Understanding Rig Mechanics – Martin Crackoff

Understanding Rig Mechanics

As rigs are the most overly complicated, yet least understood item the average angler will come across in everyday fishing situations, I thought a relatively comprehensive article explaining the basis behind rig mechanics, theory, manipulation, cause and effect, was in order. For this article, I am looking at feeding carp, which means carp feeding on the bottom, or in or on top of weed. Fish in mid open water, aren’t feeding when they take a Zig, they are simply investigating what it is, or even if they believe it to be food, it is still not a feeding spell. Floater fishing is a different subject altogether, so will try and cover that in another article, unless someone else wishes to cover it??? What follows is my tilt on it, and as said many times before, there are no wrong ways to do things, only your way of doing it. Others will undoubtedly have differing views to mine, but as I catch fish using rigs the way my mind sees them, I’ll just continue with it.

Whilst I know the subject is covered on a daily basis in every mag ever purchased, 99.9% of these articles are put out by one of two groups. People sponsored by tackle companies… or people that overly complicate what actually happens, due to not understanding the basic physics behind a rig. For this article on rig “mechanics” understand that the mechanics are defined by the laws of physics, so it should be “rig physics” rather than ‘mechanics’… but as ‘mechanics’ describes how items work together, we can just go with that.

To understand anything about rig mechanics and how we use it to catch carp, we first need to understand how carp feed. In a completely natural, stress free environment, a carp will investigate food by sucking it into its mouth, and it will suck quite hard, taking in the food and a good deal of detritus as well. The carp will then sift through the detritus using a gentle sucking and blowing method, whilst it upturns slightly and uses a washing type method similar to that of a bearded nutcase panning for gold. The heavier items drop to the bottom of the mouth and are dropped out by extending and retracting the lips. In the event that the carp has something particularly wrong in its mouth, it can eject with quite a force, this is usually (in nature) only reserved for things like sticks that may get stuck in the mouth, or hooks (in a fishing situation) In an unpressured situation, a carp will feed like this almost exclusively, sifting out food around the lake as it goes. Also, in an unpressurised situation, the better the food source the more actively, and confidently it will feed.

This all changes if the fish are nervous, as cautious carp feed slightly different to confident ones. This caution can come about through many things, seeing or hearing us (more feeling the vibrations coming through the water, sensed through its lateral line) on the bank, lines in the water, coming across something new that it hasn’t seen before or several other things. Once cautious, a carp is far more precise and finicky about what is happening around it. This often leads anglers towards the “Riggy Carp” myth, like something with the brain the size of a pea, has the intelligence to work out rigs… The simple truth is, they are wild animals, and caution is their first line of defence, intellectual thought, reasoning, and theoretical physics, isn’t.

When a cautious carp comes into our baited area, it is rarely the baited area that has made it cautious, but the surroundings and what it has seen or felt on its way to the baited spot. The fact that it may then spook off of your baited spot does not mean your baited spot spooked the carp, more that the carp only needed a gentle nudge to turn caution, into flight, which is a carp’s second defence mechanism. This shows really how hard wired a carp, and any wild animal, is to survival, and the first thing wild animals need to survive, is caution, then flight…

If we think of a cautious carp as “ready for flight” at all times, we’ll see that each and every move it takes is only a reaction to that. Feeding wise, a cautious carp will suck more gently, blow a little harder, and hardly ever get into any real feeding frenzy, and even when it does, it will do so only once it has gone from cautious, to confident. When viewed through the water, the carp seems almost to pluck each morsel of food singly, and often from a more horizontal angle and from slightly further away. Again, this can and does get construed as an “intelligent understanding of rigs”, it isn’t of course, it’s just that a carp with its tail up and its head down can’t get away as quickly (flight) as one that is already horizontal, and something that is concentrating on a close up food source, can’t be looking around for danger. And that is the crux of the situation… carp, and any wild animal, will know there is danger, but it won’t know what that danger is… not until it finds it. This more finicky feeding style has a detrimental effect on our rigs, and certain changes are needed to counter them.

So having looked at the two basic feeding styles of carp, let’s start our journey down the road to understanding carp rigs, and the mechanics behind them to see how and why they work, and just as importantly, when they work, and when they are less effective, I say less effective, rather than “don’t work” because as long as a hook is involved, there is always a chance that the carp could get hooked.

