’80s, the hair rig can be found in almost every Carp anglers’ rig wallet.

You may note that I added, “and variations thereof,” to this subheading. This is because ever since the hair rig’s conception numerous anglers have added their own touches and components to increase the hook-up potential.

Some of these components include shrink tubing (or hook aligners), split shots (or tungsten putty), a combination of hook-length materials (fluorocarbon/monofilament and braid), rig-rings—and the list goes on. Inevitably, these “modifications” of the hair rig gain their own names over time, like the “Blowback Rig,” but the concept still remains much the same.

The hair rig was indeed the first specifically designated Carp rigs that I tied and utilized, and to this day, I keep a few ready-tied in my rig wallet whenever I head for the bank.

Primarily, I use hair rigs when fishing maize/corn, a single boilie or a snowman rig (a combination of a pop-up bait coupled with a larger boilie affixed on the hair). I recommend using hair rigs when fishing a relatively clear bottom, usually larger flat rock, sand or dense silt.

As the rig is meant to lay flat on the bottom, the hook should be free and clear of obstructions such as weeds and sticks on which one could snag. Additionally, gravel and silt can lead to the hook becoming lodged into the bottom, which inevitably leads to a dull or buried hook and thus a spoiled chance at a fish. Fishing over a solid bottom clear of debris is ideal for this classic rig, and it is a proven Carp catcher!

The Multi Rig

As Carp developed an ever more acute sensitivity to angling pressure throughout the 1980s, anglers had to think of new and innovative techniques if they were to have any hope of catching—particularly on clear water beds where rigs are more exposed and visible.

This prompted anglers to figure out ways to pursue Carp in more natural feeding areas, namely over low lying weeds and siltier bottoms. Thus was born the pop up: the first pop-up baits were made using polystyrene (styrofoam) covered in a traditional boilie paste and microwaved.

This was later replaced with cork balls (far more eco friendly) covered in boilie paste and prepared much the same way traditional boilies were, via boiling or steaming. The idea was to create a bait that would have a density less than that of water, allowing it to float. This revolutionary bait eventually led to the creation of commercial pop-ups utilizing cork dust or other buoyant compounds.

Inevitably, the pop up created a need for new rigs to present these new buoyant baits. Since the late ’80s, Carp anglers around the world have adapted old rig concepts, and some have thought completely outside of the box to create effective pop-up rigs.

The multi-rig was amongst these creations, and although its inventor and origin is unclear, its emergence was undoubtedly in the late ’90s to the 2000s. Most give credit to Mike Kavanaugh, as he was a recognized “Carp guru” and the first to write about the rig in magazines across the UK. However, others claim to have been the first to come up with the idea of using a modified sea-fishing rig known as the Sliding-hook rig.

Though the multi-rig has undergone some massive changes much like the hair rig over time, the modern multi-rig uses a loop-knot to affix the hook to the hook-link as opposed to a more static knotless-knot, such as the Palomar knot.

This loop would be passed through the eye and around the hook to create a similar effect to what is seen when one passes a loop through a cleat to affix a bumper to a boat. This loop would hold the hook securely in the event a fish picked up the rig.

On this loop, one would slide on either a rig-ring, micro swivel or bait-screw in order to attach the pop-up to the rig. Finishing off the rig with a split shot or a dab of tungsten putty just below the loop-knot ensures the rig sinks, with the exception of the pop-up and hook.

The reason this particular rig found its way into my top five is simply because of one brilliant feature: the hook can be replaced quickly without having to retie. By simply reversing the process of putting the hook onto the loop, one can replace the hook should it become dull, bent or broken. I tend to fish multi rigs in all kinds of conditions, as it offers a confident presentation over a variety of waters.

Additionally, they can be used as a bottom bait rig simply by replacing the pop-up with a boilie or maize/corn. My only complaint with the multi-rig is the chance that over time the coated braid material used to tie it will begin to degrade after so many fish, which increases the chance that the constitution of the looped portion will begin to degrade, and the mechanics of the rig will inevitably degrade as well.

However, being vigilant and always checking rigs before recasting usually solves this problem. The multi-rig is an essential tool for any Carp angler!

The Ronnie Rig/Spinner Rig

Now for a really bizarre concept: fishing without tying a hook to the line—at least, not directly. The Ronnie/spinner rig along with the 360 rigs were all designed with one component separating the hook from the rig material, a swivel.

The 360 rig, which predates the Ronnie/spinner, utilized a standard barrel-swivel with an additional rig-ring. The hook was passed through the one end of the barrel-swivel where it would stop at the hook-eye.

A rubber hook-stop was then used to stop the hook from falling off. A rig-ring or bait-screw was slid onto the hook to attach the hook-bait, and then another hook-stop was added to prevent the bait from sliding off. The rig proved to be incredibly effective on a number of waters throughout the UK and Europe generally.

