The Drop-Shot Rig
The newest ultimate weapon in finesse fishing for bass rises in popularity in 2002.
Just when you thought bass anglers had run out of anything new in their bag of fish-catching tricks, along comes a technique that is producing bass like crazy and has money-fishermen scrambling to master its methods.
The rig — a hook tied up the line with a weight at the bottom — is rather simple, and the concept is actually nothing new. It’s an old standard for river rats trying to catch catfish, and if you’ve ever been bottom fishing on a saltwater charter, you were using a variation of the drop-shot rig.
For bass, the drop-shot rig’s first widespread use began with Japanese anglers who were trying to tempt bass on lakes where the fishing pressure is slightly less than at the Fisharama trout tank. Their version of the rig was ultra-finesse fishing — as light as 4-lb. test line, 3-inch soft plastics, and tiny live-bait hooks the size of your pinkie-nail.
Soon, California and Arizona tournament anglers were cashing checks on the drop-shot rig. In the bass tournament game, there are no secrets — not for long — and now you see drop-shot rigs on the casting decks of boats nationwide — from the top BASS pros to Georgia bass club anglers.
As more and more Georgia anglers begin to experiment with the drop-shot rig, uses are emerging for the technique other than just on the deep, clear lakes and in ultra-finesse situations.
Consider these examples:
• Tom Mann Jr. of Buford used a drop-shot rig during the January BASS event on Lake Seminole. The ESPN camera crews were rolling tape as Tom vertically fished standing timber at Seminole with a drop-shot rig. Spinning gear, light line, and a 4-inch worm… catching bass on Seminole!
• Ronnie Garrison, a regular writer for GON, won a club tournament on Lake Oconee last year with the drop-shot rig. Ronnie ran a crankbait across a small, isolated rock pile but didn’t get bit. Then he tried a Carolina rig, but the rocks were too rough and he got hung. Next, Ronnie picked up a drop-shot rig. With the hook and worm a foot-and-a-half above the bottom, getting hung wasn’t a problem, and Ronnie caught three good fish off the rock pile.
“It’s ideal in a situation like that, a real rough bottom where you’d get hung up a lot,” Ronnie said. “Plus it is something the fish just haven’t seen, something different for a change.”
• Brendan Smith of Kennesaw fished the BASS Eastern Open tournaments this year, and he saw the drop-shot rig being used by the top pros to win big money.
“The Lake Martin (Ala.) tournament in March was won on a drop shot,” Brendan said. “A severe cold front hit, high blue-bird skies, and the fish that were in 30 feet of water moved out to 50 and 60 feet deep.
“I love the rig. I’ve been playing with it for about three years,” he said. “The first time I tried it was during a winter tournament on Lake Jackson. Since then I’ve caught ’em on it at Lanier, Allatoona, Sinclair, West Point — about everywhere I’ve tried it.”
• David Smith of Kennesaw fishes local tournament trails like HD Marine and in club tournaments. He used the drop-shot rig to win a 2-day club tournament on Clarks Hill last month, weighing-in more than 30 pounds of bass.
“We found some grass that was growing up two feet off the bottom, so I set the drop shot with the hook about 2-feet, 6-inches up from the weight. Everybody at the weigh-in was complaining about their Carolina rigs getting fouled up in the grass. With the drop shot we were shaking our worms just above the hydrilla.”
Three weeks ago David and his dad, Gene, used a drop shot and murdered the bass at Rocky Mountain PFA after finding grass out in the middle of the lake.
From spotted bass on Lanier, Allatoona and West Point, to largemouths on Seminole, Oconee and Clarks Hill, the drop shot is a technique that is producing bass for Georgia anglers.
The Rig: An Upside-Down Carolina
On a drop-shot rig the hook is tied directly to the line above the weight. The weight is tied or clipped to the end of the line. You might wonder… what’s the big deal about inverting the hook and weight positions from the Carolina rig? Well, as you drag a Carolina rig, you might think the worm is floating up a bit behind the weight, but the way most of us fish it, the worm is simply dragging along the bottom. In weeds, that hook is getting fouled, and if the bass are suspending off the bottom, that worm is below them.
“There are two primary reasons we’re doing so well with a drop shot,” David said. “One, you can present the worm exactly where you see the fish on your graph. They might be suspended five feet above a ledge instead of right on the bottom.
“The other advantage is the action you can give the worm with a drop-shot rig. You just shake the rod tip. The worm will stay in place, but it is vibrating and quivering like crazy. The weight isn’t between the rod tip and the worm like on a Carolina or Texas rig, so it doesn’t take away from the action on the worm.”
The key to rigging a drop shot is using a palomar knot to tie the hook directly to the line. Leave a long tag end on the line — the length of the tag depends on how far up you want the worm to suspend off the bottom. How the hook rides the line is very important for getting a good hook set.
Said Brendan,“You want the bite of the hook pointed up toward the sky. You don’t want it pointed down or hanging to the side. After tying the palomar knot, bring the line back through the eye of the hook — with the bite of the hook pointed up — and pull down tight. This rolls the knot inside the eye, and that holds the worm hook out from the line and pointed up.”
Eight times out of 10, the worm is simply nose-hooked— run the hook through the nose, leaving the point and barb of the hook exposed. One out 10 times you might see a drop-shot rig with the worm rigged “wacky style,” where the hook is run though the middle of the worm and left exposed. That other one of out 10 is when you’re fishing a brushpile or thick-enough cover where getting hung is a problem — then you nose-hook the worm but leave the barb inside the body of the worm so it isn’t exposed.
