By Steve Price
January 13, 2012
If Randy Howell’s recent experience on Lake Guntersville stands as any indication of just how effective the five-bait umbrella rig really can be, then it may be time every bass fisherman gives this rig serious consideration. All Howell and a friend did was put 27 pounds of fish into the livewell in less than four hours of fun fishing.
Howell, a veteran Bassmaster Elite competitor who will be competing in next month’s Bassmaster Classic, has been using the umbrella rig as much as possible since it burst onto the fishing scene this past October, and that Guntersville day wasn’t the first time he’s filled the boat using the multi-lure, wire-and-swivel presentation. More importantly, he’s enjoying his best success using three different Yamamoto lures as his experience grows. Those lures are the 3.5-inch Swimbait, the 4-inch Swimming Senko, and the 5-inch Single Tail Grub.
“I know the Kut Tail Worms and the Tubes will definitely catch fish, too,” he adds, “but I’m having so much fun with the other lures, sometimes it’s hard to change, especially when you have to change five lures instead of one.”
That 27-pound haul Howell and his friend made provide a good example. They’d each rigged with the Swimbaits (031 – Blue Pearl/Large Silver; 237 – Daiquiri/Large Black), and started fishing around one of the bridges that crosses the famous 69,000 acre Alabama impoundment. Howell’s friend’s first cast produced a 6 ½ pounder, and a couple of casts later he added another over five. Howell’s first bass weighed 7-pounds, and his next weighed 5 ½. That’s how it went as they moved around, fishing different bays and large pockets in addition to the bridge pilings.
Changing lures was all but unthinkable with that kind of action, but Howell did force himself to put down his umbrella rig and use a conventional one-lure presentation. While his friend continued to catch quality bass over four pounds with his Swimbaits, Howell managed a single two-pounder with a jerkbait.
“What I have learned in the few months I’ve been using the umbrella rig is that it’s an excellent clear water presentation that produces best when you find concentrations of baitfish, as you do in the fall and winter months,” explains Howell. “At Guntersville, the water temperature was 48 degrees, which is pretty cold for bass there, and we never fished the milfoil at all.
“This time of year, shad gather in huge concentrations you can see with your electronics, and in the colder water, they’re often on the bottom in eight to 15 feet of water. The umbrella rig gives the appearance of a small group of shad swimming away from the concentration, and these are the ones bass target because they look so vulnerable and so easy to catch.
“The umbrella rig attracts big bass, too. Several of the big fish I’ve caught had more than one Swimbait in their mouth, as if they were trying to swallow all five lures at once.”
The beauty of fishing the umbrella rig is its simplicity. Howell makes a long, lobbing cast, lets the rig sink to the bottom, then simply begins reeling it back. No hops, speed changes, or any of the irregular actions he uses with spinnerbaits and crankbaits. The slow retrieve allows all five lures to work in rhythm; any irregular motions he might impart with his rod or reel destroy this rhythm. This is one reason the Swimbaits are so effective, he believes, since all five tails are kicking in unison the same way a school of shad swims.
Howell rigs the Swimbaits with 1/4 and 3/8-ounce Swimbait Jig Heads, using the lighter head when he’s fishing down to about 15 feet, and the heavier jig head in deeper water, since it falls quicker and he can reel it slightly faster to stay off the bottom. Because he fishes this rig with the exposed hooks, it’s a better open water presentation.
In shallower water, Howell exchanges the Swimbaits for green pumpkin Swimming Senkos, rigging them Texas style with a 3/32-ounce, 4/0 Swim Jig Hook. These long shank hooks, designed by Gary, match perfectly with the 4-inch lure, letting them fall slowly while at the same time allowing Howell to retrieve through weeds and light vegetation. Again, however, the retrieve is always slow and steady without any irregular actions.
“My third lure choice is the Single Tail Grub (031 – Blue Pearl/Large Silver; 178 – Smoke/Black & Red) when I’m fishing lakes that have large spotted bass populations,” adds Howell. “They’re normally slightly deeper and in more open water, so I can rig with a 1/8-ounce Jighead with the hook exposed. Again, I’m sure spotted bass would hit other lures, but for some reason, I’ve been doing much better with the Single Tail Grubs.
“Overall, the biggest key to using the umbrella rig this time of year is finding shad. One way to do this is by going to the places you’d fish in the autumn when baitfish have migrated into the backs of pockets. Instead of fishing really shallow, however, just back out to deeper water in that 10 to 15-foot range. You can look for shad around bridges, too, or below dams, and in channels or migration routes that lead into larger pockets and bays. Sonar units with sidescan capabilities help locate baitfish balls, too.
“In the winter on many lakes, when bass begin feeding on shad, they push the schools to the surface where sea gulls also begin feeding on them, and seeing these gulls is another way to locate the shad. Normally, this activity begins in October and continues through much of the winter, depending on where you are.”
Howell has been surprised at how many bass he’s caught out away from the shoreline where most anglers usually fish. When he and his friend caught all those fish at Guntersville, he never fished shallow, nor did they ever fish the vegetation for which Guntersville is so well known. He kept his boat in 12 feet of water or deeper and was throwing to open water without any visible targets. Fishing like this takes some mental adjustments, he emphasizes, but the results are amazing.
Because the multiple lures and jigheads can create a rig weighing four ounces or more, Howell emphasizes the need to use a long, heavy action rod to control it. His overall favorite is Daiwa’s 7’4” extra-heavy Steez flipping stick, and he uses 70-pound braided line. The umbrella rig is not cast, it’s lobbed, and the long rod allows him to do that; the braid is sensitive, helps in the long lobs, and provides excellent hook-ups because it doesn’t stretch.
“I know we’re all experimenting with different lures and presentations with the umbrella rig,” continues the Yamamoto pro, “and it’s going to be interesting to see what we all learn. I’ve heard fishermen down at Lake Okeechobee are using 1/8-ounce spinnerbaits on their umbrella rigs and fishing over and through the vegetation down there. I have also talked to some fishermen in Alabama who’ve actually been using umbrella rigs since long before bass anglers discovered them, rigging with five big 10-inch worms and crawling them through brush at night.
“I use homemade umbrella rigs, but quite a few companies are making them now, so they’re readily available,” he concludes, “and experimenting with different lures is easy for anyone to try. Surprisingly, the multiple lure concept like this isn’t new. Both striped bass and saltwater fishermen have been trolling them for years, so it makes you wonder why we bass fishermen haven’t discovered them before now.”