Spreader Rigs

Over the last couple of years, spreader rigs have become increasingly popular with Southern California anglers. Although theyíve been around for several decades, they have not been a familiar sight on California boats, except for a few savvy anglers who have been quietly using them for years with great success. However, the majority of these anglers preferred to keep their existence a secret.

It doesnít take a great deal of imagination to understand why spreader rigs are so effective. All pelagic fishes search for, and hunt down schools of baitfish, not individual baitfish. In the open ocean, its a non-stop race for survival with food and the necessary energy derived from its consumption being the determining factor. For many species, the exertion expended to attack and consume a single baitfish is not worth its energy cost. But a single spreader rig can imitate 20 or more baitfish. Troll four of them and you have 80 lures in the water. Contrast this to your typical trolling pattern of 3 to 6 single lures. If you were a desperate, competitive, greedy, opportunistic predator, which would you find most attractive ?†

Before any lure can catch a fish, it must first be seen. Its in this area that spreader rigs perform without equal. The silhouette and commotion produced by spreader rigs at the surface is capable of attracting fish from the depths, something that single lures are seldom capable of. They are also far more versatile then many people believe as well. Ranging in bar lengths from 18 to 48 inches, they can be rigged with any sized lure or bait suitable for your intended target species. Theyíve been used effectively for bass, halibut, salmon and shark, in addition to yellowtail, tuna and marlin. But before I get into specifics about spreader bar types, I must first offer the following disclaimer:

Iíve written for various fishing publications and have refrained from writing about or promoting products I manufacture or distribute. I intentionally do this so as not to appear self-serving. However, in the case of spreader rigs, Iím willing to make an exception, and I do this for three reasons: (1) Thereís a lot of confusion as to how and what type of spreader rigs to use. (2) I make no recommendations or judgments as to which type of bar is better than the other, or who manufactures the better bar. (3) Every type of bar I mention is made by two or more manufacturers with either identical or similar characteristics. Hopefully, Iíve leveled the playing field enough to present an unbiased view.


One point that needs to be stressed is while some spreader rigs are better than others, no one spreader rig is perfect. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. Golfers carry more than one club. Mechanics own more than one wrench. Anglers fish more than one type of lure. Conditions and circumstances that cause a fish to see and subsequently strike a trolled lure are numerous. To complicate matters, these conditions can change often and rapidly. Among them are availability of food source, reflection, refraction, scatter, flicker, absorption, diffusion, brightness, contrast, depth, action, water salinity, water temperature and competitive instincts just to name a few. To suggest that a certain lure will outperform all others under all circumstances every time is absurd.


With all the different types of spreader bars on the market today, space prohibits them all from being examined. Iíll focus on the four major categories of bars, which include rigid, semi-rigid (or semi-flex), wire and nylon or composite.
RIGID: The flagship of spreader bars, these solid stainless bars are the most expensive to manufacture and difficult to master. However, when used properly under the right conditions, raises a lot of fish.


Preferred by many veteran, traditional and hardcore anglers, their rigid structure easily accommodates 5 lines and 20 eight-or nine-inch hollow bulb squid. Its the bar most suitable for dragging heavy lures or baits. The rigid bars present the biggest surface silhouette and put more lures in the water than any of the other bar-types. They also splash and vibrate more than flexible bars, causing the greatest water displacement and commotion. Rigid bars work better on flat lines than other bars and they are frequently used as teasers to raise fish into the lure spread and are not always rigged with hook(s). For these reasons, they are of particular interest to anglers fishing in tournaments that require only one teaser be used, thereby allowing them to place more lures in the water with a single rig.


Their large size makes them more difficult and cumbersome to handle than the smaller, 3 lined flexible rigs with 8 or 10 lures. Their size and the drag created requires that they be trolled on heavy gear and will work on only the stoutest of outriggers. Although they will not tangle while trolling if properly deployed, they are not very forgiving if you make a mistake or strike a floating object. This often results in tangles that do not correct themselves and requires that the entire rig be reeled in, straightened out, and redeployed. Their rigid design also makes them unstable in rough water conditions or at high speeds, limiting their versatility. And finally, when hooked up to a fish, the drag created by the bar and lures can tire a fish out prematurely. ( although I know some anglers that would consider this to be an advantage)

SEMI-RIGID:† These stainless steel, hybrid bars are thought by some to bridge the gap between rigid and flex bars. They are smaller in diameter than most rigid bars and bigger in diameter than wire ones.†


Semi-rigid ( or semi-flex) bars can be trolled on stiff outriggers or flat lined, and are rigid enough to keep the lures or baits spread wide apart, presenting a surface silhouette superior to the flexible bars.† When trolled on a flat line, they create a lot of splash and commotion, a trait that the flexible bars lack. They can be rigged with either 3 or 5 lines dependent upon need or preferences, and lighter tackle can be employed than with the rigid bar, making them relatively versatile.


