Think bass are the only fish you can catch with a drop-shot rig?
Think again. Look out walleye, crappies, perch, trout and whitefish
How to catch almost any fish that swims on a drop-shot rig
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you know that drop-shotting has exploded onto the bass-fishing scene. So many bass anglers now drop-shot, in fact, the technique is practically synonymous with bass themselves.
You might be surprised to learn, however, that drop-shotting didn’t originate as a way to catch bass. Instead, it was saltwater commercial fishermen along the U.S. eastern seaboard who came up with the idea to keep their cut-plug mackerel and herring baits off the bottom, away from marauding lobsters and crabs. They simply tied a hook where they’d traditionally put the sinker, a foot or two up from the end of the line, then tied a weight to the end where they normally placed the hook.
The technique later became popular among enterprising Japanese anglers, who began experimenting with the concept in freshwater. They discovered it was deadly when they cast out soft-plastic baits, tightened up on the line and then hovered, twitched, shook or dead-sticked the worms, grubs and creature baits in one place. They didn’t move them forward, and kept the baits at the same depth the fish were swimming.
Some California bass sticks then started to drop-shot on highly pressured lakes such as Casitas, Castaic and Pyramid. So many elite cast-for-cash bass tournaments were subsequently won by a select few who knew about drop-shotting that false rumours quickly spread that they had cheated.
Can you imagine being one of the lucky few who were privileged to learn about drop-shotting in its early stages? Well guess what? That’s the position you’re in today, because I’m here to tell you that drop-shotting works just as well for walleye, crappies, perch, trout and whitefish.
Most days, walleye are far less discriminating than bass, so drop-shotting for them with live baits is outrageously effective. In fact, drop-shotting may just be at its ultimate best when you tip a razor-sharp hook with a lively minnow, squirming leech or writhing nightcrawler—the three most common baits that walleye anglers use throughout the season.
My favourite time to get the drop on walleye is in midsummer on the hottest, brightest, flattest and calmest days. In other words, the toughest conditions you can imagine. I look first at the sun to determine the angle it’s casting shadows, then slowly cruise around the shady side of a structure, such as an underwater point, until I mark a school of walleye on the sonar screen. Then I punch in a waypoint, throw out a marker buoy and note how far up off the bottom the fish are hovering. Next, I lower the bow-mount electric trolling motor and stay half-a-cast away from the fish so as not to spook them.
Depending on the size of my bait, I use a #1 to #6 Gamakatsu Swivel Shot or VMC SpinShot drop-shot hook (below). Both totally eliminate the line twist you otherwise get from reeling in a spinning drop-shot rig. The other nice thing about these hooks is that you can use your favourite knot to tie them on. For line, I use six-, eight- or 10-pound-test Maxima Ultragreen monofilament or fluorocarbon line for my walleye leaders, attached by back-to-back uni-knots to a similar strength Sufix Nanobraid main line.
If I notice walleye are swimming a foot off the bottom, I’ll slide a cylinder-shaped Ultra Tungsten drop-shot weight onto the end of my line, about a foot below the hook. I like these weights because they have adjustable line ties that don’t require a knot. They’re also less prone to hanging up in the rocks than ball-shaped weights, and they shed weeds better.
When I cast out the rig, let it fall to the bottom and tighten up the line, I know my minnow, leech or crawler will be wriggling seductively in front of the fish. If I don’t get a bite after the initial fall, I drag the rig a foot or two and then pause again, for at least a minute while the live bait struts its stuff. Icontinue this procedure until I either hook a fish or retrieve the rig below the boat and cast again.
CRAPPIES AND PERCH
Gord PyzerWhen I drop-shot for crappies and perch, I like to prepare a traditional bass rig because I find it more subtle. Simply run the end of your line through the eye of a small Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot hook or Finesse Wide Gap hook, entering first from the hook point side. Next, run a good amount of the tag end back through the eye so that you’ve doubled the line, and tie a simple Palomar knot.
Now, here’s the critical part. Instead of trimming off the tag end, pass it back down through the eye of the hook and pull the knot snug. When you do this, the hook will kick out smartly at a 45-degree angle, with the tip pointed up.
For crappies and perch, I like fused lines, such as Sufix Fuse for my main line, usually four-pound test, along with two- to four-pound-test monofilament or fluorocarbon leaders. If there are walleye mixed in, I might go five- or six-pound test for my main line, which is the same diameter as the lighter two- to four-pound leaders.
And even though I occasionally use a small minnow for bait, more often I dress the hook with a small soft-plastic nymph or creature, such as a Mister Twister Exude Nymph, Cabela’s Go-To Crappie Tube or Trigger X Flap Tail Grub (below), Minnow or Wingding.
While it doesn’t hurt to shake your bait once your drop-shot sinker has hit the bottom and you’ve tightened up slightly on the line, the biggest mistake most anglers make is overworking their lures (see “Shake the bait” on final page). If a subtle shake is good, they reason, non-stop action must be even better. It isn’t. With most fish in general, but for crappies and perch in particular, you’d be amazed at how many are caught when the drop-shot bait isn’t moving at all.
