Every angler has a special “go-to” technique for bass, a particular method with which he or she is most comfortable and confident, a method that will always put a few bass in the boat, even when conditions are difficult. For some, this method is the Carolina rig; for others, it may be a jig-and-pig or a spinnerbait. For me, it is the drop-shot rig.
Drop-shotting is usually thought of as specialized for deepwater scenarios, a finesse technique using 4-inch skinny plastic worms that one would resort to only when faced with tough fishing. To the contrary, I consider drop-shotting to be a generalist technique: I can fish slow or fast, use a wide assortment of plastic baits, and catch bass at any water depth and in any type of habitat. Far from being a technique to catch just finicky, pressured bass, I think you can catch bass using a drop-shot rig anywhere in the Northeast.
The history of drop-shotting is muddled, with some claiming it originated on the East Coast, some saying California or Japan, and others claiming that saltwater anglers have been using this technique for decades. The drop-shot rig is nothing more than a line with a weight on the end and a hook tied to the line anywhere from 4 to 30 inches above the weight. While simple in nature, this rig allows you to detect even the lightest bites because, when you fish it properly, you will not feel the resistance of the weight, but only that of the hook and plastic bait.
Drop-shotting has soared in popularity in recent years, and specialty drop-shotting equipment – from rods to hooks to weights to plastic baits – abounds. While it helps to have some items specific to drop-shotting, in many cases using generalized equipment will get you similar results. To set yourself up to catch bass in Northeast (or anywhere else) with a drop-shot rig, you can spend a few dollars or a few hundred.
Specialty drop-shot weights are great, and they are offered in different shapes specific to the bottom type. A very nice feature of these specialty weights is the groove in the wire on top of the weight; tying your line to the weight using a simple overhand knot that is slipped into the groove allows you to easily adjust the distance between the plastic bait and weight. Additionally, if you get stuck, the line pulls off the weight easily so that you don’t lose the entire rig; you can put on a new weight instead of re-tying the whole setup. However, these weights are relatively expensive, depending on size and brand.
I go the cheaper route with drop-shot weights because I tend not to change the distance between bait and weight, usually relying on a plastic bait that is about 15 to 18 inches above the weight. I use “casting sinkers” made by Eagle Claw that are available at most sporting goods stores and are offered in lead-free versions. The cost is about $2 per bag, which contains from 6 to 10 weights depending on size. I use a 1/8-ounce weight when fishing in 15 feet of water or less, a 3/16, or ¼-ounce weight, in water from 16 to 25 feet, and a 3/8-ounce weight for anything deeper than 25 feet. I tie the end of the line to the sinker using a simple clinch knot.
Hooks are not a place to skimp on cost; it is important to use a quality hook. I prefer Gamakatsu, but there are plenty of other manufacturers that make quality hooks. I tend to go a little smaller in hook size than some drop-shotters, preferring a size 1 or 2 octopus-style or split-shot/drop-shot hook. I have found bass rarely take these hooks deep into their mouths, and typically my hooksets are in the upper lip. There are other hooks specifically designed for drop-shotting, such as “StandOut” hooks, but in my experience these hooks are not necessary and seem to hook bass deeply.
Most fishermen use spinning rods when drop-shotting, but some will use casting rods. While you can spend hundreds of dollars on a specialty drop-shot rod, you can also use an all-around rod that you probably already own and still catch bass. For many years I used a 6-foot, 6-inch medium-power Berkley Cherrywood rod that I bought as a combo for $30. This rod served me very well until it broke. At that point, I decided to try a drop-shot rod. My current rod is a 6-foot 4-inch light-power fast-action All Star drop-shot rod. This is a great rod, although I do have to set my drag light and “baby” bigger fish a bit. The rod you buy will depend on your preferences in terms of cost and length, but a sensitive fast-action rod is best. More than likely, you already have a rod like this at home that can be used for drop-shotting.
When choosing a reel for drop-shotting, go with something light with a smooth drag. I currently use a relatively inexpensive Shimano Sienna 2500 FB. If you have a reel you like that has these qualities, give it a try before you purchase one specifically for drop-shotting. I like to keep my drag on the loose side. I know I have the drag set properly when I can hear the drag make a bit of noise while setting the hook.
I would suggest starting with the brand of fluorocarbon with which you are most comfortable. I use 8-pound-test Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon. To me, that test line is a nice compromise between line that is too light or too heavy. Some anglers drop to 6-pound-test in clear water or when fish are particularly finicky. Another alternative is to use a braided Spectra line or a “superline” like Berkley Fireline combined with a fluorocarbon leader attached via a barrel swivel. While I like the qualities of the fluorocarbon, I plan on experimenting more with Fireline next year. I would not suggest monofilament, as it is too stretchy and therefore does not have the sensitivity needed for this technique.
The selection of plastic baits for drop-shotting is endless. There are, of course, specialized drop-shot baits. Ones that I use in this category include a 4-inch Roboworm, Zoom Meatheads, and XPS drop-shot worms. However, I have found that just about any plastic bass bait works great on a drop-shot rig. I also like to use 4-inch twister-tail worms, lizards, Sweet Beavers, Paca Craws, 4-inch Senkos or similar stickbaits, and just about any other plastic in my tackle bag. I have found that the 3-inch Slug-Go is a great bait, especially on a larger river system such as the Connecticut or Merrimack. These baits not only catch bass, but also stay on the hook very well through multiple fish.