However, it was criticized for the amount of hardware and the potential for it to cause unnecessary damage to fish since it had a tendency to get stuck in angler’s landing-nets.

I witnessed first hand the tangled mess in my net-mesh, and the damage done to a Carp’s mouth, as a result of it thrashing about after capture. Thus was born the Ronnie/spinner rig.

Now I bet you are wondering who Ronnie is… well that my friends is a mystery! We do know that this Ronnie character is a friend of another respected angler, Martin Bowler.

Bowler revealed that Ronnie’s original idea for the rig differed a little from the one showcased today. We also know that the “cat was out of the bag,” so to speak, in 2016 when the rig began popping up in magazines and YouTube videos, and specialized tackle was manufactured for the Ronnie/spinner rig.

The Ronnie/spinner rig is usually tied using a quick-change swivel, or specialized spinner rig swivel which is affixed to the hook eye and then covered by shrink-tubing or hook-aligner. This innovation makes for a tidier presentation with fewer chances of tangles in nets and thus makes for a safer alternative to its predecessor.

I discovered Ronnie/spinner rigs approximately three years ago just as they were emerging in the UK scene. I quickly began adding them to my arsenal and fished them a great deal for two seasons. I found that they were really effective when fished over gravel and dense silt, coupled with a pop-up of choice.

Additionally, one can utilize the Ronnie/spinner rig when fishing bottom baits, although it does get the name “Turbo German” (for whatever reason) once the bait sits on the bottom. Whether popped up or on the bottom, I have had a great deal of success with this rig, and it has caught me some truly remarkable fish.

I did, however, experience a few issues, one of which I think was well summed up by the words of my Carp sensei, Phil Tabry, who once said, “they [Ronnie/spinner rigs] present consistently, but land randomly.”

I think this is the biggest concern I have heard about this rig. The Ronnie/spinner rig will indeed turn indefinitely which means that no matter what angle a Carp approaches that bait it is sure to turn towards them, which sounds great in theory, but in practice can result in some awkward hook-holds.

Typically, one wants to have a Carp securely hooked in the bottom lip, dead centre of the mouth, or second-best in a corner where the flesh is concentrated. Unfortunately, though I’ve landed a ton of Carp on these rigs, I did find on occasion that my rig was awkwardly hooked, sometimes even in the roof of the mouth or even outside the mouth altogether.

This unpredictability dampens the reputation of the Ronnie/spinner rig.

The only other concern I have with the Ronnie/spinner is that the additional hardware means more chances of things going wrong. I did note on one or two of my sessions that, when my rig landed in softer silt where the swivel was partially buried, silt could find its way into the barrel of the swivel impeding its movement.

Overall, I can’t knock Ronnie/spinner rigs too much, as the overwhelming majority of the Carp I landed was indeed hooked in a desirable way.

The Withy Pool Rig

British fishing icon Steve Reynard invented this brilliant rig over thirty years ago.

The concept is simple: a rig that once in a fish’s mouth was almost impossible to eject. Withy Pool was the name of rather tricky water in Bedfordshire, UK. Raynard was challenged with trying to determine a way to trip up some incredibly weary fish. The Withy Pool rig was the product of many nights of strenuous thought.

The rig is simple and is considered by many to be one of the best, if not THE best pop-up rig ever conceived. Reynard’s concept proved to be effective, landing him some of the most elusive specimens in the lake.

The rig is tied using a stripped back-length of semi-stiff coated braid, a curve-shank hook, a length of shrink tubing, bait-screw or rig-ring, a hook-stop and a split-shot or dab of tungsten putty. The hook is tied to the coated braid using one’s preferred knot, then the shrink-tubing is cut to fit just over the eye of the hook to the break in the coating of the braid.

The shrink-tubing is then heated using a kettle, and while still hot and malleable, formed into a “C” shape (the aggression of the bend is up to the angler, but it is important to be mindful to not close the gap too tightly); once the shrink tubing cools it will retain this shape, making for a highly responsive rig (more on this in a moment).

Finishing it off with the bait-screw or rig-ring, hook-stop and your chosen split shot or tungsten putty to offset the buoyancy of the bait, and you have a proven Carp-catcher.

What did I mean by responsive? Upon attaching a pop-up to that rig and submerging it the answer should become clear: this rig will turn in any direction from which a Carp could pick it up, and once in its mouth, it has a near one-hundred percent hook-up ratio.

The Withy Pool has only really been a part of my arsenal for the past year, so my experience is limited but I have played with it. However, prior to using the Withy Pool, I was a big fan of the hinged stiff rig, which is mechanically similar; both of these rigs function with the same concept, that a longer, stiffer material attached to the hook mimics the hooking properties of a long-shank hook, without needing to add additional weight to the hook.

The Withy Pool rig makes its way into my top five favourites for this reason: it is made using a single length of braid, rather than a braid and fluorocarbon combination. Though many would argue that a well-tied hinged stiff rig is just as effective as a Withy Pool, the fact remains that the more knots and components present the greater the potential of rig failure.

