Like any bass angler, legendary fisherman Hank Parker sometimes has one of those days when the fish simply won’t cooperate. One of those days occurred last spring, when the TV host was fishing North Carolina’s Lake Wylie.
The tough-bite conditions were perplexing, and he searched his mind for an option that would produce bass. “I was marking fish on my depthfinder,” he said. “They were suspended and scattered in 20 to 25 feet of water. I kept thinking – ‘those fish shouldn’t be out there.’ I had fished some great spots really hard with a crankbait and only caught about 10 fish the entire day.”
As is frequently the case with bass fishing, difficult conditions often require an extraordinary change in angling approach. Parker responded to the challenge by rigging up two drop-shot presentations. He cast the drop-shot rigs and set the two rods down on the front deck before returning to work his crankbait over the suspended fish. His experimentation paid big dividends.
“Every time I turned to look at the two rods resting on the deck,” Parker said, “one had a fish tugging on it. I ended up hooking the great majority of the 45 fish I caught that day on those drop-shot rigs. You could pull a crankbait by those bass until your arm fell off and they still wouldn’t hit, but they sure liked the subtleness of that drop-shot presentation.”
Application of Parker’s Drop-Shot Rig. While it’s true that a semblance of the drop-shot technique has been used by bait fishermen for years, the finesse technique’s popularity with Western bass anglers spans scarcely a decade. And, while there’s still some controversy over how it was first brought to the West, most anglers agree that the technique was first popular with bass anglers in Japan. Even more so, the technique’s acceptance by bass anglers everywhere has only occurred over the last 2 or 3 years.
“I don’t believe bass fishing is limited by geographic boundaries,” notes Parker. “There are a number of techniques that were developed in particular areas for very specific applications, but were quickly learned and applied to fishing conditions elsewhere. This is certainly the case with the drop-shot rig. I don’t know of any other finesse technique that covers water better than the drop-shot presentation.”
Looking back on his experience at Lake Wylie, Parker thinks the tremendous angling pressure placed on the popular impoundment pushed the bass out to the deeper water. The extreme conditions – scattered and extremely finicky fish – rendered most search baits and techniques ineffective. According to Parker, the drop-shot rig excels under these special conditions.
“Because the bass were scattered out over the deeper structure,” he adds, “it was important to fish a presentation that could cover water relatively quickly and thoroughly. Normally, I would use a Carolina-rig in this situation. However, when the fish are extremely finicky, you need a more subtle, finesse-type presentation. The drop-shot rig is a subtle presentation that allows you to cover a lot of water.”
Normally, finesse presentations like the doodling and shaking rigs require a relatively small amount of weight. Add too much weight, and the life-like action of these subtle baits is compromised. Unlike most finesse presentations, the drop-shot rig allows the angler to use a heavier weight without dulling the bait’s action. In turn, the heavier weight makes it easier to maintain contact with the bottom throughout the retrieve, allowing you to cover water relatively quickly.
The real draw to the drop-shot rig is the way the bait appears to suspend in the water column. Because the lure is tied directly to the line and rests between the rod tip and weight it’s possible to impart a more-subtle action to the worm. Also, when the rig is lifted off the bottom and allowed to fall back down, the bait speeds downward until the weight hits bottom, then appears to suddenly stop and suspend like a baitfish that thinks it sped away from danger.
“When we fish most search baits,” explains Parker, “we’re getting the fish to react to the passing or falling lure. However, when fishing the drop-shot rig, we’re enticing wary bass into striking. We’re making a presentation that looks so helpless and vulnerable, and the bass can’t pass it up. Again, the fact that you can cover water faster than with other finesse rigs is the real advantage of the rig.”
Drop-Shot Rig Components. The drop-shot has four important components – the line, weight, hook and plastic bait. Of these components, many anglers consider the sinker as the least important, but that’s just not the case. In fact, the fishing industry is producing a number of specialized drop-shot weights designed for the light-line, bottom-dragging technique. Weights specifically made for the drop-shot rig are designed to be lost – they release from the fishing line when snagged on bottom. It’s easy to see how beneficial this attribute is when fishing light line over a rocky bottom.
Like many bass pros, Parker keeps his weight selection fairly simple. The North Carolina angler uses a new weight, the Water Gremlin Bull-Shot.
