The terminal end
DROPSHOTTING is becoming very popular and I expect there’ll be new equipment coming in all the time to tantalise and enhance our dropshotting experience.
I’ve enjoyed a lot of dropshotting in the USA and Australia recently as I’m doing a bit of flying backwards and forwards. The interesting thing is that the tackle set-up I prefer to dropshot with in the USA is identical to what I use in Australia for bass dropshotting – right down to the hook and weight.
In both countries I use 4lb superline, a fluorocarbon leader, a no.4 hook and a 1/8oz weight of the ‘cherry bomb’ style. The rod is a G.Loomis DSR822-S coupled to a Shimano Stella 2500.
The lures I mentioned in the last issue are the same style and length that I use in both countries, although in the USA I also use longer, skinnier lures. In the USA I’d park the boat in 30’-50’ of water and cast into water that’s 20’ deep, while in Australia I’d park in 30’to 35’ of water and cast slightly ahead of the boat as I drift along. And while the angler up the other end of the boat may have a different accent, the fish speak a universal language.
One of the most important features of the dropshot rig is the hook and how it sits in relation to the mainline. When tying on the hook, one thing to remember is that it should sit perpendicular to the mainline. This can be done with a Palomar or half blood knot. The half blood knot is used with fluorocarbon by those who have concerns about using the Palomar with that type of line.
To tie the Palomar, move up the mainline about 4-5 feet and double the line. Hold the hook point to the sky and pass the doubled line through the back side of the eye. Pull through and do a large overhand knot with the doubled line and pass the hook through the big loop. Gently and carefully pull the knot down to the eye of the hook and tighten. You should now have a long tag end (which is where your weight will soon be attached). The trick now – and probably the most crucial step – is to pass the tag end back through the eye of the hook and pull down. This will reposition the knot in the eye of the hook and allow the hook to sit perpendicular to the line. The length of the tag end after you've connected the weight will dictate how far your bait sits from the bottom.
When using the half blood knot, leave a long tag end and finish it off the same way by passing the tag end down through the eye of the hook before attaching the dropshot sinker to the tag end of the line.
There are a number of weight options to use on a dropshot rig. These include:
• Split shots,
• Bell or drop-shaped sinkers with tie points or swivels, and
• Pegged bullet or egg weights.
Some anglers even like to rig a glass bead below their bullet weight (and tie the line to a swivel or ring) so that when the rod tip is shaken the glass bead and bullet weight ‘chink’ against each other to emit a prawn-like flicking sound.
The small ball ‘cherry bomb’ sinkers, with a swivel and eyelet which pinches the line tightly to hold the weight in place, have replaced the above options. The beauty of these weights, and the split shot option, is that if you do become snagged, the chances of you losing the whole rig, hook and all, is greatly reduced. Because the line isn't tied and merely runs through or is pinched in place, it usually slips or cuts when snagged. While you may lose the weight you'll often get the hook back.
The ball sinker has now stepped aside for the latest craze – the tungsten tear-drop weights. Using either the split-shot or cherry bomb weights also allows the dropper length to be easily adjusted.
Split shots have traditionally been available as a lead product, with or without 'ears' (ears make removal and adjustment easier), but there are tinned versions that will find favour amongst ‘lead-free’ anglers. The size of the weight will depend on the depth of water you’re fishing and the size of the plastic you’re fishing with. The bigger the bait, the more weight you’ll need.
Dropshot weights are manufactured from a number of materials, including lead, steel and tungsten. Lead is the least expensive of the three, but it’s softer and not as sensitive (i.e. it doesn’t transmit as much information when you bump rocks on the bottom). Steel and tungsten are tougher, have greater sensitivity, but are more expensive. A bonus of tungsten is that it’s the heaviest metal, allowing a heavier weight to be more compact.
The increased feel when you bump the bottom with tungsten has to be felt to be believed. Yes, they are very expensive ($2 to $4 each) but they’ll catch you more fish.
As with many fishing techniques, the secret is to use the lightest sinker that will get the lure into the strike zone.
