fter making an epic 50-minute boat run on
tournament morning up the Columbia and then
the Willamette River, we finally arrived at our first spot. The fog hung in the still air, but our GPS put us at
our mark near the midriver rockpile.
One tiny tap was all I felt when my drop shot rig
stopped in the current. Quickly lifting my rod tip started a
freight train, only to be followed by a train wreck.
A 5+ pound smallmouth ripped my 6-pound test like
a chinook salmon. My partner scrambled for the net as I
played the monster.
When it finally came to the surface alongside the boat,
just beyond net reach, we were shaken by the size of Mama
Pesce. Seemingly in slow motion, in horror we saw her open
her mouth, allowing my drop shot rig to fly back to the boat.
The very next cast was Groundhog Day. One tap, big
fight, a second big bass comes to the surface, opens her
mouth, and airmails back my drop shot rig.
After a few choice words, some serious introspection
occurred at that moment. This never happens to me,
so twice in a row was unimaginable. The only thing I did
different was use a larger split shot/dropshot hook than
normal, since I knew there were big bass present.
With 6-pound test fluorocarbon line, I normally use a
#4 Gamakatsu split shot/drop shot hook with a 1/4 ounce
QuickDrop dropshot weight. That morning I switched to the
larger #2 hook. This turned out to cause the train wreck and
taught me a valuable lesson in trade.
The bass were not eagerly eating my drop shot worm, but as it drifted past their holding position in the current, they were crushing it with their tooth patch instead of engulfing it. Basically, they were nipping it, not eating it.
The sharp hook and rod pressure kept the fish hooked up until it came to the surface where the line angle allowed the fish to simply open its mouth and lose the offending hook whose barb never penetrated.
In frustration I went back to my usual size #4 hook. Repeat the cast, get the tap, lift rod, and another big smallmouth peels line up down current. But this time Mama Pesce stays on, and we get her in the net.
After high fives and more shouting than warranted, I got another surprise. The tiny drop shot hook was buried in the tip of the smallie’s mouth, and I could not get it out no matter how hard I tried with pliers. Eventually the hook broke.
The epiphany I realized was how important paying attention to hook details can be.
The smaller #4 hook had thinner diameter wire, and a narrower point that was small enough to actually enter the bone patch of a big smallmouth. It basically penetrated a tooth socket. Since the bass were not engulfing the worm, but instead picking it up with their tooth patch, there was nothing for the larger size hook points to penetrate, hence the lost fish.
We went on to win that tournament, and many since then, due to the lesson learned from that Willamette train wreck.