Essential Bottom Fishing Rigs – A Comprehensive Guide

Basic Bottom Fishing Rigs

Basic Bottom Fishing Rigs – Source:

Bottom fishing can be a hit or miss game – a test of patience, ingenuity, and skill. While finding bottom fish requires knowledge of the area you’re fishing in addition to tactical drifting and/or anchoring, keeping fish on the line is a whole other story should you manage to get a bite. When you’re fishing deep water reefs, wrecks, or ledges for relentlessly strong bottom species, your tackle will be pushed to it’s limits. You can have the best rods and reels on the market, but if you’re not using a steadfast bottom rig – you’re wasting your time.

As basic as bottom fishing may appear, the quality of the rig you drop into the depths has everything to do with your success. Flawless knots, quality terminal tackle, and premium leader material maximize your chances of boating big bottom fish, while anything less will leave you headed home empty handed.

Buying bottom fishing rigging materials

If you’re fishing in South Florida waters, a full arsenal of bottom fishing equipment is a must. You need to equip yourself with enough rigging material to quickly produce up to a dozen rigs during the course of a full day offshore (sometimes more depending on the structure you’re fishing). The basic components of a bottom rig are hooks, leaders, swivels, and weights – but there’s a few other nuances you shouldn’t neglect like spacer beads, rigging bands, floss, crimps, and lights.

When you set out to purchase rigging materials for bottom fishing – focus on securing the best quality hooks, leaders, and swivels first. When it comes to hooks, wide gap 2X strong circle hooks are the way to go. I recommend you purchase a selection of 7/0 – 10/0 extra strong circle hooks (VMC, Owner, Mustad) as well as light wire Mustad demon circles in 5/0 and 6/0. When it comes to leader material, spare no expense and invest in high quality flourocarbon.  In addition to being more durable than monofilament, flourocarbon is also stiff – which translates to fewer tangles while dropping baits down. Pick up spools of Yo-Zuri pink in 40, 60, and 80lb test.  Definitely keep a few spools of monofilament leader in stock as well – 20lb, 40lb, 50lb, and 60lb.

When it comes to swivels – spare no expense.  Swivels are the heart of the rig and often the component which gives way under extreme pressure. Over the years, we’ve lost a regrettable quantity of fish to worn out or poor quality swivels, which is frustrating.  I tend to reiterate this point to all my customers who ask about rigging/terminal tackle: There are hundreds of things offshore you can’t control, the quality of your terminal tackle is not one of them.  Purchase high quality swivels – barrel, clasp, and three way in 60lb, 80lb and 130lb class.  Get the best quality you can afford, preferably SAMPO or Spro.

Buying lead “is what it is”.  The cost of lead isn’t going down anytime soon, so it’s best to bite the bullet and stock up on an assortment of bank sinkers, egg sinkers, and swivel weights. You should keep a stock of bank sinkers in the 12, 16, 20, and 24 oz variety.  Keep one or two 32 oz bank sinkers as well with maybe one or two stick leads as a backup. Buy a variety of egg sinkers – avoiding the smallest of the bunch and the absolute largest of the bunch (2, 3, 4, 8 oz varieties are typically enough).  Swivel weights also come in handy as they don’t spin the line while being dropped or retrieved.  If we can find these in heavy assortments, we use them up to 12 ounces on occasion.

Do not attempt to reinvent the wheel when it comes to bottom fishing rigs. The rigs presented here are tried and true – all of which can be adjusted to suit the species you’re targeting. It’s always better to be overprepared for a big fish fight, so don’t attempt to use lightweight bottom fishing rigs for big species.  The key to bottom fishing effectively is to utilize a rig that can get a bait to the bottom without tangling and survive the strain of an aggressive strike and fight to the surface.

