By David A. Brown
He’s decidedly “old school,” with a firm commitment to the tools and tactics that have earned him a stellar career. Nevertheless, Larry Nixon is also savvy enough to recognize a good deal when he sees one. In his case, that was the dropshot.
The FLW Tour pro with a 1983 Bassmaster Classic win to his credit, has staked most of his career on a quintet of old reliables — a jig, spinnerbait, jerkbait, crankbait and Senko. But in the last decade, he has come to respect and appreciate what the dropshot brings to the table.
“The main thing is it’s less work for an old man,” Nixon chuckles. “When you’re 66 and your hands are getting bad and your shoulders are worn out; I can’t sling stuff all day long like these young guys can.
“If we go to a lake that has good water color, boy, that’s right down my alley. I’ll pull out that dropshot and you can fish it so many different ways in so many different depths of water. It’s more of a relaxing way to fish.”
Beyond the physical stuff, Nixon recognized the need to evolve his game with an evolving industry. He saw the need for a further diversified approach and the dropshot offered a viable solution.
“Probably the biggest reason I use it is because there are so many good fishermen now,” Nixon said. “There’s nothing hidden now. With the Internet, they can study any lake and any tactic that’s out there.
“Also, there are times that we go to lakes that are highly pressured and the fish are tougher to catch. The fish are there, but sometimes you have to try different tactics to catch these bass. That’s why I’ve resorted to the dropshot — as a backup option for tough lakes.”
SEEING THE LIGHT
Nixon said his dropshot epiphany came during a June tournament on Kentucky’s Fort Louden Lake. With fish holding on the offshore spots, he was catching a few on his usual Texas rig and jig presentations, until a lucky break afforded him a real eye-opener.
“The first day of the tournament, I pulled up on a spot and I actually had it all to himself,” Nixon said. “I catch one, but I fish for another 30 minutes and I don’t get a bite, so I’m thinking about leaving.
“I notice just a teeny bit of activity on my depth finder to let me know there is something down there. I pull out my dropshot and proceed to catch the tar out of them. I said ‘This is fun!’ and I ended up having a top-10 finish.”
As if Nixon needed more proof of the dropshot’s potential, he found a fine example one chilly January day on Lake Sam Rayburn. Relentless cold fronts had pushed the water temperature to about 43 degrees and the fish were holding in 28-32 feet.
“They were locked on the bottom right where it was breaking off into old creek channels in that 40- to 50-foot range,” Nixon recalls.
Parking over the school, he deployed a dropshot baited with a green pumpkin Slim Senko, which he had accented with chartreuse dye. When his line tightened, Nixon figured he’d talked a good one into biting; but suffice it to say, he never expected a 10-pound, 4-ounce Texas tank!
“Yeah, I was pretty shocked,” Nixon recalls. “That was pretty awesome catching that big old fish on a little 1/0 light wire hook.”
Of these and other early experiences, Nixon said: “The dropshot was so effective at catching fish when I couldn’t catch them on other baits that I expanded my understanding of it. It’s not like I studied it hard, it’s just that I’ve fished deep so much that I really understand a lot of deep water fishing, period.”
Here’s a rundown of how Larry Nixon has integrated the dropshot into his angling arsenal.
THIRD QUARTER DELIGHTS
Nixon calls late summer-fall primetime for dropshotting because most of the fish are located offshore and feeding on shad. This creates the ideal scenario for small worms and small shad-imitating baits ideal.
Yamamoto Shad Shaped Worm, a 3- to 4-inch Fat Senko or a 4- to 5-inch Kuttail worm or Slim Senko.
“There’s no doubt, there are times when they’d rather have a worm than a Shad Shape Worm,” Nixon said. “If I’m going to dropshot, I’ll have two or three rods rigged up. I may have one with an open hook with a Shad Shape Worm and then I’ll have a 1/0 or 2/0 Rebarb hook so I can rig a worm weedless if I have a lot of brush and stuff on the bottom. In open water, I’ll use a 1/0 or No. 1 dropshot hook to nose hook a Shad Shape Worm.
“If it’s wintertime and it’s cold, then you go small. If it’s summertime and it’s warm, you go bigger. You may go to a 6- or 6.8-inch worm.”
Now despite its minimal action, Nixon said the Fat Senko serves a very specific purpose in his dropshot strategy. Wacky rigging the bait, he’ll use this arrangement for targeted presentations.
“I like this best when I’m seeing fish on my electronics and I can drop straight to them,” Nixon said. “If I’m just doodling around where I’m seeing activity on my depth finder, I do better with a Kuttail or a Shad Shape Worm.
“But if I can see one on my screen and I can drop a Senko right on his head, I can usually get him to bite right then.”
Nixon’s a big fan of varying his dropshot looks and presentation. He say it’s something you have to figure out daily. As he points out, fish wake up in a different world every day, with different weather conditions changing their moods.
