Well, maybe it’s not so new.
Well, yes and no.
It’s remarkably similar to the illustration at the right, from my article “Bass Fishing Tough? These Offbeat Rigs Can Save the Day” published in the November/December 1990 issue of Fishing Facts magazine. Prior to that article, I had described the same rig in both Fishing Facts and In-Fisherman on at least two occasions, as well as in Bassin’ Magazine.
Of course I never did anything with that rig that even remotely approaches the productivity and efficiency of the drop shot rig as we know it today. Eliminating the leader between the hook and the main line, along with the development of the self-cinching weight (eg, Bakudan) were major improvements and opened the door for specialized drop shot baits and the concept of using it to fish unweighted lures at depth.
Wherever its roots, the drop shot rig is more than the latest clear water/deep water fad. It’s a valuable tool that can help anglers in all waters — clear and dingy, deep and shallow, moving and still — catch more fish, more often.
There are a lot of drop shot rig variations, but they all have one thing in common — the soft plastic lure rides above the weight. It’s really not a light tackle thing or finesse thing. It’s a weight thing. Plenty to take it down, none to interfere with the action of the lure. In drop shot fishing, the weight is an anchor. It takes your bait into position and it keeps it there, but is functionally inert in the actual presentation of the lure. Whether it’s a little 3″ Dart or an 8″ worm, whether the weight you use to get it in place is 1/8 oz or 1 oz, whether the line is 6 pound test or 20, it’s all basically the same deal — the weight is sitting on bottom while you dance the worm around with the rod tip on a semi-slack line.
So why dropshot?
A soft plastic lure fished with no added weight drifts with a very fluid motion that has natural appeal to a predator. But it’s tough to fish an unweighted soft plastic very deep, for obvious reasons.
Enter the dropshot rig. The weight takes the bait into position, but once the lure is in the potential fish zone, the weight is resting on bottom, out of play, and the lure itself is fished pretty much in a weightless fashion. Not only does the weight not affect the way the lure moves in the water, there’s no weight between you and the hook to interfere with your sense of feel when a fish takes the lure.
No doubt some will opine that a Carolina rig accomplishes much the same thing, but nothing could be further from the truth. In Carolina rig fishing, you have to pull the weight to move the bait. It’s impossible to fish it in place. If you stop pulling for more than a few seconds, the bait is resting on bottom (unless using one of those high-floating, Cyberflex plastics) and there’s no way to get it off bottom again without moving it a considerable distance. The Carolina rig is superior for covering water, but the drop shot rig really shines for triggering fish.
Further, with the drop shot rig, the part of the line that is subject to abrasion from bottom debris is not between you and the lure — or between you and the fish, once you’ve hooked one. This allows you to work in cover or across abrasive bottom substrate (eg, zebra mussel beds) with confidence that you’re not likely to lose a fish to a badly nicked or frayed line.
The “lure up” factor is also an advantage fishing mossy bottoms. In fact, one of the reasons I started playing around with that “inverted split shot rig” shown at the beginning of this article, is that some of my favorite lakes have “rock moss” (aka “skunk moss” or “black snotweed”) carpeting the deeper hard bottom areas. If you’re not in the snotweed, you’re not likely to get bit. But a light jighead, or even a Texas rig gets mired down in the snot as soon as it settles, rendering the rest of the retrieve at best questionable, and at worst, useless. The drop shot rig virtually eliminates this concern. Of course it works as well in sand grass and other low growing vegetation.
In a word, twist. As in line twist. It comes with the technique. Using a fully swiveled weight can help, but much of the twist comes from the bait, not the weight, so you’ll never eliminate all of it that way.
I’ve tried putting a small swivel a couple feet above the hook. Caught fish rigged that way, too. But it makes tying the whole thing up into a project, and it really does interfere with my sense of feel. A swivel may not be much hardware between me and the hook, but it’s infinitely more than no hardware between me and the hook.
I cannot speak to those who want to run the hook directly into the nose of the bait, or those who prefer to Texas rig their drop shot worm. But when nose hooked correctly (just catching the tip of the Ribster’s nose with the hook) on a suitably small sized drop sot hook, any line twist encountered is minimal. And that is exciting indeed!
Rigging a drop shot.
You start by tying the hook on with a palomar knot, leaving a long tag end — Typically, 10″ to 36″, but longer in specific situations which call for fishing the bait higher off the bottom. I have caught fish much farther above the sinker, but the configuration I start with unless I actually see fish suspended higher, puts the bait 12″ to 14″ above the bottom. My hook of choice is almost always a #2 Gamakatsu Drops Shot/Split Shot hook. If I’m fishing where toothy critters abound I switch to the longer shanked Gamakatsu Stnger Hook, also in Size #2, in an effort to decrease biteoffs. Think of the longer shank as a 1 inch wire leader. You’l still get bit off by pickerel and pike, but not nearly as often.
OK, here’s how to tie it up.