How to Hook the Bait
There are a few ways to place the plastic bait onto the hook. Some anglers slide the hook point into the middle of the head of the plastic bait, move the bait up about a ¼-inch, and then swing the hook up and out of the top of the plastic bait. I prefer to place the hook point below the plastic bait, about ¼-inch from the head of the plastic bait, and simply force the hook point straight up through the top of the plastic bait. In either case, make sure the plastic bait comes to rest at the middle of the bend of the hook. It is very important that the plastic bait stands out straight in the water so it will move with the slightest twitch of the rod or line. In some cases, anglers have good results by wacky-rigging a 4-inch worm or stickbait on a drop-shot rig.
How To Tie A Drop-Shot Rig
Use a Palomar knot to tie the hook to your line. Take the hook in your hand so the hook lies horizontally, the hook point toward the top. Run the line down through the eye of the hook, giving yourself extra line for the distance between the hook and weight. Run the end of the line back up through the hook eye until you have about a 2-inch loop below the hook eye, and then tie your Palomar, making sure that the knot is snug around the end of the hook eye and you’ve left the long tag end. Take the tag end of the line, pass it down and through the hook eye, and pull the end of the line tight. This will ensure that the hook stands out perpendicular from your line, which is the key to tying the drop-shot rig. Then, tie on your weight using a simple overhand or clinch knot. You may need to cut the end of the line to adjust the length between the plastic bait and weight. As I mentioned previously, I typically tie my rigs so the distance between hook and weight is 15 to 18 inches. With practice, you will get pretty quick at tying a drop-shot rig, but if you use a barrel swivel at the end of your line, you can tie up a bunch of rigs beforehand and simply tie them to the swivel when a replacement is needed. It is important to check the Palomar knot fairly often and to re-tie if the line gets frayed.
Where to Fish It
I can’t emphasize enough that drop-shotting is not just a finesse technique to be used in deep-water situations. I have caught bass throughout the Northeast with this technique in water depths from 2 to 50 feet and in habitat ranging from rocks to fallen trees to aquatic vegetation. In every situation, I have confidence in drop-shotting.
I cast the drop-shot rig to just about every place I would cast any other sub-surface plastic bait for bass. Obviously, it is difficult to fish this rig directly in aquatic vegetation or in wood. However, this technique excels when fishing the edges of aquatic vegetation, in open pockets within the vegetation, or at the edges of fallen trees or stumps. Fishing in these areas might require anglers to use stronger line and a medium-heavy-power rod so that hooked fish can be quickly pulled from potential snags. It is also possible to fish directly in aquatic vegetation and wood when using these “heavier” methods in conjunction with a heavier weight.
How To Fish It
If I am fishing in shallow water with obvious cover, such as aquatic vegetation, wood, docks, or rocks, I cast to the edge of the cover. If I am fishing in deeper water, I simply cast out from the boat approximately 30 to 50 feet. After casting, I let the weight settle to the bottom. It is important to be aware of how long it takes the weight to reach the bottom, as suspended bass will often hit the plastic bait on its descent. Once the weight reaches the bottom, I adjust the line so that I am just able to feel the weight. I very lightly jiggle the rod, a bit like you would when fishing a shakey-head jig, making sure not to pull the weight towards me. If I don’t get a bite, I let the rig settle and then slowly pull the rod tip up and towards me. Once I reach about 1 o’clock, I slowly lower the rod to about 3 o’clock, reeling down while I do so to keep the line tight. I then lightly shake the rod tip or let the line sit still for a few seconds. I repeat this until I lose confidence in the cast or the plastic bait is below the boat. I alternate my retrieve until I figure out what the fish want on that particular day. Some days a faster retrieve is best, while sometimes the fish want a slow retrieve or even a “dead stick” approach with almost no movement.
When anglers find bass congregated in deep water, they often drop the rig right below the boat, using the drop-shot as a purely vertical presentation. While this is a great way to fish under these conditions, I rarely use a drop-shot rig this way, instead using it as more of a search bait. You can cover a lot of water with it in a relatively short amount of time when you fish it as described above.
Regardless of how you fish the rig, the most important thing is to make sure you keep the line relatively tight at all times, as a bite can come at any moment. Bites can feel like a slight “tap-tap,” a lack of weight on the line, or a stronger pull as the fish may have simply picked up the bait and swam off with it. In the beginning, it can be difficult to detect some bites, and a rule that has served me well with this technique is that if something seems different, set the hook.
The drop-shot rig is the most important technique in my bass-fishing arsenal. It can increase your bass fishing success if you take the time to gain confidence in it. Remember, it can be fished fast or slow, at any water depth, in just about any type of habitat, and with a wide assortment of plastic baits. This technique catches bass anywhere in New England; from Candlewood Lake to the Quabbin Reservoir, from Lake Champlain to Lake Winnipesaukee, from the Connecticut River to Cobbossee Lake, and everywhere in between.
Gabe Gries is a fisheries biologist with the NH Fish and Game Department and is the state’s Warmwater Fish Project Leader. Bass are one of his favorite fish to pursue and the Connecticut River is his favorite fishery.