After seeing this crazyness at the boat ramp on July 1st, I figured I stay away from the crowds for the remainder of the 4th of July weekend. This gave me plenty of time to gather my thoughts together about my most successful technique and lay them out here for you. Just a heads up, this is going to be a long post. You may want to take a moment to pee and maybe grab a snack from the kitchen....
Alright, how was your pee? Feel better now? Good. A few weeks ago I discussed several ways to rig and fish the small finesse worms from Cactus Wren Outdoors, for a quick overview of each, check out my previous posting here. The most productive of these techniques for me on our hot, deep, Arizona reservoirs is of course the drop shot. As a kid, I remember sitting in the living room as a family watching Walker Texas Ranger. While I don't recall a single plot, or any of the characters names besides Walker, I do remember lots of roundhouse kicks to the face of various criminals. That is exactly what a four inch Quail Tail from Cactus Wren Outdoors imitates while rigged up on a drop shot.
While many bait companies choose to design lures based on small baitfish profiles like shad, bluegil, or other various bass forage, Cactus Wren's baits are designed with a subtle action to imitate Chuck Norris's steel toed shoe against a drug lord's jaw. Below, I will walk you through rigging and fishing a drop shot effectively, and I'll let you in on a few secrets I've learned that will produce bigger bass on what is widely considered to be a little-fish-presentation.
Where to fish the Drop Shot:
Many of my local readers are familiar with Saguaro Lake, just outside of Mesa, AZ. Below, I've marked on a map of Saguaro a few of the places that I've found most productive with the drop shot technique.
As you can see, the above map is quite broad. It shows a wide range of shallow cover, deep structure, points, cuts, ledges, docks, grass beds, spawning flats, ect. Below I'll give a more detailed map, so that you will be able to go out and fish the same spots that I already know holds bass year round.
As you can probably tell by now, I'm just screwin' with you. I'm not going to give out my spots for free! However, the map is still accurate! I'll throw a drop shot just about anywhere! Regardless of the variables a bass angler has to sort through, you can catch a bass on a drop shot as long as there are bass in the area. The technique works shallow or deep, clear or muddy, hot or cold, and rocky or grassy. I'll even pitch it into flooded timber or into matted grass pockets. In that case however, I'll use heavier baitcasting gear.
Many anglers have a very specific combination of equipment they recommend for a drop shot set up. To keep it simple, you want a relatively light spinning rod. That's all I'm going to suggest. I'll tell you specifically what I use in just a minute, but the key is a light rod, and an open faced reel. Pick one that you like, get comfortable using it, and once you figure out the slightest details of using your particular equipment you'll be just as productive with your rod as you would be "the perfect drop shot rod". So with that said, here's what I use:
For a rod I use a Duckett White Ice series 6'10" medium spinning rod. This rod is 4 inches shorter and a bit stiffer than their "drop shot rod" of the same series. Since I fish from a kayak with limited space and stability, I find the shorter rods are easier to control, and I get a better hookset with the stiffer rod... Actually, that's all b.s... I got it because some bozo employee mispriced it and I got it for $99. Like I said though, use a rod you like and get comfortable using it. Unless you're fishing tournaments with $100,000 on the line, there's very little reason to go overboard with buying technique-specific equipment for every single tactic! If someone tells you otherwise, they are probably a salesman.
The reel I use is an Abu Garcia Orra S Spinning Reel with a 5.8:1 gear ratio. That's a relatively quick retrieve for a spinning reel. I like a fast reel for a few reasons, but there's one key reason: It's easier to reel a fast reel slowly than it is to reel a slow reel quickly. With regards to drop shot, there's not much reason you'd ever need to reel slowly anyway!
On my reel I use 20 lb high-vis braid with an 8 lb fluorocarbon leader of about 10 feet. I know a lot of guys that will run straight 6 lb fluorocarbon, however these are the guys that refer to the drop shot as a little-fish-presentation. If you listen to the tips I'm going to give you, you're going to have a frustrating time on the water as you break off toad after toad on your 6 lb line!
If you didn't read my past posting on how to rig Cactus Wren baits, here's what I said about the drop shot set up:
"To rig a drop shot, tie on your hook with a Palomar knot, be sure to leave plenty of tag end on your line. Take the end of the tag end and run it back down through the eye of the hook. Give it a little tug and it should pull the knot through the eye. If done correctly the hook will be pointing up and the knot will be below the eye of the hook. In the spring and fall I will generally put the weight about 8 to 12 inches below the hook. In summer and winter, when the bass are holding very tight to the bottom, I'll shorten it up to 3 to 6 inches."
