October 01, 2022
Finesse rigs—the adjective part means intricate and refined. The dropshot epitomizes this notion, but what do you do when even this stalwart of subtlety has a hard time convincing hesitant fish?
You refine some more.
Bassmaster Elite Chris Johnston knows well this game and, while he can usually tempt smallmouth and largemouth bass with the basic deal, the Canadian pro has a handful of adjustments and modifications that’ll usually talk ‘em into biting.
When it comes to tricking hesitant bass, one of Johnston’s key principles is diversity. Fish get funky for many reasons, but there are days when they simply prefer a certain meal.
“The biggest thing is (using) a variety of baits—usually, they’ll eat something,” Johnston said. “Whether it’s largemouth or smallmouth, I usually have two or three different baits. It might be a change of color, a variance of size or shapes.
“When you’re not getting bites, you have to go through a couple dropshot baits and usually, you’re going to find one that they like.”
Note: Scent can make a big difference for ultra-picky fish and Johnston, along with his brother Cory, recently collaborated with Spro to design the CJ Smasher. This 3-inch finesse worm is made of Dura Tuff material infused with Amino Bite scent.
As for bait presentations, he offers these tactical tips: “With largemouth, I find that if they’re being finicky, the slower you can work it—almost not even move the bait—and shake it one spot, the more likely you are to get some bites.
“With smallmouth, it’s the same thing, but if you use a small swimbait and actually drag the bait, you’re getting more action. Instead of sitting there shaking it, if you slowly drag it, something like that will trigger some bites.”
Make Your Point
Hook size may be the first thought here, and that’s not necessarily wrong, but he’s a big fan of Texas-rigging his finesse worms for picky largemouth. For one thing, this arrangement obscures the hook, but it’s also beneficial around the cover in which the green ones typically hide.
For smallmouth, he’s almost always nose hooking a smaller bait on a Size 2 Gamakatsu Aaron Martens G-Finesse Dropshot hook. With full confidence in this hook’s ability to stick and hold, this is actually his go-to. Important to note, he may actually need to upsize for more substantial baits.
“To be honest, that’s the size I prefer, even if I’m fun fishing,” he said. “I will use a bigger hook—a Size 1—if I use a bigger profile bait. That way there’s enough hook gap.”
He said he’s most likely to use a 3/8-ounce Woo Tungsten weight, but in deeper water—especially on windy days—he’ll bump up the size to ensure presentation accuracy and a timely fall. For a finicky bite, he’ll often decrease the weight.
“This does a couple of things; first, it slows down the bait’s fall,” he said. “If I’m trying to LiveScope them out in front of me, I’ll let the bait go by them a little slower, so they get a better look at it and they’re more likely to follow it down.
“Also, if there’s any current, that lighter weight gives the bait a better presentation. If the current is running, it will drift your bait and the weight, whereas, with a heavier weight, that current will push your bait down into the bottom and the weight is going to drag behind. The lighter the weight, the more likely it is to stand up vertically.”
Johnston notes that a lighter weight is harder to feel on the bottom and offers less control on windy days. However, whenever he can get away with a lighter weight, Johnston knows he has a greater chance of tempting reticent fish.
Also, while many swear by the snag-resistant benefit of cylinder shaped weights, he said he rarely experiences entanglements with tear drop shapes. The denser tungsten’s smaller form could be part of it, but he’s comfortable with a single dropshot shape.
You wouldn’t think that a bass would spook from a light fluorocarbon leader, but after several months of having dropshot after dropshot piercing their personal space, the fish get pretty sharp eyed. That’s why he won’t hesitate to lighten his game.
“For largemouth, I usually start with 10-pound fluorocarbon and I’ll go as light as 8,” he said. “For smallmouth, I’ll go down to 6, because it’s usually clearer water.
“When you get into some bad zones with more structure, you might break a few more fish off, but you’re going to get more bites.”
With any of these adjustments, you’re never guaranteed to catch every fish that bites. But, as Johnston can attest, you’ll miss 100% of the fish that don’t bite.