Chesapeake Bay charter captains may have been the first anglers to figure out just how effective umbrella rigs are for striped bass, but Glenn Briggs is a quick study. As a guide on central Virginia’s Lake Anna, Briggs is constantly searching for effective ways to put his clients on fish. A trip to the Bay got him thinking.
“We were catching the daylights out of stripers on these umbrella rigs, so I wondered if they might work on freshwater stripers,” said Briggs. “I wasn’t sure because Anna is pretty clear and the fish get worked over pretty hard. If you look at an umbrella rig, it’s not very subtle. I’m kind of surprised it doesn’t spook the fish.”
Turns out, it didn’t matter. That was nearly 15 years ago and Briggs now relies on umbrellas not only when the stripers are actively feeding on shad near the surface, but when they are hugging the bottom or holding somewhere in between.
Umbrella rigs are little more than a two crossed wires with two loops on each arm. The wires are joined in the middle to form an X and there is an additional loop in the middle of those crossed wires. Briggs attaches a foot-long leader to each loop and a soft-plastic bait to each leader, offering the fish nine different baits on the same line.
“It looks like a whole school of shad swimming through the water, which is why I think it is so effective,” he said. “I’ve caught as many as five stripers at once on a single umbrella rig, and doubles and triples are pretty common.”
It took Briggs a season or two to figure out exactly how to use these rigs most effectively, but he eventually learned to troll so the baits stay close to the bottom without dragging it. Sometimes, however, he will pull the baits a little higher if he’s marking stripers off the bottom on his Lowrance depth finder. Briggs said stripers will rise to take a bait, but they won’t drop down. That’s why it’s critical to pay attention to your depth finder as you troll.
“I’ll use a quarter-ounce jig head if the fish are closer to the surface or if they are in shallower water, and I’ll go up to as much as a half-ounce head on each bait if the fish are 25 or 30 feet down,” explained Briggs.
He also learned that different baits and colors work on different days. Some days, Anna’s stripers prefer a white, quarter-ounce bucktail; other days they favor a Bass Pro Shops Squirmin’ Shad soft plastic shad.
“I’ll put three or four colors on the same umbrella to see which one the fish prefer. If I catch fish on one particular color, I’ll switch all my baits to that color. Most of the time, however, I use pearl white or chartreuse,” he said, adding that it is critical to use the same size baits on each eye. “If you use different weights on the same umbrella rig, it won’t run true. The whole rig will spin and that will really mess up your line.”
Some states limit anglers to a single lure or a certain amount of hooks, so check your local regulations to make sure it’s legal to use nine baits at once. If it isn’t, simply clip the hooks off eight baits and leave the middle bait alone. Some anglers actually drop that center bait back on a longer leader in order to give the fish an obvious target, said Briggs.