Everything you need to know about Zig Rigs

15 August, 2023

Zig Rigs. Loved and loathed in equal measure, this rig is much more than just that. It’s a complete method, a whole way of fishing and an incredibly effective one too. Most carp angling involves fishing either on or very near the lake bed. Whether it’s bottom baits, wafters or pop-ups we are presenting our baits on the deck as that is where we believe they will be fed upon by our quarry. Floater fishing, on the other hand, is the polar opposite. Here we are trying to catch carp and encouraging them to feed on the water’s surface.

Carp spending the majority of their time in mid water

Carp don’t often swim around dragging their bellies in the silt nor do they always have their backs out so it’s fair to conclude that they spend a good proportion of their time somewhere in between. Fishing at the extremes, on the lake bed and on the surface leaves the vast majority of the water column untouched and untapped, so how can we exploit this? The answer of course is by using a Zig Rig.

carp in the upper water layers

Zig rig fishing for carp in the upper layers of the water

Zig Rigs small hookbaits which imitate a hatch or other insect work well

Now, however the Zig Rig is set up, there is one common feature in every incarnation, a buoyant hook bait that sits somewhere above the lake bed. Occasionally this could be a whole pop-up, more likely a trimmed one, a purpose-made Zig hookbait or, most commonly, a little piece of coloured foam. Whilst whole boilies in mid-water can produce bites it’s usually best to offer something on a miniature scale that might imitate an insect or other small water creature.

Smaller hooks are required with a smaller hookbait

A small hookbait will require a small hook, especially considering it has to hold up the entire length of your look link, which might be up to 12ft long. This could be as big as a size 8 but, for the most part we’re talking size 10 or even size 12 hooks to provide the lack of weight and subtlety required. The pattern of hook can be one of your choice although a lighter-weight one is generally most appropriate for zig rigs. Small hooks, and light lines mean we aren’t likely to be bending the rod to its full test curve and putting huge amounts of pressure on the fish so there is no real need for one manufactured from heavy-duty wire. Many anglers have concerns with regard to the strength of small hooks although these are mostly unfounded. Yes, the wire gauge gets thinner as hook size drops but so does the gape and hence the amount of leverage or strain that’s exerted on the bend. In short, each size of hook and any given pattern should possess similar strength.

Small pieces of foam are great zig rig hook baits

Small pieces of foam imitate insect and fly hatches

Consider the style of the eye for the hook pattern 

One thing to bear in mind when choosing your hook pattern is the style of the eye. We’re going to be using a nylon hook length, which, even in lower diameters, harbours some inherent stiffness. This slight rigidity can work against us if using a hook with a downturned eye in combination with a knotless knot. If the choice of hook also happens to be a short-shanked pattern it is more than possible that the gape becomes closed off with the hook sitting at a rather excessively aggressive angle.

Although this is something to look out for it needn’t be a deal breaker as there are several ways to mitigate and retain an effective hooking arrangement. We can use an alternative knot such as a Palomar, which, as well as being extremely strong leaves the hook length in line with the eye rather than the angled exit that the knotless knot gives. You’ll just need to tuck the tag end through the front of the eye to form the Hair.

Another option is to use a hook with a straight or even out-turned eye which means a knotless knot will exit the hook in a straighter line. This maintains the hook’s original gape giving it the maximum opportunity to grab and take hold. The gape closing effect is also minimised by using a hook with a longer shank but do be aware that more metal increases its weight. Lastly there is the option to use a knotless knot and stick with your first choice of hook pattern without compromising the gape by adding a mini kicker or a short piece of silicone tube. Sliding this down the hook link and over the eye keeps the line at an ever so slightly aggressive angle, maximising hooking potential.

Straight eye hooks for zig rig fishing

Hooks with a straight eye are better suited to zig rig fishing

In this vein, there are even aligners available that, not only keep the hook link in alignment, but provide a convenient band in which to insert your foam hook bait. They are available in myriad colours and offer a convenient way to set up the hooking arrangement assuming you are using foam, the most popular hook bait for Zig Rigs. This is supplied in cylindrical stick form, which can be cut to size. Again it comes in a multitude of colours from the brightest red, yellow and white, to the plainest black and dullest brown. You can stay with one colour or use a blend of two or more to try and elicit a response. Probably the most consistent colour to use is black and this makes the most logical starting point. Changing to brighter options, either in isolation or in combination with black, is a good alternative if bites aren’t forthcoming.

Which hook bait to use with a Zig Rig? Foam, imitation bugs or pop-ups?

Foam makes for a very convenient Zig hookbait as, not only is it very effective, it is also extremely buoyant, enabling tiny pieces to be presented. As it does not take on water it maintains consistent buoyancy throughout the time it is in the water and does a reasonable job of looking like an insect. You can also purchase buoyant, imitation bugs that look even more realistic. Whilst it might not be necessary, they certainly won’t do your confidence any harm.

Zig bugs

Zig bugs can be very effective

Another popular Zig hookbait comes in slightly more traditional form, from bait companies. Tiny, sweet-tasting, over-flavoured, pop-ups are a good alternative to foam. It can be difficult to maintain confidence in a flavourless nugget of foam sat alone in midwater. Using something that looks similar but is pumping out food signals makes it easier to keep the faith. Again there are different colours and combinations that can be used and these little, barrel-shaped tempters will fit perfectly into the purpose-made aligners.