Mastering Bass Fishing: Drop Shot Rig Explained
The Drop Shot Rig is a finesse rig that has proven itself across bass species – from spotted bass in kelp beds to smallmouth bass in northern US lakes. The Drop Shot Rig takes the versatility of a soft plastic lure to create a highly sensitive rig that anglers can fish in nearly any form of cover.
While the Drop Shot has long been considered a “pro angler” rig, the reality is that anglers of all skill levels can achieve success with it. In this guide, we demonstrate how anyone can effectively utilize the Drop Shot technique.
What Is the Drop Shot Rig?
The Drop Shot Rig was first developed in Japan, where the soaring popularity of bass fishing had led to highly pressured fishing conditions.
The technique is simple. The rig is comprised of a finesse bait (like a plastic worm) hooked and attached to the mainline via a Palomar knot, suspended above a small weight. With minimal input, the rig promotes continuous movement in the bait. Unlike swimbaits or other rigging methods, this subtle movement presents few warning signs to cautious fish.
Why Use It?
The subtle presentation and adaptability of the Drop Shot make it a tool every bass angler should have in their arsenal. This applies whether you’re targeting pressured largemouth on a local lake during summer or trophy smallmouth in a crystal clear stream.
Essential Drop Shot Rig Tackle
Drop shot sinkers should be between 1/8 oz and ¾ oz, depending on the rig size and situation. A lighter weight is appropriate for fishing a small bait in shallow water. Larger lures in turbulent or deeper water require more weight.For maximum effectiveness, use snag-free, subtle weights on a Drop Shot. The optimal choice is the classic “drop shot sinker”. Unlike traditional sinkers that need to be tied to the mainline, this sinker has a crimped swivel that holds to the line, similar to a clothespin. Unlike a sinker that is tied on, the crimped option will slide off the line if trapped under a rock or tree limb. From experience, there is little more frustrating than losing a whole rig to a piece of submerged rock.
One final consideration when looking at sinkers is to find an option that is painted. Many anglers opt for a painted sinker to reduce glare and prevent fish from nipping at it. If you’re looking for a high-quality tungsten weight for your drop shot fishing, I recommend picking up the NAKO drop shot weight, which is now my go-to option for this rig.
Notice the line grabbing crimp on the drop shot weight, rather than a common round eye, found on most fishing weights
The Drop Shot is a finesse rig. As such, your rod should be light enough to detect subtle bites yet strong enough to battle big bass. A fast or extra-fast action rod is well-suited for the twitching or bouncing motion needed to fish a Drop Shot Rig optimally.
Medium power rods work well for drop shot fishing, as they give you the backbone required, but are forgiving enough to work well across different types of cover. Don’t go for an overly long rod – this is a targeted fishing approach. A 6-7 ft spinning rod is a good choice, striking a nice balance between casting distance, accuracy, and power.Look no further than the Dobyns Fury Series, which offers a 7 ft spinning rod perfectly tailored to meet the requirements you need for a successful drop shotting experience. The cork handle is positioned perfectly to grant maximum sensitivity while granting enough leverage to control a big fish when they bite.
Spinning reels are recommended for drop shot fishing. You can certainly use a baitcaster, but the gear ratios on most baitcasters focus on speed, which is a disadvantage when trying to fish a Drop Shot Rig slowly. Line capacity is only a significant concern if fishing in particularly deep areas.
A spinning reel sized between 2000-4000 will work well. Those who are drop shot fishing for smallmouth bass can fish reels on the smaller side, whereas largemouth fishermen should stick to the larger reels.
The Penn Fierce III Spinning Reel is a great option if you want to get into drop shot fishing while sticking to a budget. With just 10 lb of drag in the 2000 series, largemouth anglers should opt for the 3000-4000 series.
My favorite drop shot fishing reel
Stealth is crucial when fishing a Drop Shot, so low visibility line is the way to go. I recommend 6-8 lb fluorocarbon, depending on the conditions. Fluorocarbon sinks faster than braid or monofilament, making it ideal for quickly getting soft plastic baits to the bottom.
Fluorocarbon is also a more responsive line than monofilament, which makes it easier to twitch the rig and detect gentle bites. If swapping your mainline for fluoro isn’t an option, or if you prefer to use braid, I strongly recommend combining your mainline with a 2 ft fluorocarbon leader.
When it comes to budget-friendly options, the KastKing Kovert Fluorocarbon Fishing Line stands out as an excellent choice. Not only does it offer an affordable price, but it also boasts a fast sink rate and remarkable sensitivity.
KastKing’s Kovert Line ranks as my preferred choice when setting up a Drop Shot Rig
Versatility is one of the biggest draws of the Drop Shot Rig. This becomes evident when you look at hook choice.
