The Aussie scene
RECENTLY many Queensland and New South Wales anglers have had great sessions on Aussie bass and bream using the dropshotting method, and I've certainly enjoyed using the dropshot to out-fish other techniques, especially on Aussie bass. The dropshot works well on a whole bunch of Australian species, including estuary perch and shallow reef fish.
The dropshot was initially considered to be best suited to clear water and deeper, steep bank scenarios. But in recent times it has also evolved as a very good technique for stained and even dirty water. Anglers fishing around shallow water structure have also found the dropshot rig to be a fish catcher.
The dropshot is a finesse rig that has the soft plastic positioned above the weight, similar to a dropper (paternoster) rig. This configuration allows the lure more action as the movements imparted by your rod tip are not absorbed by the weight. (eg. in a Carolina rig the egg weight absorbs most of the rod action, although that's another story, Carolina rigs are more for dragging along the bottom than dancing in front of a fish's face).
Anglers can use the dropshot rig just about anywhere – fishing shallow, deep or anywhere in between, as well as open country or deep structure. I've used the technique down to the bottom in 50' of water, and the dropshot can be effectively fished in water up to around 90'. I’ve dropshotted for Aussie bass, bream and squire.
Dropshotting comes into its own in finesse situations, where a subtle presentation is needed to encourage spooky, shy or shut-down fish to feed, especially when they’ve seen a lot of lures before due to high fishing pressure. The dropshot is very successful in these situations because the rig uses light lines and small soft plastics.
Many anglers believe that the dropshot works purely because it’s different from the lead head jig rigs that the bass often see associated with soft plastic offerings. The worms are also different from the standard T-tails the bass are so used to seeing.
The set-up of the dropshot also allows the lure to stay in the strike zone. For example, if the fish are schooled within a few feet of the bottom, the dropshot enables the soft plastic to just jiggle and waft at the depth where the fish are suspending, while the weight rests on the bottom.
In Australia the acceptance of the dropshot technique for situations where the fish can't see the lure has ridden on the back of the popularity of Berkley Powerbait's dropshot range of soft plastics. I'm in the USA as I write this and I've been in touch with Dr Keith Jones, the inventor of the Powerbait formula. He explains it as follows:
“In general, fish use smell under all conditions but its sensory role is dictated by water conditions. In clear water, vision is the primary directive sense while all other senses [smell, taste, hearing, and vibration detection] play a more supportive role – either to help alert the fish to the presence of potential food nearby or assess the food's acceptability. With the exception of the lateral line at close quarters, the supportive senses play a minor role in actually finding food.
“However, in dirty water or other conditions of poor visibility vision is largely mitigated, requiring the fish to rely more heavily on its supportive senses to both appreciate and find food.”
Thus fish home in on the smell of the Berkley Powerbait formula.
Alternatives can be concocted, or you can use one of the many scents available on the market, but do yourself a favour and get a few packets of Berkley's Dropshot Minnows to make comparisons with. Do the tests yourself, out on the water amongst a school of sensitive Aussie bass or bream, and you'll see why so many tournament anglers won’t leave home without these plastics.
The Powerbait models I’ve used with success include the 3” Power Minnow, 4” Bass Minnow, 4” Dropshot Worm and 3” Power Hawg. There’s also the new 2” Power Minnow but I haven’t used it on a dropshot yet (although I’ve found that they work wonderfully on lead heads for bream).
Around shallow water structure you can use heavier line and shake that worm for jacks, barra, sooty grunter and a host of other species. Cast the lure to the bankside shallows near the snag and shake the worm on a slack line by vibrating the rod tip, yet not moving the weight off the bottom.
In clear water, where fish may rely more on their vision, many anglers prefer a worm known as a ‘straight tail hand-pour’. This worm is extremely flexible and is flat on one side, making its cross-section semicircular in profile. The flat side increases the action of the lure when it’s shaken.
Machine moulded lures (as opposed to hand-pours) are seldom flat-sided so they often have a little extra in the tail to achieve the required action. Lures of this type include the Slider Dropshot Worm in 3" and 4" and the Berkley Dropshot Power Worm. Both the Sliders and Berkleys are machine moulded with a circular cross section, but they are supple enough to have the required action and have a small paddle-tail to impart a bit of jiggle. Another lure to look out for is the 2.5" Slider Dropshot Worm, which looks like a shortened variant of the 3" Slider. The tail extends at a 45-degree angle, giving it the behaviour of a paddle tail.
