In 2001, I fished as a co-angler in a tournament on Toledo Bend Reservoir, a massive body of water that straddles the Texas-Louisiana border and eats lower units for lunch. When they impounded the lake in the 1960s, they left most of the standing timber intact, cutting rudimentary and often poorly marked boat lanes to navigate.
Over time, many of the trees broke off at the water line, so even if an area looks clear, you often can’t get to much of the good fishing water without knocking the crap out of your boat. There’s even a guy on the lake who will install a “Gorilla Hull” to prevent you from splintering your fiberglass. But the lake is a power fisherman’s dream—spinnerbaits, jigs, worms, and heavy string to pull ‘em.
That’s why my practice partner was so damn pissed off.
The dude was an old-school Texan, raised in the Piney Woods in the eastern part of the state—probably born wearing boots, looked like he’d fought at the Alamo, and if you cut him he bled Shiner Bock, or perhaps rotgut. He was a legendary angler but didn’t care to use anything less than 20-pound-test if it wasn’t necessary. As the tournament progressed, word got out that fellow pro Ben Matsubu, from Idaho of all places, was kicking butt with a newfangled dropshot rig in deep water with 6-pound-test line. Hell, my friend used line heavier than that to catch crappie. He probably used heavier line to catch bait to catch crappie.
“Damn upside-down catfish rig,” he muttered under his breath.
Back then, no self-respecting power fisherman would be caught dead dropshotting, a technique that had only recently made its way over from the pressured fisheries of Japan. It was possible to go out on tour with a flipping stick and a jig and be competitive. Those days are over. Twenty years after that mini culture war, if you don’t at least accept that there will be times when you need to pull out a spinning rod, you just can’t be competitive, whether you’re on tour or fishing around the house.
What Does the Dropshot Do Well? A dropshot puts the weight at the end of your line and affixes the hook a predetermined length above it. You tie on the hook first with a Palomar Knot, leaving a tag end, then run the line back through the eye of the hook so that it will stand out straight and present a bait naturally. Once that’s done, you put on a sinker, usually anywhere from 1/16 to ½ ounce. If you’re fishing above short grass, you can rig it with just enough leader so that the lure sits atop the cover. If the bass are suspended, you can likewise keep the lure in their faces all day by running a long leader between bait and weight. Once the sinker hits the bottom, you should endeavor to keep a semi-taut line—shake it a little so that the lure taunts your fish but doesn’t leave. It allows for a highly natural presentation that combines the best attributes of stillness and motion.
Less is More The natural temptation for most of us is to shake the hell out of the lure, trying to get the attention of any bass in the vicinity. That’s often the wrong approach. Usually, the natural undulations of a soft plastic responding to natural currents will tempt more fish than a spastic approach. That’s why newcomers occasionally kick experienced anglers’ asses with this rig. They drop it down, lose contact for a moment, look at the scenery, take a sip of Yoo-Hoo, and when they reconnect there’s a fish waiting. That’s not always the situation, of course—there are times when it’s imperative to know exactly what your lure is doing—but it happens often enough to frustrate the so-called experts.
When Are the Best Times to Use a Dropshot? Perhaps a better question would be “When can you not use a dropshot?” The only times I really shy away from it are when fishing very heavy cover and when I can catch just as many (or more) fish using heavier line and a more aggressive approach. These days, just about any time I launch the boat I have at least one dropshot rigged up in my rod locker, and there are times when I have several rods dedicated to the technique on the deck, all with different weights or plastics to adjust to the mood of the fish. Here are a few of my favorite situations to employ this technique.
Video Game Fishing: If you’re good with your electronics, particularly in smallmouth country, it’s possible to get directly over the fish and drop down right onto them. The dropshot pilots a straight path, and then you can hold it in their face with the lure still moving until they bite. If they don’t bite, you can gauge their reaction to different offerings and then dial things in for the next bass you find.
Suspended Fish: Bass that are suspended in the water column are often among the hardest to catch. They’re typically not actively feeding or relating to anything specific and can be gone in the blink of an eye. Sometimes it’s just easier to look for other specimens rather than beat your brains out trying to catch them. Something about the delicate fall of the dropshot, and the lure not directly encumbered by a weight, seems to trigger these finicky fish, though. Put it in their face, shake it a little, and hold on.
