Monday, November 21, 2011
Friday, November 18, 2011
When the weigh-in was over and the last ripples had cleared the surface of Lake Guntersville, longtime bass pro Paul Elias had won the 2011 Walmart FLW Tour Open tournament, and by an impressive margin.
It was an electrifying performance by the ‘82 Classic champ, who blew away the field by weighing more than 100 lbs. of bass in 4 days. Elias’ amazing 5-pound average on a “3-pounds-to-win” lake during a tough fall bite turned heads, but it was the revolutionary technique he employed that made instant headlines tPau;hroughout the bassin’ world.
Bass fishing may never be the same again: Elias’ revolutionary approach
Prefishing the tournament, Elias struggled. His usual presentations produced a few fish, but the bite was minimal at best.
“The majority of the fish were suspended,” he said. “I’ve always had trouble when they suspend.” So that Sunday, with the tournament slated to begin on Thursday, he pulled out a contraption given to him a few months earlier by its inventor: the now-suddenly-famous Alabama rig.
The rest is history.
Elias spotted a school of suspended fish near a causeway bridge he was passing through, where necked-down current funneled shad through the deep channel—a classic feeding pattern for aggressive bass if you can get the right lure in their faces. He quickly fired off a few casts with his deck rods, which he’d pre-rigged with crankbaits, spinnerbaits and drop shot rigs, but to no avail. Then, for the first time, he gave the Alabama Rig a try in the water he’d just fished.
And caught a hefty limit in about 15 minutes.
Over the next 3 days Elias found several more causeways where suspended bass were feeding on schooled shad. At every stop, the same thing happened.
“It was crazy. I’d throw everything a bass pro would normally throw at those fish, and I wouldn’t get a bite. Then I’d throw the Alabama Rig, and I’d catch one immediately.
“Those fish were there the entire time,” he said. “I learned that if I could see them on sonar, I could catch them on this rig. It absolutely transformed this fishery!”
The rig also transformed his tournament strategy. Instead of easing onto rocky points and pockets as originally planned, Elias focused on causeways and bridges, positioning his Triton in 25-40 feet of water and throwing to current rips where shad were concentrated below. By counting down the rig, he was able to vary the retrieve depth and cover the entire water column; Elias said he caught over 100 keeper bass during the tournament, virtually all of them suspended at 20-30 feet.
It’s a rig, not a bait
Developed by Andy Poss of Muscle Shoals, AL, the Alabama Rig is loosely based on the umbrella rig used by striper trollers; Poss adapted the concept to create an innovative presentation for bass casting. It consists of a leading painted hardbody attractor with 5 tension-wire spreader arms trailing behind, each capped by a heavy-duty snap swivel. Simply attach a bait (swimbaits, grubs, topwaters, inline spinners all work well) to each snap; the rig, which weighs only 3/8 oz. by itself, spreads the baits to prevent tangles.
“It’s amazing how it looks in the water,” said Elias, who rigged it with five 3/8-3/4 oz. jigheads tipped with 5” or larger Mann’s Hardnose Swimbaits. “It looks just like a school of shad swimming together. And when you kill it, they flutter all around.”
And as Elias quickly learned, that’s exactly what the fish wanted. “Nobody else was targeting suspended fish. They were struggling to catch a keeper, and here I was, whaling on 3-5 pounders with the Alabama Rig!”
In his own words: fishing the Alabama Rig
Counting the baits and the rig itself, Elias was tossing up to 5 oz. on each cast, depending on water depth and fish mood. “It was like throwing a brick,” he said. “It’d wear you down. But I was catching so many quality fish—well, you kinda forget about that stuff. I was having fun.”
Depending on the location and what he saw on sonar, Elias took either a top-down or a bottom-up approach to pull his bites. “I varied the retrieve,” he said. If the fish were high, “when I pulled up on a spot, I would lob it out there and just reel it, using a medium retrieve back to the boat. If I didn’t get bit, I’d throw it back out there and count it down to about 3, and reel it back. Then 5. And so on, all the way to the bottom. So when I did get bit, I could just repeat the count and maybe catch another one at that same depth.”
Elias reversed the procedure when the fish were deeper. “I didn’t want to lose the rig, so on my first cast I would count it down till it just touched the bottom, reel it back in, then on the next cast I’d count it down to where it was almost on the bottom, and so forth. Sometimes, I could burn it—the water might be 25, 28, 30 feet deep, and I’d burn it up and they’d hit it somewhere in the water column.
“Whether they chased it or I came through ‘em, I don’t know. But as the current changed, the fish changed throughout the day, so it was important to keep trying different depths and retrieves. I’d slow-roll it some, and burn it some, and kill it every now and then, trying to give them some different looks. But most of my strikes came on a steady retrieve.”
