March 04, 2020
In a fishing career spanning 14 years and counting, Brent Ehrler has produced an impressive list of credentials. With more than $2.8 million in career earnings and multiple championships to his credit, the California native and MLF pro finds himself on the short list of the sport’s most accomplished anglers.
And through so many tournaments, Ehrler said he owes much of his consistent success to a drop-shot rig. There is a reason the drop-shot rig has long been a go-to tactic for him.
"A drop-shot has a reputation for being a deep water, finesse tool, which it is, but it isn’t limited to those applications," Ehrler said. "The best thing about a drop-shot rig is that I can fish it shallow, deep, with extreme finesse, or I can use it around heavy cover—it’s one of the most versatile applications in my boat, and I always have it tied on."
WHAT IS A DROP-SHOT RIG?
The commonly told story is that the drop-shot, or down-shot, originated in Japan. The rig allowed anglers to present a finesse, soft-plastic lure to fish suspended off the lake bed. The drop-shot is set up by tying the hook to the line; but instead of trimming the tag end of the knot, the angler drops the tag end back through the eye of the hook, then attaches a specially designed weight to the bottom of the line.
After nose-hooking the soft-plastic lure, the angler presents the rig vertically to fish seen on electronics, or it can be cast to structure and be retrieved back toward the angler. The benefit of the rig is that it presents the lure "suspended" above the weight, putting it more directly into the strike zone of the fish without them feeling the sinker when they strike the lure.
THE YEAR-ROUND, ALL-COVER RIG
After years of fishing the rig in Western impoundments before taking it along with him to the national bass-fishing tours, Ehrler said he has experienced areas where the drop-shot works no matter the season.
"There are times of the year that I have a light drop-shot tied up, and there are times of that I have a heavier one set up," he said. "In the winter and summer, I typically use it in deeper water, but in the spring through early summer, and in the fall, I often fish it in shallow water."
Ehrler said he follows the seasonal migrations of the bass to target them with a drop-shot.
"My basic approach is to begin my search in late winter to early spring at the mouths of the creeks or tributaries and work my way inward as the fish move closer to the spawn," Ehrler said. "After the fish spawn—and a drop-shot is an amazing rig for sight-fishing spawning bass by the way—they start to move toward the main lake, taking cover on the way out as they go. They will spend most of the summer and early fall out deep, then start following the shad as they migrate to backwaters in the fall, and then back out to the main lake again for winter."
Along the way, Ehrler will alternate between the light-line finesse version with which the world is so familiar, and a beefed-up version for when the fish begin to bury up in cover along their migration routes. He calls this version a "Bubba-Shot."
Depending on the cover, Ehrler can make modifications to the rig to allow him to fish it around all types of structure and cover.
"If the cover is sparse, I will use an open-hook/nose-hooked version of the drop-shot on light line," he said. "But when the cover gets heavier, I can upsize my line and change to a Texas-rigged setup on heavier line and still be very productive."
The lighter, open-hook version is employed on offshore structure, or along points and humps where there is little cover. However, Ehrler turns to the heavier version if he is fishing around docks, shoreline cover, grass or brush.
WHERE THE DROP-SHOT WORKS
Ehrler said the drop-shot rig has worked for him on every body of water on which he has competed from coast to coast. When he was cutting his teeth as an angler in the West, he said that he used it very successfully from the Columbia River in Oregon and Washington, to the deep, clear lakes of Northern California like Shasta and Oroville. He has won money on the rig on lakes known for power fishing, like the California Delta and Clear Lake, and has used it on desert lakes like Mead, Powell and Havasu.
Ehrler said the key to using the rig is to look at the situation and select the version wisely.
“I have really done well fishing the Bubba-Shot version on Clear Lake, The Delta, Lake Havasu and San Vicente in Southern California around grass,” he said. “But, my main go-to is the finesse version that works so well in deep water, around bridge pilings and offshore rockpiles.”
