The December/January 1998-’99 issue of North American Fisherman carried its first feature story on an unconventional, but highly productive, bass technique that was so new it didn’t really have a name yet. Back then, bass hunters on the West Coast called it “polishing the rocks” because the brass bullet weights they used were in constant contact with the bottom as they targeted winter time largemouths in deep water. Only sometime later would the practice become known as “drop-shotting.”
A couple years later, after fishermen in other parts of the country had time to experiment with and fine-tune the technique, former Senior Editor Jon Storm revisited the drop-shot rig in the February 2001 issue. In his feature story, he asked the question: “Will it revolutionize bass fishing?”
Storm brought new ideas to the table, including tips for fishing the drop-shot in brush, trees and veg mats. But it still focused heavily on vertical presentations with petite soft plastics.
He outlined a trip he’d taken to Lake Erie, for example, when he out fished his partner 3-to-1 on dead-calm water where a school of oversize smallmouths lingered around a buoy anchor chain. The scales evened out when the wind kicked up and the baits began dragging bottom, however, indicating that even after two years, fishermen hadn’t given much thought to anything but fishing the rig straight up-and-down.
As to his question about revolutionizing bass fishing? Obviously drop-shotting is a valuable and productive tool, same as cranking, jigging, worming and so on, but it falls short of a revolution. A better question today is, “Has the general population of bass fishermen fully embraced the rig and used it to its full potential?” Here, the answer is no.
I’ve thought long and hard about why this is so, but have not come to a better conclusion than the one John House recently offered me. He’s a super-avid, highly intelligent fisherman who spends many days on the water. So many that it’s surprising he doesn’t actually derive his living from fishing. Though a pro-staffer for a major lure company by virtue of his expertise, the angler from Ramsey, Minnesota, neither fishes professionally nor guides clients. Rather, he runs a molding company, and fishes a lot—with consistent success, when he’s not doing that.
“You fish a drop-shot faster than you’d normally fish a jig or Texas-rigged worm,” he says, “and slower than you’d fish a crank or spinnerbait.
Typically, anglers prefer to fish fast or slow. They don’t get into drop-shotting as much because it’s in that in-between area where they don’t like to go.”
If you’re among the majority who dwell in drop-shot limbo; if you believe in the rig’s value but haven’t fully incorporated it into your ready-bag of fishing techniques, here are a few ideas that’ll stimulate your thinking. Even if these situations don’t exactly match what you usually face on the water, you can fine-tune the presentations to make them work for you.
On Moving Water
House is a multi-species angler, but that doesn’t mean he won’t play favorites. In July’s heat there’s nothing he’d rather do than fish smallmouths on the Upper Mississippi River.
“The drop-shot rig is especially productive where shallow, fast-moving water flows into a deeper pool,” he says. “I quarter-cast upstream from the bow and use the trolling motor to slip-drift the current while slowly reeling the rig back to the boat.”
There are a few key elements here: First, the ¼-ounce weight needs to stay in constant touch with the bottom, which is typically comprised of large, table-size rocks that are tightly packed. “Almost melded together,” he explains.
Because he slip-drifts the boat, his soft plastic bait (a 3 3⁄4-inch Yum Craw Papi in watermelon red flake is his go-to lure) moves downstream at, or near, current speed. The 1/0 wide-gap hook is tied onto the 10-pound line only eight or 10 inches above the weight to keep the lure riding just over the rocks.
Fishing a drop-shot this way allows the angler to cover large areas quickly, but the important thing is to keep the weight banging off the rocks so the lure stays in the strike zone.
“Make sure the line is always fairly taut so you can detect a strike,” he adds. “Using a wide-gap hook is also important. Rigging it Texposed so the point comes out the top of the lure’s head has improved my hook-up ratio.”
House also uses the drop-shot rig to fish slower, deeper areas under overhanging cover. “Just pitch it underneath the overhang and drag it back,” he says. Rigging is the same, except that he’ll generally lengthen the distance between lure and weight to 12 to 18 inches.
Because the river environment is laced with rocks, sticks and other things that chew through soft mono, House suggests sticking with an abrasion-resistant line—his is Silver Thread AN40—and down-plays the need to go with thin mono or fluorocarbon. “This is moving water,” he says. “The fish just don’t care.”
Fish Slow, Quickly
Matt Reed of Madisonville, Texas, fishes at the highest competitive levels, in waters scattered across the country, and is a strong convert to the drop-shot.