The right gear in the right hands
Elias put his winning system together based on his intimate knowledge of the gear he was using. “The Alabama Rig is not a magical bait. But in the right hands, in the right place, it’s gonna catch some good fish. The equipment I used was a huge factor here.”
Astonishingly, he never lost a rig in 8 days of fishing it. “This is a big, heavy rig. You need stout gear to fish it,” he said. “I was using 65-lb. test SpiderWire Ultracast FluoroBraid line, because if I snagged the works in the rocks, I wanted to be able to just straighten the hooks, get the rig back and get to fishing again.”
There are no rods made expressly for fishing the Alabama Rig; it’s too new. So Elias had to improvise—but he had an advantage.
“I’m on the Pinnacle Fishing pro staff,” he explained. “Along with some other Elite pros, I helped develop their Perfecta DHC5 bass rods. One of our innovations was the Double Helical Construction, which replaces most of the glass in the rod with diagonal carbon inner and outer wraps, in opposite directions. So this rod is extremely light and very strong, but the diagonal tape makes it more forgiving than traditional north-south rods.”
That forgiveness would come into play on every cast. Elias fished the Alabama Rig on a 7’11” heavy-action Pinnacle Perfecta DHC5 flipping stick, a rod rated for up to 3-oz. lures and 30-lb. test line. “You had to have a really good rod…that 7-11 is an awesome rod because it’s got enough tip in it to fish that braid. When you fish a line that virtually has no stretch on most heavy, solid-tipped rods, you’re gonna have fish tear off—but this rod could really absorb the shock of big fish bitin’ and fightin’, sometimes two at a time. I caught several doubles, but lost very few fish.
“I had to go with a lob cast whenever possible...until I got around bridge pilings and under the bridge. Then I just had to wing it side-arm to get the distance I needed. The rod would take a full parabolic bend on those types of casts.” Elias laughed, “I dare you to try that with any other flipping rod!”
Elias topped his Perfecta rod with a Pinnacle Optimus XT baitcaster with 6.4:1 retrieve, a choice he later affirmed. “That reel really held up under all that. I want to tell you, when you’re throwing and grinding 5 ounces of bait back to the boat constantly, and all those big fish—I was really proud of my equipment. It held up great.”
The revolution continues…
Since Elias’ groundbreaking performance, Poss’ small family-operated factory (www.TheAlabamaRig.com) has been deluged with orders for the Alabama Rig. Lead times for order deliveries are currently running as high as 5 weeks.
However, plenty of pros who fished the FLW Everstart Series Championship on Kentucky Lake a week after Elias tamed Guntersville’s bass managed to get their hands on an Alabama Rig or two—and the rig took the top two places (and 6 of the top 10) there.
It’s new, it’s exciting, and it’s revolutionizing the sport of bass fishing before our very eyes. Thanks to Paul Elias’ willingness to try something completely new and different, it looks as though the Alabama Rig is here to stay!
The One That Got Away, Paul Elias
This goes back to the very first Super BASS tournament on Lake Lanier in 1983. While I've lost lots of fish, there's only been one that has lost me a tournament ... and $91,000. That's a lot of money now, but back then it was a ton of money!
It was on the last day, and I was in the Top 10. It was a cloudy and balmy November day — a pretty good day for fishing. This was back when Lanier had lots of big fish, I just hadn't found them yet. Before this last year at Falcon, the biggest fish I ever weighed in during a tournament came from Lanier. It was 9 pounds, 12 ounces.
The first day I only had one fish, an 8-pounder, but made up ground the next day and a half. On the morning of the third day I caught a limit on a Mann's 15+ crankbait, but needed a big keeper to go for the win. I was fishing for about thirty minutes on this secondary point, and caught a 4-pounder to cull a fish. Then I thought I'd try to get a little deeper to tap into the big fish that I knew were down there. There was a log a ways away that looked pretty good, so I tied on a Mann's 20+ and tossed it over there.
It was an old crumbly log, and when I hit it, it kind of split in half. I tugged the bait because I thought I was caught, and when I did, I felt my line surge and pull away. The water is so clear on Lanier that I could see it was in the mouth of an 8-pound-plus fish — one that would easily put me in the lead. She jumped three times during the fight, and since she was still on after that, I knew I had her.
As I pulled her close to the boat, she had just about given up and was 4 or 5 feet below me. As I drug her closer, she shook her head lazily back and forth a few times and the bait worked free. She sat there for a second, then swam away slowly. It all happened in slow motion.
I knew she would get away. I thought I was going to be sick, so much so that I had to sit down for a few minutes to regain my composure.It wasn't as bad as it could have been because that Super BASS didn't count towards the Classic, but that fish swam away with $91,000 of my money.
There's really nothing you can do about those things, and everyone has a story like that. They're heartbreaking. I still see that fish swimming away to this day.