Speaking of the drop shot sinker…
Time was, I used a great big old split shot. To often though, it would slide off the line on the cast or with very little pressure on a hang. And since it’s flat out impossible to crimp on a split shot dead center, it would twist the line big time. Even worse when I got into more than 15 feet or so of water and doubled up the split shot. Tying an overhand knot in the end of the line would keep the shot from sliding off. But when I got it wedged, it somehow ended up being too hard to slide off, and I’d break the whole thing off, or the line would break right at the knot, leaving me just the hook and no dropper. Either way, it meant retying the whole thing.
Then I went to a slip sinker above a smaller split shot, with a loop knot tied in the end of the line. This twisted a bit less, and the loop knot gave me something to hook to the reel handle when I put the rig down to move. To tell you the truth, the more knots I have to tie and pieces I need to deal with, the less likely I am to re-rig it when it breaks, so too often, I would end up fishing something else after the first serious hang-up. But I still carry some slip sinkers and split shot in my DS/Finesse box, and use that weighting option on occasion. Like when I’m running low on my preferred 1/4 oz, skinny Bakudan weights.
It wasn’t until Kota Kiryama introduced me to the Bakudan sinker that I found the answer. The swivel and self cinching line attachment make all the difference in the world. Since Bakudan was taken over by Lunker City, they replaced all the old molds and the quality and consistency of the product has gone way up. Naturally, I tried some other variations of the same weight concept along the way. Some had the clip and no swivel. Why bother? Cheaper “house brand” models from BPS only used half the swivel, and the cinch clip was just different enough (see my Hook, Line & Sinker article for details) that it didn’t grip the line as surely and easily. As far as I can tell, more expensive, tungsten weights provide no advantage unless you like paying more. I know they say you can feel the bottom better with the hard tungsten, but I haven’t been able to feel anything important with it. And when I see weights advertised as drop shot weights that have no swivel or a line tie instead of the cinch on deal, I know that the company is just trying to capitalize on the trend and has absolutely no clue about drop shot fishing.
For what it’s worth, I prefer the cylindrical weights over the original balls. I just seem to hang up less with them. Some anglers claim they can feel the bottom better with the round weights, but I see absolutely no difference in that regard.
For some reason, some anglers seem to feel a need to replace the drop shot weight with a jig. As far as I’m concerned, all that does is hang up more. Plus, when you get bit, you’re never sure whether the bite is on the DS bait or the jig, so you have to set the hook like it was a jig bite, which is all wrong for the rather tiny drop shot hook. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not real thrilled with the idea of an extra knot on the line between me and the fish when I’m fishing a jig. If you want to fish a jig, fish a jig. If you want to drop shot, use a drop shot weight at the end of your line. If you really want an extra hook, just tie two hooks to the main line, 6″ or 8″ apart.
Balancing the tackle to the task.
I break drop shotting into two categories. You might call them finesse drop shotting and power drop shotting. For the purposes of article, I’ll confine myself to the former. But keep in mind that once you’ve got the basics of the technique down, bumping up the tackle and using a heavy drop shot weight to present larger baits in heavy cover can offer some tremendous advantages.
Drop shot fishing is usually thought of as a light line, “finesse” technique, and that is the way I usually fish it. I fished 4 or 6# mono in the early years — before the technique acquired the name drop shotting — and switched to fluoro early on. I kept experimenting with braid, but never found it as productive, until 2014, when I tried 8# Seaguar Kanzen braid for drop shot fishing, and fell in love with the setup. The line is thinner than anything I’ve ever used, yet holds up incredibly well. I use the Seaguar knot to tie on about 8 feet of 8# Invizix for a leader. I can go through 3 or more complete reties of the business end of the line before having to attach a new leader.
As far as the rod goes, any light to medium action spinning rod 6 to 7 feet long will do to get you started. There are numerous specialized drop shot rods on the market, I’ve found most of the ones I’ve tried to have too fast an action for me. After 15 years using a custom made rod built on a no-longer available blank for all my drop shotting, I finally found a rod that fits my DS needs. It’s a Rapsody RM2S70MF. Medium power, fast action. It became my primary drop shot rod in 2014, and n 2015, I never even mounted a reel on my old custm drop shot rod, prefering to do all my DSing with the Rapsody model mentioned.
A lightweight spinning reel that handles light line smoothly and easily is a necessity, but there’s no need to break the bank to get one. For many years, I ran Daiwa Tierra 2000s for my drop shot rods and absolutely loved feel and performance of the reel. In more recent years, I’ve gone up to 2500 class reels. Not that much heavier, and they pick up more line per crank, while the larger spool diameter also improves casting performance.
Since I backreel and don’t rely on the drag at all, it’s of no consequence to me, but for those who depend on the drag, make sure to use a reel with a smooth one, like the above mentioned Daiwa model.
The above described rig will work with all of the small baits that we think of as typical drop shot baits (more on which later). You’re not going to be setting a big, heavy hook with this gear. I can’t remember the last time I really needed to Texas rig a drop shot bait, and I pretty much nose hook exclusively these days when drop shot fishing. Depending on the size of the bait, I use a #1 or #2 Gamakatsu split shot/drop shot hook to do this. And I can’t really recall the last time I used a #1, now that I think of it.
