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Walleye Week: Stealth Rigging for Walleyes

Modifications making drop-shotting more deadly on walleyes.

Walleye Week: Stealth Rigging for Walleyes

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Drop-shotting generally hasn’t caught on in a big way for walleyes, although some anglers have been playing with versions of it for years, dating back to angling innovator Bill Binkelman in the early 1970s, and his coverage of the concept in his book Catching Walleyes. Many waters are clearer today—Clean Water Act, zebra mussels—and fish are pressured everywhere. Thus, drop-shotting is a practical and productive way to put more ‘eyes in the boat when other methods fail. Add forward-facing sonar and other electronics into the mix and the system is tough to beat.

One prominent angler to adopt drop-shotting early on was Brian “Bro” Brosdahl. He’s spent years experimenting and has tweaked the rigging to make it more deadly.

“I started tinkering with drop-shots—including a modified ‘stealth rig’—almost 30 years ago,” he says. “The stealth rig is a drop-shot rig with a short dropper line coming off of the straight drop-shot leader. When we first started using it nobody knew what we were doing; it looked like we were pitching jigs. But we typically were drop-shotting a leech or redtail chub. When the water’s warm, redtails are really effective. Just pitch one out and work it slowly back to the boat. A leech is hard to beat throughout the calendar, though.”

He says guides love using stealth rigging because clients can’t mess it up. With the dropper off the leader, fish have just enough line to more easily suck in the bait.

An illustration of a diagram of a dropper knot.
Bro's Stealth Dropper Knot.

Gearing Up

“Each day I have multiple rods set up with stealth rigs for clients. One has a Northland Tackle Gum-Drop Floater, another has a pill float, and another has a red #4 Gamakatsu Walleye Octopus hook with a red bead. The bead gives the fish a focal point to see it better. Double beads work, too.

“I use a loop knot and tie the rig so there’s a line coming off the mainline. I run 8- to 14-pound fluorocarbon, using the heavier line if pike are a factor. Cinch the knot and clip one side and snell the hook on the tag. Tie it long enough and you can add a bead and snell the hook. Snelled hooks hang straight but sometimes it’s best to use stouter leader material.”

At times he uses standard drop-shot rigging without the dropper line and ties a Palomar drop-shot knot to secure a bright Gamakatsu Walleye Octopus hook. He also uses Aberdeen-style hooks, which get the bait out a bit farther, again so fish have a slightly easier time getting the bait in their mouth.

Studio photos of four drop-shot hooks.
Some stealth-rig hooks.

He also drop-shots with the Gamakatsu G-Finesse Swivel Shot Drop Shot Hook and G-Finesse Swivel Shot Worm Hook. “With a Gamakatsu G-Finesse Worm Hook you can pitch it out, work it along a breakline, and your ‘crawler spins adding attraction,” he says. “The hooks are super sticky, with a swivel connecting to your mainline, and a crimp on the bottom end to insert the dropper line to the sinker. Use a long enough leader so you can adjust the weight placement for the depth you want the bait off bottom. I pre-cut leaders with different sinker weights and have them ready to go.” The Gamakatsu G-Finesse Swivel Shot Worm Hook, which was designed for drop-shotting soft plastics for bass, works well with livebait, too. With the little barb, livebait stays pinned. “The hook works with plastics, but typically clients are more confident with livebait,” he says.

As noted, many waters have become clearer, so we often can’t fish like we did decades ago, hovering over fish and dropping baits straight down on them. These days, walleyes move away from the boat. On a stealth rig, a single bead or a pair of  5- or 7-mm red beads and a smaller #6 or #8 hook works wonders away from the boat and with spooky fish.”

Walleyes also aren’t always close to the bottom. In fact they’re almost always up and cruising, according to Brosdahl. “On a lake with shallow flats like Leech Lake they might cruise 6 feet down in 8 feet of water and stay at the same depth when they move over deeper water,” he says.

“Logically, try to set your drop-shot bait at the level of the fish. Granted, they often rise up a foot or two to grab a bait. Walleyes drop down, too; if they didn’t, half the people who jig-fish wouldn’t catch anything. Still, forward-facing sonar shows that walleyes are roaming a lot away from structure and cruising in middepths more than we used to understand.

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“Sometimes you can use a larger hook and the fish don’t care. Other times you have to downsize. Using a bead attractor you only need a smaller leech. Rigs and jigs can’t compare. Leech Lake is an interesting example of drop-shotting, where I often use a big creek chub on a drop-shot moving through the big boulder piles. Plus-sized ‘eyes just go crazy.”