Sorry to say, but this is where things can get a bit confusing… not so much the explaining, or the understanding, but the amount of variances available within each section, and me trying to remember each of them. For this reason, I am going to try and work through each concept of rig, where it fits into the feeding scheme, and lastly where adjustments can be made and for what reason those changes should be attempted. To say this is going to go ‘In Depth’ is probably going to be an understatement and due to my love of words and my own voice, (plus this evening’s choice of tipple, JD Honey) it may get a bit convoluted. But bear with me, and I’m hoping I’ll get to the point eventually.

Looking at the two basic feeding styles of carp, your choice is simply to decide which of the two is happening out in the lake in front of you, and using that decision to pick the rig style best suits. This little bit of information I’m about to give you, will blow your mind at its simplicity. As far as rigs go, it’s probably the most important piece of advice I can give you. There are only two styles of carp rigs… ‘Separation rigs’ and ‘control rigs’. Well that’s what I call them anyway, but that is a good description of the two, and it’s an easy way to remember the difference.

The first style, ‘separation rigs’ act as the name suggests, and relies on the hook and the bait behaving separately, or separating from each other. The second is normally a rig where the bait and hook are close together, and uses the bait to control the hook, hence a ‘control rig’. That’s it, not rocket science, but probably the least BS description of rigs you’ll see in an article this decade. If you think about any rig used in carp fishing, they will all fit into one or the other of these two categories, some, although at first you’ll think are in one group, are actually firmly in the other… like a chod rig, where the bait moves up and down a ‘D’ attached to the hook, suggesting separation as they move separately, the hook and bait are still very much linked, and the bait still controls the hook all the way through a fish mouthing the bait.

Again, in its simplest terms, and partly why I think of rigs as I do… confident carp = confident feeding = separation rigs. Cautious carp = wary carp = control rigs. And whilst this is an overly simplified rule, it will still give you more carp on the bank than simply fishing control rigs all the time. (As most do nowadays) Your only real issue is when to fish separation and when to go with control… but there is another element that makes even that decision easy. As a rule, if you stay quiet, and are fishing away from other anglers, (which is now most of my angling life) then I only fish control rigs if the bottom dictates. Let me explain about separation rigs, and then tell you why they account for the vast majority of my angling time, and why I change over to control rigs when I do.

Separation Rigs

We can see from the basic description above that a separation rig relies on the bait and hook either behaving separately, or actually separating… This type of rig covers things like the hair rig in its various guises, long ‘D’ rigs and other rigs where the bait has a good amount of movement without really affecting the hook. There are many variances of the hair rig, which is at its simplest, a hook with an extra length of line coming from it, on which your bait is attached. Although the original hair came off the bend of the hook, it didn’t offer the best hooking potential, simply because the movement of a hook at its most effective is when it is being pulled from the eye. If you look at the modern versions of the hair rig, the Knotless Knot, the KD rig etc, you can see that they hair comes out from close to the eye of the hook.

Simplicity itself, and 90 odd percent of my fishing.

This effectively makes the ejection of the bait drag the hook the correct way to assist the hooking of the carp. The original ‘D’ rigs work on the same principle. Due to the ‘D’ going a couple of inches down the hooklink before attaching, the bait can be blown out and the hook can stay where it is, until the bait hits the limit of its travel, at which point the bait pulls the hook out eye first, dragging the point out last, as it should.

The principle is simple, give the hook time to drop and catch into flesh. There are also vortexes of water swirling around the mouth, causing the hook to swirl around with it, and acts like  a slashing blade, think about it, if you came across a knife that was still, what are your chances of cutting yourself?, Now think about that same knife waving around all over the place… the chances of an accidental stabbing increase, and so does the chance of the hook catching hold. As you will see, this is a completely different set up to a control rig, and that lack of control over the hook in theory leaves things a bit random, so why would I use a separation rig, when bites come so few and far between in my fishing, and captures are so important?