Just about any small, soft plastic lure will work for drop shot fishing. After years of experimenting to find a better one, I finally managed to convince Lunker City’s Herb Reed to build the ideal finesse and drop shot worm. Not sure I’ll ever fish anything else on the drop shot again! I’ve been fishing Ribsters since the fall (of 2010) and it has turned out to be everything I asked for in a drop shot worm, and for jig/worm fishing as well.
You may notice a theme in my preferred color schemes. Nothing bright or gaudy. Generally speaking, drop shotting is a finesse tactic designed to tempt neutral/negative or heavily pressured fish. Toward that end, low impact colors — those that don’t stand out from their surroundings and aren’t likely to alarm or intimidate the fish — are the most logical choices. For me, that means that if it’s not some variation on translucent brown and/or green, it’s either smoke, or it’s a really natural looking baitfish imitation.
When and where to drop shot.
Seasonally, there’s no time of the year that one dropshot variation or another won’t work to some extent. But there are times and places when it’s the odds on choice. In northern, natural lakes, where the deep edge of the weed growth is typically the important pivot point in bass location, any time other than when I’m fishing right in the weeds is liable to be drop shot time. I will rarely fail to at least try it along the deep weed edge, at the base of the drop-offs and on extended points that reach out beyond the deepest growing vegetation. Cold water time, too — in just about any type of lake, river or reservoir. Because it makes it so easy to fish a bait in place, it’s even an ideal bed fishing technique.
I’ll drop shot pretty much anywhere I can work the weight along the bottom without being completely mired down in the weeds.
Because the business part of the line — the connection between you and the hook (and ultimately the fish) is above the fray so to speak, it allows the use of light line and finesse baits in and around some pretty nasty places. If I’m not so deep into cover that the 4 to 8 pound test line I use for drop shotting isn’t hopelessly outclassed, I have no hesitancy to throw it into really snaggy stuff. I’ll fish it as shallow as 3 or 4 feet, and as deep as — well as deep as I can find fish. Depends on the season and the waterbody. And for what it’s worth, it takes a lot more to hopelessly outclass 6 pound test line than you probably imagine.
I guess that if you exclude heavy tackle bubba shotting, my drop shot efforts fall into 4 categories:
In the cone
Drop and drag
Once you’ve got all the pieces in place, the biggest things between most fishermen and drop shot success are feel and hook setting. I really believe that there’s an over-reliance on line watching prevalent in today’s bass fishing world, and that tendency has contributed to an overall decline in the ability of bass anglers to fish by braille. And fishing by braille will get you a lot farther in drop shotting than line watching will. Remember, most hits are going to come on a semi-slack to slack line. No matter how sensitive your rod is, you’ll feel several magnitudes more through a finger in contact with the line than you will through the rod when fishing slack. When I’m jiggling the bait on a slack line, and as I lift the rod tip to “weigh the bait” before lifting the sinker to put it in a new spot for more jiggling, I keep the line hooked with the extended index finger of my rod (in my case, left) hand.
The key is what you do after you sense that tingle of life in the slack line hooked over your index finger. When the fish are on the aggressive side, they might just grab the bait and swim off with it. Those are easy fish, and days when they act like that are easy days. But there’s also what I call maximum difficulty drop shot fish, and its those fish that separate the really good drop shot fishermen from the pack.
These are the fish that make me rely on balance fishing. I’ll extend that index finger a bit farther and open my grip so the light rod comes to rest on the fingertip, with the line still hooked there, too. Experience has taught me where the rod will balance, and that’s where I let the rod come down on my finger. The light, soft action rod just rests there as I study the rod tip and sense, rather than actually feel, the presence of a fish. Sometimes, you’ll swear you can sense the fish munching the bait. Other times, you’ll feel little or nothing until the fish starts to move with the lure and the rod tip swings gently downward.
The point is, sooner or later, you’re either going to decide that the fish is not there, or decide that it is, and that it’s got the lure in its mouth. When the latter happens, it’s time to set the hook. Gently. This is the only technique in which I use anything resembling a gentle hook set. Then again, I’ve had some anglers in the boat with me tell me that my version of a gentle set is sharper and harder than many anglers’ normal hook set motion. By gentle, I mean that I just lift my hand a foot or so while rotating my wrist to whip the rod tip smartly upward a couple feet, and start reeling. It’s definitely a wimpy move in relation to the “powersnap” hookset I usually favor. But it’s all you need or want with this technique.
Then I let the long, limber rod do its job as I rely on reeling and backreeling to keep a steady bend in the rod, and let the pressure work the fish to the boat.
I’m not sure there’s much more I can tell you about drop shotting without overcomplicating the issue. It’s not really difficult, it’s just a matter diddling around with a little soft plastic bait, trying to fool a fish into mistaking it for an easy meal. But if you’re in the mood for a few more tips, here’s the link.
Finally, there’s a more detail on my drop shot hook, line and sinker choices to be found here.