Dropper loop style rigs have been around for the long time, and for good reason. When fishing live or dead bait near the bottom, especially when on top of structure or a squid bed in deeper water, it’s the go-to setup for most SoCal and Baja anglers. Over the years the rigs have evolved quite a bit. Different (read: better) knots, swivels, and even how you rig it in regards to the length of line to the hook and sinker are constantly changing. While fishing a dropper loop rig isn’t nearly as fun as flylining a hot bait, and doesn’t get you the style points of hanging a yellowtail on the surface iron with a 10′ jig stick, it definitely catches fish.
Jared Lane of Salty Crew with a midnight coastal slug on the 3-way swivel rig.
Overall it’s a generally simple way to fish. Tie it up, send your bait down, stick your rod in the rod holder (or on the rail if on a sportboat), get bit, and do it all over again.
But like most things in fishing, it can also be as complicated as you make it.
What knot should I use? Should I use a swivel? How long of a leader do I run to the bait? How far above the sinker do I run the bait? How much lead?
All of these things vary depending on conditions; and in a large part, personal preference. Try different things in different situations. If you’re on a private boat, try a few different rigs at the same time until you can key in on what’s working best that day with the specific conditions.
Sunset on the bait grounds. If you fish on a private boat, rod riggers are a must. When running multiple dropper loops at once, using different size weights can help stagger them a little further apart whether drifting or anchored in the current.
The Dropper Loop knot itself is a pretty weak knot. Other than some rockfish guys, it rarely gets used. When targeting yellowtail, white seabass, lings and halibut, you’ll need something that can stand up to much more pulling power.
This is where the Spider Hitch and Surgeon’s Loop knots come into play. I’m not going to go through how to tie them since there are plenty of tutorials online, but they have proven time and time again to hold up to big fish, and the heavy drag pressure needed to keep them out of structure. I personally use a 5 turn spider hitch knot most of the time. Once I’ve got the loop, I just cut off the tag end and then cut the loop around 2/3 of the way around running the shorter line to the hook, and the longer one to the sinker. If you’re worried about the knot holding, it’s the same knot we were using on the Maximus this winter on the double trouble kit rigs for cow tuna. If it can hold up to that, it will hold up just fine to our local fish.
Fred Brandt and Eric Maulhardt of Seeker with an epic day of halibut fishing aboard the Mirage.
Next up is the 3 Way Swivel rig. Lately I’ve found myself and my buddies fishing this setup, and variations of it, more and more. I’m not a fan of the 3 way swivels you buy from the store, but prefer making my own with 2 barrel swivels, sliding one over the other (see pic). I like the fixed version, but others like the sliding setup since you can fish it in freespool and let the fish run with your bait while it eats. The advantage of both of these setups is that they minimize line twist. This isn’t always a big deal, but if you’ve got a fast drift with a dead, spiraling squid, or slack current with a hot greenie swimming laps around your mainline, it will make a big difference. Another advantage is being able to run a lighter “breakaway” line to your sinker in case you get hung up on some nasty structure.
The author with a nice coastal yellow that fell for a big greenback on a modified 3 way swivel rig.
The length of line you run to both your sinker and the hook will vary as well. I usually like to run 4-feet to the hook, but that varies with the conditions. Most would consider this pretty long, but I’m convinced that it gets bit better. The advantage of the longer line here is that it gives your bait more room to swim and look natural, and also gives the fish a little longer to eat the bait before feeling the resistance of your sinker or main line.
But keep in mind that there is no rule set in stone, and as conditions vary, your rigging and techniques should as well.
Clockwise from top left: a 5 turn spider hitch knot, with the loop cut and a single line to the hook; a “modified” 3 way swivel rig with 2 standard swivels; a sliding swivel rig; and a standard 3 way swivel. In each example, the mainline is on the top, hook on the right, and weight on bottom.
The length to you sinker will really depend on the type of bait and structure you’re fishing, and the conditions. If you’ve got a lively finbait, and/or strong current, your bait is going to be somewhat perpendicular to your mainline. But if you’ve got a couple dead squid, in slack current, pinned to an 8/0 hook, it’s going to sink down somewhere between a 45 degree angle to almost parallel with your mainline. In this case you’ll want to run a much longer line to your sinker (or shorter line to your hook) to make sure the bait is up in the zone you want. Keeping your bait up off the bottom will also help minimize hooking up with rays and sharks.
When you’re on the bait grounds or a structure spot, big black seabass are a common bycatch. Make sure to release them carefully with minimal handling as demonstrated here by Daiwa’s Ryan Blackmun.
A lot of guys like to fish a reverse dropper loop as well, especially when fishing halibut. Basically it’s the same as the above rigs but with a longer line to the bait than to the weight. This keeps your bait closer to the bottom which is why a lot of guys that are specifically targeting halibut will choose this rig.
The double dropper loop is another variation, mostly used by rockfish guys. As the name suggests, it’s got 2 hooks on the line, with one a few feet above the other. With rockfish it allows you to fill out your limit in less time by pulling up doubles, and minimizes the chance of the smaller critters stealing your bait. A handful of guys fish this rig for seabass and yellows too however, catching a double on the bigger gamefish is pretty rare, but it does allow you to cover a little more of the water column but having one bait 5 feet off the bottom, and another bait 10 or so feet above that.