Drop Shot Winter Panfish

Drop Shot Winter Panfish

By Babe Winkelman


There are numerous baits and presentations that catch sunfish and crappies through the ice. Whether you’re floating a jig & wax worm under a slip bobber or quivering a jigging spoon on a straight line, you’ll typically manage to catch fish if they’re beneath your hole.

But there are certain times when, for whatever reason, the fish are there but are very tight-lipped and difficult to catch. When that situation presents itself, it’s a perfect time to try a drop shot rig.

What is a drop shot rig?

Summer bass fishermen have long known the effectiveness of a drop shot presentation, because it keeps the bait in the “strike zone” so well. That same reasoning makes it a smart choice for ice fishing too. From the rod tip to the end of your line, a drop shot rig goes like this: the line goes down to a bait tied with a palomar knot. Beneath the bait, the tag end of your line goes down to a splitshot sinker. So, while fishing with a drop shot, the sinker is on the lake bottom while the bait is above it at a chosen distance (typically 1-3 feet).

No spin.

Why is drop shotting so effective on panfish that are in a negative mood? One of the main reasons is that a drop shot rig eliminates a spinning bait. When you dangle a jig under a straight line, it will almost always spin round and round because of line twist. If a panfish is in a non-aggressive mood, he will react negatively to a jig that’s spinning in circles.  He’s much more apt to hit a non-spinning bait that’s either barely moving or not moving at all.

Because a drop shot rig allows you to present the bait on a taut line (with the sinker on the bottom), it eliminates the spinning and helps you catch more fish.


There is routinely a “sweet spot” in the water column where fish are most likely to feed. By using a split shot sinker with your drop shot rig, it’s quick and easy to adjust the distance between your sinker and your bait. I mentioned earlier that the distance is generally between 1-3 feet. Sometimes the magic distance is more. For that reason, leave a generous amount of line beyond your bait so you can either have your bait way down deep or suspended wherever it needs to be in the water column.

Why a palomar knot?

With any drop shot rig, you want your bait exactly perpendicular to the line and sticking straight out. A palomar is the best knot to achieve this. If you don’t know how to tie one, NetKnots.com has an easy-to-follow diagram to teach you.

Proven equipment

For winter drop shot panfishing, begin with monofilament line in 2-4 pound test. Since we’re discussing fish in a negative mood, smaller baits will outperform larger ones. So try really small hooks like #12s or #14s. These are hooks fly fishermen use to tie tiny nymphs and emergers.

On your hook, I recommend threading a micro plastic body with a dangling, quivering tail. Many tackle manufacturers like Northland, Lindy and Berkley make excellent mini grubs. Live bait like waxworms or Eurolarvae work great too. Crappie minnows perform wonderfully too. Lip hook the minnow, keep your drop shot line taut and that minnow will constantly fight to get away – and attract the attention of crappies and sunfish.

Multiple depths

In states that allow more than one bait on a single line, you can rig multiple baits at different depths on your drop shot rig. Having not one but two big crappies or bluegills battling you simultaneously is a real thrill, and a fast way to fill the pail for dinner.

When panfish are active and aggressive, it’s fun to pluck them from the school with jigs and spoons. But when the going gets tough and it just doesn’t seem like they’ll eat, give drop shotting a try. It can make the difference between going home happy instead of empty handed.


Good Fishing!

Babe Winkelman