In August some things are just a given. In the eighth month of the year, it’s going to be hot and muggy just about everywhere in the Great Lakes region. I deal with the heat by wearing a T-Shirt, shorts and sandals. I also rig up my favorite spinning rods with “drop shot” hooks and sinkers.
The drop shot rig hit the world of bass fishing a few years ago as a light line alternative to traditional “dog days of summer” tactics like Carolina rigging. The beauty of this simplistic but versatile presentation is it puts the fun back into summer deep water prospecting for bass. Even better, this technique also works exceptionally well for deep water walleye and even lake trout.
The truth be told, nothing is more fun than hooking and landing a quality smallmouth bass on a light action spinning outfit. The power of a smallmouth bass is only equaled by their airborne hijinks.
The Perfect Drop Shot Set Up
Lots of manufacturers produce rods marketed as drop shot sticks. In general, these spinning outfits are going to feature a soft light or medium/light tip, fast action and are normally a little over seven feet in length. Matched up with a 30 or 35 sized spinning reel, the drop shot rig can be fished on either fluorocarbon line or super braid depending on the situation.
The advent of fluorocarbon lines designed not as leader material but as a main line has dramatically changed how most anglers approach bass fishing. Because fluorocarbon has less stretch than monofilament or co-polymer lines, it is more sensitive and helps telegraph strikes better. The other advantage of fishing fluorocarbon line is this stuff is super tough and abrasion resistant when fishing around rocks and other cover.
If all that wasn’t enough to convince anglers to switch over to fluorocarbon line, this stuff is nearly invisible in water, making it the perfect line for fishing in clear to slightly stained waters. If fluorocarbon line has a down side it would be the price. Good quality 100 percent fluorocarbon lines are about 50 percent more expensive than monofilaments or co-polymers.
I recommend using fluorocarbon line as the main line when fishing drop shot rigs in water up to about 20 feet deep. For deeper water applications, the superior sensitivity of super braid lines comes into play.
Super Braid Lines
A lot of anglers lump both fused and braided lines into the “super line” category because they have similar features. The difference between fused and braided lines is that fused lines are softer, flat in shape and they don’t spool as evenly or cleanly onto spinning reels. Fused lines are so soft they tend to bunch up on the spool and hamper the function of the reel drag.
Braided super lines made from Spectra fiber have a body and or memory similar to monofilament line, and as a result they load onto spinning reels nicely without bunching and they also cast exceptionally well. Because true braids have near zero stretch, they are amazingly sensitive and the ideal line for drop shot fishing in deeper waters. Most anglers will find that 10 to 15 pound test braid makes an ideal main line for drop shot rigging. At the terminal end, a three foot leader of 10 to 15 pound test fluorocarbon leader material is used to tie on the drop shot hook and also the necessary drop shot weight.
The leader of fluorocarbon can be terminated to the braid using either a Double Uni Knot or a small swivel.
Drop Shot Hooks
The popularity of drop shot rigging has spawned a number of hooks designed especially for this presentation. Similar in shape to an octopus and also wacky worm style hook, drop shot hooks tend to have an even greater hook gap and are produced on thin wire that penetrates very easily.
Hands down the sharpest and most coveted drop shot hook is produced under the Trokar branding of Eagle Claw hooks. The Helix TK230 Drop Shot hook features a hook on a swivel for easy rigging. The No. 1 is the largest and most popular hook size among bass anglers.
Going with a larger hook size provides the angler lots of options in regards to the types and sizes of soft plastics that can be fished from these hooks. When smaller drop shot hooks are used, they must be matched up with small and thin soft plastic baits.
Drop Shot Weights
Bass fishermen being well…. bass fishermen, they have their own weights designed especially for drop shot rigging. Often these are made of expensive tungsten that is heavier than lead, smaller in size, but about three times more expensive.
Being a “walleye guy” and proud of it, I use lead drop shot weights and carry two types in my tackle box. For fishing in rocks, I favor pencil style weights that fish among rock structure with very few hang ups compared to round or bell shaped weights that tend to wedge into the rocks.
