Bass Fishing

The Mystery of the Disappearing Sinkers

The dropshot rigging style has been around for nearly 20 years now. I picked it up myself in the early going and continue to catch all species of bass. I’ve successfully used it in weeds, rocks, and brushpiles in a wide variety of lakes. Despite the thousands of hours utilizing the technique, one flaw or weakness continued to cause me problems – sinkers kept breaking off while fighting a fish.  I still caught the fish, but the hassle of retying the rig with a new sinker wasted time and I had to purchase sinkers in greater quantities as well.

It wasn’t until this summer of 2020 when comparing dropshot rigs with pro-angler, Justin Lucas, that I finally understood the root of the problem.  I had always known of four factors linked to sinkers breaking away during a fight, but the conversation with Justin had led me to another one.

For those who aren’t familiar with the dropshot rig, let me briefly explain it. There’s three components involved – a sinker, a hook, and a soft plastic lure. It’s the arrangement of the hook and sinker that differentiate rigging styles. In the case of a dropshot, the sinker is the very last component tied to the fishing line. The hook is tied ahead/above the sinker, such that when the rig is lowered to the bottom, the sinker rests on the bottom while the hook hovers above the sinker. Then of course, the soft plastic lure is placed on the hook.

Now let’s examine why the sinkers are breaking away. I’m not talking about when it becomes snagged on the bottom. I’m referring to sinkers that break away during the process of fighting a hooked fish. The break occurs when a bass shakes its head on a jump and causes the sinker to snap/whip back and forth on the free-swinging leader (the leader defined as the length of line between the hook and the sinker). Surprisingly, this violent action generates enough force to cause a break. And it doesn’t take only a big bass to cause this. Bass under two pounds are nearly as capable.

So here now are the five factors that cause this to happen (the last one listed is what I learned from the discussion with Justin Lucas): 1) Wildly fighting bass. The mayhem of a fighting bass is tied to water temperature; a bass caught from warm water has more energy compared to one caught from cold water. The acrobatic violence of a mid-summer smallmouth is the most extreme. They get so much air on the jump!  All the while during flight, they rapidly shake their head.  To defend this, I will thrust the rod tip below the surface while maintaining a tight line to reduce the violence of the jump.  This has its best effect the closer the bass comes near the boat.

2) The weight of the sinker. Heavier weight puts more stress on the line as the sinker whips back and forth.  Therefore this is more of a problem with heavier sinkers. It starts to be trouble starting at 1/4oz or above.  ½ ounce is the most weight that I use dropshotting and the problem can really be a headache at this level.

3) The sinker attachment.  I prefer using tungsten dropshot sinkers and there are two designs for attachment with these.  The most common is the wire-pinch design. In this case, a wire sticking out from the tungsten pinches onto the line, holding it in place.  It’s the simplest to rig up but also the easiest to lose. The wire often cuts the line or the line simply slips out of the pinch. I prefer an attachment made of a small, wire loop where I can tie a knot.  It’s one more knot to tie which requires time, but I lose fewer sinkers.

4) The strength of the line.  If I simply used super heavy line, losing sinkers would never be an issue.  However, most dropshotting that I do involves very clear water and a finesseful approach.  This means using light line (6 to 10# test)!  It becomes a trade off.  I’ll sacrifice sinkers to maintain the subtle finesse that is sometimes necessary to obtain more bites.

 5) Leader length.  The distance between the sinker and the hook can be tied at varying lengths and this was the missing factor all of these years.  When chatting with Justin Lucas this past summer, we compared notes on our dropshot rigs. I shared my frustration regarding the sinker issue.  He did not have any problems.  “How could this be?” I wondered. We both were catching quality summertime smallmouth from depths averaging 30 feet using the same soft-plastic bait on similar hooks.  We both were also using a ½ ounce tungsten weight and we both were using 8#-test fluorocarbon line.  When he took his setup out of his rod locker, I immediately noticed the difference in leader length.  I had been tying my hook and sinker about seven inches apart while he tied his about 24 inches apart. At that point I knew the short leader of mine was the culprit and since then, I have verified that after distancing the hook further from the sinker.  I’m only guessing now on the physics of this, but apparently on a shorter leader, the sinker falls into a resonance with the frequency of a fish’s shaking head.  The timing is perfect for the fish’s head shake to snap and change the direction of the free-flying sinker several times in one jump.  And this is done with more force than I imagined!

Since the beginning of my experiences with dropshotting, I have countless times experienced the loss of a sinker while playing a fish.  I knew early on that the wild animal itself, the sinker’s weight, the sinker’s attachment, and the line’s strength all played a part into my frustrations of lost time and money related to these disappearing sinkers.  For years I had been doing what I could with these elements to reduce the loss.  Nevertheless, losses still persisted. Thankfully with the desire to forever be a student, I had the chance to compare notes with another professional and discover the importance of leader length as it related to the problem of losing sinkers!

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