In areas where regulations allow it, an option is to tie a leadhead rigged soft plastic or rubber-skirted jig onto the line as a weight. This gives at least a second offering to the fish.
On a recent trip with Mike Connolly and my dad, I was interested to find that I caught the most fish by having the length between the hook and sinker as short as possible, about 15cm. The length was critical – your lure is either in the spot or it's not and a few centimetres can make all the difference.
When I went back to the standard lead head and fished it on the bottom all I caught were borderline legal fish. The dropshot certainly caught the bigger fish.
When rigging your soft plastic on a dropshot you have three 'hooking' options. The first is tip or nose hooking and the second is the standard Texas method with the hook point inside the worm. My preference has been to ‘nose’ hook hand-pours and the stick baits. Rigged this way, a soft bait may catch only one or two fish because its so soft, but it gives a great, natural action that fish can’t resist.
To nose hook a plastic, pass the hook (often a short-shanked model in size 4 with sharp point) through the tip (or head) of the plastic. The hook point will be exposed so it's ideal for fishing open country where there is little or no cover, such as when fishing for suspended fish. There are a number of drop shot hooks available, but my preference is the Mustad No.4 Black Nickel dropshot hook. They’re strong enough to catch big fish and are super sharp for consistent hook-ups.
To have the plastic Texas or 'weedless', for when you’re fishing in and around cover or snaggy areas, you may opt for a Mustad Mega-Bite hook. One thing I’ve recently learnt about the Mega-Bite is that its z-bend has an accentuated angle in order to keep a soft plastic on the hook well.
If you’re fishing open water, a notched shank bait keeper hook may be better as it allows you to rig the plastic 'Texposed' and locates the hook further back in the plastic.
Dropshotting achieves great results when fished vertically through a school of bass. To fish the dropshot vertically, freespool to where the fish are holding (commonly on or just off the bottom) and on a slack line begin ‘shaking’ the plastic by bouncing the rod tip upwards. This should be done without moving the weight. The slack in the line will assist with the action of the plastic and prevent the weight from moving.
While you’re shaking the plastic it will have an erratic action, pulsating and quivering like a dying baitfish. After shaking, point the rod tip at the water to pause the plastic and allow it to slowly waft seductively from side to side. At this time you should feel and look for any sign of a bite.
The dropshot rig may also be cast out and then worked in a similar fashion. When drifting it may be necessary to keep letting line out to keep the weight on the bottom, or you cast ahead of the drift and wind the slack out of the line.
Some anglers prefer to fish vertically, while others have a preference for line with a slight angle in it. Experiment with different techniques to find the variation that suits you, your fishing tackle and the fishing scenario. Small lifts of the rod tip, twitches and even dead-sticking or ‘swimming’ are all effective. Just remember that the dropshot is a slow presentation, so if you’re getting a lot of line twist when fishing the dropshot you’re working it too fast. Even reeling in at the end of a cast should be done slowly.
If you’re getting the bass blues, try holding your rod steady and plucking at your line like a guitar string (if you have a marine stereo in your boat you should be able to ham it up a little as your mates drive by).
The rig is commonly fished with the weight on the lake floor but it can also prove useful on suspended fish and when fished in the thermocline.
When fishing the dropshot you’ll become aware that bites will rarely be the bone jarring, rod slamming hit that you sometimes encounter with other techniques. More often you'll feel a dull resistance or added pressure on the line. Some anglers describe it as a ‘mushy bite’ that’s a bit like weed. Don Iovino describes the bite as like stretching a rubber band. But after a curious lift of the rod tip, you’ll discover that the pressure pulls back. In all cases, set the hook! As one of my friends says, hooksets are free so take as many as you want.
If the fish swims away with the plastic you may not feel the bite at all, especially if the fish swims towards you either directly or at an angle. If you notice your line moving sideways, reel in the slack and set the hook.
When fishing the dropshot you often fish deep water, so when you hook a fish in the depths be sure to fight it slow and give it a chance to adjust to the change in depth. Sometimes fish that come to the surface too fast from more than 30 feet deep will have problems with their air bladder, which can be rectified with a hypodermic needle.