Surf + Jetty – Dropper Clinic

Double your chances in the surf with a second offering.

September 21, 2007

SLOPPY SECONDS: Even in rough weather, a dropper increases your chances of a strike.
Photo: Joe Cermele

As I fished Nauset Beach, on Cape Cod, one cold October morning, the wind howled from the northeast at 25 to 35 knots.

I knew casting distance was going to be tough to come by. With a two-ounce Gibbs bottle plug coupled with a Red Gill dropper, I started working an outer bar that blocked some of the surf. Several of my casts cut through the wind and reached the deeper water along the bar, but it was my third good cast that proved to be the charm.


Just as my lure and dropper hit the water, my line tightened, and soon my reel sang in the wind with the run of a heavy fish. Twenty minutes later, I had beached my first 50-pound striped bass; the four-inch Red Gill dropper locked squarely in its jaw.

Droppers started out as little more than small sections of bucktail tied on a hook. And while those older styles still catch fish, anglers today have the advantage of an unending supply of rubber and plastic baits and salt water flies to employ as dropper or teaser options. Let’s take a look at some of the different lure-dropper combos, and see where and how they can be fished most effectively.

Dynamic Duos
Lure-dropper rigs fool fish because they allow the angler to match two types of bait at the same time. And when big fish are feeding on small baits, such as sand eels, spearing, anchovies and juvenile herring and menhaden, a dropper pairs nicely with the heavy tackle you’ll need to reach—and land—fish in tough water conditions. To get the most out of your dropper though, you need to match it with the appropriate lure.


1. Pop & Drop: Subsurface swimming plugs with metal lips are ideal because they improve the action of the dropper. But the plug often does not “pop” as well as it should because the dropper pulls the nose of the lure down. When pairing poppers with droppers, keep the rod tip high to ensure the plug stays on the surface.

2. Wiggle Factor: When fish are feeding on bottom-dwelling baits, such as sand eels, shrimp or crabs, switch to a bucktail jig or tin and a soft-plastic bait with a wiggly tail as the dropper. As the rig combo settles toward the bottom, the wiggling tail gives the appearance of a falling, crippled baitfish, or one that’s looking to hide in the bottom.

3. Sand Storm: Along sandy bottoms, a tin or jig fished with a plastic worm as the dropper can be deadly. The lure kicks up sand, which mimics a sand eel burrowing into the bottom. That puff of sand from the lure draws fish to the dropper like a magnet. This also occurs when using a plastic grub or shrimp in locations where fish feed on shrimp, sand fleas or crabs.


4. Mow the Lawn: On some grassy bottoms, a weedless lure with a dropper that rides above the grass grabs the attention of hungry fish.

Change with Conditions
In light to moderate surf or flowing rips, I prefer a seven-inch Red Fin or five-inch Tsunami Shad paired with a dropper no longer than five inches long. I constantly raise the rod tip to give the lure a stop-and-go action.

When fishing larger droppers, five to eight inches long, in heavy water, or if you need extra distance, use a two- to three-ounce Gibbs bottle plug, a large needlefish plug, a tin or a bucktail. These lures all cast well when you need to reach the outer bars, or when fish are holding in the middle of a large inlet. Bottle plugs track well in heavy water, and in big surf they nose along the bottom with good wiggling action in the trough, which really keeps the dropper moving. With a bottle plug or needlefish, pump the tip lightly, using a stop-and-go retrieve. Tins and bucktails should be worked with a steady hopping action. When fish are feeding on small baits far away from the beach, a tin with a small dropper fly does the trick. Fish the tin quickly with short pulls of the rod tip.


Droppers can add another dimension to your fishing. The next time you find fish feeding on small baits, add a dropper and double your chances. Just remember to hold on.


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