Learn this technique and you'll be catching fish when no one else can
If drop-shotting isn’t already part of your fishing repertoire, it should be—without it, you’re missing out on a lot of angling action. Simply, drop-shotting will catch fish when all other tactics fail to produce. And no other technique is so versatile. You can drop-shot in lakes, rivers, reservoirs, pits and ponds for just about every species of fish, in both deep and shallow waters. And you can use it all year long, in any weather condition, from a boat or from shore, with artificial lures or natural baits.
The rudiments of drop-shotting were developed decades ago by commercial saltwater fishermen as a way to keep their baited hooks up off the bottom, away from thieving crabs. More recently, the idea was seized upon by savvy Japanese bass anglers and adapted for freshwater, light lines, small hooks, ingenious sinkers and a staggering array of ultra-realistic soft-plastic morsels. In the process, they fashioned a frighteningly efficient fishing system.
So why has so little been written about drop-shotting? Because the pros have been trying to keep it a secret. That’s hard to do, though, when your name is Aaron Martens or Kota Kiriyama-two of the best drop-shotters on the planet-and there’s a camera in the back of your boat feeding every move you make to a television audience. Goodbye drop-shot secrets.
To find out more about drop-shotting, and how to perfect the technique, we went straight to—who else?—Martens and Kiriyama for advice.
One of the top bass pros in the U.S. right now, Aaron Martens is quick to pay high homage to the tactic, and for good reason. “There is not a time or place I won’t consider drop-shotting,” he says. “I’ve just done so well with it in so many major events.”
What makes the technique so effective is that it lets you place a live or soft artificial bait at a specific level in the water column and keep it there without any extraneous jigs or clumsy weights between you and your hook. There’s absolutely nothing that can impede the lure’s action, or your direct connection to it.
This is made possible because your hook and sinker swap their traditional positions. With drop-shotting, the weight is attached to the very end of the line, acting as an anchor to carry your lure into position and hold it there while you impart as much, or as little, action as you want on the semi-slack line.
Imagine the possibilities. With your sinker resting on the bottom, you can hover a small, weightless soft-plastic worm, leech, minnow or crayfish-or the real thing-above any weeds, sticks, rocks, moss, mussels or gunk that would otherwise gum up your lure (or damage that all-important section of line between you and the hook). Plus, your lure will remain in full view of the fish, at whatever depth they’re swimming.
The key to becoming proficient at drop-shotting, advise both Martens and Kiriyama, begins with the right equipment. That includes a light, sensitive, 6 1/2 – to seven-foot spinning rod with what Kiriyama calls a “hinged tip.” The top 14 to 16 inches of his Shimano Crucial drop-shot rods, for example, bend under very little pressure.
These so-called hinged tips aid in shaking the bait on a semi-slack line (more about this later), and signal subtle bites from super-cautious fish. “And make no mistake about it, if you don’t use a light, tip-sensitive, graphite drop-shot rod, you will not see, let alone feel, the majority of bites,” says Martens, who uses his own signature series drop-shot rods from MegaBass.
Both pros recommend balancing your rod with a 2500 series reel-Kiriyama prefers a Shimano Stella, while Martens uses a Daiwa Steez. And both spool up six- to 10-pound-test fluorocarbon line, depending on the size of fish they expect to catch. It’s critical, they say, to always use the lightest line possible in order to generate the most lifelike movement from your lure.
And don’t substitute monofilament or braided line for fluorocarbon, Martens and Kiriyama caution. That’s because fluorocarbon stretches only the slightest amount, allowing you to immediately sense pressure bites. Plus, it’s totally invisible underwater and it sinks quickly. Use it and your catch rate will soar.
“Using fluorocarbon line exclusively is the single biggest adjustment a drop-shot angler can make,” says Martens. Kiriyama agrees. He sees anglers using monofilament and braided lines all the time and says it’s the worst mistake they can make.
“The most important element of drop-shotting is feeling what your bait-usually a small soft-plastic worm or minnow-is doing down there, especially when you’re imparting action on a bowed line,” says the Bassmaster Elite circuit pro from Japan. “The Varivas line I use puts me in harmony with my bait.”
Kiriyama and Martens carry that harmony right through to their special hooks, which are small, light, wide-gapped, needle-sharp and made of thin wire. These properties complement the other drop-shot components and help make soft-plastic lures come alive. They also let you set the hook with the slightest amount of pressure.
Of course, tying on your hook so it stands out perfectly horizontal is fundamental to the system. Because of Martens’ penchant for using fluorocarbon line, he recommends using a San Diego jam knot (see page 76 for step-by-step instructions). Just keep in mind that the length of the tag end to which you attach your sinker-whether it’s two inches, two feet or 20 feet-determines the distance your bait hovers above the bottom. Generally, eight to 12 inches is a good starting point.
As for drop-shot sinkers, Kiriyama favours the unique X-Metals weights, which feature a swivel that deters line twist-a fact of life when you drop-shot. With this ingenious line attachment, you simply thread the end of your line through the tiny metal loop and pull it tightly to the side. The system allows you to easily adjust the distance between your sinker and lure, or change the weight of the sinker. And if your sinker gets snagged, you can simply pull your line free of the weight.
Martens and Kiriyama, by the way, carry a plethora of tiny, sensitive, heavy tungsten drop-shot sinkers shaped like balls, pears, tears and cylinders. They use cylinders primarily around weeds, but when there’s no vegetation, they say you can feel the bottom better with one of the other designs. In most cases, the duo suggest using the lightest possible sinker while remaining in contact with the bottom. Martens explains that a light sinker forces you to slow down and accentuate the movement you can impart to your lure on a semi-slack line
About that semi-slack line-both Martens and Kiriyama say it’s essential to success when it comes to drop-shotting. “Most anglers drop-shot a soft-plastic bait vertically over the side of the boat,” says Kiriyama. “And that’s fine as far as it goes.” Instead, he recommends letting your sinker rest on the bottom, then letting out a little bit more line until it’s semi-slack. Then you can experiment with different speeds of shaking and moving your lure, from dead still to aggressive.
“Just remember, it is your lure that you want dancing,” says Kiriyama. “When you do it properly, you should never feel your sinker. The only way you can do this correctly is with a semi-slack line.”
Selecting the proper bait for drop-shotting is easy if you remember that the technique is first and foremost designed to catch inactive and cautious fish. So, if you can use live bait-active minnows, leeches or nightcrawlers—do it. With artificials, use three- to five-inch thin, soft worms and scent-impregnated minnows. And nose hook your baits—natural and artificial alike—so they’re free to wiggle. As for the best colours, simply match the hatch.
While fishing pros Aaron Martens and Kota Kiriyama have perfected drop-shotting for bass, they marvel at the number and size of walleye, sauger, trout, pike, perch and crappies they routinely catch by accident. Indeed, drop-shotting is still a secret technique when it comes to multi-species anglers—so much so that drop-shotting with live minnows, leeches and nightcrawlers for walleye, trout and panfish will be hailed as revolutionary in the years to come. And when that happens, smile and remember, you read it here first.