Here are two more details I didn't mention the first time:
1. If you find that your hook keeps slipping back up over the knot and turning sideways in the water, try using a double, or triple palomar knot. The extra wrap in the knot will make the knot bigger so it's less likely to slip back through the eye of the hook.
2. If I'm picking apart deep off-shore structure like a hump or a ledge, I'll use a much longer distance to the weight, sometimes up to two or three feet. I'll explain this in detail later.
This is how many anglers fish a drop shot. It can be effective when the bite is tough and the bass have moved deep and holding close to their structure or cover. It's also boring. It's why the drop shot has a bad reputation and gets made fun of by his peers by being called the "fairy wand". If this is the only way you fish this rig, you are missing out! This presentation reminds me of Chuck Norris's fist. Is it productive in knocking out the leader of a dog fighting ring? Sure. But wouldn't you rather see a roundhouse kick to the temple? Of course!
The red line in the diagram above shows the path of the bait when fished vertically. This presentation is fine when you locate a single isolated fish on your graph. You can quickly drop down right on top of a bass and pick them off. However, you'll see in the diagram that this only gives the one fish a look at your bait. Often times there are several fish holding near cover like this brush pile. Next, I'll show you a better way to cover this deep cover to give several fish a chance at taking your lure.
One thing that many people don't realize about the drop shot rig is that once your sinker is on the bottom, you are essentially fishing a weightless plastic. To understand this concept, let's think for a moment about another fairly popular technique: The Weightless Senko.
In the diagram above, the red line again represents the path of the lure, this time a soft stick bait. These baits can be killer when the fish are ambushing prey in water from 1 to 5 feet deep. Fishing a weightless soft stick bait is a three step process. 1. Cast it out to your target and let it sink to the bottom on slack line. 2. Wiggle it a bit on the bottom. 3. Lift it up and let it sink again. When repeated, you get the zig-zag effect shown in the diagram. Nine times out of ten the bass will hit it as it's sinking, not as you're pulling it up, and rarely as its wiggling on the bottom. You'll notice that this presentation covers the entire brush pile, and the bait sinks slowly right in front of both of the bass.
Now, back to my point about a drop shot. Once the weight is on the bottom, your worm will slowly drop straight down, just like the Senko did. You'll often hear the pros talking about how you only move the worm, not the weight. That is of course if you want the worm to stay in the same place. In the vertical presentation that may be true, but in the horizontal presentation, keeping the bait in the same place is not the most effective thing you can do.
Think about this. Bass are ambush predators, we all know this. Many lures are designed to be ambushed by the bass. Has Chuck Norris ever been attacked by an army of drug runners while sitting motionless on his couch? No. The enemy is smarter than to willingly chase down The Norris. Instead, they set up in an abandoned warehouse and wait for him to come kicking the doors in. They ambush him, it's their only chance. A slim, slim, chance....
What I'm trying to say is, you've got to be like Chuck, keep that lure on the move. Bust into the brush pile like a shad on roids! Don't wait for the bass to come to you, cast out there and bring it right through the bass.
You might be thinking "why not just throw a weightless Senko then?" Remember I told you there was a better way to attack that deep isolated cover than the vertical presentation? Fish it like a Senko, but without the Senko. Those soft plastic stick baits are know for their slow sink rate, it takes way too long for a weightless Senko to get to 20 feet in order to fish it effectively. A lot of anglers will use a weighted wacky jig, or put a nail weight in their Senko to get that bait down deep quickly. The problem with that is it gives the worm a completely different action. It no longer has that tempting slow sinking wiggle that it has when fished weightless. Unless of course, it was on a drop shot.
Same deal, the red line is the path of the lure (not the weight). Cast it out over a hump, point, or brush pile. It will sink quickly, all the way down until the weight hits the bottom. Once the weight hits, the worm will slow down and sink weightless for as far down as the weight is from the hook. For example, if the above brush pile in 25 feet of water and my hook is two feet above my weight, my worm is going to become weightless at 23 feet deep and slowly sink right beside that brush pile for two feet. From here, the process is the same as fishing the weightless Senko. 1. Let it fall straight down on slack line. 2. Wiggle it while it's on the bottom. 3. Lift it up (including the weight), reel in the slack, and let if fall straight down again. Now, unlike the vertical approach above, that worm is slowly swimming right by both bass instead of just hanging out in front of the one.