Hooks for a Drop Shot Rig should be on the thinner side. A 1-1/0 wire hook is about perfect for most applications. Several specialized drop shot hooks have a wide gap, allowing the bait to move naturally in the water. If you’re low on options, go for any wide gap hook.
Although the hook size may seem large for a finesse rig, opting for a 1 or 1/0 hook with a longer shank has advantages. The longer shank allows the lure to be positioned slightly further away from the mainline and Palomar knot, improving the presentation and overall effectiveness.
Straight shank and offset hooks are fantastic options when fishing weedy areas or cover. The Owner 5133 Down Shot Offset Light Wire Hook is my recommended option. Crafted with a thin wire design, this hook is highly effective and specifically engineered for the Drop Shot Rig – never overlook the importance of using a hook specifically designed for the task at hand.
The Owner Down Shot has a unique offset eye, making tying a Drop Shot much easier
Tying a Drop Shot Rig – Step by Step
Although the Drop Shot Rig may seem straightforward — after all, it’s basically a hook and a simple knot on a line — it does require some practice to get right. Here’s our step-by-step guide for how to tie the Drop Shot.
In the images below, you’ll notice that the rig is tied using a heavy monofilament line. This is not recommended and is simply to ensure it’s visible against the background.
To begin setting up the rig, take your mainline and ensure you have enough line to tie the entire rig comfortably. As a starting point, I recommend using approximately 2 ft of line. As you gain more experience and better understand the rig, you can adjust the length to suit different conditions and personal preferences.
Keeping the hook point facing up, thread your hook on the mainline. This is best done by keeping the tag or leader line facing down. Keep between 1 – 1.5 ft of the leader line below the hook. It’s important to decide which hook style you will use – after this point, it will be a permanent feature of your rig.
In this case, I am using a straight shank J-hook.
Tie an overhand loop in the line. Hold the bite (loop end) in one hand and your mainline in the other.
Bring the bite down and pull the hook through. Pulling the hook taught will synch the knot together.
Pull the leader taught. If you have set up the Palomar knot correctly, the hook should hang nearly perpendicular to the leader, with the hook point facing up.
Attach your desired sinker and hook your soft plastic. Congratulations, you have a bass fishing Drop Shot Rig ready to go!
When fishing in areas with heavy vegetation or snags, it’s wise to rig the lure in a weedless fashion by keeping the hook concealed within the lure.
If nose hooking is preferred, use a weedless hook with a wire guard over the barb. Wired hooks are not great in clear environments, but vegetation allows for more aggressive rigging, as it hides the presentation somewhat.
Weedless rigging allows the hook to stay hidden
Open Hook Style
Most anglers prefer using an open hook style with the Drop Shot Rig. By nose-hooking the lure with an open hook, the chances of hooking a fish are increased, particularly with subtle takes.
It’s important to note that while an open hooked rig offers advantages in terms of hooking efficiency, it is also more susceptible to snags. Anglers using this style should pay attention to any submerged cover or vegetation.
The open hook style with a free swimming lure
Drop Shot Lures
Lure selection for drop shot bass fishing should focus on smaller baits. Unlike the Texas Rig, Drop Shot Worms should be short – ideally 4-6 inches – with a thick tail. Stickbaits, flukes, and “trick worms” are highly recommended soft plastics. These versatile and effective lure options have proven to be successful in enticing fish to strike at a Drop Shot Rig.
While crazy colors will catch bass, anglers targeting pressured fish are better off using natural patterns and colors like watermelon, Junebug, or shad.
Rigging It Up
Consider the action when rigging a soft plastic lure on a Drop Shot. The more movement the bait has, the better. Nose hooking will let more of the bait “swim,” and Wacky Rigging will provide double the wiggle.
Most soft plastics work on a Drop Shot Rig – opt for thicker worms for subtle movement
How to Fish a Drop Shot Rig
While you can just blindly cast a Drop Shot Rig, it’s best used precisely to temp pressured fish to strike.
Remember that drop shot fishing for smallmouth bass (and all other bass species) is about subtlety. Slow is the name of the game. Casting long distances with a crawling retrieve will make for a very uninteresting day on the water. Instead of searching for fish with long casts, target specific areas with a touch of stealth and watch the bites come in.
Areas to Target
Fish where you think the fish are. While this sounds obvious, it’s essential to emphasize the significance of fishing in the right locations if you want to maximize the effectiveness of the Drop Shot Rig. A bass fishing Drop Shot Rig doesn’t perform well if you expect fish to chase it. It’s about presenting a soft plastic bait in such a way that they can’t help but strike.
Fishing over hard cover like docks, submerged timber, and rock piles are excellent areas for a Drop Shot in calm water. Drop-offs, boulders, and creek mouths are prime locations if you’re current fishing.