“Some days they’re aggressive; some days they’re nonchalant and you have to figure that out as you go,” he said. “Sometimes, the only way you can get one to bite is to look at him on the screen and hit him on the head — that’s usually pretty instantaneous.
“Or, you watch your bait on the screen, you get it down there at the right depth, you stop it and then you may have to shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. Or other times, you just drop it down there and hold it still.”
One of the major determinants, Nixon said, is water clarity.
“I catch way more fish by holding my dropshot dead still than I do with lots of finesse tactics,” he said. “I think a lot of your shaking tactics are most effective in clear Western waters, or clear eastern lakes like Lanier. Whereas, in the central or eastern part of the United States, we have a little more water color so dropshotting is not so much a finesse tactic as it is a tactic intended to get the fish to see your bait.
“In most of our (eastern and central) reservoirs, it’s not a shaking technique that produces the best; it’s one where you just get it down there and hold it still. Or you just drop your rod tip and let that bait fall back to the bottom where your sinker is on a dead slack line. It’s like dead sticking back to the bottom and that’s when they’ll take it.”
Explaining his bait color selection, Nixon said: “Unless we get a little stain in the water, my color selection has always been pretty basic for dropshots. To me, the natural shad is one of the best colors, but I also like watermelon, watermelon gold and green pumpkin. When in doubt, put on a green pumpkin.”
KIND OF A DRAG
Now, Nixon admits that most of his dropshotting comprises very short casts made close to the boat. However, some scenarios — especially in the Great Lakes regions — call for a longer casting technique akin to Carolina rigging.
“You cast a dropshot 20-30 feet from the boat and let it free swing to the bottom on a slack line and then, it’s more of a dragging presentation,” Nixon said. “Maybe you’ve got some fine grass or some rubble down there, but you can’t get your boat on top of these fish when they’re in that 8- to 15-foot range. In clear water you have to stay away from them.”
Validating this technique, Nixon claimed one of his four FLW Tour wins at a Detroit River event in which he ran north to Lake St. Clair and targeted super-spooky bronzebacks.
“You could not get on top of those smallmouth; you had to cast,” he said. “You had to get your lure away from that boat.”
Nixon caught those St. Clair smallies by dropshotting a Yamamoto D-Shad, but he’ll also use a 4-inch Senko. For both, he’ll nose hook the baits.
“When you’re casting, wacky rigging doesn’t work nearly as well as a bait that just sits back there and swims a little,” he said. “You want a bait that faces the way you’re dragging it. The wacky-rigged bait is for dropping straight on a fish.”
As with any technique, Nixon advises matching your dropshot bait to local forage and fish aggression. In the case of St. Clair, he used the D-Shad to tempt smallmouth feeding on yellow perch.
Also, he’ll adjust his dropper length relevant to his presentation style. He’ll typically go with 5-6 inches for straight drops, while the casting technique usually calls for 12-18.
It’s more of an ace-in-the-hole than a common tactic, but Nixon knows the value of sending a beefed-up dropshot into cover, such as buck brush or flooded trees. Known as flipshotting, this technique gives fish a look that differs from traditional Texas-rigged plastics.
“If fishing pressure shuts the fish down, I might pull out the flip shot rig with heavier line and a heavier weight,” Nixon said. “I do this a lot on grass lines if people are going up and down the edge all the time and I know it’s getting a lot of pressure on it.”
Nixon bases his flip shot baits on the waters he’s fishing. Tennessee River impoundments usually favor bigger worms, while the Shad Shape Worm will usually do better on a clear Ozarks lake.
“I’ll sit my boat in the edge of the weeds, where I can see them really strong on my depthfinder, pitch that dropshot away from my boat and into deeper water where it meets the edge of that grass,” Nixon said. “That is an extremely effective way to catch fish.”
TACKLE THE TASK
Considering the light wire hooks common to dropshotting, Nixon prefers a fairly limber rod. His choice is a Dobyns Champion 702SF — a model with enough backbone to handle the hefties.
Nixon uses 10- to 16-pound braided main line and links that to about 10 feet of 6- to 12-pound fluorocarbon for tactical stealth. From there, he’ll add 8-pound fluoro for his actual dropshot line, but he’ll connect this to the fluoro leader with a No. 10 Spro swivel.
“Yeah I have a lot of knots, but I don’t have any break-offs or line twist,” Nixon said. “That’s the thing that aggravates the snot out of me — line twist. With that longer fluorocarbon leader (above the dropshot line), the swivel never gets into the rod tip.”
No doubt, one of bass fishing’s most celebrated anglers has found his open-minded approach to contemporary tactics rewarding on multiple levels. And for the record, it’s not about teaching old dogs new tricks; it’s about proving that adaptation and continuous refinement are the hallmarks of a successful career.
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