The 1/2 ounce size is about perfect for most situations, and I can easily cut the weight down with a pair of side cutters if I need to for fishing in shallow water.
For fishing in gravel or scattered rock or along weed edges, round or bell shaped drop shot sinkers work very well. Again 3/8 and 1/2 ounce size weights are the most common sizes for drop shot rigging.
Drop Shot Plastics
One of the advantages of fishing a drop shot rig is this set up fishes well with just about every soft plastic on the planet. Most anglers, however, zero in on the most subtle action plastics including split tail minnows, small jerk plastics, do nothing worms, finesse worms, shad bodies, beavertails and flat tail grubs.
Split tail minnows, jerk plastics, shad bodies and beavertails are normally nose hooked. Finesse worms and do nothing worms can be nose hooked or wacky rigged with equal success.
While any self-respecting “bass guy” would rather eat dirt than use the nightcrawlers than come packed in it, live bait has a place in drop shot rigging. During cold front conditions when the bite can often be very tough, using either live nightcrawlers, leeches or minnows in place of soft plastics can and does produce a few more bites. The problem with live bait is it is delicate and doesn’t cast very well. Of the big three in live baits, leeches are by far the most durable option for casting with a drop shot rig.
Live bait is also a superior option when targeting other species besides smallmouth bass with a drop shot rig. For walleyes, a leech on a drop shot rig should be outlawed it is so effective. For lake trout, a 3 to 4 inch shiner minnow on a drop shot rig is lights out.
How Much is too Much Weight
Anglers who fish drop shot rigs are forever arguing about the “just right” weight sizes for various fishing conditions. Unlike jig fishing, where it is often important to fish a jig that is just heavy enough to find bottom, a drop shot rig fishes differently.
When the drop shot sinker hits the bottom and the angler gives a little slack line, this unique rig is fishing plastic or live bait virtually weightless. The size of the weight used is not critically important to the presentation, so long as the angler can easily find bottom.
The best advice when selecting drop shot weights is not to fret over the weight and simply to use enough to make it easy to detect the bottom in whatever water depth is being fished.
Pitching or Vertical?
Again, the beauty of fishing a drop shot rig is the versatility. This rig can be cast or fished vertically directly below the boat with equal success. In clear water where a fish might spot the boat and become spooked, casting is the best approach. In deeper water or stained waters, fishing vertical is the ideal means of using sonar to spot individual fish and then drop right down on them and catch them.
In deep water situations (25 feet and deeper) it’s very common to see an individual fish on the sonar, drop down and catch that fish. This happens so often, I have come to call it “see fish, catch fish” when filming TV episodes for the Fishing 411 series on World Fishing Network. Nothing is cooler than calling your shot, and when drop shot rigging it’s possible to call your shot often.
It’s all in the Wiggle
Many anglers who fish drop shot rigs routinely spend a lot of time trying to impart action to the soft plastics by shaking the rod tip in various ways. Often the wiggle gets credit for triggering strikes that likely would have happened even if the rod were held still. If you have a nervous twitch and can’t hold the rod tip still, by all means shake to your hearts content. I’ve found, however, that just the natural movement of the boat is more than enough to stimulate strikes when drop shot rigging.
One of the biggest advantages of drop shot rigging is the angler keeps the rod still, compared to jigging, and is in better position to concentrate on feeling the subtle bites. In my opinion, it’s about twice as easy to detect bites on a drop shot rig as a similar plastic fished on a jig. This alone is reason enough to jump on the drop shot bandwagon.
Wrapping It Up
Drop shot rigging is hands down the best way to approach smallmouth fishing in the summer when these fish are often found in deep water. Even better, the same rigging method is likely to produce a host of bonus fish like walleye and even lake trout in the hands of creative fishermen who aren’t afraid to dip into a live bait container.
In short, drop shot rigging is a bass tactic that works on a host of other species. Even better, this light line approach puts the fun back into deep water fishing.