“They (Water Gremlin) have come out with a bullet-shaped sinker that’s similar to a split shot,” explains Parker. “You simply run the Bull-Shot down your line and pinch the weight in place. When you hang up, simply pull until the sinker pulls off the line, and you quickly can replace it with another one and get back to fishing.”
The next component – the hook – is arguably the most important piece of terminal tackle used in the drop-shot rig. A hook that is too heavy hinders the action of the bait. Because of this, Parker prefers a small, light-wire hook – specifically, Mustad’s Ultra Point offset hook in a size 1 or 2.
“A big, heavy hook pulls the bait down and doesn’t allow it to suspend correctly. The appeal of the drop-shot bait is lost – the lure appears lifeless.”
Like many Western finesse anglers, Parker uses a small, pliable plastic bait on the business end of his drop-shot rig. For example, when fishing relatively clear water, he prefers Mann’s 4-inch Dragin” Finesse Worm or similar “do-nothing” worms. The pencil-thin worm closely resembles the Western worm designs made popular by the doodlin’ technique. The diminutive bait’s tapered tail responds with a shutter and shimmy to the slightest shake of the angler’s rod tip.
When fishing for wary bass in heavily stained water, the North Carolina pro switches to a bait with a larger profile. Under these conditions, the Mann’s 4-inch Floating Jelly Tube meets Parker’s requirements. The bait has the bulkier silhouette necessary when fishing the darker water, and the tentacles give the appearance of a swimming baitfish. Even more, the Floating Jelly Tube comes with a floatation insert that keeps the bait suspended out and away from the line.
The final component in Parker’s drop-shot rig is the fishing line itself. “I fish the rig on fairly light (8- to 10-pound-test) line,” he said. “The small-diameter line is necessary for three reasons. First, unlike heavier lines that rob some of the natural action built into a finesse bait, small-diameter lines work better with the subtler baits. Second, I believe bass can detect the water displaced by a larger-diameter line as it moves through the water, so you risk prematurely alerting wary fish when using large-diameter line. There’s less of a chance of alerting fish when using the smaller-diameter line because it is less visible and because it pushes less water.”
Because the light-line presentation is normally made in relatively deep water and a good distance from the boat, line type is Parker’s third consideration. He wants a line with good tensile strength and very little stretch. The legendary TV angler uses Berkley’s relatively new Trilene Sensation fishing line. Parker says it has low stretch, is abrasion resistant, strong and fairly sensitive.
“The lure on a drop-shot produces considerably more action than a bait pulled behind a Carolina-rig.” Notes Parker, “And it’s simply amazing how much more action you get from the bait by simply shaking your rod tip.
“Anytime you’re in a situation where you’re targeting finicky fish in open water, and you don’t try a drop-shot rig – I think you’re really slighting yourself.”
So, the next time you see fish that won’t cooperative with your usual, tried-and-true tactics, try a drip-shot rig with a finesse worm. Bass can’t resist! Paul A. Canada
Presentation is the Key to Finessing Bass. When the bite gets tough, most bass anglers change lures. Hank Parker believe that tendency is one of the more common mistakes anglers make when fishing deep structure.
“In open water,” he says, “it’s very important to experiment with how you present the bait. A lot of people are too quick to change baits when they’re not getting bit. Lure presentation – retrieve angles, speed and action – is more important than color selection.”
Admittedly, most experienced bass anglers know it’s important to experiment with retrieve speed and length of pauses. However, few experienced anglers consider the angle of retrieve and the role boat positioning plays in lure presentation. “The angle in which the bait is pulled across the structure is determined greatly by the boat’s relationship to the structure,” adds Parker. “So, I always try to experiment with boat positioning and the angle I present my bait.”
Parker first considers how the bass are positioned or relating to bottom structure and current. When current is present, the North Carolina angler positions his boat so that his drop-shot rig is pulled with the current. If the bass are holding extremely tight to the bottom, Parker casts to deep water and drags his presentation back up the structure. Conversely, when the bass are suspended up off the bottom, he casts up to the shallower water and drags the presentation out to deeper water.
“No matter the presentation, “ concludes Parker, “when working open water it’s critically important that you vary your speed, vary your retrieve and vary the angle the bait is pulled across the structure. Fishing what the bass want can make a huge difference between catching fish or going away without a bite.”