North Dakotan Johnnie Candle, a regular on the Professional Walleye Trail, shamelessly mooches new techniques to gain an edge on his competitors. And he isn't above adapting tactics used for other species, such as drop shotting, which has become a mainstay with clearwater bass fishermen.
Candle first tried drop shotting a few years ago during an April outing on Lewis and Clark Reservoir organized by Berkley, one of Candle's sponsors. His job was to demonstrate new lures to a group of clients from a major sporting goods chain.
At the first stop, Candle and his partner vertically fished jigs tipped with minnows, 25 feet deep next to submerged bridge pilings. After quickly catching a few walleyes, Candle rigged a 3-inch Power Bait Drop-shot Bass Minnow 18 inches above his jig. The Bass Minnow produced his next three walleyes.
"We caught a bunch of walleyes that day, and did better than other guys who were fishing only one lure at a time," Candle says. "That's what started me on the drop-shot rig."
Since that outing, Candle has switched from the Bass Minnow to a Tournament Strength Berkley Power Minnow. Rainbow shad (pearl, black back) and chartreuse shad are Candle's go-to colors.
Candle favors a jig in place of a drop-shot weight because it lets him fish two different levels simultaneously. He assembles a drop-shot rig by tying a hook to his line with a palomar knot. The tag line of the knot is 1 to 3 feet long, depending on how much separation Candle wants between the jig and the drop-shot bait.
While holding the hook point up, Candle runs the tag line of the palomar knot down through the hook eye. This makes the hook stand away from the line with the point facing up.
Candle opts for a #2 light-wire worm hook for plastic baits, which he rigs Texas-style or exposed, depending on the cover. For live minnows, leeches, and nose-hooking plastic baits, he prefers a #4 or #6 drop-shot hook. He stresses that light hooks are crucial to lively action.
Due to the resistance of the drop-shot bait, Candle loses control of the rig if he goes with a jig lighter than 1/4 ounce. When he fishes timber and other abrasive cover, he relies on 8-pound-test Berkley Iron Silk. In more open water, he prefers 8-pound Berkley Sensation. These lines run through the guides of a Berkley Series One 6-foot, 6-inch medium-light or medium-power spinning rod to the spool of an Abu-Garcia Cardinal 100 reel.
DROP SHOTTING TIMBER
When Candle fishes standing timber, he lets the drop-shot rig sink straight down next to the trunk of a tree. The vertical presentation provides maximum control and reduces snagging.
"I'm not trying to get doubles when I drop-shot in timber," Candle says. "The rig lets me show walleyes two baits at different depths. That helps me figure out exactly what they want and how deep they are."
Candle often fishes standing timber in Devils Lake, North Dakota, and claims standing timber also produces walleyes in reservoirs such as Table Rock, Missouri, and Bull Shoals, Arkansas. He fares best while drop shotting standing timber in early spring because the wood absorbs the sun's heat and warms the water around it. This, in turn, attracts walleyes. Trees close to creek channels, river channels, and rocky bottoms are high on Candle's priority list.
DROP SHOTTING GRASS
When Candle drop-shots submerged grass, he replaces the jig with a 1/2- to 3/4-ounce slinky-style sinker because it snakes through vegetation without fouling. He rigs the drop-shot hook to remain just above the vegetation when the sinker is on the bottom.
"My graph gives me a good indication of how tall the weeds are," Candle says. "My first cast lets me feel the grass and tells me if I need to adjust the length of the dropline."
When Candle fishes grass, he works a drop-shot rig the way most bass fishermen do. Instead of fishing it like a jig, as he does when he places a jig beneath the drop-shot hook, he shakes his rod tip while the weight rests or drags on the bottom.
"The key is to leave a little slack in the line when you shake the rod," Candle says. "Walleyes have never seen a bait dancing around in one place with so much action. They like it."