Well, there are several reasons that my ‘go to’ rig is a separation type rig, firstly is my style of fishing and where I fish. Unpressured waters are perfect for confident feeding carp that take the bait way back in their mouths. This gives the rig the perfect opportunity to perform, and whilst I could still get takes on a control style rig, chances are, the hookhold would not be quite as good, due to one of the major features, or defects in a control rig, and that is that they are best when the carp suck and blow gently (which we’ll get to in a while) whilst the separation rigs work much better under these circumstances.

Even on pressured or hard “riggy” waters, (remember, there is no such thing as a riggy carp… just a cautious one) my first choice is always a separation rig… and I’ll suit my angling to the rig, rather than the other way around. All that means, is that I’ll secrete myself away from other anglers, fish light leads, little bait by catapult (never spod or spomb) and stay quiet and still. This with slack/slackish lines and careful attention to line angles gives me a far better chance of hooking a carp than just relying on a control style rig and trusting solely on its ability to catch a cautious carp should it swim by.

By alleviating the reasons for a carp to come into my swim cautiously, I take away the need to fish a control rig and with it the reason everyone thinks carp are hard to catch or super intelligent. Don’t get me wrong, carp can be very hard to catch, right up until it needs to feed. Unless you have someone fishing right next to you, or are making a load of noise, or casting every ten minutes, the only real hard part about catching carp, is location, and getting them to feed. As written in a few of my articles, these are the only two things I concentrate on when fishing, rigs are so far down the line, that they are barely worth a mention, yet looking into any mag, you’ll see it full of the next wonder rig. Don’t swallow it, like I said up there ^^^, it’s all sales BS. If mags taught anglers about the real things they need to learn, tackle companies, and therefore the people that pay for all the advertising in the mags, would go bust.

In my own fishing, the separation rigs are pretty much the be all, and end all… but every so often, I need to change onto a control rig, and whilst you might think it would be down to fishing an especially hard water, or for carp that “have seen it all”, you’d be wrong. Control rigs for me are only there to fish over certain lake beds, soft silt, or if fishing in or on weed, and when I want a specific presentation to rid myself of issues that a separation rig can’t cope with or is ineffective at fishing. Weed and soft silt cause me to use a control rig, because they are the most effective hooking system with pop ups, so that’s what I’ll use, other things that would see me step away from the separation rigs, are if I’m fishing a bag into weed and if I’m using an extremely short hooklink, both are better served by a control rig, the short hooklink hasn’t got the movement to react well with a hair or similar, and a bag in weed has the same effect, and a hair hasn’t got the space to work. Pretty much anything other than these circumstances will see me buzzing a separation rig out into the lake. Lake difficulty, size, stock, fish size and anything else you can think of will not affect that, even on a super weedy and silty water, the separation rigs will be my mainstay.

Control Rigs

A simple Control Rig, badly tied…

Now I bet you’re all thinking that given the last 2000 words that I’m about to slate control style rigs??? All these modern super rigs, and the crap that goes with them… well, the crap that goes with them I will, as most of the additional stuff is wasted and needless. The rest of it though, isn’t going to get a hammering from me, partly because I’m only really looking at basics here, the theory and the mechanics of this type of rig… Now you’re thinking, “hang on, there are loads of rigs out there, all doing different stuff to catch me carp”??? Right???

No… they all sell you different stuff, they do pretty much the same thing, and any difference they make to your angling, you’d never be able to quantify… with very few exceptions, they work on exactly the same principle, and again a no BS approach from me will tell you how they work, rather than what to buy or how the “experts” think they work. An important part of modern carping, whether you use a separation style rig, or a control style rig, is getting the hook to turn… “experts” will tell you the carp sucks the bait in and as they back away, hook in mouth, the hook turns, and digs in the bottom lip… sounds good doesn’t it? And as they tell you this they show you the underwater footage of a carp getting hooked on a new wonder rig… I know you are all imagining the footage from the latest underwater video pumped out by tackle manufacturers aren’t you?

So what if I told you to watch it again, but with a different thought going through your heads??? It’s a big difference to how the separation rigs work, and it’s why I think of these as two completely different things and ways to present a bait. Watch that footage again, and think “It happens on the way in” instead of this backing away tosh. And now onto how they actually work.

