July 31, 2014
By Jeff Simpson
We target walleyes near bottom because that's where they seem to be most of the time in most waters. Dropping bait to bottom on a rig is one of the most common tactics. A rig in its simplest form is a hook tied on the line with a weight also placed somewhere on the line -- possibly even on the hook. Where you place the weight and how much weight you use changes the way your bait is presented to fish, which sometimes can make all the difference in the world.
"The best thing about any type of rigging is that almost any hook, weight, and line will get the job done," claims former walleye pro Eric Naig. "Fine-tuning your rig to match the conditions, however, often is the key to more walleyes. "When I worked with Berkley on their line of drop-shot plastics for bass fishing," Naig explains, "I quickly found that drop-shot rigging works great for walleyes, too.
"Drop-shotting works particularly well when the fish are fussy and need to be teased into striking," he explains, "but it also works great for snaggy or weedy bottom conditions. In some of the waters I fish in Iowa, for instance, a big growth of stringy moss completely covers the bottom. In fact, fishing a jig on bottom without getting slimed is impossible. Drop-shotting, though, allows for contacting bottom, yet keeping your bait above the moss and fish."
Drop-shotting, in it's simplest form, involves placing a weight at the end of the line, with a hook and bait set some distance above. The concept has long been used by crappie and perch anglers, who often set several dropper lines and baits off the main line. This keeps your bait a set distance from bottom -- basically suspending your bait near bottom and walleyes. By placing the weight on bottom, you have full control of the lure's working depth, which is effective when fish hold some distance above the bottom, for calling walleyes up off bottom, and for keeping your bait free of debris.
Drop-shot rigging is also an option for pitching into flooded timber or wood. And it's effective in waters where zebra mussels and mussel carcasses cover the bottom, like on the Great Lakes.
Disturbing bottom sediment seems to attract and sometimes trigger fish. "When the weight hits bottom, the small explosion of sand or mud seems to attract fish and sometimes triggers them into activity. With drop-shotting, you can stir up the bottom and keep your bait above the cloud of sediment, so walleyes can see it better," Naig says.
Drop-shot rigs are as simple to tie as they are to fish. The unique feature is the placement of the bait above the weight. To make the bait rest horizontally, the Palomar knot is the favorite. When tying the Palomar, insert the tag end of the line through the eye from the hook point side, and form the loop on the bend side. When you tighten the knot, the hook sticks straight out, positioning the bait correctly. The length of the tag end of line determines the distance from bait to weight.
"I generally tie the hook about 12 to 16 inches above the dropper," Naig says. "Most important is to tie the hook so the point is positioned up, in the normal position, to get the most hooksets. If the gap is down, you miss a lot of fish."
Most hook styles work, though Naig prefers octopus-style livebait hooks (#2 to #6). For fishing close to weededges or around woodcover, a small (#4 to #6) offset-shank light-wire hook is preferred. For minnow-style soft plastic baits, a wide-gap model works well.
Anglers have experimented with various types of weights to keep their drop-shot baits in the strike window. "Weighting the rig is easy. Almost any sinker in your tackle box will work. For deeper structure, though, I prefer 1/4- to 1/2-ounce bell sinkers. And along weededges or timber, heavier split shot, worm weights, or weights designed for drop-shot rigs are better options," Naig says.
One concern is that weight placement puts the weight in constant peril of snagging. Some anglers favor the simplest method -- pinching on a heavy lead shot. If the weight pulls off in a snag, it quickly can be replaced while saving the lure and hook. A surgeon's knot sometimes is tied at the tag end, creating a loop that holds the shot more securely. It also allows the rig to be secured to a reel handle when running down the lake.
Most anglers tend to fish light low-visibility monofilament lines (4- to 6-pound test) for finesse fishing in clear water and for triggering finicky fish. Naig, for instance, prefers Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon for finesse rigging deep, clear-water lakes. Heavier line, though, is required for drop-shotting around weeds or wood, or other snaggy conditions. A medium-action 6- to 7-foot spinning rod will suffice for walleyes.
DOING THE DROP-SHOT THING
When walleyes are a tad leery, due to clear water or because they're neutral or negative, they investigate a bait more discriminately and need to be enticed into biting. Drop-shotting allows you to slowly work the bait, adding realistic enticing movements that often are the key to triggering strikes.
"It's not like any other form of rigging, and it's not like jigging, either," Naig contends. "Rather it's similar to the way I work lures during the ice season, with more of a jiggle and shaking action rather than a jigging action or rigging movement.
"Through the ice, fish move in and investigate your bait, but they often need to be enticed into striking by adding a shake, jiggle, or twitch. I work drop-shot rigs the same way, envisioning a fish down there investigating my bait, and what I try to do is entice the fish strike."
Plastics with a minnow profile and a light thin tail that moves and wiggles easily seem to be the top plastics for walleyes. "Minnowlike profiles are my favorite for walleyes, like Berkley's Drop-Shot Power Minnows, though many soft plastic minnows produce. Even Berkley Power Crawlers or soft plastic leeches work. Several Berkley Gulp! shapes make for excellent drop-shotting. Simply twitching or shaking the line causes the bait to dance and swim."
When the bite is tough, Naig switches to livebait -- minnows, leeches, or crawlers. Leeches are ideal because they're constantly moving and swimming. A lip-hooked minnows dances on a drop-shot rig -- fighting and struggling against the hook.
To learn what types of action you're giving the bait, lower your drop-shot rig in clear shallow water or in an aquarium and note what the bait does by twitching and shaking the line with your rod tip. Naig uses an underwater camera and says it's a great way to learn what your bait is doing. "Ice fishing allows you to set the camera stationary so you can watch and learn what combination of twitches, shakes, and pauses imparts different actions to your bait. Drop-shotting, by the way, works great for ice fishing."
Keep the rig fairly vertical to keep the bait off bottom and suspended. Getting a walleye to rise up off the bottom triggers the fish to make a decision to eat or not to eat. More often then not, though, if you can get a walleye to rise up, it's going to eat. "If the fish are sluggish and hugging bottom and you're fishing your bait right on bottom, the presentation may be too subtle to trigger strikes. And because the bait is on bottom, fish may not see it as well as a bait enticingly dangling 12 inches or so above their heads.
"Again, I typically tie the hook about 12 to 18 inches above the weight. But I've tied them up as high as three feet. In waters where it's legal to fish two lures on one line, I've even tied two hooks on the line, one at 36 inches, the other about 12 inches up from bottom. Sometimes I use a jig on the bottom as the weight. It seems to serve as double action, double attraction, and it doubles my odds," Naig concludes.
Drop-shotting isn't difficult. It's simply a rigging refinement that allows you to stay in contact with bottom and keep your bait out of snags and up where walleyes can see it. It may be something new to try, and in some situations, may put more and bigger walleyes in your boat. Don't drop out before giving it a shot on your favorite walleye waters.