Whether he’s on Leech, Cass, Winnie, or other Walker, Minnesota-area lakes, he drag baits along the shallow weededge, with his bait up above bottom-hugging chara weeds and zebra mussels.

Softbaits, Sinkers & More

Brosdahl uses a variety of softbaits. On rivers he fishes split-tail fluke-style plastics like the Northland Impulse Smelt Minnow. On lakes, paddletails, flukes, leech imitators, curlytail grubs, and smaller worms all work at times.

He uses a range of shot weights—even heavy shot at times, typically lead as opposed to tungsten because of the higher cost of tungsten. “On waters like Leech Lake you get snagged no matter what drop-shot sinkers you use,” he says. “Often I use several of the heaviest split-shot from Water Gremlin. If shot comes off, just crimp on another one or two.

Studio photos of some stealth-rig softbaits.
Stealth-rig softbaits.

“Sometimes I tie a loop knot if I’m using a sinker with a pinch point. I put the loop through the sinker and loop around the sinker again for a secure hold. Push the line back through to change sinker weights and styles. You can also tie an overhand knot and run the line through the pinch point on a lot of drop-shot sinkers and the knot helps keep the weight on.

“Especially in rocks, using two big shot works just as well as any drop-shot weight, and they’re cheap. But I like tungsten cylinder sinkers for their small profile and they transmit bottom composition well, and cast nicely in the wind. When you pitch tungsten weights out, they look like they’re going to tangle but usually stay perfect.”

He usually starts with a 1/4-ounce weight and sizes up to 3/8-ounce if it’s windy. Around weedgrowth he uses low-profile tungsten cylindrical weights or a tungsten bullet sinker rigged upside down with a bead on each side of the weight to perhaps make a little noise. And, as mentioned, on rocky bottoms, he uses the largest Water Gremlin split-shot.

“Ultimately, you want to fish as light as possible and still maintain bottom contact to put your bait in the zone,” he says. “Let the rig sink, hold the rod tip at 10 o’clock, shake, reel a revolution or two, shake, reel, repeat.”

He likes a St. Croix Legend Elite 7-foot 6-inch medium-power extra-fast action for most applications, coupled with a Daiwa Tatula LT 2500. To go a step lighter he uses a Legend Elite 6-foot 6-inch medium-light extra-fast, coupled with the same Daiwa LT 2000 reel.

Ten-pound Sunline SX1 round green braid gets the call for both sensitivity and casting distance. “I like high-vis, too,” he says. “I tie up mono for some of my clients—Sunline 8-pound Supernatural—because you can tie the loop knot for the stealth rig right into the mainline and you don’t need a swivel. I use fluoro for my own dropper rigs for both invisibility and abrasion resistance.”

Attractants & More

Many pros and guides use various attractants to add appeal to their baits. And when it comes to walleyes, Brosdahl is no exception. “I’ve found that when drop-shotting softbaits, squirting them with Pro-Cure Trophy Walleye Super-Gel can make a big difference. I think the fish are attracted to the bait and they just hold onto it longer for solid hook-sets. Look at the track record that Berkley has with Gulp!, PowerBait, and MaxScent. Those baits have won countless bass and walleye tournaments, especially the new MaxScent baits,” he says.

Studio photos of several scents and attractants.
Many pros and guides use various attractants to add appeal to their baits.

AIM/NWT pro angler Tom Huynh is another believer in attractants, frequently smearing Smelly Jelly Bass Feast on his baits. And anglers across the Walleye Belt have been reporting success on the Liquid Willowcat-designed goby, hellgrammite, leech, and willowcat-shaped soft-plastics, dousing the baits in the company’s Liquid Willowcat and Liquid Leech attractants. Also, Berkley’s MaxScent baits continue to sell in volumes to walleye anglers. Pro-Cure Trophy Walleye Gel is also popular and has been used by Brosdahl for years. It’s also popular with anglers chasing giant walleyes on the Columbia River. Now, with forward-facing sonar on the scene, Bait Pop Live Sonar Intensifier is just starting to catch on; it’s a scent/formulation that’s said to both attract fish and make your bait and line show up better on the screen. For more on attractants, see In-Fisherman Field Editor Dr. Hal Schramm’s article in this issue.

Huynh on Drop-Shotting

Tom Huynh and partner Nate Wolske have won many tournaments over the past two years, and part of their arsenal is the drop-shot.

Studio photos of a hook and softbait next to a nickel.
Tom Huynh's drop-shot tools.

“My setup is simple,” Huynh says. “I use light gear and run high-vis yellow 6- to 8-pound PowerPro braid tied to a 6-pound Seaguar Tatsu fluorocarbon leader. I like the VMC Spin-Shot hook because when you’re using soft-plastics, or even livebait, the hook and line don’t twist as easily.”