A stunning drop shot caught bass
As previously noted, the biggest advantage of the Drop Shot Rig lies in its remarkable versatility. Trying different baits, hook styles, and sinkers enables you to target bass in nearly any situation when subtlety is an asset.
Deadsticking is a common technique when using finesse baits like stickbaits and tubes. The mere presence of the bait floating in the water, without any action from the angler, is often enough to entice a fish to strike.To deadstick a bait, allow the rig to settle on the bottom and wait ten to fifteen seconds. If nothing happens, pop the rod tip to lift the rig a few inches off the bottom, and let it settle back for another fifteen seconds. While it may feel like an eternity, this time can allow skittish and wary fish to inspect the bait. The panicky jumps appear like a prey animal in its death throes.
If fishing on or around a submerged structure, anglers can retrieve the rig in this prolonged manner – just a crank or two every ten seconds.
2. Current Fishing
When it comes to drop shot fishing for smallmouth bass, cold water streams and rivers offer exceptional opportunities. Fishing in the current is done similarly to deadsticking, but the movement of the water adds additional action to the bait.
While a Carolina Rig would perform a similar task, it doesn’t offer the same level of sensitivity or keep the bait planted on the bottom. A natural presentation is the goal. Nose hooking the lure is often required, as it lets more of the bait flutter freely.
Depending on the river’s speed, anglers may need to increase their weight to keep the rig on the bottom.
The Youghiogheny River, with its currents and abundant smallmouth bass, is a fantastic spot for drop shot fishing in moving water
3. Fishing Cover
I’ve split the topic of fishing cover in two – fishing shallow and fishing deep.
By fishing shallow, I am referring to targeting areas with water depths of less than four feet. The cover in shallow water is often seasonal vegetation like hydrilla, lily pads, and eelgrass, though it could be a blowdown. These shallow areas get pummelled by loud and heavy baits during the summer, and this increased noise and fishing pressure can turn even the biggest bass off. Use heavier sinkers and rig your baits weedless; this will let the rig punch through the cover and stay in the face of a fish guarding its bed.
For deep water drop shot fishing, target stumps, and boulder fields. Drop the rig straight down and drag slowly across the bottom until you make contact with the stump or whatever hard cover is on the bottom. Wiggle the rig and patiently wait for a strike. If there is no response, move on to the next stump or boulder and try again. Knocking into structures will alert fish, the same way a crankbait will, but without the startling noise and speed that late-season bass are typically inundated with.
When the obvious topwaters don’t work, try a Drop Shot Rig to draw in bass
Bass anglers should always adjust the leader length to best suit the water. Most fishermen find that about a foot of leader is the sweet spot. Use longer leaders with heavy vegetation. Shorter leaders work best when fishing shallows or small streams. Both options can be encountered when drop shot fishing for smallmouth bass, so be aware and adjust as needed.
How to Set the Hook
Bass fishing with a Drop Shot Rig is all about finesse. Shy bass tend to be soft biters and require a soft hookset to match. The combination of light line and timid fish make hard hooksets too much for the situation. Hauling back on the reel as if you were fishing a rig will increase the likelihood of a missed hookset from a noncommital fish. Instead, when you feel a bite, start reeling. This technique is known as “reel setting”, and by keeping tension on the line, the fish effectively hooks itself.
Reel setting makes it easy for even the smallest angler to hook a drop shot bass
3 Top Tips for Drop Shotting
1. Slow Down
Frustrating as it may be to hit the brakes, you need a slow retrieve when drop shotting. Even when shaking the bait, less is more. Drop shot bass fishing isn’t about drawing reaction strikes; you’re not fishing a crankbait.
If you have ever watched a bass hunt naturally in clear water, you will notice that they often take their time and thoroughly inspect their prey before lunging.
Painful as it may be, allow your rig to sit for a few seconds longer than you might think necessary.
2. Go Light
This is particularly relevant when fishing in pressured, clear conditions, where bass are scared of their own shadow. Keep your gear as light as possible: 6 lb fluorocarbon and as little weight as possible will put fish on the deck. If you tie into a big fish, you will have even greater bragging rights and a lot of fun.
3. Adjust Your Leader With the Weather
As we discussed, a foot is the standard length for a leader. However, when fish are holding near the bottom in winter or guarding their beds in spring, a shorter leader of eight or even six inches is a better choice. Conversely, if the summer vegetation has fish holding off the bottom, increase the length to keep the bait where the fish are swimming.
The Drop Shot is a well-known rig for a good reason. This rig can do everything from trying to catch clear water bass on a busy July weekend, to picking apart a stump field in the dead of winter. With the versatility to lure fish from moving water, and drop into a bed with the precision of a guided missile, it’s no wonder why I always have one rigged up. So, when the bites have gone cold, and you are sure there are bass under that dock, reach for the Drop Shot Rig!