by Sean S and Bryson U
Drop shot fishing, a technique viewed both as something so simple, and something completely wrapped in mystery. It’s a technique that is easy to learn, but hard to master. There’s a lot of things that can and should be taken into consideration when learning how to fish a drop shot, but it doesn’t have to be over complicated. Let’s go over The Basics and Beyond of the Drop Shot.
When looking for a dropshot rod, it is most common to look for a M or ML spinning rod with a fast or extra fast taper. The faster action allows you to get to the backbone of the rod quicker allowing you to stick the fish with a good hookset without having to reel down and give a long swing of the rod. I also find having a bit longer of rod can have some advantages. I use a 7’1’ Shimano Crucial but anything in the 7’ to 7’4” range is ideal. This longer rod helps you pick up line a lot quicker, something I will talk more about when getting into how to fish the bait and how to expect bites. The other benefit is longer rods make it a lot easier to recognize something called rod deflection. Tactical Bassin made a youtube video about exactly this, but rod deflection is essentially how much rod bend you get just fishing and working your bait.
If you get comfortable with this, you can actually notice when your rod is deflecting more than normal and see bites that you didn’t actually feel. This lets you get away with using a mid-tier rod as opposed to something like a G. Loomis NRX, which is great for weekend anglers or newer anglers who don’t have the budget for ultra high end gear.
When it comes to reels, most spinning reels have a fairly quick retrieve speed, so that isn’t as important to look at. One of the most important things (which I will talk more about in fishing the bait) is making sure you have a solid, smooth drag. I use a Shimano Stradic CI4+ in the 3000 size, as the drag on these size reels are typically a little better than what is used in the 2500 size reels.
Dropshotting is mostly considered & used as a light line finesse technique. I prefer to use 15 or 20 lb. braid tied to a long 8-12 lb. fluorocarbon leader. The braid has no stretch which helps with sensitivity and getting solid hooksets on long casts. The fluorocarbon adds that tiny bit of stretch as a shock absorber, but more importantly it is far less visible to the fish. Being a finesse presentation, often looked to in tough conditions, having light line gives you less chance of spooking fish who are line shy which is essential for boating these lethargic fish that you are trying to coax into feeding when they don’t really want to. For people who ask, “does using lighter line or fluorocarbon really make a difference?” the short answer is yes, it can. Some days when the fish are feeding well it can have a minimal effect, but I have also had days where the difference between using a 10 lb. fluoro leader versus 8 lb. meant 3 or 4x as many bites.
The drop shot isn’t just for finesse fishing for deep water bass though! It is often overlooked or unthought of when fishing for shallow water, highly pressured largemouth. It can excel in tough conditions, such as very early in the spawn or in the peak of the summer months. Anglers can change up the “standard” drop shot setup and go to a stiffer rod, whether it be casting or spinning, and go to a heavier line to be able to fight the bass out of some slop. Throw on a pencil weight and tex-spose your bait, and you’ve got a finesse setup that’s capable of being effectively fished in moderate cover, AND a setup to get the fish out of it too.
With such light line you are not going to be giving monster Hackney style hook-sets like you would with a jig. It is important to use a very light wire hook so you can get a solid hook-set into the fish with a lot less pressure. I use Gamakatsu Dropshot hooks in Size 1 as my standard go-to hook.
For weights, tungsten is ideal as the density and hardness better transmits the feel of the bottom. What size weight to use is really dependent on the conditions you plan to be fishing: the depth you are fishing; the wind on that particular day; and the mood you think the fish are in. All of these factors come into play. For shallower water, little to no wind, less aggressive fish, or any combination of those conditions, I will opt for a lighter weight. Using a lighter weight forces you to fish the bait slower, as you want to be maintaining bottom contact.
Doing this will help put a lot more fish in your boat on tough days. Here I would opt for something in the ⅛ - ⅜ oz. range, depending on the above factors. That range covers the vast majority of situations when talking about largemouth or even shallow river smallies, with the exception being when fishing the Great Lakes, or deep water smallmouth. For deepwater smallies I use anything from ⅜ - 1 oz., depending on the conditions. I will still use the same line and hooks, but I’ll switch to either a more stout Medium (M) or Medium-Heavy (MH) rod, and use 10-12 lb. fluoro leaders.
When it comes to drop shot baits, I like to keep things simple. I use either a shad-like bait, such as a Zoom Fluke Jr, or I look for some kind of worm that is 3-5” long, like the Beast Coast Magic Flick (for something smaller) or the Reaction Innovations Flirt Worm (for something bigger). All of these baits are primarily fished nose hooked, but that doesn’t always need to be the case. As mentioned previously, sometimes it can be advantageous to Texas rig your bait to get around grass, or you can wacky rig worms for a different look.
