Dropper rigs are generally rigs that you drop down the water column and still fish. The bait is either suspended in the water column by a float [or bobber]or a weight sitting on the bottom. These rigs are great for shore fishing but also work well from a boat. You can fish all types of natural bait on these rigs, either live or dead. There are at least three different types of Dropper rigs – fixed float rigs, slip float rigs and tandem dropper rigs.
Fixed Float Rigs
In these rigs the float or bobber is fixed to the fishing line with a clip, spring, peg or something like a few split-shot weights. The float is fixed at a specific distance above the bait depending on where you want your bait to sit in the water column. This might be one foot off the lake bottom or six inches above a weedbed or rock pile. As a result of the fixed position of the float, this rig is restricted to shallow water fishing. Otherwise the rig would be too unmanagable to cast out.
Below the float is a bait hook, like an Aberdeen, Octopus or Kahle style hook, tied to the bottom of the line and typically one or more small weights like a split-shot or clam shot above it. A lead jig head is also a great alternative. The amount of weight used and where it is placed will depend on the water conditions (e.g, windy and wavey, heavy current or calm and still) and how you want to present your bait. The purpose of the weight is to keep your bait in place and to slow the drift. It can also control how and where your bait drifts based on how the weight is distributed along the line. You can also find floats that are weighted and possibly eliminate the need for any additional weight. Removing the weight from the line also has the added benefit of a slower sinking rate of the bait. Also, if you are having problems with line twist you can simply tie in a barrel swivel between the float and hook.
There are amany styles and sizes of floats, so you want to make sure you get the right one for the job. Smaller fish, like Perch and panfish, most likely will require a smaller float; while with larger predatory fish like Northern Pike you can switch to a larger float. Also, the narrower the float profile is above the water the less impact wind will have on it's movement. Floats are constructed of various materials, but most commonly you will find them made from balsa wood, foam or plastic. The materials impact the durability and weight of the float. So, keep that in mind when making your choice.
In addition to still fishing, I think it's important to also mention that you can use a fixed float setup to jerk or twitch your bait upon retrieve. This set-up uses a fixed float and a dead bait fish; and is typically used for Northern Pike fishing with large dead bait on a quick strike type of rig.
A) A typical dropper rig with a plastic clip-on float and a hook baited with a live worm with a small split-shot for weight. Any natural bait can be used on this rig. The bobber is temporaily fixed to the line with metal clips on the bottom and top of the bobber.
B) Simlar to A, but with a low profile spring bobber float made of balsa and a baited live leech.
C) Similar to B, but with a longer profile weighted balsa float and a baited live minnow.
D) Similar to B and C but with a clip-on foam float.
E) A dead bait "quick strike" rig primarily used for Northern Pike fishing. A large bait fish is used (6" to 12") and attached using a two hook rig, often called a "quick strike rig". The two hooks are attached to eachother using steel wire leader material. The hooks can be single bait hooks, double hooks or trebles. The bait is hooked through the mouth and the back. The main line can be attached to either the front or back hook, or in the middle of both with a swivel, depending on the type of fishing, but typically the bait is presented horizontally.
F) A twitch rig with a fixed popper float attached to a large dead bait fish (e.g., sardine, herring, smelt) with a quick strike type of rig. The popper float has a cupped top so as you jerk or twitch the bait it pops along the surface creating a lot of water movement and attractive noise.
Slip Float Rigs
These rigs are very similar to the fixed float rigs with the exception that the line is threaded through the float and is free to move through it. The line can either go directly through the float stem, top to bottom, or passes through a hole at the base of the float stem that stays submerged under the water. The biggest advantage of the slip rig over the fixed type is the ability to put your bait at any water depth.
A typical slip float rig requires a bobber stop, a bead, a slip float and a small weight. The bobber stop is either a pre-tied nylon knot or a small rubber or plastic bead that is threaded onto the line and positioned a distance above the hook equivalent to the depth at which you want to fish. The bobber stop is moveable so you can easily adjust the depth by sliding it along your line, but is still tight enough that your line will stop moving through the float once the float hits the bead and bobber stop. The bead is used because it prevents the stop from getting wedged into the float stem. Why not just use a larger bobber stop? Well, the stop has to be small in order for it to be able to pass through the eyelets of the fishing rod, while the bead does not.
Similar to the fixed float rigs, you can use a variety of bait hook styles like Aberdeen, Octopus or Kahle; or a jig head on this rig. A jig head works great when you need to control exactly where the hook needs to be, such as when you're fishing above weed beds, rocks or wood piles. If you are having problems with line twist, you can simply tie in an inline barrel swivel above the hook.