The whole theory behind ‘control rigs’ is controlling the hook, presenting it in the best way for it to catch hold in the mouth of the carp. This is achieved by manipulating several parts of the rig. The bait is affixed in such a way that it has limited movement, and the hook is directly affected by any movement of the bait. The hooklink is almost always stiffened at some point, and added weight can be added in certain places to add extra control. Each little thing can change how the rig works slightly, but most importantly, it affects how the hook behaves, and hooks in the lip.

What you are aiming for, is for the carp to suck at the bait, and somehow get the hook to flip directly into the lower lip. Now getting the rig to flip is easily done, a stiff link from the hook to a few inches down towards the swivel is a start, add a curve and the flip becomes more controlled. Add a little weight at the bottom of the stiff link, and it increases to back pull on the rig. In effect, by doing these three simple things, you have created a control rig. Where the rig acts roughly, where you want it, when you want it to. As the carp sucks, the stiff link touches the bottom lip, due to its curve the bait pulls around, due to the weight, the curve gets a bit more curve as the bait pulls into the mouth, also due to the curve and the weight, the whole lot tries to rotate around the bottom lip, (don’t forget that at this time, the bait is at the back of the hook, which is trying to arc around the bottom lip, meaning that effectively, the bait is also being caused to arc around the bottom lip as well, pivoting around the point that the stiff link is touching the lip.) Momentum causes this arc to continue, until the first point touches the skin inside the mouth, this is of course the hook point. With the added weight pulling slightly back, it gives just enough pull to hold the point where it is, gently grabbing the skin. All this happens in a split second, watch the vids, and you’ll see that even at that speed you can see that it is clearly not from a carp backing off, but is simply happening as the carp sucks in.

The only real trouble is, that with too much suck, the whole pivot, flick and stab is carried too far back into the mouth to be effective, and so the rig becomes less useful. If you know how hard the carp will suck, you can easily make adjustments to counter this, but as my bites are so few and far between, I can be relatively sure, that each situation, feeding spell and mouthing of the bait will be different, so adjustments would have to come afterwards, which is far too late for me to risk. Hence my reasoning behind sticking with separation rigs…

The curve under the hook to twist and flick the hook into place.

Hooklink Materials

The type of hooklink material you use in a rig can also change the mechanics of a rig. Obviously if you use a stiff hooklink, there is less movement available, and vice versa with a supple hooklink. But how it lays in the water also can be used to your advantage, and although the trend for the last couple of decades is to use a stiffened link to get your rig to lay out away from the lead, this does have its drawbacks.

Supposing the rig lies out in a straight line away from the lead, and pretty much follows the angle your mainline is heading, so straight away from you. All rigs, no matter what one, rely on the hook being able to reach the mouth, but what happens if a carp comes from the far side of the rig and sucks to get your bait in its mouth? With the line already aiming straight in that direction, the hook and bait have almost no movement. Same as if the rig is aiming right and the fish comes from the right. With a complete stiff line between the lead and the hook, there will always be an angle that has almost zero chance of catching a carp. This is only really relevant if you are using a bottom bait set up as with a pop up, you will still have a hinged section lifted off the lake bed, giving the hook and bait a little movement.

As an answer to that issue, most would think of simply using a supple hooklink instead, which although fine for my style of fishing with separation rigs, would deter from any of the control rigs, mainly because of the lines inability to twist and flick the hook. Like I say, a supple hooklink is great for separation rigs, as you sometimes want that uncontrolled hook to be flapping around in the mouth, but what do you do if you want control, and movement?

This is where a combi link is ideal, you still get a bit of movement with the hook and bait, from whatever angle required, but if the last inch or two is of a stiffer material, you can get the twist and flick of a control rig. The only real issue with supple materials, is when you are not used to casting them, as they can tangle a bit… But please realise, tangled hooklinks can come to almost any hooklink if cast wrong on the wrong set up, whilst practice can make perfect and tangles a thing of the past, so don’t give up on supple hooklinks just because they tangle every so often, just give it time and practice casting till you are sure that you are just touching the clip just before the lead hits the water, and then feeling the lead down. Hitting the clip too hard, or too high will almost always tangle a supple hooklink, so recast until you feel it’s just right.

