Everyone who fishes for bass has a “go to” lure, or a special technique, a secret lure, or special color, or size bait that when fishing gets tough you need a secret weapon to tie on. And the longer you fish, the bigger the bag of these tricks. Sometimes you can barely remember what is in your bag of tricks and at times your lure, or technique works so well you don’t ever want to talk about it, not even with your best fishing buddy. All kidding aside, when it comes to swimbait fishing I have a few secret swimbait techniques that will, by far, help you catch more and larger bass when times get tough and the bass go deep.
Here in California in the deep water reservoirs we fish during the Winter months, and parts of the Summer months, we chase suspended fish as deep as 80 feet and some even deeper in the case of the bottom fish. Basically we hunt for bait and fish with our fish finders, and once we find some bait and fish that look good on the graph, we attack them vertically with 1/2 ounce spoons and ice jigs. Its just like a video game with the goal to drop your lure vertically in the water in front of the boat and graph while watching it fall on the graph and once you see it in the target area you begin to pop the lure upward. This looks like zig zag line with another line running through it and if things work out correctly you hook up quickly. But over many years of practicing this technique, I never hooked a bass over 5 pounds and I knew there had to be some big fish down deep around the smaller bass. I could see the big fish marks on the meter and at times while dropping an underwater camera down deep I could see the big bass, so I knew I had to think outside the box if wanted to catch these deep water giant bass.
Back in the late 90’s I use to have Jason Scott, one of the former owners of Castaic Baits, send me four, six, and eight inch trout swimbaits without any internal rigging systems in the baits at all. I just wanted a plastic swimbait painted with no hook and no weight. My goal was to get these baits down to where the big bass were hiding during the winter months. My idea was to nose hook these lightened swimbaits and to vertically drop shot them with a 3/4 ounce, or 1 ounce weight.
It took a few trips to really dial in this heavy drop shot rig and to figure out what pound fishing line to use. 15 pound fluorocarbon is what I found to work best for me.
Now it was finding a big mark on the fish finder and testing it out. The first thing I found was when using the larger baits (6″ and 8″) I would get lots of tail bites and very few hook-ups. I could see teeth marks on the tails and I knew once I found the bigger bass that they could inhale the entire swimbait, so I had to rethink what I was doing and this took some time. Quite some time, actually. Well over two years of trial and error to dial this new deep water technique in and increase my big bass hook-up percentages. The number one thing I learned is to be patient. I tried not to use tail stingers because when I did I hooked lots of good bass in the gills and killed them, so the goal was to nose hook my baits and find the right hook.
I have always felt, throughout the years, that the deeper the bass, the easier they are to catch, as long as you can get the right bait in front of their face. This is an area where I worked hard to make the bait look as life-like as possible. I paid close attention to the gills, eyes, fins, and tails.
I have found, through trial and error over the years, that a swimbait with a natural straight tail, or a slim boot tail works best when drop shotting in deep water, I can’t really say why… I just go with what the bass want in my world. When I first used the Castaic swimbait, I would fold the tail backward and glue it together to give it a natural look, it seemed to help and I got more hook-ups on the folded tail vs. not folded.
This drop shotting a swimbait should be called “drop shotting a still bait” because the bait just needs to get in the deep water area where the bass are holding and sit still and look lifelike and balanced. I truly believe in the years of doing this that you really need to pay attention and make sure your bait is balanced correctly and sits horizontally in the water. This is why I always start with a plastic bait that has no internal rigging — or weight in it at all — first. And when I rig this plastic only bait, check to see if it floats horizontally in the water. If it doesn’t, I will add nail weights as ballast till the bait sits flat in the water and looks as natural as possible.
There are quite a few companies such as MattLures, Rago Baits, and Jackall, that make some great swimbaits for drop shotting. The picture to the right shows two of the most productive lures I’ve ever drop shot in deep water with. The Jackall Clone Gill which is a 2 1/2″ bait that flat out gets bit at all depths due to it’s small size and lifelike colors and the MattLures Gill which is a 4 1/4″ bait that has an incredible lifelike appearance and has been, for me, one of the best big bass secret weapons I’ve ever drop shotted in deep water. In fact in the last four years I’ve caught more big bass drop shotting the MattLures gill in waters as deep as 80 feet than any other swimbait.
As for the hook I like to use, I almost always use the same size and style when heavy drop shotting in deep water. I prefer the Owner Weedless Wacky Hook size 1. I have tried lots of hooks and had the best success with the Owner Weedless Wacky. It has a weed guard on it which does help keep the bait on the hook and out of trouble when drop shotting in structure.
There have been times on the larger swimbaits when you will feel a fish grab the lure in deep water and you go to set the hook and miss him, but in most of these cases I’ve found if I just let my bait fall back in the same zone I got bit in, that the bass will come back and bite it again. At times I believe if your patient you can almost create a feeding frenzy with these deep water bass, which when you find them seemed to be schooled up in large groups.
So exercising some patience and keeping your bait in the correct zone is one of the keys to successfully catching some of these big deep water bass while deep water drop shotting.