Technique: A Vertical Quiver
The most-popular presentation is to open the bail on a spinning reel and let the line down straight under the boat. Using the rod tip, an angler then simply shakes the worms in place. The key to this presentation is knowing exactly where the fish are holding — if you are struggling to locate bass, this is not a fish-finding method because you are not going to cover much water when fishing a drop-shot rig correctly.
“The new graphs are critical,” Brendan said. “That new Lowrance X15 is so precise, you can actually see your line down there 60 feet below the boat. It paints like a paper graph. With that kind of pixel definition, it gives you the separation to see fish holding off a ledge in deep water.”
Anglers are quickly learning that there isn’t just one way to fish a drop-shot rig. “A lot of people just fish it vertical, but lately I’m fishing it more where I’m casting it out than just dropping it straight down under the boat,” David said.
“At Allatoona we throw it on rock walls a lot. When you work it back, you pull up until the line is tight, then just shake it in place. Basically, you’re doodling at an angle instead of straight down, but you cover more water. Sometimes I might shake it in one place for a couple of minutes, then move it a little bit and do it again. Work it like that all the way back until it’s straight under the boat.”
David said his partner, John Masley of Acworth, loves the drop-shot rig and uses it in just about any situation. “He always has one tied on, year-round. At Keowee he threw it on a little ditch in about five feet of water and caught fish.”
Brendan uses a drop-shot rig on bedding bass. “Pitch it out there so the weight falls behind the bed, and you can shake a lizard forever without pulling it out of the bed,” he said.
“Another way to fish it, especially in the wintertime when the fish are dead and lethargic, is don’t move it at all,” Brendan said. “Don’t shake it or anything. Drop it down, and then let the wind or trolling motor ease you around. That’s what everybody was doing at Lake Martin in the BASS this year when that cold front shut everything down.”
Tackle: Noodle Tips Required
As a general rule, the more subtle a method of fishing, the higher quality of tackle it requires for good results. Since the drop-shot rig is about as subtle as anything developed so far, every angler we talked to said not to skimp on equipment if you want to master this technique.
The light line associated with the drop-shot rig mandates that a spinning outfit be used. Many anglers simply pull out their favorite spinning rod and tie on a drop-shot rig. However, most of those worm rods have “fast-action tips” that drive a hook home and allow the fisherman to feel the “tap-tap” of a worm bite. Most drop-shot fishermen prefer a noodle-tipped rod.
“I use a G-Loomis spinning rod and a Shimano Stratic spinning reel,” David said. “A top-of-the-line rod is more important than the reel, just as long as the spinning reel has a good drag system.
“The rod can make a huge difference. G-Loomis makes the best rods you can buy, and they make a 2-Power Drop-Shot Rod. It has enough backbone to fight a good fish, but it has a noodle tip that helps give the worm great action, and it helps on the hook set.”
The Hookset: Or Lack Thereof
“You’re nose-hooking the worm 90 percent of the time, so the hook is exposed, and you barely set the hook,” David said.
Said Brendan, “When shaking the drop shot vertical, you’ll get a feel for the weight. Then all of a sudden you feel something just a little bit different — that’s a fish. I don’t set the hook. I just let the rod load up with the pressure of the fish, then pull up easy and reel. You don’t swing on them.”
David said he leaves the drag on his spinning reel set a little loose, so it gives just a bit when he first lifts up on a fish. “You don’t feel the tap-tap like other worm bites. It’s usually just a slight pressure, like it feels mushy or heavy,” David said. “If you swing on a fish with that light line, you’ll break off on the hook-set.”
Tackle: Specially-Made for Dropping
David said his standard for a drop-shot rig is a No. 1 Gamakatsu drop-shot hook, a 1/4-oz. drop-shot weight and 6-lb. P-Line. “I’ve caught 4- and 5-lb. largemouth, and that little hook gets ’em right in the top of the lip. You just play them slow, and you’ll get them in the boat,” David said. “The size of the weight depends on the situation, but usually the lighter the better. If it’s windy, I might use 8-lb. line and a 3/8-oz. weight.”
Brendan’s drop-shot standard is a 1/4-oz. weight and No. 2 Gamakatsu drop-shot hook. “I use the cylinder-shaped weight if it is rocky, and the ball weight on ledges and drops,” Brendan said. “I started out just tying a bell sinker to the end of the line, but now I use the friction-fit weights that have the little clip the line slides up in. You don’t have to tie, and you can change the leader length in a second. It also has a little swivel, so you don’t get as much line twist.”
Baits: Bogart-Made Zooms, Please
It is not uncommon for fishermen to spend big dollars on custom, hand-poured drop-shot worms that are super-soft.
“Mostly I throw the Zoom Finesse 4-inch worms,” David said. “Sometimes I might try those softer-than-normal hand-poured worms or those small drop-shot Zipper worms, but usually a Finesse worm works great.”
Brendan throws the 4-inch Zoom Meathead worm, which has a little paddle tail and contour on the body.
“The Meathead has the best action I’ve seen. Next I’d try a Zoom Swampcrawler, and then maybe a Mini-lizard.”
When learning any new technique, the key is catching a few bass and gaining confidence. Trust us, taking the time to learn to drop shot is well worth it.
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