Although they create less drag than their rigid counterparts, its still more than the flexible bar types. They are prone to tangle more than the flex bars, but this can be alleviated by removing the 2 inner lines, bringing the total number of lines to 3 instead of 5. Their semi-rigid design makes them unstable in high speed and rough water conditions, however, this can sometimes be overcome by repositioning the location of the bar in your trolling pattern.†
WIRE:†† These are the smallest diameter of all the bars and are usually made of stainless steel or stainless composite wire. They revolutionized spreader rig fishing by allowing one to use light gear and fish the spreader rigs from outriggers at higher speeds, where they perform the best.


The most versatile of all the bars, they are simple and foolproof to use. They do not tangle easily and due to their 3 line design, are simple to handle from a smaller boat. They provide trouble free, no hassle trolling and can be trolled at high speed.† Quality wire spreader bars give the most life-like presentation of all the spreader rigs, due to the thin diameter bar. As the boat accelerates down the face of a wave, the bar contracts as speed increases, pulling the lures closer together. When the boat slows as it hits the back of the next wave, the bar expands, spreading the lures out. If youíve ever observed a school of baitfish, you might have noticed that they behave the same way. When the school increases speed, it contracts as the individual fish move closer to one another giving a more streamlined appearance. As the school slows, the individual fish spread out from one another, increasing the profile of the school and creating a pulsating effect. The wire spreader rigs also have the least drag of all other bar types, and can be used with the lightest tackle.†


Due to their design, wire bars are unable to support large amounts of, and / or heavy lures. Due to the flexible nature of the material, the bar does not produce a silhouette as large as the rigid and semi-rigid bars, nor do they create as much splash. They sometimes develop slight bends in the wire after extended use that may appear unsightly, but usually does not alter the barís effectiveness. And finally, they do not create much surface commotion on a flat line, and should be trolled from an outrigger, center rigger, fly bridge or rocket launcher, where the bar works best.

COMPOSITE :†† These bars are made from nylon, polycarbonates and other plastic composites and are the most recent entry into the spreader rig market.


Composite bars are probably the easiest spreader rig of them all to troll. The 3 line, super flexible design is extremely hard to tangle and very user friendly. Like the wire bar, it is a great entry level spreader rig that youíll never outgrow. It performs well on an outrigger where it produces the best results and can be trolled effectively at both high and low speeds. Due to its light weight and flexible design, lighter tackle can be employed than with the rigid or semi-rigid bars. It also has "memory" returning to its original shape after each use, which isnít always the case with wire and semi-flexible or semi-rigid† bars.†


Due to the extreme flexibility of this bar, they do not spread the baits out much, offering a small surface silhouette. They also do not perform well on a flat line because the bar "swims", causing very little surface commotion. Although the composite bar is light weight, it has a bulky diameter creating more resistance and drag than the wire bar. They also have a reputation for breaking, but this problem may have been solved due to the use of nylon, or other more suitable composite material.


Iíve heard numerous praises and complaints of all the bars mentioned. What may be the best bar for one angler is not necessarily the best for another. Like most things in life, spreader bars are a series of compromises. Thatís why I frequently combine rigid and wire or composite spreader rigs in my trolling pattern so as to take advantage of the benefits of both.

In my opinion, a perfect spreader bar would be able to handle 5 lines of twenty lures or baits, regardless of weight, keeping them spread apart, presenting a huge surface silhouette that crashed along the surface from both outrigger and flatline. It would do this without ever tangling, while creating a natural presentation with no drag. Well, Iím sorry to say this bar hasnít been developed yet, and until it is, donít let anyone tell you that they have a perfect spreader rig.


I love to use, actively advocate, and have the utmost faith in the effectiveness of spreader rigs. I believe them to be one of the most under-utilized tool available to the west coast angler. They are incredibly effective on almost every gamefish that feeds on or near the surface. With this said, they donít replace other artificial lures as much as they complement and enhance them. I believe you would be doing yourself a disservice to troll spreader rigs exclusively. Its often the different, off colored, erratic, lone running lure that gets hit most frequently.

To illustrate this point, during a recent trip, a friend of mine was trolling a composite bar on the starboard rigger and a rigid metal bar down the center on a flat line. In addition to these, he trolled a predator / prey rig on the port rigger, a diving plug on the starboard flat line, a cedar plug on the port flat line and a jet-head down the center behind the rigid spreader bar. Twice in a row he enjoyed a quadruple hook-up on yellowfin, everything getting bit but the spreader rigs. It just goes to show that every time you think youíve got the game figured out the rules change.†

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