Drop Shot Fishing
By Fred Wall
At a boat show in February this year I helped in my sponsor Ender's Rods booth. In our conversations during the three days I kept hearing Gary Enders talk about his newest rod, that being his drop-shot rod. I didn't want to appear stupid, so the first time or two I heard it, I just played it safe and kept quiet. After the second day the subject of dropshot fishing came up again, so I asked him to tell me about it. He said, "I'll tell you what, I've got a pro that lives in Phoenix. He's won over $45,000.00 using it since November last year. He's helping me design the new rods for the technique. I'll have him call you."
So with the much-appreciated help of Bret Hite, we want to educate you on the use of the newest rigging technique for catching big bass after the spawn, during the hot summer, and even in the dead of winter.
Before we start on the rig, you've got to understand that after the spawn and in high-pressure situations, the home of the big bass is in deep water. By deep water I mean anything deeper than eight to 12 feet. Notice I say big bass. There are always some fish shallow, and if there is a lot of structure or hiding places available some big bass may be shallow. But every fisheries biologist you talk to will tell you that after the spawn a big bass will not move one foot more than she has to, to eat. So after the two or three months of the year when she moves shallow to spawn, her home is in deep water.
Deep water means different things in different places. In Florida, where the deepest water in the lake is 10 to 20 feet, this is where she will be. But in California, Arizona, New Mexico and some parts of Texas, deep water could be 60 or 70 feet or even 90 feet or more in depth.
If all this makes sense to you now, you say, "Okay, how do I find her?" You next have to realize that fish move around and through a body of water using the same set of highways every day. That may be a creek channel, a break line, or a weed line that extends out into deep water. The key part of all this thinking is where the fish move toward the depth where they feed. The answer to this is found on the points, or bars if you want to call them that, which extend farthest out into the deepest water in the area.
Okay, we have established where the fish live and how they travel to the grocery store. Now we've got to put you at the spot where you can point your finger in the water and say, "I'm going to catch fish right here." This is done with your electronics and a set of marker buoys. You are hunting the longest, deepest, narrowest point that extends the farthest into the deepest water in the area. Let me say that again, longest, deepest, narrowest into the deepest water in the area. Got it?
At the mouth of a creek, or even on an old do-nothing bank there will be points that extend out into deep water. Using your big motor, idle across the point and mark the shallow top of the point. Move out to eight to 10 feet and do the same thing, keep moving deeper until you have a row of markers on this point and a sense of which way it heads. Keep doing this until your last buoy is on the spot where it drops off into the deepest water in the area. This may be 25 or 30 feet in depth. Hite says most of his best fish on this rig are caught from 25 to as deep as 75 feet.
Now from the bank, idle straight out your buoy line and look for the heaviest concentration of fish or baitfish up on the structure. Make note of the depth, where they are at their shallowest point on the structure. If there are no fish on the structure gather your markers and leave. Go find another spot until you find one that does. If you practice this a few times it only takes about 10 minutes to do and even if you have to do it three times, I'll trade 30 minutes and an hour of big fish for six hours and small fish any day.
If you are using a Pinpoint positioning motor this whole process is easy. Just head off the points until you find fish say in 17 feet of water, set the depth track in 17 feet and let it track until you find the longest point extending out into the deepest water. Now if you've done it right, you've got a marker on top of the point where the fish are holding. Pull up all the rest of the markers except this one because the one that's left is where you're going to catch fish.
In cold-water months the fish may be holding in the deep creek channels or on the edges of the creek channels.
Hite says he prefers a spinning rig for dropshot fishing, but I used a Shimano Cronarch and found it to work well. Enders Rods has developed a special rod for this technique as well. It is a 6-foot 6-inch, medium-light power and fast-tip action. Hite recommends an 8- or 10-pound fluorocarbon line. The hook of choice is the G-Lock #1 by Gamakatsu, but any of the super sharp wire hooks, with a Z-bend to keep the bait in place, will work. Last is the weight. Bass Pro is making a special drop-shot sinker, as are a few of the other tackle manufacturers. But at almost a buck a piece, most people are using a bell sinker in 1/4- or 3/8-ounce sizes.
The rig may sound like the simplest part of the system because it's a hook tied directly to the line from four inches to four-foot above the sinker. But how the hook rides the line is extremely important in getting this little hook in the fish, on the hook set. Hite recommends you move up the line about four or five feet and double the line, go into the hook from the back side or opposite the point, tie a simple Palomar knot and leave the tag end about four or five feet long. Now take the tag end and go back through the hook eye from the point side toward the back. When you hang the weight, the hook will be at a 90-degree angle to the line with the hook point up.
Last is the weight and how far up the line the hook should be. Here's where you'll have to decide based on how high above the structure the fish are holding. If they're five feet above the structure, you may want the hook four feet above the weight or in some instances five or six inches may be enough. You'll just have to experiment to see what the fish want. Eighteen to 24 inches is a good place to start. I tie the bell sinker on with a slip-knot so if it hangs up I don't lose everything. Hang-ups will happen. See how to rig it.
If you haven't figured it out yet, the #1 size hook isn't going to work too well with a 10-inch worm or an 11-inch lizard. This is finesse-style fishing, using small baits. There are a large number of manufacturers making baits for dropshot fishing. Most are hand-poured and come from the West Coast. This style of fishing was invented and has been refined in the deep, clear-water lakes in Japan, California, and Arizona. It works best using a hand-poured super-soft bait that has a lot of action when you shake it.
Ok we've got the "where" this system works, and the "what" in how you rig it, now let's talk about the "how" you fish it to be most productive.
Now we've got our buoy out on the structure we intend to fish. We've got our rig built with either a small finesse bait we've been successful with before or, one we've purchased. As far as color is concerned, keep in mind that at certain depths colors change. The reds get dark, the browns get almost black and the purples and blues are the last colors to change. So if your favorite color on this lake is blue, fish blue because confidence is important. I prefer the shad colors, clear with silver flake or pearl whites with dark backs. Cast out from deep water toward and past your buoy marker. Let the rig fall on slack line straight down. Take up the slack until you feel the weight. Shake the bait using only the rod tip. Do this two or three times without moving the weight. Pick up again and this time move the sinker toward you a few feet. Shake it again a couple of times without moving the weight while you're shaking the bait. Continue to do this until the rig is straight under you.
Here's where the limber-tip rod is important. You want to shake the bait on semi-slack line without moving the weight. The bite on this rig is never bone jarring. It's most generally just a different feeling like mush, or sometimes the fish will just start to swim off with it. Fan cast the whole area, and be sure to position the boat so you can cast past and pull up over the point and back down the drop-off side. If you can't get bit, change colors or leader lengths. When you start catching fish it is pretty common to catch three or four off one spot.
This system is just like learning to fish a Carolina or Texas rig, it will take some time to master, but with this system your bait stays in the strike zone longer than any other method of fishing. Catching fish in deep water is limited to about two or three methods and if the fish are spooky or hard to make bite this system should be one you try.
Special thanks to Bret Hite and we wish him continued success in his career. His favorite drop-shot baits are available from Sweetwater Tackle (520) 505-3017. The owner's name is David Mitchell and he has just introduced a new line of 4-inch paddle-tail, hand-poured worms called the Drop Shot Pro Mode for dropshot fishing. Hite says he prefers the natural colors, such as cinnamon-blue, black grape or brown/purple.