I have to admit I was a bit skeptical when Garret McAfee adorned a drop-shot rig with a three-inch tube and cast it up on the rocky ledge. Bass had been chasing soft jerkbaits on this spot the past few trips; the thought of fishing a drop-shot rig, especially with a tube body, seemed a bit odd.
My opinion changed when the young angler stuck several three- to four-pound smallmouths within a span of 10 minutes.
McAfee was in western Pennsylvania to represent the state of Washington in the National Guard Junior World Championship, held last summer in conjunction with the FLW Forest Wood Cup. Hailing from the clear waters of the Pacific Northwest, where drop-shot rigging is a mainstay for both largemouth and smallmouth bass, the young angler helped open my eyes to the utility of drop-shottting in applications outside the finesse-tactic norm.
In many instances the drop-shot is thought of as a means of presenting a scaled-down worm-profile bait to finicky bass. And while the look of the rig – where the bait is suspended above the sinker – often triggers bass in tough bite situations, applying it beyond the norm has its rewards.
From early spring through late fall, Dave Lehman always has a drop-shot rigged spinning rod on the deck of his boat. When bass aren’t responding to the standard ribbon tail worm, one of the first adjustments he makes is to go to a minnow-shaped profile.
“I’ve had success with Berkley’s Gulp Alive minnow on slow days when nothing else seems to be working,” said the skilled multi-species angler. “I can’t say that there’s a particular season when presenting the minnow-shaped bait excels. I’ve done well with it early in the spring, throughout the summer, and again in the fall.”
Lehman prefers to fish the minnow-tipped drop-shot along off-the-bank structure, well away from any weed edges. He’s had particular success on natural lakes that feature hard bottom humps that rise up to within 10 to 12 feet of the surface from the 20-foot depths of the main lake basin. He prefers an open hook like Gamakatsu’s Octopus hook in a bronze finish for fishing the pseudo minnow. Hooks in the No. 2 and 4 range work well with the three- and four-inch Gulp Alive minnows.
Run the hook up through the tip of the minnow’s snout. Sinker weight is determined by both the depths being fished, and also wind conditions. On calm days Lehman opts for a quarter-ounce drop-shot weight; when it’s windy, he will go up to three-eighths to maintain feel. Clip-on drop-shot weights make it easy to switch out sinkers as conditions change.
While drop-shot rigging isn’t a standard approach for working weed edges, Lehman uses the set-up effectively by making a minor adjustment. Rather than using an open-style hook, he ties on a thin-wire Tru-Turn offset worm hook in size 1/0 or 1. This allows him to rig a plastic bait in a weedless manner.
“This way, when I pitch along weed edges, or up into open pockets back in a weedbed, the bait stays weed-free, even if the sinker fouls up,” he said. “I often start off with an action-tail worm like a Roboworm, or Yum’s Houdini Worm or Doozee. But if the fish are not responding to that, my next move is to go to a non-action tail, usually a Yum Dinger in either four or five inch.”
While bass will hit the drop-shot worm on the initial fall, when they are in such a mood a Texas-rig is probably a better option. Where the drop-shot really shines is when they are less aggressive. Even when the sinker settles into a clump of weeds, the drop-shot allows the bait to stand tall, a bit above the cover.
A light quiver of the rod tip imparts action to the bait, similar to a shaky head, but up off the bottom, in a good position to be inhaled by a bass triggered by the bait’s motion. To accomplish this presentation Lehman rigs the hook, via the standard Palomar knot, about a foot to 18 inches up the line.
Drop-shots are also effective in river situations for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. River bass feed heavily on crayfish, something a drop-shot rigged tube bait effectively duplicates. Go with as light a sinker as possible to avoid excessive hang-ups along the rocky bottoms common to river scenarios. Thin-bodied tubes like Warrior Baits’ Teaser Tube are perfect for this application, providing a slender profile that easily collapses when a bass clamps down, providing consistent hook-ups.
Using a slow retrieve along a rocky flat means the sinker will momentary stall, and then break free, telegraphing a stop-n-go action to the tube that effectively duplicates the movement of a crayfish. Maintain coherent contact with the sinker, keeping the rig moving with just enough speed to keep it from snagging. And be ready for some nasty hits from cray-eating bass!