The Alabama bass-fishing rig — which already is illegal in Minnesota — took another hit Thursday when the Walmart FLW tournament tour announced the controversial lure would not be allowed for use by its top competitors next year.
In doing so, FLW — which was created by Twin Cities businessman Irwin L. Jacobs — joins Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (B.A.S.S.) in eliminating a bait from the top ranks of competition that is legal in most states where the two groups hold contests.
Though Minnesota typically is not among states holding big-time bass tournaments, the actions by FLW and, earlier, by B.A.S.S. are notable in part because they highlight how slowly some states are to act to conserve resources if it means angering certain constituents or constituent businesses.
Andy Poss of Muscle Shoals, Ala., is credited with developing the Alabama rig, or “castable umbrella rig.’’ The lure is configured so that three and as many as five baits with an equal number of hooks trail from wires attached to a common center. The baits move through the water simulating a small school of baitfish.
On some tournament bass circuits, and among recreational bass anglers nationwide, the Alabama rig was by far the hottest bait in 2012.
In Minnesota, the lure is illegal because the state generally limits anglers to a single artificial lure or bait on a single line.
Crankbaits such as Rapalas, of course, can and usually do have more than one hook or set of hooks. But they’re legal because they constitute a single lure or tackle configuration on a single line.
(Alabama rigs can be modified to be legally fished in Minnesota for bass or even muskies if they trail only a single hook attached to one wire, with hookless spinners or plastic baits swinging from the other wires.)
Mann’s baits was first to bring Poss’ rigs to market, but now its Alabama rigs are just one among many variations of the lure offered in stores and particularly over the Internet. Online sellers include Tackle Warehouse, Cabela’s and Gander Mountain.
Last year, an Alabama rig was used in an FLW Tour win by David Dudley at Beaver Lake, Ark., and figured in victories of at least a couple of other major tournaments.
This year, some FLW competitors are competing with even more complicated rigs, essentially linking multiple Alabama-style rigs to form what some call “chandelier’’ rigs.
Thursday, FLW president of operations Kathy Fennell said enough was enough.
“The rig did create excitement among anglers at first, and we think anything that creates excitement is a good thing, which is why we didn’t ban it right away,’’ Fennell said from her Kentucky office. “We believe in the evolution of lures, and support it. But there seemed no end to where this was going to go.’’
Even if Alabama rigs were legal in Minnesota, their use might be limited, particularly as summer progresses and a lake or river’s vegetation grows thicker.
Picking “cabbage’’ out of a plastic-worm-rigged jig or crankbait is bad enough. Cleaning off a complicated umbrella rig might not be worth the effort.
But in some river reservoirs in the South, Alabma rigs can be particularly effective.
“One reason we never did allow it at our top tournament level is that for 45 years we’ve been fishing with one rod, one reel and one lure,’’ said David Precht, vice president of publications and communications for B.A.S.S., which has more than 500,000 members.
“Our decision was made shortly after the rig was first used in an FLW tournament. Our top anglers came to us and asked that it not be allowed in the top tier of B.A.S.S. tournaments, and we supported that.’’
Fennel, of FLW, thought state conservation agencies would restrict or ban the rigs over time. But that didn’t happen, and now that so many variations of them are on the market, and likely account for a significant portion of recent bass lure sales, restrictions might never be forthcoming.
“We didn’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction when these rigs first hit the bass fishing scene,’’ she said. “Instead, we decided to give them time and leave it to states to regulate them. But that hasn’t happened in many states where we hold tournaments, and we couldn’t wait any longer to take a stand.’’