It's often said that necessity is the mother of invention, and though Bill Wilcox does not claim to have invented the drop shot rig, the situation he was faced with several years ago warranted a new method for catching bass. The longtime Texas guide and former Bassmaster Tour competitor had found a good group of deep water bass suspended a few feet off the bottom for a client. However, the spoons they were jigging fell too quickly past the suspended fish to draw a strike. "I knew the fish were down there, but I also knew my customer needed a better way to reach them, so I remembered the way we sometimes catch white bass suspended over structure: a jigging spoon with a hair jig rigged a few feet above the spoon. We tried this technique and the problem was soon solved. We wound up catching over 30 bass from that deep hole, all on the hovering hair jigs!"
Wilcox's success that summer day started him thinking about ways to suspend soft plastic baits rather than hair jigs in the heavily timbered reservoirs of north Texas. His tinkering evolved into a method that put him ahead of the curve for many Bassmasters learning the hottest technique in the country the past few years: drop shotting.
The drop shot phenomenon has its roots in Japan and the western United States from bass anglers also trying to solve unique angling problems: finicky, deep water bass in heavily pressured lakes with ultraclear water. Through the rigors of BASS competition, these anglers proved the drop shot could be successful in any reservoir in the country with a population of deep, offshore bass. As the drop shot migrated east, Wilcox "hybridized" certain elements of the western drop shot movement with his Texas roots to fit the lakes he frequents most often in Texas. The result is a beefed up form of drop shotting with a wide range of application.
"When most people think of the drop shot, they think of spinning equipment, 6-pound line and tiny hooks," says Wilcox. "That just won't work for long on a lot of the heavily timbered lakes I most often fish, so I had to bulk up the system. I call it 'bubba' drop shotting.
Rather than a spinning outfit, Wilcox's setup involves a traditional baitcasting reel and medium-heavy action 6 1/2-foot rod. He utilizes 15-pound test for most situations and rarely goes below 12-pound test. "Our lakes aren't as clear and the fishing pressure is not quite as intense as out West, and most importantly, I like to fish this bait around thick brushpiles and stumps. Therefore, I need a line that will pull a big fish out rather quickly to avoid being tangled." The 15-pound-test line is not so heavy that it kills the subtle action of the hovering artificial worm, which is typically a small hand-poured offering that drop shot enthusiasts across the country utilize.
As he continued to experiment with his drop shot approach, he was soon tweaking the system to fit unique angling situations. What he found was a "one-two punch" that allowed him to cover more of the water column. "I often replace the small drop shot weight on bottom with a conventional Texas rig worm in 3/8- or 1/2-ounce size, while leaving the smaller hand poured worm above this setup." He'll utilize a 3/0 hook on the Texas rig with either a 6-inch curl-tail worm or a French fry as the lure of choice. "This is a great approach when fishing thick brushpiles in deep water because whether the fish are suspended above the cover or buried within, I am presenting a bait right in front of them." The bullet weight of the Texas rig is also less prone to snags than the ball weight of the drop shot. If the brushpiles threaten to snag the exposed drop shot hook hovering above, Wilcox will occasionally Texas rig the top portion of this "double rig" with a 1/0 offset hook. He notes that when the fish are aggressive, he often catches doubles.
An additional caveat to Wilcox's double rig involves a 1/2-ounce jig as the bottom offering to replace the Texas rigged worm. "I like this setup in winter when the fish are usually grouped closer together. A jig is always a big fish bait, so I combine a 'power bait' with the subtlety of the smaller worm."
Interestingly, Wilcox seldom utilizes the typical vertical presentation with any of his drop shot rigs. The exception to this is in winter, when targeting tight groups of deep water bass on or near bottom. Casting the bait allows him to cover more water. However, he does not hop the weight off the bottom, as is common with a Texas rig. "I really fish it similar to a Carolina rig; just dragging the weight across the bottom and allowing the small worm to descend on the semitight line. When I pull the weight with my rod tip, the worm darts back up and looks like an injured baitfish."
Wilcox is systematic when dissecting deep structure. "I first go with power baits: a DD-22 crankbait or a Carolina rig across the structure from various angles. If I don't get a strike after working the cover thoroughly with these baits, then I pull out my drop shot. Even though I've bulked up the rig from the traditional western approach, the drop shot is still a 'finesse' offering and will draw strikes from inactive or suspended fish." Depending on his confidence in the location, Wilcox may spend 30 minutes working the area with the drop shot before changing locations.
Casting the drop shot rig expands the use of this tool beyond the typical deep water zones. "The only time I won't use a drop shot is in the spring, when the bass are in 4 feet of water or less. I can cover these shallow water zones just as effectively with other lures and present them right in front of the fish, so the drop shot offers no real advantage."
Aside from the spring scenario, any depth of 5 feet or greater is fair game for the drop shot rig. The real advantage of casting versus a vertical presentation is the ability to cover more water with a finesse approach. "What makes a good structure fisherman is the ability to find that 'sweet spot' on any piece of structure," adds Wilcox. "The fish are usually not scattered all over a general area (point, hump, creek channel, etc.)." Casting the drop shot allows Wilcox to find that sweet spot, then concentrate his efforts with a more precise presentation.
Drop shotting boat docks
Boat docks are favorite targets for many Bassmasters across the country, with the approach typically involving a vertical presentation flipped next to the piling or skipped under the dock. Observant anglers may recall Shaw Grigsby's use of a drop shot to make a vertical presentation to bass suspended around shallow bridge pilings during the finals of the 2003 BASS Tour event on Toledo Bend Reservoir.
Bill Wilcox also utilizes the drop shot for boat docks, but prefers casting and retrieving the drop shot along the length of the dock. He notes, "Most fishermen get in close to the docks and flip, so I try to give the fish a different look. By staying away from the dock and casting, I can cover several pilings with each cast, much like fishing a crankbait. The difference is a subtle presentation that catches highly pressured bass suspended next to the pilings." Wilcox believes the ideal docks for this approach in the summer months are in 6 to 15 feet of water.
Wilcox's adaptation of the drop shot is a classic example of how bass anglers across the country customize a technique to fit their particular needs. Versatility is a common theme among the top Bassmasters in the country, and Wilcox's approach with the drop shot utilizes a little western culture with a Texas accent.