Thursday, July 31, 2014 · 9:40 p.m.

'Alabama Rig' raises legal question for bass anglers

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Professional angler Paul Elias recently used the Alabama Rig to far outdistance other anglers in a bass tournament on Alabama's Guntersville Lake. (Contributed photo/FLW Outdoors)

A new fishing lure has come along that's making huge waves in the bass fishing community, but it's also raised some legal questions in Tennessee.

Paul Elias crushed the competition in an FLW bass tournament on Alabama's Lake Guntersville in late October. Elias was using a lure that even he called "crazy."

“This rig I’m throwing is crazy,” Elias said. “A bait comes along every now and then and it just makes a lot of sense, and this is just one of those kinds of baits.”

The lure is called "The Alabama Rig." It is actually several lures combined on a wire frame similar to an umbrella ... known commonly among anglers as "an umbrella rig." 

Umbrella rigs first came along for saltwater anglers, and then freshwater striper fishermen well over a decade ago. The rig is supposed to resemble an entire school of baitfish in the water. They were used exclusively by anglers who were trolling rather than casting. Umbrella rigs became so effective for striper fishermen however that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission amended the law, allowing only a single hook on an umbrella. In other words, the umbrella might include six or eight lures, but only one (the trailing lure) can have a hook.

A closer look at the Alabama Rig. (Contributed photo/FLW Outdoors)

Trolling is not allowed in bass tournaments however and the Alabama Rig is made to be cast. The lure Elias was casting on Guntersville included five lures, all with large hooks. After Elias had such amazing results at Guntersville it set off a firestorm of interest among area bass anglers. But the law is different in Alabama and Tennessee. After a somewhat erroneous news release from FLW and a barrage of questions from Tennessee angler, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has been forced to clarify state law.

An umbrella rig is defined as an array of more than three artificial lures or baits (with or without hooks) used by a single rod and reel combination. Each blade of a spinner bait would be considered a lure. If the hook sizes are size 8 or smaller, all lures or baits may have hooks (single, double, or treble). If any hooks on the umbrella rig are hook size 6 or larger, then only one lure or bait in the array may have a hook and that hook must be a single hook. 

If an angler reduces the number of baits attached to the Alabama Rig to three or less it would not meet the definition of an umbrella rig and could be fished with any size or style of hook.

So unless Tennessee anglers use a hook size generally considered too small for bass fishing, they cannot use the exact same lure Elias used for his recent win on Guntersville. If they use the "Alabama Rig," it can only include three lures with appropriately sized hooks.

“We didn’t just make this regulation up to ban the Alabama Rig in Tennessee.  It’s been on the books for almost 10 years” said TWRA Chief of Fisheries Bobby Wilson. “In effect since 2002, it was established over concerns about catching too many fish at the same time and foul hooking large sport fish, primarily striped bass and hybrid striped bass.”

Of course, many anglers question how long this new lure craze will last.

Talking about the Alabama Rig on the Chattanooga Fishing (Internet) Forum, Earl Westbrooks said, "Fishing lures are mostly designed to catch fisherman, and they work too! If you don't believe it just come and look in my garage!"

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