“Three or four years ago,” he says, “I never would have fished this rig in as many places as I do now. I saw it strictly as a finesse-type vertical presentation, but it’s much more versatile than that.”
One of Reed’s first major successes with the drop-shot came during a Toyota Texas Bass Classic tournament on Lake Fork when he and teammates Stacey King, Chad Morgenthaler and Brian Penso racked up 183 pounds of fish to take third place.
The anglers knew bass were holding near flooded stumps in five to seven feet of water, but there were two problems: the stump field was large and numbers of anglers were zeroed in on them, mostly flipping jigs. In other words, during the three-day competition, every bass among the stumps had likely seen hundreds of jig-and-plastic combos drop in front of its nose, and the fish were becoming conditioned to a fast-fall-and-hop presentation.
“We had to do something different,” says Reed. “We wanted a slower presentation, but we also had to fish quickly so we could cover water and stumps.”
The solution came in the form of a drop-shot consisting of a 3⁄8-ounce weight and 6-inch Yum Dinger Texas-rigged ona 4/0 hook tied to 17-pound fluorocarbon line 10 inches above the sinker.
They’d flip to a stump and allow the rig to sink quickly. Once the weight touched bottom, they’d introduce enough slack into the line so the lure could flutter toward bottom rather than plummet like a jig.
“If we had fished, say, a weightless wacky-rigged Dinger, we would have had to wait for it to sink to the base of each stump, and we wouldn’t have been able to cover nearly as much water,” he says. “The drop-shot took the lure directly to bottom, but then we’d let the Dinger fall slowly on that last 10 inches of line.
“We fished numbers of stumps in a short time, yet the lure’s slow-falling action in those final few inches was different enough that we could fish behind other anglers and still trigger strikes. The drop-shot let us fish slow—quickly.”
Reed also uses the rig to target visible fish, and in a tournament this spring boated a 6-pound bass that lifted him from down the ranks into fifth place.
“She was bedded in a tough spot between two pine trees,” he says, “and I fished her for two hours. She’d just roll upon the jig, but wouldn’t bite. Time was running out and I decided just to go for it with a Houdini Worm on a drop-shot.
“She hit, and I was able to get her out of there. I remember thinking, ‘Why didn’t I do that two hours ago?’”
When targeting bedded fish, Reed typically drops down to 6 or 8-pound fluoro and a smaller bait like a Houdini Worm or artificial minnow Texas-rigged just six to nine inches above the weight.
“I’ll often go shorter with the tag line, but rarely longer,” he says, adding that most fishermen tie the hook in too far from the weight.
He then flips the rig beyond the bed and eases the weight into it. From there, he can gently shake the lure in front of the fish, or deadstick it. Either is almost certain to trigger a defensive strike.
“It’s a good way to fish bedded bass,” he says. “Just anchor it right in the middle, and give it subtle action. You don’t need to move it much, usually. Just let it hang there in front of the fish. If that doesn’t work, you can let it drop a little bit, then lift it again—she won’t have much choice but to bite.”
Carolina rigs are great search tools when fish are scattered on large points or shoals, and while Reed has not abandoned this rig, he’s learned that a drop-shot will do a better job at times. He fishes it as he would a Carolina, with long casts and drag/hop retrieves, plus the drop-shot does what the Carolina is meant to do—namely, cover a lot of territory while keeping the lure above the rocks and grass where it’s visible to bass.
“I’ve fished it a lot as a follow-up to a Carolina rig,” he says. “It’s a good choice when the bass have stopped hitting, but I am dad-gum sure they’re still there.”
During a tournament last year on Georgia’s Clarks Hill Reservoir, Reed had seen steady action over two days of fishing a Carolina rig on rocky humps and points. Then the bite dried up.
“I knew the bass hadn’t moved and I spent too much time trying to get them to take the Carolina-rigged lure. About half-way through the day, I switched to the drop-shot and things started picking up.”
Casting a 43⁄4-inch Houdini Worm ona size 1 straight-shank worm hook, with 3⁄16ounces of weight on 8-pound fluoro, Reed continued pounding the rocks on the fourth and final day.
“I absolutely smoked ’em,” he says. Though it was too little, too late for Reed as far as winning the event, he ended up in fourth place, and learned a good “shoulda” lesson about the drop-shot rig.
“What I should have done was start fishing it a lot earlier on Day 3!”
That pretty much sums up the entire point of this story. The drop-shot rig is avaluable tool that’s too often overlooked in many fishing situations. When you find yourself in a predicament on the water, consider ways it might help you avoid thinking, “I shoulda” after the boat is back on the trailer.