Knowing which worm is best for the job is something astute Aussie anglers are becoming accustomed to. Just because it looks the same or similar is no recommendation for a particular technique. For example, the same shaped lure made from different grade of plastic, even a different salt density, can make all the difference. Also, the smallest variation in shape or design can make a difference.
Dropshotting is ideal to use on schooled fish holding near the bottom, especially if there’s scattered structure on the bottom, or suspended around mid-depth. With some small variations it can also be fished beside structure where fish are known to be holding.
Dropshotting is a slow presentation that seriously catches fish once they’ve been located. You can find the fish with a sounder or by looking at the lay of the land, including bankside structure, to tell you what might be under the water. Additionally you may employ a 'gun and run' fishing pattern with reaction baits, such as casting spinnerbaits or lipless crankbaits to the bank. These lures can be worked quickly to cover a lot of water and locate the fish. Then you can search around in the vicinity with a sounder to find the likely school of fish. Often they'll be on the drop-off, or around other structure, and at other times they'll be out in the open and suspended in very deep water.
Use the sounder to seek out old creek channels or breaklines, flats, submerged structure and elongated points that extend out from the bank into the deeper water. Once you’ve located features that you’d like to fish you can outline the area with marker buoys or mark it on your GPS.
Soft plastics for dropshotting are generally small and can include the following patterns: worms, reapers (leech type patterns), grubs and even small fluke-type lures. Dropshot soft plastics usually don't exceed 4" (10cm) in length in Australia. The longest lure I know of to regularly take bream and bass is the Slider 4" worm but times are changing and there are many other products of similar size that will work well.
The better plastics are both salt- and scent-impregnated (even sceptical anglers are finally admitting that if your plastics aren’t scented you’re at a disadvantage). If your plastics are unscented, an application of a premium grade after-market scent will do the trick. I recommend Spike-It, which is available in a variety of scents and colours and which has proven itself in many a tournament scene around the world.
Please note that salt on the outside of a lure is not for catching fish; it’s just there to help stop the baits sticking together in the packaging. This salt coating can induce rust in your tackle box, so it’s wise to store these lures separately. Be sure to check that salt is injected into the plastic at the moulding stage rather than just sprinkled into the packaging as an afterthought. You won't see the salt in the impregnated lures so you'll have to trust the label on the packaging.
In heavily salted plastics, like Gary Yamamoto's excellent range, you can see the salt if you break off a small piece at the end. A larger range of Yamamotos should be available in Australian. Give the Tiny Ika (92T) a try. They are dropshot and bream magic. Mark Lawson used them on a leadhead jig when I fished with him in the Bundaberg BREAM comp and the bream certainly showed a liking for them. The Ika looks like a solid squid with tentacles. The solid head resists tearing off and the tentacles waft around when shaken.
Hand-poured plastics are preferred by many anglers in some situations, as they are softer and have a good action in the water when ‘shaking’. However, although they are magic when the situation suits them, they can be frustrating when their softness causes problems. An example is if you’re targeting big fish on an offshore reef and little 'pickers' nip at your plastic, causing it to rip off the hook or tear. It’s up to you to think ahead when rigging up for each scenario. These days some injection-moulded plastics have a design which enables them to impart similarly natural movements.
While the dropshot can be fished on a light baitcaster, most anglers prefer a threadline spin outfit. The preferred American rod length for dropshotting is around 6'6” to 6'9" which equates to about two metres. The rod should have a fast taper with a ‘spongy’ or ‘spaghetti’ tip to assist with the action of the soft plastic.
I could rave on with a bunch of technical mumbo jumbo and definition clarifications for a dropshot or I could say, “go and check out the G.Loomis DSR822-S". The G.Loomis DSR822-S is the only dropshot-specific rod I know of in Australian. Check out the tip of the rod, as that’s where the secret is. I've used the lighter actioned DSR820-S quite a bit and from an Australian perspective the 820 version is a great bream rod for use with ultra-light leadhead jigs and the 822 is the dropshot rod.
A Shimano 1000 or 2000 sized threadline filled with a low visibility 6-10lb fluorocarbon is preferred in some quarters, while others spool up with 4lb braid.
Threadline or spin reels are best for dropshotting because the line comes off them easily when freespooling to the bottom – thus a lighter weight can be used compared to what might be required with a baitcaster reel.
Give dropshotting a go, and remember practise makes perfect. Time on the water is the best schooling for a new technique.
Next month: rigging and tackleReads: 3644