7 Saltwater Fishing Rigs Beginners Must Try

Matt Johnson
Matt JohnsonPublished: April 10, 2023
7 Saltwater Fishing Rigs Beginners Must Try

Saltwater fishing can be a challenging and rewarding experience for anglers of all levels. Whether you're an experienced saltwater fisherman or just getting started, there are specific rigs that should be in your tackle box. From the basic Carolina Rig to the versatile Jighead Rig, these seven must-know saltwater fishing rigs will help all beginners catch more fish in any saltwater environment.

From coastal waters to deep sea fishing, having a few of these rigs handy will come in handy when the bite is slow or if you’re targeting a specific species. With knowledge of how to use each one and some practice casting them out, it won't be long before you start catching big ones with ease.

Fortunately, we've reached out to some of the most respectable saltwater anglers to get a take on what the best fishing rigs they recommend every beginner to use.

Rig NameDescriptionComponentsUsage
Popping Cork RigTargets redfish in shallow waters. Attracts game fish with sound and movement.Float made of cork, styrofoam, or hard plastic.Cast, yank to create noise, pause and repeat.
Carolina RigEffective for bottom fishing. Prevents sinker snags.Leader line, central line, sinker, swivel, hook.Slide sinker on main line, attach swivel, add leader line, tie on hook, cast, slow retrieve.
Bucktail RigVersatile for trolling, drift fishing, casting. Good for snapper, flounder, redfish.Bucktail jig.Cast, jerk rod to make jig dance.
Jighead RigSimple, effective for inshore species.Weighted jighead, soft plastic lure.Cast near structure, let sink, slow retrieve along bottom.
Flapper RigVersatile for targeting game fish.Mainline, leader line, swivel, hooks.Cast, gentle jig to attract fish.
Mackerel RigDesigned for mackerel, works for other species.Hooks tied together, swivel, weight.Tie hooks on main line, cast.
Fish Finder RigFor larger fish in deeper waters.Hooks, swivels, egg sinker.Attach weights, swivels, hooks, cast, slow jig or wait.
These fishing setups are what every beginner saltwater angler must try.

We will dive into the details of each of these and how to best use them, but for now that's a good start.

Components of saltwater rigs.

Before we get into the various types of saltwater rigs, let’s quickly review the components that make up a fishing rig. Most fishing rigs generally consist of three parts—

  • A hook or lure.
  • Weight or sinker.
  • Line and leader.

Of course, each rig may contain any number of these, some of these, or all of these. For example, the Carolina Rig and the Fish Finder Rig both require weights to be used with leaders.

You may include some other components in your saltwater rigs, such as swivels, beads, clips, and more. But for this article, we’ll keep it simple by focusing on just these three main components.

How saltwater differs from freshwater fishing.

At first, it may seem like there isn’t much difference between saltwater and freshwater fishing, but there is quite a lot of variation. In particular, the type of gear you need to use and the technique you employ are very different in saltwater fishing.

Saltwater fish are often larger than their freshwater counterparts, so heavier tackle, larger rigs, and fishing hooks may be necessary. You'll also see that your fishing reel is generally a bit more robust than your typical kayak fishing freshwater rig. Also, due to strong currents, you will often need extra weights or buoyancy aids to help keep your rigs in one spot.

Bait is an essential component when it comes to saltwater fishing, and live bait works best. Many anglers opt for bait rigs incorporating live or natural bait to help attract the fish.

Now that we’ve covered some basics, let’s take a look at seven popular saltwater fishing rigs for beginners.

Here are the best saltwater fishing rigs.

Whether surf fishing or heading out in a catamaran, most anglers need to know at least a few saltwater fishing rigs to be successful. Saltwater fishing differs from freshwater in that it usually requires heavier tackle, more specialized hooks and bait, and different techniques. Here are some of the most popular saltwater rigs for beginners.

Popping Cork Rig

Popping Cork Rig

This setup is famous for targeting redfish in shallow waters. The popping cork helps you put your bait in front of the fish while also attracting their attention with sound and movement.

This rig consists of a two to five-inch float made of cork, styrofoam, or hard plastic cupped at one end and weighted at the other. It produces loud chugs and pops when pulled abruptly, attracting game fish attracted to the surface commotion. To use it, cast to a likely strike zone, yank hard on the fishing rod a couple of times to make the float pop loudly and splash on top of the water, then pause retrieve before repeating.

If no response is seen, crank it back to the boat and make another cast. When a fish hits, quickly wind in slack until tight and set hook. Alter the distance and direction of every subsequent cast to cover more water.

While fishing with this rig seems complex, it's actually perfect for beginners as it allows them to easily grab the attention of the reds and cover a large area quickly.

Carolina Rig

The Carolina rig is an effective bottom-fishing method for targeting sea bass, flounder, and grouper. If you're on a lake, they're also great for largemouth bass. It has several components, including a leader line, a central line, a sinker, a swivel, and a hook.