I'm not the biggest believer in matching the hatch. I'd be willing to bet that 75% of you that read this aren't either (even if you claim you are), and I can prove it. Do you have confidence in the Morning Dawn color? Yeah, you do. Now, can you tell me which of our Arizona lakes, in which that color is so popular at, has an abundance of purple bait fish? Nope.
I'm of the opinion that, to an extent, color doesn't matter as long as you can make the lure look alive. Bass don't have hands, if they see something that looks like it might be food, the only way they can tell for sure is to grab it with their mouths. Present a lure properly, and most likely a bass will hit it regardless of its color. Also, at 25 feet below the water, most colors appear as some shade of gray anyway. For these reasons, I suggest you gain some confidence with a couple colors and just stick with it.
With that said, I do have one guideline for how I narrow down my options of color. If the water is clear, maybe five or more feet of visibility, I'll use a translucent color (Amethyst from Cactus Wren Outdoors is my go to). If the water is stained or muddy, I'll use a solid color (something along the lines of Saguaro Sunset, or Murky Water from Cactus Wren Outdoors).
Which Worm to Use:
Quail Tail, or Talking Stick? I get this question often. (Just so we're all on the same page here, in the pictures above, the one with the curly tail is the Quail Tail, and the straight tail worm is the Talking Stick). Usually, the question is formed this way "Which one catches more fish?" The answer is the Quail Tail, but it's more complicated than that. I choose based on how active the fish are. If the bass are on the move and chasing down baitfish, I want a worm with more action. One that almost dares the fish to come chase it down. So in this case, I'll use the Quail Tail. If the bite is tough and the bass are lethargic, I don't want lots of action. A lively lure won't fit in to the surroundings and may even spook the lethargic bass. For this reason I'll choose the Talking Stick. So yes, the Quail Tail catches more fish by far, but there are times (especially win the summer and winter) that you need the Talking Stick in order to get bit at all.
I use the four inch worms exclusively on drop shot during the day. Anything bigger tends to over power the small octopus hook I use. At night, I step it up to the five or six inch worms. Just make sure if you use these bigger worms you up the hook size too. In this case I like to use the VMC Power Shot hooks, or a 3/0 EWG hook.
Was That a Bite?
Ok, so you're all rigged up and your worm is down there doing it's dance. How do you know when you've got a bite? We've all heard the saying "Hook sets are free", right? Well, it's wrong. Hook sets can cost you a weight, or if you're real unlucky your hook and worm too. In shallow water a big hook set on a blade of grass could cost you the pain of getting a hook buried in your face. But more than likely, the main cost of an unnecessary hook set is no longer being able to catch the 10 fish that may have been encroaching in on that tasty looking worm of yours. Usually a bass will slowly swim up and lightly take the worm in its mouth to investigate. If it likes it, he'll take another light gulp and begin to swim off with it before sucking the whole thing down. With that first bite, the hook is probably still hanging out of his mouth. Set the hook too soon and you'll end up pulling the bait right out of his mouth. Ninety percent of the bites I get on a drop shot go exactly like this:
1. I feel two or three light taps (don't move a muscle)
2. I feel a bit of steady pressure (lower your rod tip and reel up slack)
3. My line starts swimming away (NAIL THAT BASTARD TO THE WALL!!!)
How To Catch Bigger Bass:
If you've made it this far, congratulations. This is a very long post, and to reward your above average attention span I'll give you my number one secret for catching bigger fish on a drop shot: Spike-It.
This is what convinced my personal best 11 lb 2 oz bass to eat. A four-inch Amethyst Quail Tail with the tail dyed yellow. Since catching that monster in April, I've caught six more 20+ inch bass on it. As I said before, the drop shot has a reputation for only catching little fish. However, this one detail seems to change all that. I have a theory, it's based on very little evidence and no research outside of my own experiences, but here it is:
A four inch Quail Tail right out of the package most imitates a shad, regardless of its color. Shad are small fish. Small bass eat small fish. If you dye the tail yellow, it looks like a bluegill. Bluegill are much bigger than shad. Big bass eat big fish. Even though both worms are the same size at 4 inches, a big hungry bass will see that bright yellow tail and think "Bluegill, yum." When a big bass hits, it seems to hit much harder than the standard drop shot bite like I described above. It leads me to believe that a bright yellow tail causes a reaction strike for big bass, even when your fast moving reaction baits aren't working. Not only does this lead to bigger fish, but better hook up rates, and a much harder fight.
What do you think of this theory? Let me know in the comments! And if anything I told you here helps you catch Moby, post his picture so we can all see! Good luck out there. I hope I see you out on the water soon.
Note: Drop shot only catches small fish.... :P