Inshore Umbrella Rigs
Most everyone has heard the old saying, "there's strength in numbers". In regards to the latest tackle craze to sweep across inshore waters that certainly seems to be the case. Umbrella rigs, contraptions which allow anglers to retrieve multiple artificial lures at once, have rapidly gained popularity across the Gulf Coast in the past year and have proven to be quite effective for a number of inshore game fish species.

Some fishermen may believe the success of umbrella rigs is simply a matter of "having more hooks in the water." However, umbrellas aren't necessarily designed to catch fish simple because more hooks mean more opportunities. Rather it is the illusion an umbrella rig conveys -- the illusion of being more than a lonely little prey item. In this instance, it is a "more is better" issue to some extent, as predators which are prone to spend their time seeking balls of baitfish rather than seeking out solo prey are more likely to pounce on an umbrella rig than a single lure. Umbrella rigs are also more visible, especially from distance due to the "pack" of baits they carry. And, not only are they more visible, but the multiple baits displace more water than a single bait, making an umbrella rig easier for fish to find in off-colored water.

In general, an umbrella rig, also referred to as an "Alabama rig", consists of multiple leaders, usually made of wire, which flair apart from a central line tie. The entire rig is tied to the standing line via the central line tie. A bait or lure is then attached to each of the individual leaders. Umbrella rigs vary in the number of leaders. The most common for inshore purposes is a 5-leader rig such as the Mann's Alabama Rig and YUM's YUMBrella Rig. Each of these rigs has a longer (7-inch) leader in the center surrounded by four shorter (5-inch) leaders. YUM also has a two-leader rig known as the Double Up, which pulls the baits in a side-by-side tandem manner. This rig can be used with variety of baits and lures, including topwater plugs. Texas tackle manufacturer Toby Hogan is set to release his version of what he calls the 'Bama Rig. Hogan is releasing 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-leader configurations.

Originally, umbrella rigs were invented and utilized to imitate small schools of baitfish for big offshore species such as tuna, sailfish and blue marlin. The downsized versions were originally pioneered for bass on inshore lakes and reservoirs. Again, the desired effect was that of imitating a small school of baitfish. In the coastal setting, umbrella rigs can be used to imitate schools of baitfish or pods of shrimp. Basically, an umbrella rig can be configured to imitate any prey item which tends to pack tightly into bunches for defensive purposes. Anglers can customize umbrellas to imitate prevailing prey items by switching which lures are fitted on the umbrella rig.

Essentially, umbrella rigs will catch any predator that preys on clusters of shrimp or baitfish. While this includes most every species which swims in Texas inshore waters, some species are more prone to this behavior than others. Speckled trout routinely bust into balls of glass minnows or pilchards or pods of shrimp. Redfish take part in "bait busting" less often than specks, but when found in deeper bay water or around the jetties, they, too, will crash bait balls. During the summer months, seasonal species such as Spanish mackerel, bonito and jack crevalle are well known to attack bait pods with abandon and are particularly vulnerable to umbrella rigs.

Again, umbrella rigs are meant to imitate prey items tightly bunched, so the lures selected for use on umbrella rigs should imitate such prey items. Soft-plastic baitfish imitations, artificial shrimp and spoons are the best bets. Plugs can be used, but single hook baits are safer and more efficient on umbrella rigs with more than three leaders.

While umbrella rigs are quite effective for a variety of inshore fishing situations, they are not for use everywhere. Because they tend to land with a considerable splash, they are a bit too noisy for use in shallow water. They are best used in deeper water and, particularly, in areas where baitfish and shrimp are most likely to be found balled up. This usually means deep water structure such as jetties, bridges and channel edges, although there are times when schools or pods of baitfish can be found routinely in open water areas. This is particularly true of glass minnows and pilchards.

Tackle considerations -- As a rule, a longer rod, stiffer rod and heavier line than what is generally used for inshore light-tackle fishing is necessary to effectively fish umbrella rigs. Generally, a fully loaded umbrella rig will weigh even more than a popping cork rig. Remember, even if using light individual lures, the umbrella is multiplied by the number of leaders it has. For instance, if you are rigging the umbrella with 1/8 ounce jigs, the combined weight would be 5/8 ounce in lures plus the weight of the umbrella itself. Most bay rods aren't meant to cast or retrieve payloads exceeding 3/4 ounce, so a bit heavier (Medium Heavy) action rod is in order. And, while it may be tempting to use lighter individual lures to lessen the overall weight, keep in mind the increased bulk of the umbrella rig will slow the sink rate. So, in order to have the rig sink properly, each bait will need to be weighted in accordance with the desired sink rate for that individual lure.

Casting umbrellas -- Anglers fishing umbrella rigs shouldn't expect to fire off a rifle shot of a cast. Because of their considerable bulk and weight, casting umbrella rigs is more akin to lobbing a popping cork than firing a spoon across a flat. Anglers should use an elongated casting motion and avoid an abrupt start or stop.

Retrieving umbrellas -- There are a variety of ways to retrieve an umbrella rig. Again, umbrella rigs are meant to imitate pods of baitfish or shrimp. Anglers should tailor their retrieve to imitate the way these prey items move when they are in a group. It is important to remember, shrimp and baitfish move differently individually than in a group setting. It is highly unlikely to see an entire pod of baitfish erratically darting and zigzagging through the water column. Rather, they tend to move methodically and in consortium. When startled, they will make a quick move or two, but otherwise they tend to move in elongated motions. Anglers need to mimic these motions.

One of the most effective manners for retrieving umbrellas is a dead-stick retrieve. Simply allow the rig to sink, then slowly lift the rod to allow it to rise before letting it fall again. This is a great way to imitate a pod of shrimp or school of baitfish slowly rising and descending in the water column. If fishing baitfish-imitating jigs on an umbrella rig, anglers can use a "speed retrieve" -- simply reel fast with a high rod tip to imitate a school of baitfish fleeing. When working umbrella rigs around deep structure such as bridge pilings, it is sometimes helpful to use a single quick twitch of the rod tip to make it appear as if the umbrella rig is a school of suddenly startled fish before allowing a more methodical retrieve to resume. As is the case with any lure or presentation, anglers should experiment. They should just keep in mind that they are attempting to imitate a school of bait, not a single shrimp or baitfish.

Landing fish with umbrellas -- While umbrella rigs can give fishermen an edge when it comes to hooking fish, they can make landing fish a bit tricky. With multiple hooks flopping around, landing nets can be a liability and hand-grabbing can be dangerous. The best solution is to use a Boga Grip-style fish grabber on most fish. However, despite the time it may take to untangle the nearly half dozen baits following landing a fish, using a landing net is worth the trouble if a truly big fish is hooked.  

Very often when a new, highly effective fishing lure or technique emerges, it is said it "should be illegal". In the case of umbrella rigs, they actually are illegal in some states, such as Minnesota. But they are perfectly legal and highly effective in Texas.