The Withy Pool took priority in my angling last year, catching me the majority of my fish in almost every condition imaginable, from gravel, low lying weeds, silt, and decayed leaf matter. In fact, with the possible exception of incredibly dense, deep weed mats, the Withy Pool can be truly fished anywhere. I highly recommend this rig…like, seriously—get tying!

The Shotshank Rig

Those of you that know me personally will know that I often boast about this rig. The concept isn’t original but is, in fact, a combination of two ideas, which I am proud to say I combined.

The first concept and most obvious is the presence of a split-shot affixed to a tiny piece of braid which is then fastened in place by burning and blobbing the braid with a lighter. This rig, originally created by Frank Warwick, is known as the shot-on-the-hook rig (which doesn’t really roll off the tongue). What one must imagine is that a Carp creates a vacuum when taking the bait and/or a rig into their mouths.

Once this vacuum-like atmosphere neutralizes, the rig drops as though it were falling through the water column again, and thus the rig will drop onto the bottom of a Carp’s mouth. The shot-on-the-hook rig utilizes a heavier hook-point; the idea is when a Carp sucks in the rig and the rig enters ‘free-fall,’ the hook will be driven down by the weight and thus have great hooking potential.

A concern raised about this rig is the speculated possibility of the split shot impeding the hook’s ability to penetrate deep.

However, those that have tried spooling a stainless steel spool with braid will know that braid slips on steel and requires a backing to prevent this. The same principle applies here: the split shot will move up and out of the way in the event that the hook points finds a home, meaning the hooking potential of this rig is incredible.

When I first started experimenting with this rig, I found it had a tendency to tangle on the cast, probably because the added weight on the hook exceeded the stiffness of the coated braid hook link; thus while descending to the bottom there was a chance that the rig will collapse upon itself and potentially tangle or sit in an undesirable manner.

This led me to introduce a second concept, one that would essentially kill two birds with one stone: I would introduce the mechanics from Scott Lloyd’s Noodle rig by adding a length of shrink-tubing or longer hook aligner in order to better balance the presentation.

This forces the rig to kick out more effectively while increasing the hooking potential: the result is a more cumbersome rig to try and eject.

Needless to say, this rig is an excellent feat of ingenuity.

Though I have not used this rig as shown in the photo, I have used both the noodle rig and the shot-on-the-hook rig, and feel that the union of these two concepts will only mean the best of both worlds. The shot-on-the-hook rig and slight variations thereof landed me a few fish last year and proved to have deep, sure hook-holds.

The noodle rig is essentially a hair rig variation with a notably longer hook aligner, which I have experimented in the past with great success. My Shotshank rig was conceived during this past winter and has yet to see action. So I bet you are wondering why it has made the list; well, needless to say in my studying of rig-mechanics this rig checks off most if not all of the boxes.

I believe this rig will perform in practice as well as it does in theory. I recommend fishing this rig over clearer bottoms, dense silt and anywhere you may fish a Ronnie/Spinner Rig.

In case you are wondering about the names mentioned above as well as the “who’s who” of the Carp world, then go here.

Parting Words

It is important when choosing a rig to be mindful of the water you’re fishing; some rigs work better in different applications, and with practice and experience it becomes easier to choose the right rig for the water. I also recommend that you consider the stock of fish you are pursuing.

If you have a large population of big fish or are fishing in particularly snaggy or zebra-mussely (if that’s a word) waters, consider using stronger materials in twenty-plus-pound breaking strain.

And while on the topic of rig materials, consider purchasing coated braid: this is ideal for tying coarse fishing rigs and you will have a great deal more confidence that your rigs are indeed presented as intended.

When I used to tie hair rigs using the same braid as I would spool my reels with, I found that my rigs were far more likely to tangle. Once I switched to coated braids I found that this problem was alleviated, and the rigs both presented better and caught more Carp.

A few final pieces of advice: go with what you feel confident in; there’s no point in using a rig in which you have no confidence, so practice tying a variety of rigs so you can be sure your presentation is as intended.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to try new waters, even if they might be weedy! Here in North America, our Carp see little angling pressure, and some might even call them a bit naive; so a lot of the time you’ll find yourself using simple rigs on clear lake/river beds without a problem, but it’s always important to try new things and explore new areas. We are truly fortunate to have the opportunity to target such hard-fighting fish here and Ontario.

So get out there, try out some of these Carp rigs I’ve mentioned here, and make the most of this exciting species!

Tight Lines

3 Replies to “Top 5 Rigs for Carp Fishing”

    1. You certainly should! I would consider Peterborough as one of the top five destinations for carp fishing in Ontario. So much accessible land and you can have your first and even your biggest right in the heart of downtown Peterborough in Little Lake!
      Best of luck!

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