One of the rewards of drop-shotting, since there’s no terminal tackle between you and the hook, is that bites are easier to detect. And if you use a non-stretch braid or gel-spun main line, you’ll have an even higher percentage of hook-ups. It gets even better when you present your bait vertically over the side of the boat. Indeed, in the spring when crappies are schooled along the outside edge of a pencil reed bed, or later in the summer when they’re patrolling a deep weedline, I’ll use a seven-, eight- or even nine-foot-long rod to drop my bait smack dab in front of their faces.
Ditto in the fall when jumbo perch are schooled up in huge numbers along the edges of deep rocky structures. You can sit over top of them, holding yourself in position with the electric trolling motor, and vertically present your bait. And since you can easily adjust and fine-tune the distance between your hook and weight to coincide with the height at which the fish are suspending, you can be certain your bait is perfectly positioned.
BROOKIES, BROWNS & RAINBOWS
Most anglers are shocked to learn that brook, brown and rainbow trout were the first species to be caught—after bass—when drop-shotting took North America by storm. That’s because the bass lakes in California, where the technique first gained a toehold, are stocked during the winter with trout. The bass boys just couldn’t keep them off their hooks. When trout aficionados learned what was happening and tailored the presentation to their needs, it was, as the song goes, California Dreamin’.
Drop-shotting is particularly effective in snaggy trout territory, because the hook is always riding off the bottom and rarely gets hung up. And if you do snag, it’s typically the sinker wedgedinto a crack in the rocks or around a submerged log or branch, not the hook. When that happens, just pull the line free from the easy-to-release sinker and attach a new one.
If you do find that snagging is a problem where you fish, use a so-called slinky weight instead of the standard cylinder or ball-shaped sinker. You can easily make a slinky by stuffing several splitshot inside a hollow piece of camo or dark-coloured parachute cord. I always seal one end first by holding a lighter against the cord until it bubbles, then squeeze it shut with a pair of pliers. After inserting the split shot, I seal the other end the same way. Then I take a hot needle and slide it through one end, making a hole into which I attach a split-ring swivel or snap (below).
My late friend Tony Valeriote was the finest slinky trout angler I’ve ever seen, and the Niagara River was his stomping grounds. To say that the Niagara is snaggy, especially below the falls and whirlpool, is a major understatement. Yet the first time I fished the river with Tony, I lost only one slinky to a snag the entire day. That’s how effective this flexible weight is. And when you use a slinky as your drop-shot weight, you can fish for trout from shore and open up a plethora of new opportunities in the multitude of natural and stocked brook, brown, rainbow and splake lakes—many accessible only by foot—scattered across the Shield.
Speaking of the north country, let’s not forget about the ubiquitous lake trout (above) that call so many of the region’s crystal-clear, picture-postcard waters home. My buddy and fishing guide Matt Benson has earned major points with clients using the drop-shot technique for lakers at Booi’s Fly-In Lodge and Outpost on northwestern Ontario’s Trout Lake.
“I had one day last summer when, in two and a half hours, my guests caught 22 lake trout by drop-shotting, and we didn’t move the boat more than a few hundred feet,” Benson says. “It was so much fun. The fish were on the bottom in 80 to 110 feet of water, so I put either a 1½- or two-ounce sinker on everyone’s lines.”
As Benson well knows, any time you find lake trout swimming close to the bottom, they’re perfectly positioned to hit a drop-shot rig. And as a bonus, you don’t need expensive or elaborate equipment to catch them—you can simply use your favourite walleye and bass rods and reels.
Benson cleverly refines the drop-shot rig for big lakers by tying two #1/0 Gamakatsu Drop Shot hooks, spaced 2½ feet apart, onto his line. Then he dresses the hooks with a pair of white, three-inch-long, scented soft-plastic minnows (above) to resemble a small school of baitfish. For line, he spools on 20-pound-test braid with a 15-foot leader of 15-pound fluorocarbon.
Although he will shake his soft-plastic minnows gently to attract the trout, Benson says most of the time he simply drops the rig to the bottom, tightens up on the line and ever so slowly back-trolls by putting his tiller motor into reverse and backing into the wind. “Drop-shotting is such a subtle technique that you don’t often feel a bone-jarring strike when a big trout takes your bait,” he observes. “Instead, you simply sense there’s more weight on the end of your line. After you set the hook, though, it’s a different story.”
Yet another different approach to drop-shotting comes from my friend John Whyte, a Lake Simcoe legend when it comes to catching whitefish. The technique he’s carefully crafted for tricking whities into biting is a thing of piscatorial beauty.
Because he never knows whether the fish are favouring minnows or bottom-dwelling insects, Whyte offers them a choice by using a ¼-ounce firetiger-coloured Badd Boyz jig, which resembles a minnow, as his drop-shot sinker. And on a red drop-shot hook placed 18 inches above the jig, he threads on a single soft-plastic nymph as the insect offering. “Because the Badd Boyz is nose-heavy, you tap the bottom with it ever so gently to stir up the silt and make it appear to be a feeding minnow,” he explains. “Then you slowly lift it up a couple of inches and let it hang.”
After that, well, just be sure to hold on to your rod tight.
Fishing editor Gord Pyzer has caught all of these fish—and more—on drop-shot rigs.
Bonus tip: Shake the bait
If you’re going to shake your bait to draw attention to it, always make sure the weight is lying on the bottom and there’s a bit of slack in your line. That way, you’ll shake the bait and not the weight. And don’t overwork your offering. The angler who does the least while drop-shotting usually catches the most.