By M.L. Anderson
As far as I’m concerned, fall is the very best time year to fish. The weather is gorgeous and if there is a bit of a nip in the air all it does is discourage pleasure boaters and water skiers. Life is good. The water temperatures are cooling down as well, so that means that the fish are on the move and you can get on a really good bite. Often there is a crankbait or spinnerbait bite, and topwater is always worth a try, especially first thing in the morning. But sometimes a reaction bait just doesn’t do the trick. When that happens, a drop shot can save the day.
I’ll always try a reaction bait first, especially in a tournament, but if it just won’t go, it’s time to get the spinning rods out and start finessing those bad boys. One of the biggest problems with spinning gear is, well, spinning. The more you fish the more the line twists and you can end up with a big mess of loops and tangles all over your reel, knots, and tangles. The only way I know of to solve this problem once it has happened is to cut the rig off and let out line behind the boat while you’re moving. You have to do it with nothing on the line at all, and let out LOTS of line. Trail it behind the boat for a few minutes and most of the twist will be gone. Then you can re-tie and start over.
One of the first questions people will ask about a drop shot is “how long should my leader be?” That pretty much depends on the fish – the more active they are, the shorter the leader can be. Gary Senft, a Nitro Pro in Arizona, has come up with a way to make the leader adjustable and avoid re-tying. He uses bobber stoppers on the line on both sides of the hook. A bobber stopper is threaded onto the line with the help of a fine wire and fits snuggly on the line. They are very small, but big enough to keep a hook in place. Gary says people ask him all the time how he sets the hook, but he swears he has not had a problem with that. Using a very good hook and keeping the point touched up helps. To keep line twist at a minimum, he uses a barrel swivel ahead of everything. With the bobber stoppers, you need to use a sinker that ties on, or something else that will prevent the bobber stoppers and hook (and fish!) from just sliding right on down to the end of the line and off.
There are several ways to eliminate or at least largely reduce line twist on a traditional drop shot rig. Gamakatsu makes a great drop shot hook called the Swivel Shot Octopus finesse lure. There is a swivel above the hook and the hook itself is on a wire, allowing it to spin freely. Below the hook is one of those little wire line catchers so that you can rig the leader to pull away if the sinker gets snagged, which allows you to keep the rather expensive hook and swivel rig. The VMC Spinshot is very much like it, but the VMC has closed loops above and below the hook. The hook itself still spins freely, but the line is tied to the hook assembly at both ends.
Getting snagged and losing the whole rig is a big deal when you’re spending a lot of money on specialty hooks. The weights that are designed for drop shotting can also be pretty pricy. Many of them are exotic metals with those wires that the line can just be trapped in so you don’t have to tie a knot. You’d really rather not lose them either, but you may as well get used to it: if you’re going to fish, you’re going to lose some tackle. You can lessen the pain by simply squeezing a split-shot onto the line at the bottom. If it snags, just pull steadily. Usually it’s the weight that is caught, and if you pull steadily the line will just pull free. Same thing with a special drop shot weight. The real benefit of a special drop shot weight is that it reduces line twist. The long cylinder baits are ideal for fishing through brush.
Most of the time you’ll be using smallish baits when you drop shot and they will float out just fine. Gary loves to use small Senkos (like the 3” slim Senko) and small creature baits. Worms like the 3-1/2 or 4-inch Yamamoto Kut Tail worm are ideal, because the action of these baits is subtle. The worm itself shimmies and undulates, not relying on a curly tail or something like that for attraction. Also, the soft saltiness of the Yamamoto baits encourages the fish to hang on once they bite.
Senft fishes the drop shot rig like a Texas rig for the most part. He’ll lift it, let it drop, then reel in the slack. Vary your retrieve a bit until you figure out what they want. Maybe they want it lifted six inches, maybe 18. If it’s incredibly tough he’ll just let it sit. Use those electronics to find some fish, drop it down, and just let it sit. Every now and then, lift it. You won’t feel a bite, it will simply feel heavy when you lift it. Gary always fishes for the fish on the bottom because suspended fish are really hard to catch.
A drop shot is one of the best rigs when the fish have lockjaw. If the fish are biting hard you may feel a tic, but most of the time you won’t even know you’ve got one on until you move it. However, just because it feels heavy doesn’t mean it’s a fish every time. Gary gives it a little shake – is it’s a fish it’ll wiggle back, he says. If not, he just lifts it slowly to get it out of the tree or whatever, and re-drops.
Gary is a firm believer in hedging your bets. If his partner is throwing cranks or topwater, Gary will throw a drop shot rig, even if the boat is moving at a good clip. He’ll just throw it out there, bounce it a few times, and then re-throw. If he comes to a good point, or one of them catches a fish, he’ll stop there and fish for a bit. So you can still cover some water even while finesse fishing. When he is fishing a point, he will throw on top of the point and pull it off, and also do the same on each side. Often the fish are in just one spot, and you can totally miss a great point if you don’t cover it thoroughly. He’ll even sit shallow and fish uphill, especially on a good long point with lots of rock that can hide crawdads.
Fish tend to move in the fall, and that can mean that the fish you found in pre-fish aren’t there when you go back for the tournament. They probably haven’t moved very far, so check points going out toward the main lake, or in toward the back. If you’re not catching them on long points, try the 45 degree rocky banks.
If you’re faced with heavy cover, the active fish will usually be on the edge. If you have to go in after them, it means they’re inactive and you’re going to have to tease them into taking a bait. Elite Pro John Murray does this with a heavy drop shot rig. He’ll rig it up on 25-pound-test Sugoi with a 16-pound-test leader with a big sinker (1/2- or ¾-ounce bell sinker) then treat the whole thing like he’s flipping. He’ll just drop it into thick weeds, brush, or a tree. This is for shallow water, heavy cover, and inactive fish. The big key, he says, is that you can’t haul back and set the hook. You’ll pull it right out. You need to pull to set or reel set, both of which work very well with the Sugoi Clear Flippin’ and Drop Shot Line.
A drop shot rig, whether finesse or brute strength, is a great way to catch fish any time of year. If you can get ‘em going on reaction baits, go for it – but when they slow down, tie on a drop shot rig.