As a professional competitive angler and having competed in over 150 tournaments for all manner of fish species, I know my strength and it’s fishing vertically. Most people would automatically think of jigs, as did I for decades, but over the past 15 years I’ve been leaning ever more towards fishing with a dropshot rig. Here’s why.
Fishing with jigs is quite possibly one of the oldest forms of fishing using artificial baits. While the first reference to using metal fishing hooks dates back to the late 1400’s, long before then fishers were assembling fishing hooks from thorns, bones and quills shaped into hooks using catgut and other binding materials. It wasn’t long before colorful feathers and furs were added to attract fish, and then weight to help position the lure at the preferred depth and location. Since then, jigs have become the go-to bait for all manner of sportfish. However, there are times when a simple dropshot rig out performs a jig, even when rigged with the same live or artificial baits.
Jigs are great search tools in that they can be cast, pitched, flipped or dropped, and then retrieved with slow-roll, hopping or swimming techniques, or just held in place. They can elicit both reaction and feeding strikes, but most importantly, jigs are ideally suited for both positioning your bait in close proximity to ideal fish habitat, and for attracting curious or feeding fish when you’re fishing blind. So, when does a drop shot excel?
Fishing a dropshot rig is considered vertical fishing in that your line is at a 90-degree angle in relation to your fishing rod. Maintaining this near vertical presentation reduces the chance of snagging, but more importantly, allows you to use your sonar to locate fish and then present your bait with near pin-point accuracy. IN this sense, dropshotting is far less effective at searching out fish compared to jigs or other reaction type baits. But, when you are on fish, that’s when a dropshot presentation excels.
Whether you have located a school of Smallmouth bass or Walleye, you can’t beat a dropshot for getting and keeping your bait in the strike zone. With good sonar, you can even see to position your bait next to fish. Yes, you can do this with a jig as well, and in cases where fish are actively feeding, both techniques work. But, when fish are more neutral, picky, curious, or just not feeding that competitively, then a dropshot has certain advantages.
When fishing a jig, the weight, jig and bait are one. It means the bait itself, whether a live minnow, or a simple worm or some form of plastic, are less free to move under their own power or in response to the current. Even the displacement of water caused by the movement of a fish approaching your bait should cause the bait to move, and especially when a fish flairs its gills to pull your bait into its mouth. The nonresponsive movement of a weighted jig just looks less natural.
Using a dropshot rig allows for a wide range of options to scale up or down the size of your presentation and hook without having to adjust the size of your weight. Since the weight is separate from the bait itself, it’s also possible to increase the weight significantly to ensure contact with bottom and to maintain that 90-degree angle to your rod without impacting the natural presentation of your bait. While less weight is always preferable to minimize the resistance fish experience when smelling, tasting and feeling your bait, a little bit of extra weight can also work to your advantage, similar to the hair rig commonly used by anglers fishing for common carp – the weight itself sets the hook.
There will be lots of times when your dropshot presentation barely reaches the strike zone before an aggressive fish strikes. The feel is quite distinctive and deserves an immediate but not abrupt setting of the hook. Sharp dropshot hooks such as Eagle Claw’s Trokar TK 150 don’t require a lot of brute strength to get the hook point and barb to sink home. A simple sweep of the rod is sufficient, and since your normally using leader material in the 6lb -10lb range, it’s about as vigorous as you want to go to avoid breaking off.
More often than not, you will encounter fish that are exhibiting a more neutral response to your presentation. The reality is fish only actively feed a small percentage of the time, and the slower their metabolism, the shorter this gets. That’s when a dropshot presentation truly excels.
When fishing neutral fish, let your dropshot weight contact bottom and then give another six inches or so of slack line by dropping your rod tip. It will allow your bait to move as naturally as possible and will offer little to no resistance when fish begin to explore your bait.
Fish first explore your bait from a distance with their eyes. If it seems to be behaving naturally, or even possibly in distress, fish then move closer to smell your bait with their nose, and then test your bait using their taste buds located mainly on the outside of their face and gills, and last, using their mouth to feel. If everything checks out, the fish will slowly begin the process of consuming your bait, hook and all. That’s when you will feel that spongy sensation on your rod.
Paying attention is crucial if you’re going to avoid deep-hooking a fish, but it’s my experience that neutral fish are more concerned with separating your bait from whatever is holding it back, this being your weight. In the process the extra-sharp thin-wire Trokar hook often sets itself in the fish’s top lip.
A small thin-wire hook like the Trokar TK 150 dropshot hook is about as good as they get. I use the 1/0 size for fishing largemouth bass around heavy cover, the size 1 hook for smallmouth in more open water, and then go down to a size 4 for fishing walleye with either live minnows or worms, and a size 6 when fishing for whitefish. I’ll even use a size 10 for crappy and other panfish.
I’m a big fan of tungsten weights such as those made by Ultratungsten. The cylinder shape weights are far less likely to get hung up on rocks when fishing humps or dragging bottom along riverbeds. I use round weights when fishing vertically over flat sandy, gravel or muddy bottom, or around weeds. The round weights grip the bottom a bit better offering greater hook setting capacity when neutral fish are sampling your bait and have committed to tugging it free from whatever is holding it back.
Many rod manufacturers have developed dropshot fishing actions that are strong through the first 2/3 of the blank, but then have a decidedly soft action in the top 1/3 of the rod. This was done to prevent anglers from transmitting unnatural resistance to their presentations out of habit. All anglers want to know the instant there’s a bite, which means keeping constant contact with the bait. Dropshotting is different in that fish need to have that unfettered experience when exploring your bait. A rigid line between the weight and a stiff rod tip makes this near impossible. A super sensitive / soft tip section reduces the resistance felt by fish, and at the same time, will move to visually indicate when a fish has started to mouth your bait. However, you can fish a dropshot technique using any fast action medium strength fishing rod as long as you remember to fish on a slack line. For more about gear choice read my article “Five Different Drop Shot Fishing Rods and Techniques” at: https://feelthebite.ca/five-different-drop-shot-fishing-rods-and-techniques/.
My favorite rod for dropshotting live minnows for Walleye is a 6’10” Shimano Expride medium light spinning rod. I’m fishing on a slack line all the time, but when I feel a Walleye begin to move off with my bait, I can execute a quick little hook set to make sure that miniature Trokar barb has sunk home. My line of choice is PowerPro 15lb brade on a 2500 size Stradic spinning reel. I always use about one meter of 6lb floral carbon leader material tied to my main line with a size 14 steelhead leader that passes easily through the guides. Between the ¼ ounce tungsten round sinker and the #4 TK150 hook, I leave about 10” of line, so when I drop the rod tip about 6” the minnow is still about 4” off the bottom, but has a 12” diameter area to swim about.
As the owner of a Ranger Fisherman 620 fishing boat equipped with a rear deck extension, I’m more than comfortable fishing off the side or stern. My Lowrance is set to chirp to notify me of fish beneath the stern mounted transducer. This includes clicks to indicate baitfish, single beeps to indicate larger fish, and a double beep to let me know when a true lunker is suspended below my feet. I also have a Talking Tackle Depth Whisperer connected to my Lowrance that speaks aloud the depth below keel every minute or when the depth changes suddenly. My sighted fishing partners get the front deck all to themselves, witch has a second Lowrance connected to its own transducer built into the foot of the Minn Kota Altera. I’m using search baits like jigs when we are on the move looking for fish, but I’m just as happy fishing the outside edge of the deeper weed lines with my dropshot rigs, and leaving the inner weed line to my buddies to pick apart.
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