DOOR COUNTY, Wis. — If you wanted tips on how to catch Sturgeon Bay smallmouth bass on a drop shot rig, the Berkley Experience tent was the place to be Saturday during Bassmaster University day at the Toyota Angler of the Year Championship.
Possibly the most subtle pointer was offered by Brandon Palaniuk. For most anglers, nose-hooking a drop shot bait means running the hook from the bottom and out the top of a soft plastic lure near its head or nose end. For Palaniuk, it means bringing the hook from the bottom of the lure and out the nose, not the top.
“It’s just something I learned by trial and error, after many, many years of drop-shotting,” Palaniuk said.
Granted, it is a hair-splitting difference. But, as Palaniuk pointed out, when a lure is nose-hooked the usual way, it can pivot and spin around the hook bend. Palaniuk’s method keeps the bait in-line with the hook shank. It’s just one of those tiny details that can make a difference in a tournament setting, where every hook-set can make a difference.
As far as the lure itself, Palaniuk’s favorite is what he calls “crack for smallmouth bass,” a Berkley PowerBait Twitch Tail Minnow (usually green pumpkin), soaked in Berkley Gulp Alive Marinade (usually shad scent).
Palaniuk is coming off a second-place finish at Lake St. Clair. And he’s eighth with 30 pounds, 10 ounces after two days at Sturgeon Bay.
The remaining parts of his typical drop shot rig include a No. 1 VMC drop shot hook and a 3/8ths-ounce Eco Pro tungsten weight, tied about 10 to 12 inches below the hook. Palaniuk uses 8-pound test Berkley FireLine braid with a 10-foot Trilene fluorocarbon leader of 8- or 6-pound test.
Justin Lucas, who is trying to wrap up second-place in the AOY standings and the $55,000 check that goes with it Sunday, offered a tip on simplifying the myriad of drop shot lure colors that anglers have to choose from.
“If it’s cloudy, I go with straight green pumpkin,” Lucas said. “I’ll use black if it’s real dark. As the sun comes up, I go to more natural colors, like watermelon or any light shad color.
“You only need two or three colors, and that works all over the country. In Florida, I use black-and-blue in the morning and green pumpkin when the sun comes out.”
When using spinning tackle, most of the Elite Series anglers have gone to some type of braid for a main line with a fluorocarbon leader. It’s that braid-to-leader connection that can be both a pain to tie and a source of lost fish when it fails. Although it takes some practice to tie efficiently, Lucas believes the Alberto knot is by far the best. (It’s also known as the “crazy Alberto knot,” as “Crazy” Alberto Knie, a dedicated striped bass surf angler, is credited for its origin.)
“It’s far better than that uni (knot) to uni (knot) connection,” Lucas said.
Reese offered a different take. He favors Berkley’s Nanofil line on his spinning reels. It’s not a braided line. Berkley calls it a uni-filament. The thin diameter and braid-like lack of stretch make it a winning combination for Reese.
“It casts farther than any other line,” Reese said. “A lot of times that’s the key. A long casts allows you to get bit.”
If Reese is using 10-pound-test Nanofil as a main line, he’ll add 4 to 8 feet of 6-pound test fluorocarbon leader. If he’s using 12-pound-test Nanofil, he’ll use 8-pound test fluorocarbon for the leader.
But Nanofil joined to fluorocarbon requires a different knot. Reese favors a surgeon’s knot, which is basically a double-overhand knot. But instead of two wraps with both lines, Reese wraps them four times – a quadruple overhand knot.
“I’ve never broken off a fish at that knot,” Reese said.
Reese emphasized pairing a rod with your hook-setting style, noting that smallmouth bass in particular have tough, leather-like mouths from grabbing crawfish and gobies among rocky habitat.
“You have to crack them to get a hook in them,” Reese said. “But if you get bit and come out of your shoes setting the hook, like I do, you need a lighter action rod so you don’t snap your line. That’s why I use rods with a lot of parabolic action.”
No matter whether he is using a baitcaster and straight 65-pound test braided line or a spinning reel, 10-pound test Nanofil with a 6-pound test leader, Reese noted, “I want to use whatever combination of rod, reel and line that, one, provides the proper presentation of the bait I’m using, and, two, maximizes the potential for getting a fish in the boat.”
Reese pointed out that using a big 4/0 or 5/0 hook on spinning gear won’t allow the kind of efficiency he’s seeking.
“That’s just too big a diameter hook for 8-pound test line,” he said. “You’re going to lose 70 to 80 percent of the bites you get. You have to put a lot of pressure to get that hook in a fish’s mouth.”