He also uses affordable rod-and-reel setups: “I like the Rosemore 6-foot Whiskey Flats rod for pinpoint casting to shallow fish and the Rosemore 7-foot Double L for deeper drop-shotting. I pair them with 2000-size Daiwa Tatula LT reels. You don’t need a larger spool with the light line.”

He uses some Japanese soft plastics, along with domestic standbys. “I’ve been using a bass bait that’s likely entirely new to walleye anglers,” he says. “The Bellows Gill creature bait by Geecrack is available in 2, 2.8, 3.8, and 5.8 inches. It’s covered in scented vibrating ribs. The Japanese have done a lot of research on scents to trigger bites from pressured bass and the same formulas work for walleyes. The Bellows Gill was a good bait for us in the stained water on Lake of the Woods where we won a tournament.”

For other, less-stained waters, he uses Northland Tackle 3- and 4-inch Impulse Smelt Minnows, typically starting with white but using smelt-, fathead-, and shiner-imitating patterns, too. He’s a fan of Smelly Jelly Bass Feast to help  attract fish and getting them to hold on once they bite.

Brosdahl’s Boat Tech

Brian Brosdahl runs a Lund 219GL Pro rigged with a 400-hp Mercury Verado, 15-hp Mercury kicker, 15-foot Minn Kota Talon, and three Humminbird Helix 15 Gen 4 units. At the console he uses the left unit for LakeMaster mapping, and the right unit for 2D CHIRP sonar, Side Imaging, and Mega Live. He has his Mega Live transducer mounted to a Fishing Specialties pole that he operates at the console, turning it to see 360 degrees around the boat. He sets his Side Imaging to look 70 feet right and left while he uses Mega Live out to 60 feet and spins the pole in all directions. “On spots less than an acre, these settings are all you need,” he says. At the bow he runs a Helix 15 and Minn Kota Ulterra.

An angler driving a boat on a lake, shot from behind.
Brian Brosdahl runs a Lund 219GL Pro rigged with a 400-hp Mercury Verado, 15-hp Mercury kicker, 15-foot Minn Kota Talon, and three Humminbird Helix 15 Gen 4 units.

“I face the boat forward and use Humminbird 360 to find structure and fish,” he says. “Looking for fish going into the wind, you can pitch into the wind and your line stays straight. I like to have the fish in front of me or behind me. When you have clients in the boat you don’t want several lines all plunking down on the same spots.

“Now, with Mega Live, you see the fish and you pitch right to them, trying to maintain a distance that doesn’t spook them. Sometimes you can watch the fish follow and bite the drop-shot. It’s amazing.”

Stories

Brosdahl: “I remember a tournament on Leech Lake that the late Paul Nelson and I fished. We made passes through good spots with rigs and jigs and blanked. Then I noticed on my Humminbirds that the fish were a little higher up off the bottom so I put on a 10-foot dropper and immediately got a bite. We kept drop-shotting and I caught a 29-incher. We didn’t win but we did well. I think there is more anglers can do with drop-shotting by increasing dropper length from the traditional 1.5 to 3 feet.

“Every place I’ve been—fishing the FLW and NWT tournaments and tournaments in Canada—I’ve noticed walleyes suspending. Using the Aqua-Vu underwater camera was the first time I noticed this. And on Humminbird Side imaging you can see the shadows and see that the fish aren’t anywhere near the bottom. Now, with Humminbird Mega Live I see walleyes aren’t down in the weeds, they’re above them. They’re hard to catch because your jig is buried in the bottom and they’re up above.

“With forward-facing sonar we’re going to discover a lot of inventive ways to catch walleyes, because they’re all over the place. Whenever they settle down, they’re not always belly to the bottom, but several feet above it. There have been times ice fishing when I’ve had walleyes hit just below the ice. The point is get to walleyes at their level.”

When it comes to the Dakotas and other waters with traditional slow-death or bottom-bouncer bite, he says a drop-shot with a threaded half ‘crawler catches more when you find them. “On Lake Oahe I use a threaded bait-hook and a portion of ‘crawler and a small spinner on a stealth rig. You don’t need a bottom bouncer.”

Whether you’re a weekend angler or long-practiced student of walleye fishing, drop-shotting can work for you. Get set up with the right gear—a smattering of soft plastics and whatever livebait is available—and give it a shot, literally. The results, as it’s so often said, usually speak for themselves.


Minnesota native and writer Jim Edlund is a frequent contributor to In-Fisherman publications.




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