Late fall is one of the best times of the year to catch giant smallmouth bass. FLW Tour Rookie of the Year, Chris Johnston, finds fishing with a dropshot rig is a great way to catch deep, fall smallmouth. Here are Johnston’s tips and tricks for using this rig in cold water.
Article originally seen on Bass Pro Shops 1Source, written by Tim Allard.
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Find Where Fall Smallmouth Bass Hideout
Johnston’s first order of business is graphing bass using his Garmin GPSMAP 7610xsv Chartplotter / Sonar combo and dropping waypoints on hot spots holding fish. In late fall, he focuses on deep, main-lake structure where bass spend the winter. Points extending off of islands and deep shoals in the 20 to 50 foot range are typical autumn smallmouth hangouts.
“I find in the fall on a lot of lakes… the smallmouth live in about 10 percent of the lake, whereas in the summer they’re kind of scattered,” Johnston said. “If you’re not on them [in the fall], you’re not catching anything, but when you do find them, they’re loaded up really good, so you’re going to catch them with your go to dropshot bait.”
Straight-Down Finesse Tricks
When vertically fishing a dropshot, Johnston watches his Garmin, noting how bass respond to the presentation. Aggressive smallies are easy pickings and readily gobble the finesse plastic.
Inactive bass are a different story, requiring a subtle approach. “I’ve found the slower the presentation the better in cold water,” Johnston said. “It’s almost dead-sticking it.”
Johnston’s also a firm believer in braid, using 8- to 10-pound PowerPro as the main line. This is then tied to a 6- to 8-pound fluorocarbon lead.
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“The braid is very important because it’s so sensitive and you can feel the bites better. I think you get more fish. And, when you’re moving your dropshot bait, you get a lot better action on your bait because of the braid,” Johnston said.
Extra Tip: To tame big smallmouth, Johnston uses a 7’6” G. Loomis NRX 902S. Its length, action and bend improve hook sets and cushion head-shakes. A Shimano Stradic CI4+ 2500 spinning reel delivers the buttery smooth drag needed when fighting giant smallmouth.
Back Away From Pressured Fish
Even when bass are on the chew in late fall, there are no guarantees. On clear lakes receiving heavy fishing pressure, such as Ontario’s Lake Simcoe, Johnston finds deep smallmouth can get spooked and be tough to catch.
“If you drive over them the school of fish scatters, so a different dropshot technique you can use is, instead of vertically dropping down on them, you drift with the wind while dragging your bait 100 to 150 yards behind the boat,” Johnston said. “You’re getting your bait away from the boat. That’s the biggest key on Lake Simcoe right now, whether it’s a dropshot bait or a tube, you can’t fish under your boat.”
Johnston will also cast a dropshot rig to bass in calm conditions. Garmin’s Panoptix feature allows him to see smallmouth ahead of the boat. Then it’s simply a matter of tossing the rig accurately and working it into the strike zone.
Extra Tip: In wind and waves, Johnston uses drift socks to achieve a slow drift when dragging a dropshot rig.
Johnston’s top dropshot bait is a 3” Jackall Crosstail Shad in Green Pumpkin Candy or Green Pumpkin Pepper.
“I’m a Green-Pumpkin guy,” Johnston said. “It works in Ontario. It works in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It’s my go-to color and it works in any smallmouth lake I’ve ever fished.”
Johnston rigs the Crosstail on a size 1, Gamakatsu TWG Drop Shot Hook. This is most often tied to a 8-pound fluorocarbon lead, which joins the mainline braid. Johnson will drop to a 6-pound fluorocarbon lead in clear water conditions and when smallmouth are skittish.
Most days, Johnston runs a 3/8-ounce dropshot weight. A 1/2-ounce is used for better control in heavy current or strong winds.
Extra Tip: Experiment with the length of line from the hook to the weight, which determines how far off bottom the bait hovers. Johnston runs a short, 8-inch lead when electronics show smallmouth tight to bottom. When fish suspend higher, he’ll go as long as three feet.