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Bobb-o

Droppin Down for Finicky Panfish

21 posts in this topic

We have all had those times when you can’t seem to buy a bite out on the water, whether it be through the ice or in a boat. One technique that I have come to rely on for panfish in these situations is the Dropshot Rig. The Dropshot Rig has been popularized by professional bass fishing in recent years, though few fishermen use it for any other species. The same principles that make it work for heavily pressured, tight lipped bass work equally well for other species, especially panfish through the ice. The reason a dropshot works is that it allows an angler to present a small bait in front of a fish for a long period of time. We used a dropshot rig at the NAIFC Chisago Lake Qualifier last season to pick up fish in holes that had already been fished by other anglers; in fact most of our largest fish came on a dropshot out of holes someone else had just vacated.

Rigging Through the Ice

When you mention a Dropshot to most anglers they picture a single plastic rigged on a hook above a sinker. Most anglers will only use the setup for bass, but some will use it for walleyes also. But the variations to this rig are almost as wide-ranging as the species of fish that can be caught with it. So for the sake of being brief I will only talk about the types that work best for me through the ice.

The first time I experimented with Dropshot Rigs through the ice was on a small metro area lake that sees a lot of traffic during the winter months. We were seeing a lot of fish on the Vexilar and on the cameras but were having a difficult time converting those fish into biters. I was getting more than a little frustrated as these fish snubbed everything we threw at them. I dug around in my tackle box and found a size 12 Mustad hook. I rigged this up above a single split shot and placed a Little Atom Nuggie on the hook. The Nuggie had just the right action and hid the hook enough that the fish would take it as that tail quivered in front of their face. A few days later after raiding my fly tying box for small hooks I decided to try that same lake again with a slight variation, this time I was using size 14 and 16 nymphs. The Dropshot rig earned its keep that day as well. There are many types of nymphs that will work well with this rig. A few of my favorites include the San Juan Worm, Big Horn Shrimp, Scud, and the Prince Nymph. The San Juan Worm shines in mud bottom areas, as it resembles many aquatic insects, and the Prince Nymph and Scud are my go to flies around weed edges.

One thing many anglers don’t realize is the Minnesota law allowing up to three flies in tandem on one line also works through the ice, provided that each hook meets the state’s definition of a “Fly”. This allows anglers to fish several nymphs at different depths, and can even result in two or maybe even three fish at one time. So by simply adding a bead or tying a small feather on a hook you can use three of them in tandem which will allow you to pick up fish at different levels of the water column. An angler in Minnesota is also allowed to add live bait to any fly. This will allow you to fish a minnow on one hook, a waxworm on another and then maybe just a Little Atom Nuggie Tail on a plain hook or a nymph for a third, thereby letting you find that effective combination much quicker.

Another thing I like to experiment with is weights. When I am using a nymph or a small hook for a waxie I will generally use a small splitshot. Generally, the lighter the weight you are using the better feel you will have for when a fish bites. When you can find them the very small bass casting sinkers (1/16 oz or smaller) work the best and they wont fall off after a few fish or slide off if they get hung up in the weeds like a splitshot is prone to do. If you find yourself in a pinch, cutting the hook off of a small jig head will work also. I have been experimenting with a new way to weight my dropshots this summer and I am excited to use them on the hard water. I call it the drop-tic. This new method involves alternating brass and glass beads (the same you would use on a Carolina Rig for bass) with a Fas-Snap on the bottom which keeps the beads on the line and will hook up to the hook keeper on your rod. This weight configuration puts out a loud clacking noise that will call in fish when the tip of the rod is snapped. It puts out an amazing amount of noise when bounced off of rocks.

The Importance of Terminal Tackle

When I am on the ice I like to use Stren Super Braid in High-Vis Gold. A brightly colored line allows me to see even the slightest movement in my line. I like to use the 8lb as it will allow me to fight the bigger fish you will invariably tie into. At the end of this I will connect a size 12 Spro swivel. There are some manufacturers that make swivels in sizes smaller than the 12’s I use, but they can’t match up to the strength the Spro swivels provide. I like swivels this small because they allow me to have a large amount of line after them. They will reel right through eyelets and the reel’s bale without creating any problems. They also allow me to fish lures without having to deal with spin. Anyone who has spent any amount of time sight fishing or using an underwater camera can attest to how a spinning jig can turn fish off. After the Swivel I will connect 4 to 5 feet of fluorocarbon line. This will allow me to fish a heavier line such as a 4 or even 6 lb test without sacrificing invisibility. Of all the fluorocarbons I have used through the ice, I would have to recommend P Line for its ability to stay supple in the cold. It also seems to be a little stronger than its listed weight.

When I am going to be using live bait on a dropshot I like to use a shorter shank hook such as the Eagle Claw L42 wide bend in sizes 10-14. On some occasions when I need an even smaller hook I will grab a size16, 18 or even size 20 hook from my fly tying box. A size 18-20 hook is deadly on even the most skittish bluegills as you can hide the entire hook within a eurolarvae or mousie. Other times I like to tip that plain hook with one of the plastics made by Little Atom. The Nuggie is currently my favorite, with the new Micro-Nuggie a very close second, but I also like using the Duppie on smaller hooks.

I have used everything from high end rods to custom rods to the cheapies from Walmart, but I still cannot find a better ice rod than the black graphite Rapala rods. These rods have a fast action very similar to an open water rod. They have a quick tip tapering into a butt section that will allow you to fight even the biggest of fish. They truly are an ice rod designed as such, not simply just broken open water blanks put into a ice rod handle like most companies offer. Pair one of these rods with a Shimano reel in the 750 size range and you will be set to go.