As for colors, I aim to match the hatch. I fish the great lakes fairly often for smallmouth, so goby colors are a no brainer, and my primary color choice. In general though, natural colours will work best, as you will likely be fishing clear water for finicky fish. Green pumpkins, white shades for shad colours, and watermelons can be great. Start by trying to match the hatch, but when in doubt, stick to natural and subtle colours.
Where To Fish the Drop Shot
I think it’s important to note that the dropshot is not a searchbait. It is very target or structure oriented technique, and it really starts to excel when tackling offshore structure. Things like rock piles, ledges or drop-offs, bases of stumps, or bottom composition transitions are great. Typically things you can either visibly see, or would have previously located using your graphs, are prime areas to throw the dropshot. For target oriented fishing like say the base of stumps, you can pitch it to the base of the stump, give it a few shakes there and then reel in. Rinse and repeat just like if you were pitching a jig. There is a lot of versatility in where you fish the dropshot and the retrieve you use to try and match it.
How to locate smallmouth:
Fishing the Bait
To me, the dropshot is very similar to the shaky head, in that it’s a bottom contact bait designed to be dragged, hopped and shaked (shaken?). The difference is that the dropshot allows you to keep your bait up in the water column, and off of the bottom, as you are actively imparting action in the bait, or even when keeping it completely motionless. Once I’ve determined where I want to fish it, I like to make long casts to the structure to help get the bait as far away as I can from the boat. Fish can be very aware of their surroundings, and things like shadows from the boat or sound & vibrations from the trolling motor can make already wary fish even more so. This can become especially true the shallower you are.
On these casts you want to make sure you let the bait get to the bottom, and use your rod tip to work the bait, only using the reel to take up slack line. It is often best to slowly drag the weight along the bottom, as rocks, logs, and other such structure will help to impart action on the bait. As you come up to logs or big rocks, it can be extremely effective to stop and just slightly shake the bait in place. This presents an easy meal to lethargic fish, and since they are opportunistic feeders, you will get bites from fish that aren’t really in the mood to eat. And if after a few seconds there aren’t any takers, then give it a little pop to get the bait free and continue on with your retrieve.
Putting More Fish in the Boat
When fishing the dropshot as described above, I usually keep the rod tip fairly high to get the best sensitivity, and so that I am always ready to set the hook when a fish does bite. As for bites there’s really only three things the fish will do when they pick it up: swim at you; swim away from you; or not move. When they pick it up and swim away, it’s pretty obvious and you will know immediately. These are the bites you should very rarely miss. When they don’t move, it will suddenly feel like added weight. This is where the rod deflection comes into play as I talked about earlier. Sometimes you can visibly see the bite by the extra rod deflection before actually feeling it. The most difficult is when they swim at you. Here you will feel a very slight tick, or nothing at all, and then it will be like your bait is gone and things will feel weird. Luckily for all of these scenarios the hook set and approach are nearly identical if you have everything setup properly.
As mentioned before, with the light wire hook and light line, you don’t need to (and definitely don’t want to) give a monster hook set. An upwards “sweep set” is the best way to bury the hook into the roof of their mouth. Most of the time you’ll be dragging the bait with the rod tip high when you feel that TICK. Don’t give slack or reel down and give a big hook set. Keep tension and just lean back, lift up with that vertical sweep set, and start cranking the reel handle to help pick up line and keep the tension. The only minor difference is if the fish starts swimming at you you’ll need to reel as fast as you can to catch up to the fish, and usually continue reeling right through the hook set. I’ve had fish swim straight up and out of 40 feet of water, launching themselves a couple feet into the air as they breached the surface. In those instances you just need to keep reeling as fast as you can to keep that tension so they can’t throw the hook.
One of the most important things that cannot be stressed enough, is that you need to set your drag properly. With such a light wire hook, light line and fast or extra fast rod tapers, you don’t want to risk bending out the hook, breaking off, or giving the fish any slack. Setting your drag will allow you to keep the tension you need to keep the fish pinned, and lets the fish fight and pull without breaking you off. The biggest thing is that you set your drag according to the line weight you are using, NOT the fish or size of the fish you are fighting. You set the drag first thing in the morning so that its tight enough to bury the hook (and you will be surprised how little it takes to get those thin hooks in there) but loose enough that it will pull before your leader will break, and then you forget about it. A bigger, harder fighting fish means a longer fight, NOT a tighter drag.
So, to recap: constant tension, and just lean into it on the hookset; accompany your hook set with cranking the reel handle; and set your drag properly according the line you are using.
Doing all of this will help convert a lot of bites into more fish in your boat this year.