In the meantime though, how do you fish a rig that tangles less but still has some movement when a fish sucks from the angle described? Two simple options are a hinged type hooklink, with a break in the stiff coating of the hooklink, and the second is a curved hooklink. Both will give the hook and bait a bit of movement that could be all the difference between catching, and blanking.

A hinge in a stiff coated material to add movement.

So why use supple materials all the way through? Well if I’m fishing in something like weed, I want my rig to sit tight to the hook and have plenty of movement, even on a short rig. The only way I can achieve this effectively is to fish a supple hooklink. It not only gives me a lot of movement, but on the cast it will almost fall in a pile, ensuring it can be sucked from every angle without any hindrance. This I personally feel is massively overlooked by those who supposedly know what they are talking about. Even fishing a short hooklink it still gives move effective movement than a stiff hooklink sucked from the wrong direction. This is all the incentive I need to fish them, and do for an awful lot of my angling, but as I say, most of my time fishing is done with a separation rig anyway, so I have no real need to change, and when I do fish a control rig, chances are it will consist of a combi link rather than a complete stiff set up.

Mixing it all up.

Whilst I rarely dabble in the real techy side of rigs anymore, I still like to think my way around issues within rigs… this often leads to new rigs being “invented”, and like Rob Maylin’s bent hook rig, they can be made up simply to suit a single situation I come across in my angling.

About 15 years ago, I was thinking about getting a rig working with true separation properties, and whilst I achieved that, it raised other issues that caused the rig to be ineffective in other ways. As far as it went, it caught some good carp, but the issues it had, caused me to just return to my standard rigs again.

The object was to get a rig that acted as a control rig, but taking it a stage further, by giving it separation once a carp tried to blow the bait out. To be honest, I could have just tied an original ‘D’ rig up and saved myself a lot of hassle, but like I say, I still actually enjoy playing with rigs, even if I never end up using them. I know a mate that still uses this rig, and catches well on it.

The theory was that the rig as set in pic one gets sucked in, and behaves as a control rig, offering the opportunity to hook the carp on the way in, but should the carp suck too hard, I knew the rig as set up was virtually no use, and so I started working on getting the ‘hair’ to break away given a certain angle of blow, and that angle was simply if blown back towards the weight. This was achieved by creating a clip from a short piece of stiff mono, and a short piece of silicone tubing on the hook. The ring goes over the stiff mono, and then clips into place as you push in on past the silicone. Adjusting the force needed to release the hair was simply a case of moving the silicone towards the eye of the hook a little to lessen the force needed to release the ring or towards the bend of the hook if you needed it tighter.

The “issue” I mention, came about if smaller species (or cray fish in my case) nibbled at the bait, as it could release the clip, and then you have a hook over 4 inches away from your bait… not ideal.

One good thing that came from that rig though, was that I realised that the two main types of rig, could be melded together to a degree. Nearly all of my rigs now have a stiff curved section just below the hook to assist with turning the rig, and hopefully flicking the rig into the bottom lip, but they still have a hair, and do have a slightly less curved section so that it doesn’t matter so much how hard the carp sucks, as it will effectively still act as a standard separation rig if the control part of it misses the target.

The whole idea of understanding rigs and the mechanics behind them, is simply so we can look at a situation and design something to suit. Way back in the 80’s one rig I used to good effect, and one that still goes out, was dubbed “The Cherry Rig” and whilst I know that in itself will cause a few giggles, the rig itself will have you questioning everything about rig mechanics, especially whether I have any understanding of it, and whether you should listen to me at all. But the explanation is simple and whilst this is a newer version to that which was used at the start, I’m sure once you understand the theory, you’ll understand why it has caught many a good carp since I first used it.

If you look at the picture below, you will see something that is against all of my teachings on rigs, strange ring placements, overly complicated, odd set up, and pretty much a clusterfuck of ideas. So what brought me to play around with such a hotchpotch of terminal tackle? Well that came about through watching a mate fish a very basic “Cherry rig” which was just a stiffened hair (by use of rig tubing) on a bog standard off the eye hair rig, and like you, I pissed myself. A week later though, I thought more about it, tied one up and considered the mechanics of the rig as it was. TBH, I couldn’t really see much of an improvement over a standard hair if there was one, but thinking through things and making a few small adjustments here and there, I added a split shot at the bottom of the hair to weigh the hook down, just make it heavier, then considered using it with a pop up instead of a bottom bait as I had seen it used. The supple hair with tubing was changed to Amnesia, with a supple 2-3mm gap where it was tied to the hook. This was spread over a matter of weeks, and not once was it cast out in that time, even though my mate had had several carp on the original rig already, but I knew the adjustments would make a devastating change to the mechanics and effectiveness of the rig.

