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Flawed A-rig argument

Beaver Lake champion Jason Christie used an umbrella rig with five swimbaits and four blades. (Photo by Brett Carlson)
01.May.2013 by Brett Carlson

Yep, just what we need – yet another Alabama rig opinion piece. I promise mine will offer a different perspective, one coming from a writer with no vested interest. In a nutshell, I contend that one of the main arguments against the A-rig is completely unfounded. Let me start with a quick story.

In the days leading up to the Beaver Lake event, everyone knew the A-rig was going to play – that was all anybody talked about during practice. Day one of the tournament got under way and I ran under the Highway 12 Bridge and up the river as part of our On-The-Water coverage team.

Fellow FLW writer Rob Newell headed the opposite direction – down the lake toward the dam. We both got back to the truck an hour or so before weigh-in. In between bites of a Chick-fil-A sandwich, Newell looked over at me and said, “So much for that Alabama rig.” Confused, I replied that just about everyone I saw was throwing it. Now Newell was the one who was confused as his comment was dead serious; none of the smallmouth guys he followed were using it.

But up the river, it was A-rig insanity all over again. First I saw Brandon Coulter with a big bag, then Drew Benton, then Scott Canterbury, Koby Kreiger and finally Barry Wilson. On day two Jason Koby Kreiger got off to a hot start Friday morning.Christie joined the party and the rest is history.

After four days and nearly 30 hours of being bombarded by Alabama rigs, I can definitively state that an A-rig is NOT a magic wand. I watched Coulter sling it for four hours Saturday morning without a bite. I saw Brandon McMillan, who I consider an immensely talented rookie, throw it for almost an entire day without a keeper. On the other hand I witnessed flurries by Kreiger, Wilson and Christie. This was high-level competitive angling, not shooting fish in a barrel as some would have you believe.

I will also be the first to acknowledge the A-rig has negative attributes. For starters, it gets monotonous to see all the anglers throwing the same thing. I’ll buy the argument that pros build a certain personality or “brand” over the years. Fans learn to identify with these guys based on their styles. For example, Randall Tharp and Andy Morgan are flippers through and through. Brent Ehrler is a finesse fisherman and meter master. Jimmy Houston loves to chuck and wind a spinnerbait. Mark Rose crushes them offshore with deep-diving crankbaits. The list goes on and on. If everyone is throwing umbrella rigs, those personalities become diluted and an element of fun is taken out of the sport.

Personally, my least favorite A-rig attribute is the tangling and mangling of fish. In those same four days, I saw roughly a dozen bass awkwardly come to the boat with hooks stuck in both the mouth and body. While this was the exception, not the rule, the tangled fish just look bad. There were other instances where the bass wasn’t caught inside the mouth, but below it towards the back and belly. As a result, these fish had cuts and gashes in their skin. I don’t pretend to be a biologist and I have no idea if any real harm is being done. But visually it doesn’t look right and from a media standpoint the photos are less appealing.

Those are my main two negatives. My biggest point of contention is with those who say the Alabama rig is an idiot’s technique that is allowing “nobodies” to win major tournaments. I’ve even heard people say the A-rig is threatening the livelihood of the accomplished pro. That is flat wrong. Quite frankly, the Alabama rig is not having a direct, long-term effect. You think I’m crazy? Look at the names of the FLW Tour winners since the A-rig was launched.

Tharp

Ehrler

Long

Castrol pro David Dudley shows off his 2012 FLW Tour Angler of the Year bounty.Dudley

Martin

Lefebre

Dudley

Wheeler

Nixon

Rose

Marks

Benton

Ehrler

Christie

Outside of Marks, a well-respected regional fisherman and lure designer at Strike King, the remaining 13 pros are a “Who’s Who” of professional bass fishing; they’re the best of the best. Furthermore, look at the FLW Tour Angler of the Year race the past two seasons. It’s the same names around the top of the standings as always – the Dudleys, Powrozniks, Ehrlers, Christies, Morgans and Thrifts. If anyone can catch them on an A-rig, how come nothing has changed in the standings?

Yes, the Alabama rig is responsible for a big day from a lesser-known pro from time to time. But over the course of a four-day tournament and over the course of a full FLW Tour season, the cream of the crop always rises to the top – Alabama rig or no Alabama rig.

It is human nature to get riled up about a controversial technique and that dominance is still fresh in everyone’s mind. But let’s revisit the facts. We’ve had exactly 14 FLW Tour events since Paul Elias unveiled the Original Alabama Rig at Lake Guntersville. Of those 14, exactly two were won on an umbrella rig and both of those were at the same venue – Beaver Lake.

Has the Alabama rig changed the game? Absolutely. But it hasn’t changed the players that are dominating the game. In conclusion, I’m still not sure if the A-rig has a place in professional bass fishing. I say we give it a little more time and continue to evaluate.



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