The Classic Three Way Swivel Bottom Rig

This rig is a must if you’re dropping big live baits on wrecks or reefs. In order to make this rig effectively, you will need a strong three way swivel (80b to 130lb), about 15′ to 20′ of flourocarbon, a strong circle hook, a 12″ piece of 20lb monofilament, and a bank sinker of 16 oz to 24 oz. Tie a bimini in your main line (if you’re dropping on wrecks and reefs in deep water – you should be fishing 60 to 80b braid) and tie it with a uni knot to the top eye of the three way swivel.  On the mid-eye of the swivel, tie one end of the flourocarbon leader with a uni knot.  Tie a hook (also with a uni kot or tuna knot) to the other end of the flourocarbon. On the free end of the swivel, make a double ended loop knot with the 20lb mono and tie one end off, leaving one loop of about 8″ trailing (you can use this to quickly attach or remove weights by passing the loop through the eye and going around the entire body of the weight). It should look something like this by the time you’re done.

Three way swivel bottom rig

A Classic Three Way Swivel Bottom Rig. Photo Credit: George Poveromo

If you’re dropping a big bait, be sure to bridle it to the hook so it doesn’t wiggle off on the way down.  While you can drop this rig straight down with no resistance, it’s better to let this rig out slowly so the bait trails behind the entire rig and doesn’t spin.  If the bait is spinning on the way down, you’re either dropping too fast or your leader line wasn’t long enough.  Once you’ve found the bottom, pick up the entire rig a few cranks so it’s suspended off the bottom – you don’t want a big bank sinker sliding across the bottom stirring things up. When you get a bite, crank till you are tight with the fish and stay tight – the circle hook will set, but maintaining pressure is key – the dangling weight can occasionally get wrapped in the line and might act as a counter balance dehooker.  If you stay tight, you’ll win the fight.

Because flourocarbon is expensive, some captains will use a 10′ piece of 6olb mono and a 10′ piece of flourocarbon – joined by a double uni knot. While this is effective, an entire leader of flourocarbon seems to perform better during the drop. You can experiment with shortening or lengthing the line which connects the weight to the swivel, but don’t go overboard.  Too short and the rig won’ drop properly (the weight will spin and the leader line will wrap the main line), too long and the weight will snag the bottom regularly. Longer leader lines seem to perform better when the current is strong – as it keeps the bait away from the weight.  Some mutton snapper fishermen swear by longer leaders on the bottom – the theory being that a weight dragging/rolling on the bottom scares fish away.

The “knocker” Rig

This classic bottom rig is used the world over for all kinds of bottom species.  Lighter versions of the rig can be used for yellowtail, gray, and red snappers while  heavier variations are ideal for big groupers and muttons.  The rig is very basic, composed of a barrel swivel, 5′ to 10′ leader and a hook. The main line attaches to one end of the barrel swivel while the leader is tied to the other. A small bead is placed on the leader line followed by an egg sinker. The hook is then tied on to finish the rig.  By the time you’re done tying, the rig should look like this:

Knocker Rig for Bottom Fishing

A Traditional Knocker Rig

The advantage here is that leader can slide as the fish takes the bait, allowing for the circle hook to set more effectively.  When you feel the strike, you have to get tight quick in order to prevent the fish from diving into structure or dragging the weight into structure. The strike is very distinct when fishing a knocker rig, because you feel the bite and the fish swimming away. The key, as with most bottom fishing, is to get tight quick and keep constant pressure on the fish once its hooked. Knocker rigs can be fished effectively on spinning or conventional tackle, but whatever gear you’re using – make sure the reel has a fast retrieve ratio.  The faster you pick up the line, the more likely it is to keep the fish on the hook.

The Florida Rig – AKA The In-Line Rig or The Fish Finder Rig

Similar to the knocker rig – this setup keeps the weight a few feet from the hook at all times. The weight is added to the main line, followed by a small bead, before being tied to one end of the barrel swivel.  This allows the main line to pass through the egg sinker, so the fish can run once hooked. This is rig is effective for grouper fishing, but is ideal for snapper – as the fish can grab the bait and run without the resistance of the weight.  A circle hook matched to the size of the bait is perfect for this bottom rig.  A segment of 15′ to 25′ of leader material separates the hook from the swivel – allowing plenty of line for the bait to move with the current.  The trick with this rig is to let the bait feed out with the current – away from the weight which is rolling around on the bottom.  Once tied, the rig should look something like this:

Fish Finder Rig


It’s ok to let the fish grab the bait and run for just a bit before getting tight.  This rig allows you to feel the bite immediately, but it’s important to “go with the fish” for just a second before getting tight and picking  up the slack. It takes  bit of practice, but once you get used to fishing the in-line rig – it can be devastatingly effective on snappers who are wary of short leaders.