There are also a wide range of types and styles of slip floats available. In general you want to fish with the smallest float, but style and shape will depend on how you want to fish it. The more slender the float, the less impact the wind will have. So, for example, if you want your float to drift over a point or sunken island you may want to choose a wider bodied float. Otherwise, choose a narrower pencil style float.
Floats are made of plastic, balsa wood, cork or foam. All materials work just fine as a float, but some are more durable or are a denser material (i.e., weigh more and can be cast further) such as balsa or plastic. They also come weighted or unweighted, possibly eliminating the need for added weights, and some have built in lights for night fishing. So, choose what works best for the type of fish you are targeting and how you plan on fishing for them.
In addition to still fishing natural live bait, you can also fish artificial baits with a slip float rig. However, in this case you don't still fish you jig the bait like you're vertically jigging. This approach works great when you want to jig artificial baits above some really snaggy areas, like thick weed beds, rocks and wood piles.
Below are some examples of various slip float rigs.
A) A very common style balsa float with a tail-hooked minnow on an Octopus hook.
B) A pencil style float with a round lead head jig baited with a nightcrawler.
C) A weighted balsa float with a live leech on an Octopus hook.
D) A cigar style balsa float with a dorsal fin hooked minnow on a Kahle hook.
E) A stubby stemless internally weighted float with a lip hooked minnow on an Octopus hook.
F) A typical balsa wood float with a floating jig head and minnow attached with a three way swivel. This is a drifting or retrieving type float rig.
G) A rig similar to E but is set up so that the splitshot weights rest on the water bottom. The bait is attached to a floating jig so it suspends off the bottom. This setup can also be dragged along the bottom when retrieved.
H) A plastic lighted float rigged drop-shot style. A lead head jig is used as the main weight while a second drop-shot hook is attached above. Adding a second hook is great for large suspended schools of fish or if you are searching for fish.
I) A balsa waggler float rigged as a slip float. The main body of these floats remains below water along with the fishing line. These floats offer the least wind resistance of all floats. The waggler floats are often used as fixed floats (fixed with BB or split shot) in river fishing.
J) A slip float set up to jig a Gulp Minnow artificial bait.
K) A slip float set up to jig a jig and plastic grub.
L) A slip float set up to jig a Texas rigged plastic worm.
M) A slip float set up to jig a Gulp Leech on a darter head jig. The float shown has the line coming out of the side instead of the top. This is an ideal float for jigging artificial plastics.
These rigs are comprised of two bait hooks attached to the line, or a pre-tied rig, above a fixed weight. These rigs are for still fishing primarily natural bait from the shore or a boat and are good for targeting panfish, Walleye or Bass.
A) This pre-made rig is often called a Pickerel Rig or a spreader. It consists of two twisted metal arms that hold out pre-snelled Aberdeen hooks from the main line. A snap swivel is usually tied at the bottom to attach a weight. There are several different designs, some made of all steel wire, but they are generally similar. These rigs are attached to the main line with barrel orsnap swivel. This rig is for still fishing natural live bait, like worms, leeches or minnows.
B) The Kentucky Rig is similar to A but it iis not pre-tied rig. It consists of two pre-snelled Aberdeen, or other, bait hooks that are tied to the main line about 12" and 24" from the bottom where a snap swivel is usually tied to attach a weight. Tieing in a barrel swivel helps control for any line twist. You can also use plastic Bear Paw connectors to connect the pre-snelled hooks to the line.
C) Similar to rig B but the bottom pre-snelled hook is attached to the snap swivel with the weight. This is good if you want to get your bait to the lake bottom.
D) This is a Drop Shot Rig. This rig involves tieing the bait hook, usually Octopus or other specialized drop-shot hooks, to the main line in such a way so they are at a 90 degree angle to the main line. This allows the bait to stand out and have a more natural presentation. In the figure two different specialized drop-shot hooks and a special clip-on drop shot weight are shown. These are not necessary, but make for a perfect finesse rig.
E) Similar to D, but using artificial plastic finesse baits and a standard Octopus hook. There are many excellent artificial plastic drop-shot baits on the market. Also, instead of a lead weight a lead head jig can be used to keep the rig fixed to the lake bottom. Although you can still fish this rig, it's best to add a little bit of action by jigging it. Especially when using artificial plastic baits.