RETRIEVING A DROP-SHOT
According to Ehrler, there are two ways to fish a drop-shot. The first is a vertical presentation where he sees an individual fish, or gamefish pursuing a ball of baitfish on the screen of his Humminbird Solix Mega Down Imaging units. In this case, Ehrler opens the bail of his Daiwa spinning reel and allows the lure to fall to the bottom. Once the weight touches down, he begins shaking the worm on a semi-slack line to entice strikes. In this presentation, he keeps his eyes glued to the Humminbird because he can see the movement of the fish as they come toward the lure.
The other presentation involves making a cast away from his boat, then slowly working the lure back toward his boat while shaking the lure on semi-slack line as he pauses the retrieve to pick up the excess line.
In either case, Ehrler said that maintaining sinker control is key to being successful with the rig.
"The biggest mistake I see people make is lifting the sinker," he said. "It is crucial to make sure the sinker stays on the bottom when fishing a drop-shot rig. If an angler lifts the sinker off the bottom, he is killing the action of the lure, defeating the purpose of the rig—bottom contact is critical."
SAVE THE DAY WITH A DROP-SHOT
Ehrler revealed there have been many days throughout his career when the drop-shot rig was the difference in cashing a check or going home empty handed. That’s one of the reasons he relies on the drop-shot so heavily, and it’s difficult to argue with his success.
"I’ve had so many times where the conditions have turned or the fish have gotten finicky, and the only thing I could get a bite on was the drop-shot," he said. "I even had one time when my tournament pattern was to pull the fish up to my Lucky Craft Sammy topwater bait, but they wouldn't bite. As they saw my boat, they would peel off and head straight to the bottom. I would watch them swim down on my Humminbird graph, then drop the rig on them, and they would bite that almost every time.
"It was a unique situation, but it was the only thing I could get them to actually eat. It saved that tournament for me and has won me a lot of money over the years—I have it tied on everywhere I go for a reason. The drop-shot flat catches fish, anywhere, and every season."
Drop-Shot Pro Tips
Brent Ehrler was able to design his own rods specifically for his styles of fishing with a drop-shot rig. As a part of the team who developed the Tatula Elite rods for Daiwa, Ehrler built a 7-foot, 1-inch medium-action spinning rod that he uses every time he fishes his light version. He pairs that with a 4000-size Daiwa Tatula LT spinning reel, which he spools with 12-pound-test Sunline X-Plasma braided line and an 8-pound-test Sunline FC Sniper Fluorocarbon as a leader. For his open-hook rig, he selects his new Gamakatsu G-Finesse Tournament Grade Stinger Hook in a size 1 or 2. If he is fishing light brush or offshore grass, he opts for a 1/0 Roboworm Rebarb hook and Texas rigs the soft plastic lure.
His "Bubba Shot" setup is rigged on baitcasting gear and 16-pound-test Sunline FC Sniper Fluorocarbon spooled on a Daiwa Tatula Elite Casting Reel in a 7.1:1 or 8.1:1 gear ratio. He pairs that with his 7-foot, medium-heavy Finesse Baitcasting Tatula Elite Rod, and a 2/0 to 3/0 offset-shank, round-bend Gamakatsu worm hook.
Depending on the depth of the water, strength of the current or wind, he opts for 1/8- or 1/4-ounce Eagle Claw tungsten drop-shot sinkers 95 percent of the time. The only time he goes heavier is if he is fishing in extreme depth, current or wind; then he will turn to 1/2- or 3/4-ounce sinkers.
For lures, Ehrler prefers a 4.5-inch Skinny Roboworm in ultra-finesse applications; a 6-inch version is used the majority of the time for largemouth or spotted bass, and he reported using a 4-inch Fat Roboworm or a Yamamoto Shad Shape Worm when targeting smallmouth with a drop-shot.
For colors, with the Roboworm Ehrler likes Aaron’s Magic and Morning Dawn as his go-to colors. However, if the water turns a little dirtier, he opts for Margarita Mutilator, and he said he likes Red Crawler in the spring because it appeals to angry spawning fish better. The Shad Shape worm is something he uses for smallmouth, and he typically prefers using green hues like the Watermelon/Green Pumpkin laminate, or the Light Crystal/Clear Belly color, which mimics a goby, when he is in the Northeast.