Deep Drop & Chicken Rigs

Deep dropping can be an absolute day saver when the current is weak (or slack) and the wind is dead.  If you’re able to score quality deep drop numbers or put in the time to find muddy bottom in 600′ to 700′ off Miami – catching tilefish, rose snapper, and the occasional snowy grouper is a solid bet.

Deep drop rigs come in many forms, but the most common variation is called “the chicken rig”.  This is a straight forward, no frills deep dropping rig – essentially a “top and bottom” rig on steroids. While you can purchase these pre-made, it’s simple to make them out of heavy mono leader, a few swivels, and some strategically placed crimps.  Circle hooks are a must for deep dropping, because setting a hook in hundreds of feet of water is easier said than done!  A basic deep drop chicken rig looks something like this:

Traditional Deep Drop Rig

Traditional Deep Drop Rigs Source:

There are quite a few outstanding resources on making your own deep drop rigs, one of my favorites can be found at One of the most important attributes of a successful deep drop rig is rigidity – a rig has to be sturdy enough to withstand the powerful strikes of bottom fish and then withstand the pressure of being retrieved hundreds of feet to the surface. Using glow beads or small glowsticks can also help improve the bites you get at depth – afterall, it’s dark down there!

Essential Bottom Fishing Rigs – Bonus Segment – Capt. Charlie’s Lessons Learned

Because you’re awesome, i’m going to share a few lessons i’ve learned, the hard way, through the years. My goal here is to save you money, time,and to help put more fish in the boat!  Remember – bottom fishing takes patience and dedication to perfect.  Invest in a high quality bottom sounder, GPS, and durable terminal tackle – you won’t regret it!

  • Lesson Learned #1 – Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight
    • If you’re aiming to catch big fish, rig for it. While you may get more bites using lighter leader, smaller hooks, and lighter leads – stubborn deep water fish will rip you off time after time.  When it comes to bottom rigs, it’s better to rig a bit heavier under any circumstance (withing moderation)
  • Lesson Learned #2 – Know your drift
    • If you’re fishing wrecks in deep water, plan accordingly for the current.  Deploying your rig before you hit the target position is critical so your bait is at depth as you pass by the structure. Plan accordingly for the rise of the wreck, so you don’t snag!
  • Lesson Learned #3 – Don’t use cheap hooks or swivels
    • I’m perpetually mad at myself for not learning this lesson the first time I straightened hooks and broke swivels on big fish. Good quality hooks and swivels are expensive for a reason.  Don’t skimp when it comes to your terminal tackle, particularly your hooks and swivels.  While it may sting at the tackle store – it will sting a whole lot more when that cheap-o discount swivel breaks a few yards from the boat with a monster grouper on the end of the line.
  • Lesson Learned #4 – Short leaders suck.
    • Using long leaders makes a world of difference.  While it requires a bit more skill and practice to fish a rig with a long leader between the weight and the hook – you will increase your hookup ratio dramatically with lengthy leaders.  There is a hazard of getting spun up while dropping or retrieving in heavy current, but it’s worth the risk.
  • Lesson Learned #5 – Don’t underestimate Flourocarbon
    • I’ve always been a fan of Yo-Zuri pink flourocarbon, but many does it sting to buy several $40 spools of it on a bi-weekly basis.  If you fish in pressured areas, flourocarbon leaders is a must.  If you don’t want to burn lengthy amounts  of flourocarbon, you can successfully add a flourocarbon “tippet”  – a 2ft to 5ft piece – at the end of a monofilament segment.  This often achieves the same effect, but does add a knot into the equation.  A double uniknot is strong, but not as strong as a single piece of flourocarbon leader. If you can afford it – fish flourocarbon as much as possible.




Capt. Charlie Ellis

Capt. Charlie Ellis

Captain at Miami Fishing Charters LLC
Capt. Charlie Ellis of Miami, FL has 25 years experience fishing for big game species like Bluefin Tuna, Sailfish, Swordfish, and Sharks. Capt. Charlie is also an avid scuba diver, world traveler, writer, and entrepreneur.
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