Bed Fishing: Fishing for bedding bass, like the suspended fish mentioned above, can be an exercise in frustration. You can see them, but often they won’t react. I’ve thrown hundreds of craws, creatures, and lizards into their nests and sometimes it’ll get them going, but the addition of the dropshot to the arsenal is my magic elixir. That’s because to get weighted baits to wiggle, you need to move them forward or sideways, which often means removing them from the sweet spot. With the dropshot, the lure keeps moving without any forward motion. Eventually, the big girl is gonna bite.
Co-Angler Magic: Just like the Senko that came along a few years before it, the dropshot is co-angler magic. Any time I’m fishing out of the back of someone’s boat and they’re hogging all of the prime targets, I ask the bass to say hello to my little friend. Throw the dropshot between targets or out into the open and you’ll be surprised at how often you catch fish that others miss.
What Do You Need to Dropshot? The beauty of the dropshot is that you probably already have tackle adequate to get started, and adding the necessary nuts and bolts isn’t expensive or difficult. Start with a 6’6” to 7’ medium-light or medium spinning rod and a matching reel. If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can start with straight fluorocarbon, but a better tact is to spool your reel with 10- to 15-pound-test braid and then affix a leader of 8 feet or so of lighter fluoro, affixed via an FG, Double Uni, or “Crazy Alberto” knot. The combination of the two lines accomplishes several key goals. First, the braid will last at least a full season, so rather than regularly replacing a full spool of expensive fluorocarbon you can just renew a short section. Second, this is a technique that often results in line twist, which doesn’t weaken braid as substantially as it does the fluoro. Finally, because braid is low stretch, you can set the hook with authority even on deep fish—just know your own strength and don’t overpower the leader.
Dropshot weights come in a variety of shapes with both lead and tungsten varieties. Start off with simple cylindrical or ball-shaped weights in a variety of sizes and recognize that if you’re throwing them in the right places, you’re going to lose some. Fortunately, these weights often have a pressure clip at the top to hold your line, so if you get snagged, a firm pull will often free the whole deal and you’ll lose just the weight, not your whole rig.
While you can use standard offset worm hooks for dropshotting, with light spinning gear your best bet is going to be either a light wire straight shank (for Texas rigging), or a short-shanked finesse hook (for nose hooking). Sizes from #2 through 2/0 should cover most of your bases.
What Lures are Best? The good news here is that just about any soft plastic—Texas rigged, nose hooked, or wacky rigged—has a time and a place at the end (or, rather, in the middle) of a dropshot rig. In most cases, though, the prime choices are smaller plastics resembling little baitfish. These include but are not limited to various minnow-style baits and finesse worms. When you’re starting out, of course the goal is to “match the hatch,” which could mean goby imitations in smallmouth country and shad imitators in Bubba Land. Stick to natural greens and blacks, with the occasional wilder color thrown in when local custom or forage dictates.
Bubba Shotting While dropshotting is generally considered a light line and spinning gear only technique, that’s a load of crap. The same keep-it-in-one-place-and-shake-it benefits that accrue with light line can also help you in big bass country when the green fish aren’t line shy. In thick grass, for example, you can use a one-ounce tungsten weight to penetrate the canopy and lead your seemingly free-floating lure down into the recesses of the caverns. In Mexican lakes like El Salto and Picachos, I’ve seen several times when the fish wouldn’t touch a Texas rigged or Carolina rigged lizard. But if you nose hook one on a 3/0 heavy-duty dropshot hook, they’ll fight one another to chow down on it. We didn’t even have any true dropshot sinkers with us when my friend figured that out, so we just found a way to keep our bullet weights in place to get the job done. The fish didn’t care.
Variations on the Rig Just as the tackle innovators of Japan gave us the dropshot rig, Neko Rig, and other dedicated finesse soft plastic techniques, one more recent addition is the Tokyo Rig, which in a way is just a beefed-up dropshot. Instead of having the tag end of your line run down out of your hook eye, these pre-made rigs include a drop-down wire. You put the appropriate amount of weight on it, that weight holds the bottom, and your lure sits a short distance above it. The point is that you can infinitely customize it with different weights and different plastic offerings, and yet the weight doesn’t impede the plastic in any way.
Just don’t call it an upside-down catfish rig or you’ll get left behind.
Feature image via Tosh Brown.