Combined, this rig creates a sliding system that moves freely along the main line and allows your bait to be presented without impediment. It also prevents the sinker from getting snagged on rocks and sand.

To use it, slide a sinker or weight to your main line, then attach a two-way swivel to the end of your main line. Add your leader line onto the swivel and tie on the hook. Attach bait to the hook and cast it into an area likely to hold fish, then slowly retrieve it back until your bait is in front of a possible strike zone.

Adjust the depth by changing the size of your sinker or weight and adjusting how far you cast out. The beauty of this rig is its simplicity and ease of use, making it an excellent choice for saltwater beginners.

Bucktail Rig.

Bucktail Rig

One of the most popular saltwater rigs is the Bucktail Rig. It's a versatile rig designed for trolling, drift fishing, and casting in shallow to medium depths. The main component of this setup is the bucktail jig, which has its head shaped like a spade or funnel with several long strands of mylar material coming out from either side of it.

The beauty of this rig is that it can be used with various types of bait, from live shrimp to cut squid to any other bait fish. It's also great for catching multiple fish species, including snapper, flounder, and redfish. It's easily one of the most versatile lures you can use to catch fish.

To use it, cast the jig into likely strike zones and then jerk your fishing rod tip up and down to make the jig dance through the water. This will attract nearby game fish, which then strike at it to try and grab hold of your bait.

Be sure to use a strong leader material, as many saltwater fish like to bite off lighter-weight leaders, so having one that is durable and reliable is essential.

Jighead Rig.

Jighead Rig - One of the Best Saltwater Fishing Rigs for Beginners

This simple yet effective rig is excellent for catching inshore species like snapper, grouper, and flounder. It's super simple to use, and it's a perfect choice for novice or even experienced anglers alike.

The jighead rig is made up of two main components – a weighted jighead and some type of soft plastic lure, usually rigged on the hook. It can be used in both shallow and deep waters, depending on what type of jig head you're using.

To use it, simply cast the jighead near a structure like a rock pile, channel edge, drop-off, or bridge piling. Let it sink to the bottom and then slowly retrieve it back along the bottom. When you do this, make sure to vary your retrieve speed so that the lure mimics an injured baitfish. This will attract game fish and increase the bite rate.

We'll often use the jighead in shallower waters as we head out to the deeper waters. We'll use it to catch smaller fish like croakers or sea trout, then use those as live bait or cut bait on our bucktail jigs.

Flapper Rig.

This versatile rig catches everything from larger fish like giant grouper to panfish. The flapper rig is a favorite among anglers as it offers a variety of options when targeting game fish.

The flapper rig consists of a mainline, leader line, swivel, and two or more hooks connected to the swivel. One hook is attached directly to the end of the main line, and the other hook(s) are attached via a leader line.

As for the bait, you can use live or dead bait and lures. When using this rig, cast it into a likely strike zone and then gently jig the line to attract nearby fish.

The flapper rig is the perfect choice for anglers targeting larger gamefish in deeper water due to its ability to cover more ground and increase bite rates. Plus, it's simple to use and requires minimal tackle setup.

Mackerel Rig.

This classic rig is explicitly designed for catching mackerel but can also be used for other species like bonito or false albacore. It consists of two or more hooks tied together at the eye with a swivel or snaps swivel at one end and a weight at the other end for casting distance and depth control.

What we love about this type of rig is its simplicity. You can just tie the hooks onto your main line and then cast it out into likely strike zones. The weight helps you get the bait down to where the mackerel are schooling and also offers some resistance when a fish takes the bait.

When doing some offshore fishing on your next fishing trip, drop one of these into a school of mackerel and feel the rush of not just catching fish but catching multiple fish all at once.

Fish Finder Rig.

Last on our list is the fish finder rig. This popular rig uses a series of hooks, swivels, and an egg sinker to get your bait down to various depths. It can be used in both shallow and deep waters, depending on which weight you choose to use, but most of the time, you'll use these in deeper water.

The fish finder rig is an excellent choice for anglers targeting larger fish in deeper waters. The added weight helps get the bait down to the bottom quickly, which makes it easier for fish to find and strike at your bait. Plus, the multiple hook set-up increases your chances of landing a big one. This is because the rig covers different depths.

To use this rig, simply attach the desired weights to your mainline, tie on some swivels and hooks, and then cast it out into the water. We like to space the hooks out 3-5' from each other and no less than three hooks. If you have too many jigs, then this rig is tough to manage, and you'll get tangles. Not enough jigs, and you won't have enough coverage.

Once your rig is in the water, use a slow jigging motion to attract fish, or just let it sit on the bottom and wait for them to come to you. You can also add a scent like a tuna oil or squid juice to really get their attention.

Let it sink to the bottom, and then start jigging it up and down. This will attract nearby fish, increasing your chances of a good catch.

Fishing tips from the pros.

Our saltwater anglers put together some of their best tips for catching saltwater game fish. So if you're new to saltwater fishing or saltwater rigs, you'll want to take a look at these tips.