Since then, the supple link between the hook and the Amnesia has been replaced by the ring and a short D rig style loop, the hooklink is no longer supple as we used to fish it, but a combi link to add a chance of the twist and flick of a control rig, and the Amnesia replaced with a folded fluro (folded to take a hair stop at the required length)… Now, how does it work???

The original idea was that the hook is pushed by the stiff hair into the lower lip. But as with what is effectively a separation rig, especially one with a bottom bait on, there is a certain amount of control missing for that to happen very often, so the second idea, was to make that an almost certainty. So a pop up was added to lift that section of the hair, and a weight added to the bottom of the hair meaning the top is lighter than the bottom, so the bait must go above the hook (simple physics) This causes the bait to rotate around the supple part of the hair (now the ring) and so forcing the hook down and into the bottom lip. This is of course added to, by using the curved section below the hook to offer a chance of twist and flick to the fray. Now I’m sure that once you’ve dried your eyes from the giggling fit you had, you can see what makes it a rig I still use, even if I’m usually too lazy to tie it up that often.

Manipulation and the affects.

Well we’re finally getting to the end of it, so I’d best give a brief description of how to adjust what happens to a rig, and how that affects its mechanics. The simplest thing you can do to a rig, is change its length. This can simply be due to short weed, deep silt, or hard gravel, but how does that affect the rig itself? The most obvious thing when lengthening a rig, is that there will be more movement available at the hook end. This can be viewed as a good thing, allowing the carp “more rope to hang itself” and less chance of the carp using the lead to rid itself of the hook, but also you could say, the carp has to move further before it feels the lead, and therefore it has more time to rid itself of the hook without you even knowing about it. It also gives a much slower reaction time to any bolting methods you may be employing at the lead section of your set up. By shortening the hooklink, you speed up the reaction time of both any bolt methods, and the hooking potential of the rig… but it also allows the carp to use the lead as a means to rid itself of the hook. Personally I leave rig length choice down to the lake bed I am fishing over, and leave it at that. Relying on a sharp hook and crossing my fingers is far better than worrying about the hooklength being right or wrong.

As I have already covered stiff against supple rigs, I shall just move onto the last inch or three of the rig. Starting at the stiff ‘control’ section just below the hook. With a long section of stiff fluro or similar under the hook, the turn and flip is slowed down, but gives added control, by shortening it, you’ll get a faster turn but less control. I guess you can see where this all going… add something, lose something else… With a tighter curve, you add twist and flick, but lose any depth control if the fish sucks too hard, less curve and the opposite happens… more depth control, less twist and flick. It’s the same wherever you adjust something on a rig… whilst gaining something, it will always be at the detriment of something else. Even the hair… Make it short and the hook goes further in the mouth, but lose separation, make it long and get the separation, but lose the hook going in as deep. Take your pick how you want to play it.

This is the biggest problem with anyone saying this is the rig… small adjustments on the day will make big differences one way or another, and until you’ve blanked, or caught a few, you won’t know for sure whether it was a good move, or a bad move.

Anyway, time to cast out a par boiled potato to see if anything still likes them.




4 thoughts on “Understanding Rig Mechanics – Martin Crackoff

  1. Tarby
    stephenrhewer says:

    Wow , the most comprehensive article on rig presentation I think I have ever read and all makes perfect sense , after all no carp has ever been a member of mensa , many thanks , Steve Hewer .

  2. Tarby
    iwysan says:

    Thankyou for an extremely informative and insightful article. You’ve broken down a veritable minefield of a subject into simple and easy to understand terms. A captivating read!

  3. Tarby
    Tarby says:

    A great account of understanding, well thought out, well written and if this doesn’t sort things out then nothing will- LOVE IT Great stuff Martin 😉

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