Variations

There are a plethora of variations to the dropshot rig. Most were developed for specific circumstances during open water, but that doesn’t mean they won’t work for you during the hard water season. Having a big bag of tricks will sometimes mean the difference between one or two fish and non-stop action.

One such trick that has become very popular for perch and walleyes through the ice is the dropper. This is mostly often set up with a jigging spoon and then 3-12 inches of line (most anglers prefer fluorocarbon) and then a hook with live bait. Fish are drawn by the commotion caused by the jigging spoon and then will hit the bait as it struggles below. I often will change this to an “upper” I will tie on a Standout hook with a bead 2-6” above a jigging spoon. I find that many fish will continue to rise over the jigging spoon when they see the struggling minnow above it. This also allows me to fish two lures in one hole, as with this setup I can leave the treble hook on the jigging spoon, something that can’t be done with a dropper without constant tangles.

Another rig I have been playing with through the hard water was shown to me by a guide who fishes rivers frequently. He would use a Rattlin’ Rapala to anchor a jig tied in 3-6” above it, this allowed him to fish a smaller jig than he would normally use in the current. It also gave him the opportunity to call in fish with the rattles on the Rapala, and to hook into the occasional aggressive fish. I used this setup with both a Salmo Chubby Darter and a Jigging Rapala last season with admirable success. This was one of the first rigs I used when I ice fished rivers for predators last season.

There are a million other rigs that are as diverse as the people who fish the hard water. We are all a little bit crazy for enjoying sitting on a frozen lake anyways, so why not play around a little while you are out there? You never know what little variation will make the difference on any given day.

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Some great info, thank you.

A question about tying your dropshots, I like to use them in summertime to catch deep bluegills, but I have a hard time tying the hook on so it stands up the right way on the line, any tips?

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River rat- I think you want a snell knot. I typed snell knot into my search engine and got the coolest thing. Its an animated knot tutorial by Grog. It`ll learn ya quick. Theres several other knots to choose from. Good Luck

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Good stuff Bobb-o! Very informative!

Did you carry your rods with the "quick-draw" holders? smilewink

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big wade: i get my super small Spro swivels at Thorne Bros, they are one of the few places that carry them that small.

riverrat: i always tie my hooks on with a palomar knot, it takes a little bit of practice to figure out which way to tie it so that the hook point faces up, that being said i have not noticed that much of a difference in hooking percentages if the hook point rides down.

Matt: i always have my quickdraws handy and have them on most of my ice rods. cant wait for the mod gtg, i plan on handing some out, sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you aboot pricing etc. been working 55 hour weeks at work lately.

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In your article you mention tipping your 3 fly rig with a waxie minnow and one with a nymph.....this is considered illegal!! you can have 3 fly jigs tied on the line with no bait, once you add bait they become 3 seperate jigs which is illegal in Minnesota fishing regulations.....otherwise thanks for reporting as I am just now trying to expierement with drop shotting and found your article informative.

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ozzie, i have an email from the DNR info center that said that i can add bait to any fly and it is still considered a fly. I will try and find it and post it on here.

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I guess this is a grey area as I have read I thought in the regulations book and heard from others that yes you can have 3 fly jigs set-up on one line but once you add to them i.e bait then it becomes illegal......I was researching after an episode of In-Fisherman where they were fishing for crappies and they were using a set-up with 3 different plastic tails spaced out about a foot but they said this set-up isn't legal in all states MN being one of them.....granted these are different cause the flys .......but if you have that e-mail that would be awesome!!

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Great article. Thanks for writing it.

I don't know about the bait question with three flies, but here is what the regulations say:

"The exception is three artificial flies may be used when angling for trout, crappie, sunfish, and rock bass."

So the three flies is further limited by a very short list of species to fish. Too bad white bass aren't on the list.

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I guess this is a grey area as I have read I thought in the regulations book and heard from others that yes you can have 3 fly jigs set-up on one line but once you add to them i.e bait then it becomes illegal......I was researching after an episode of In-Fisherman where they were fishing for crappies and they were using a set-up with 3 different plastic tails spaced out about a foot but they said this set-up isn't legal in all states MN being one of them.....granted these are different cause the flys .......but if you have that e-mail that would be awesome!!

Ozzie:

According to the MN DNR information center A three fly rig baited is ILLEGAL.

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bobbo What would you use in gin clear water on your drop shot rig?I will be at the outing and would like to talk to you.And see your quickdraws you talk about.ICE JOHN

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for all those who were wondering where i got the notion that it is legal to bait a three fly setup, here is the text from the email i received from the DNR, I got this in January of 2006.

-- "Al Stevens" <al.stevens@dnr.state.mn.us> wrote:

Hello - I'll answer your first question. They don't meet the definition of an artificial

fly so they are illegal. However, if they are modfied by adding a bead or feather or

blade or whatever they would be considered artificial flies and be legal. You can add

bait to any lure or fly. Any more questions feel free to contact me.

>-<((("> >-<((("> >-<(((">

>-<((("> >-<(((">

Allen Stevens

Lake and Stream Survey Program Consultant

MN DNR Fisheries

500 Lafayette Rd, Box12

St. Paul, MN 55155-4012

phone: 651-259-5239 fax:651-297-4916

email: al.stevens@dnr.state.mn.us

<º))))>< <º))))>< <º))))>< <º))))><

<º))))><

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John, In very clear water i will use mostly nymph flies in sizes as small as 16-18. If you are gonna be at the GTG i can show you some of the flies i use. If the fish get really picky I will somtimes use a very small (18 to possibly even a size 20) fly hook to hide inside of a eurolarvae and this will often do the trick.

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That would be great look forward to talking to you and thanks for the help.I made a list of flies you talk about hope to get some up there.See you Saturday.ICE JOHN

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