  • Right tackle for the right fish. Use the correct tackle and lures for the species you’re targeting. Different fish prefer different types of baits and lures, so make sure to do your research before heading out on the water. For example, mackerel prefer flashy metal lures, while snapper and grouper prefer natural bait like shrimp or crab.
  • Give your fishing rigs time. Make sure to give your bait time to work its magic. Often times you’ll find that when you cast out your lure or bait, the fish won’t take it right away. So allow some time for them to investigate the bait before you make another cast.
  • Fishing the structures. Fish in areas with a structure like rocks or reefs as these provide cover and hiding spots for the game fish. Look for areas with natural drop-offs or crevices, as these are prime spots for catching fish. Many fish havens are secrets of saltwater anglers, so don't expect others to give up their sweet spots.
  • Change up the bait. Don’t be afraid to switch up your bait if you’re not getting any bites. Different types of bait can attract different species, so it never hurts to try something new. We like to keep a minimum of three baits on our boat, which are usually cut squid, cut croaker, and live shrimp.

Those are a few tips for not only catching bigger fish but more fish as well. Our pros swear by these tips and have been able to catch some monster fish with them.

Red Snapper around Reef

Saltwater fishing rig FAQs.

Feel like an expert on fishing rigs but still have some questions? We’ve got you covered with a few frequently asked questions. These are some of the most common questions about tackle, rigs, and fish.

What size leader line should I use?

The size of the leader line you should use depends on the type of fish you’re targeting. For example, if you’re fishing for mackerel, then a 12-15 lb test would be fine. Whereas if you're fishing for snapper or grouper, then a 30 lb test would be better.

What is the best bait for snapper?

Live shrimp are the most popular and effective bait for catching snapper. The movement of the shrimp will attract the fish, making it easier to catch them. You can also use cut squid or other natural baits like clams or mus

What fishing skills do I need to know?

Knowing the basics of saltwater fishing is essential for success. You should understand how to tie knots, rig a line, and cast your line. You should know how to identify different fish species and the best way to handle them. Learning about the water column and how it affects fish behavior is also essential. With these skills, you can properly use these rigs and catch more fish.

How does a popping cork rig work?

A popping cork rig is designed to attract fish by imitating prey that is near the surface of the water. The popping cork creates noise when pulled through the water, which attracts nearby predators such as redfish or speckled trout. To set up this rig, attach your main line to a swivel with a barrel sinker at one end and an artificial lure or live bait at the other end with a popping cork above it. When pulled through the water, the popping cork will make a noise that attracts nearby predators who will strike at your lure or bait below it.

What is the best time of day to fish?

The best time to fish is usually early morning or late afternoon, as this is when gamefish are most active. However, knowing the specific species you are targeting and their behavior can help you decide which time would be best for your fishing expedition. For example, red snappers are most active at night, while speckled trout can be caught all day.

Is there a certain type of rig for each fish?

No, not necessarily. Different rigs can be used to catch different fish species, depending on the techniques and bait you are using. For example, a popping cork rig is perfect for catching redfish but may not work as well when targeting snapper or grouper. Conversely, a jigging rig can be used to catch both snapper and grouper but may not work as well when targeting redfish.

What are some basic items I need in my tackle box?

We always recommend having a few essential items in your tackle box. These include hooks, weights, leader lines, swivels, pliers, scissors, and lures or bait. Having these items on hand will ensure that you are prepared for any type of fishing situation. From this gear, you can make just about any sort of terminal tackle jig for whatever you're trying to catch.

Why are circle hooks so prevalent in saltwater fishing rigs?

One of the main reasons circle hooks are so prevalent in saltwater fishing is that they are extremely effective at limiting the mortality of the fish you catch. They are designed to hook the fish in its mouth rather than its body, which can dramatically reduce damage and increase survival rates among released fish. We often use a circle hook when drift fishing or live baiting, as they are very good at hooking the fish in the mouth when using natural bait.

Grab your saltwater fishing rigs, rod, and reel and hit the open seas!

Even if you're a beginner, you're ready to hit the water and start fishing. Armed with your knowledge of rigs, bait, tackle, and other techniques, you'll be ready to catch some fish in no time! Whether you're targeting snapper or grouper, redfish or speckled trout, or any other species of saltwater fish, it's important to remember that the basics of saltwater fishing remain the same.

Of course, we didn't cover all of the saltwater fishing rigs here, such as a couple of our favorites like the chicken rig and knocker rig - but we hit on the ones beginners can use immediately. Whether you're hitting the shallow water for bottom fish or using one of the common rigs on a bottom structure, we think you'll have some luck with these.

With a little practice and patience, you'll be an expert in no time.

Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson

Master Outdoorsman

Matt is a seasoned outdoorsman with expertise in fishing, hunting, and wildlife. With a Master's degree in Wildlife Science, he combines his passion for nature with conservation efforts, sharing his knowledge through his writing for Fish and Game Report.

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