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Written By: Steve ‘Hippo’ Lau, March 12, 2012
My friend, Steve, quite the world traveler, had a three day vacation reservation to fish Clear Lake. The problem was, the very weekend he had set aside for his fishing vacation, some of America’s best bass fishing professionals were also on the lake to fish the 2009 FLW Western Tour Series.
Clear Lake is host to any number of contests on any weekend, but when you are fishing at the same time as some of our most elite bassers, one’s chances of doing well are usually slim and none.
Steve had picked up some of the hottest baits going for winter fishing at Clear Lake: dark jigs with crawdad trailers, white swimbaits, and magnum Senkos. Before he left for the lake, Steve gave me a call and asked if I had any “inside tips” on catching fish under these trying conditions. I mentioned minnow fishing.
“Minnows? MINNOWS?” questioned Steve, “I’m not going to be sitting around watching a bobber and freezing my butt off!”
I carefully (and patiently) explained that fishing minnows my way will not involve watching a bobber and freezing his butt off. In fact, it will involve everything you need to do to fish a lure, but with a minnow instead of something plastic.
Drop shotting is one of the deadliest techniques out there in the bass fishing world. According to one website I looked up, drop shotting started back east, traveled to Japan, then made its way to the west, where it caught on like wildfire. I suppose that its popularity in the west is due to our lakes being a little deeper than lakes back east in general.
Drop shotting is considered a “finesse” technique, that is to say, one that utilizes thin lines, light rods, small hooks, and small baits. Of the major plastic bait fishing techniques (Texas rigging, split shotting, Carolina rigging, wacky rigging, and shaky head) drop shotting is the technique that offers the best “feel”. The weight is attached below the hook, so that any movement of the hook is transmitted directly to the rod tip.
Let me go over the information I shared with Steve…
Drop shotting is a light line technique, with lines testing from 3 – 8 lbs. being the most popular. This technique is usually used in more open situations, so a soft line is preferred over one that boasts ultimate abrasion resistance. The new Sunline monofilament, as well as Sufix Elite monofilament have their faithful followers. Others may prefer using a 10 lb. test superbraid tied to a six foot length of fluorocarbon leader material. This is especially useful when probing the depths below 25 feet because of the superbraid’s lack of stretch.
Rods for drop shooting are specialty items. The thin sensitive tips lead to a soft mid-section, with just a little bit of power in the butt, all this designed for sensitivity but with cushioning the light line in mind. I am partial to the Shimano offerings in the Compre CPS72MLB and the Crucial split grip CRSDX72M. These rods match perfectly with the new Stradic 3000 CI4. The CI4 boasts a carbon fiber body and rotor that drastically reduces weight. The size of the 3000 CI4 is the same as the 2500 CI4 but with a deeper spool and a paddle style rather than a knob handle.
There are any number of hooks produced by Owner, Gamakatsu, VMC, and Mustad that will work as a drop shot hook, but for my money, nothing, and I mean nothing beats the Daiichi Stand Out Hook. The DSOH is a rather unusual looking hook that has a bracing arm that allows the hook to maintain a 90* angle to the line, making it perfect for for consistent hooking of the upper lip of a fish. A size No. 2 is a good place to start.
To tie the SSOH, a Palomar knot is tied to the “R” section of the hook. The tag end is then threaded through the eye. It is easy to see how the eye extension forms a triangle that braces the hook at the desirable 90 degrees to the line. It is also easy to see that with any jiggle of the rod tip, the hook configuration cantilevers around the “R” and adds action to the lure. The word of warning is that it is easy to put too much action in a lure using this hook. Easy does it!
The last component to consider is the sinker. The easiest to use are the ones with a “pineapple clip”. These pointy tipped clips have no need for tying. Simply insert the line into the clip and pull down. The clip will hold the line without a knot, and can be repositioned just as quickly.
The most common shapes for drop shot sinkers are stick, tear drop, and ball. The most versatile shape is the stick. Not only does slip through most bottoms without hanging up, it is also easy to reduce the weight by snipping away at the end of the lead with a pair of dykes. For general purposes, the hook is positioned one to two feet above the sinker. You will find 3/8 and ½ oz. sizes most useful.
If you have been fishing for any length of time at all, then you all know about the “hot spot”, that spot (either real or imagined!) where Mrs. Big lives. You know, that spot located behind the stump at the end of the tule line. Or was it under the dock at the edge of the lily pads? Maybe it is located in the crotch of the big oak tree that fell during the Great Storm of 1987. Wherever it is, it is that spot where if you removed the big ‘un from it, another moves in and you get to catch another one again.
The question is, if there is another bass to move into the special spot, where are all the bass waiting for that location to vacate? That is the place where you want to fish!
There is no doubt that shallow water holds a good number of fish, maybe even a good number of big fish, but I can guarantee that there are many more fish in deeper water than there are in the shallows. I mentioned to Steve that even among the elite of bassers, most of them will be fishing in 10 feet or shallower, leaving him lots and lots of deep water bass to bother.
One of Steve’s strategies was to watch where the pros went to fish, and then avoid those spots out of consideration for “their water”. He did, however, consider fishing the area but farther from shore. I mentioned that he should take advantage of the fish finder and find areas where there are rockpiles, holes, and other structure in the deeper water.
It seems odd to me that bassers of all persuasions continue to beat shallow water looking for bass when the majority of fish (and bigger fish!) are in the deeper water.
How deep is deeper water? One of the best smallmouth fishermen I know fishes the 50 foot level for smallies in Lake Berryessa. I myself have targeted fish in the 55 foot level in Lake Sonoma. From talking to fisherman I come across, fewer than 5% of them would even consider fishing this deep, but fish this deep are dumb and are suckers for a well presented drop shotted minnow.
OK, so now we have the proper tackle, and we have also considered concentrating our efforts to deeper water structures. Now what? For me the key to drop shotting success with minnows is boat positioning and casting angle. I truly believe that the less the boat moves, the higher the success. This can be achieved two ways: 1) constant readjustment with the trolling motor or 2) the use of an anchor.
Almost no one uses an anchor any more, but success while drop shotting (even when using artificials) comes from cutting down on variables, and that includes a boat moving all over the place either by wind or waves or a combination of the two. By anchoring the boat, it is much easier to work every inch of the bottom; and remember, with live minnows, there is action without having to impart any.
The other key is to fish parallel to the shoreline. If you were to go to a lake and simply watch fish swim, the vast majority of the fish will be swimming parallel to shore. This is only natural. A minnow, slowly dragged on the bottom, parallel to shore, with get bit with greater regularity than fished any other direction.
What was Steve’s adventures like fishing at Clear Lake on that particular weekend? Steve called me a week later and complained bitterly that I “made” him buy $150 worth of minnows. He also complained about a sore wrist, brought on by catching and releasing over 80 bass weighing over three pounds apiece! And to his surprise, every single bass was lip hooked and he released them unharmed.
Nothing is guaranteed in fishing, but if you start with the right tackle, concentrate on deeper water, and fish slowly and carefully parallel to shore, you may discover just how effective drop shotting minnows can be.
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