Sight Fishing on Sinclair…In January For Bass?

ABSOLUTELY. Using good electronics, Tom Hamlin can literally watch a bass bite a drop-shot rig 40 feet deep.

I like deep-diving crankbaits and hard-thumping Colorado blades on spinnerbaits. So… when I got wind that my latest GON fishing assignment would include a lesson on how to catch Sinclair largemouths on a drop-shot rig, I found myself looking more forward to the company than the means we’d be using to sling fish in the boat. However, as I knew would be the case, professional angler Tom Hamlin made me a believer that drop-shot rigs are efficient baits when it comes to catching fish.

Next month Tom will compete in the 2007 CITGO Bassmaster Classic. He qualified for the Classic through the 2006 Bassmaster Southern Tour. Tom also qualified to fish the Classic in 2003, where he finished in 25th place.

Also, Tom was GON’s 2006 Individual Power Rankings Champion. He won the title by fishing the BFL Bulldog and Bassmaster Peach State divisions. After we crowned him the champ, Tom said he’d be glad to share fishing information with our readers; however, the lower unit on his ThermaCELL-wrapped Triton bass boat was being repaired. We needed a boat, so Tom called Jim Murray Jr. of Arabi, and he agreed to let us borrow his boat on one condition — he got to go fishing with us.

Jim just came off a second-place finish at the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series Wildcard event, which qualified him to fish the 2007 Elite Series.

Needless to say, I’ve never been in the boat with as much professional-level talent as I was on December 11.

As we piled into Jim’s Triton boat, Tom told me that January is one of his favorite sight-fishing months. Tom’s definition of sight fishing during the cold-weather months means keeping his eyes glued on a depthfinder watching fish 15 to 40 feet deep around a dancing jigging spoon or a bouncing drop-shot rig.

Before we idled away from Little River Park, Tom began to rig a drop-shot rig. He said he’s been fishing the finesse rig for five years, and over that time he’s made some modifications to it that have made the rig better for catching fish.

“The first thing I do a little differently than everybody else is I use a lot heavier lead,” said Tom. “My object there is to keep the rig on the bottom.”

Tom’s drop-shot rig consists of a 1/2-oz. Bass Pro Shops Bass Casting sinker 18 inches below a Gamakatsu Size 1 Split/Shot Drop/Shot hook. Approximately 18 inches above the hook is a No. 10 barrel swivel.

“That’s the second thing I do differently — I use a swivel,” said Tom. “A spinning reel and line twist doesn’t go together, so the swivel makes the rig more fishable.”

Tom uses 8-lb. Seaguar fluorocarbon line.

“Fluorocarbon line is strong and abrasion resistant, it’s great, but it doesn’t like a knot of any kind,” said Tom. “Seaguar is the best fluorocarbon I’ve seen for knots, but it still doesn’t like them.”

When rigging a drop-shot rig, Tom ties his hook on with a double-palomar knot and then loops the line over the hook before cinching it tight. Then he’ll take his first tag end and tie on the 1/2-oz. lead, about 18 inches from the hook. Next Tom ties the swivel.

“Cut your line where you want your swivel, about 18 inches above your hook. Take that line and run it through the bottom of your hook eye and then tie it to your swivel. The (palomar) knot will turn around and be on the bottom of the hook eye, and that’s what makes the hook stand out.”

Tom dresses his small drop-shot hook with Zoom Finesse worms. He likes red bug and green pumpkin in dirty water, and he uses pumpkin in clear conditions.

“Don’t hesitate to put a bigger bait on there,” said Tom. “You can use a Baby Brushhog or a Zoom Z-nail. Wacky-style Trick Worms were catching the bigger spots in the Lanier (Bassmaster Southern) tournament.”

My first real lesson in drop-shoting came fishing just inside the mouth of Reedy Branch. Several days earlier Tom had found this large pile of shad 37 feet deep.

If you don’t have bait located, Tom said to motor over deep flats and channels about 30 mph. When you see a cloud of bait, turn around and take a closer look. If you don’t have a great depthfinder or GPS, have a marker buoy handy.

Watching a depthfinder full of bait, I dropped my drop-shot Finesse worm below the boat.

“Just barely bounce the weight off the bottom,” Tom said.

Within minutes Tom had a small largemouth in the boat. Jim, fishing in the back of his own boat, quickly had another short fish on the way up. Over the course of the next hour I caught several drop-shot bass, and we ended up with about 15 bass. Any time I get to be part of catching 15 bass in an hour, it’s a successful day — even if only a few were keepers.

The Lowrance depthfinder was so detailed that we could watch the drop-shot rigs bouncing up and down on the bottom. Several times we watched fish go down to check the bait; Tom even predicted several of the bites. Whenever bait would appear suspended off the bottom, Tom taught me to lift my rod tip up to bring the bait into the strike zone.

“It’s sight fishing,” he reminded me. “The bigger fish will begin to pile up in these places next month as the water really cools off.”

Threadfin shad were obviously one reason the bass were stacked below the boat; however, Tom added that a nearby, very subtle drop from 37 to 39 feet of water made the area even more attractive to the bass.

“People tend to look for bigger breaks, but a bass can hide behind a one-foot break; a two-foot break is a bunch,” said Tom. “A two-foot drop really is not that noticeable on a depthfinder. In 30 feet of water your cone is 10 feet wide, and it’s going to display everything it can see at one time. When you’re running or idling you can see the breaks better than when you slow down.”

Tom likes to “walk the breakline,” which means keeping the boat right on the break and fishing up or down it. He said to look for bass right on the bottom by themselves, and they’ll often be relating to an abnormality — stump, rock or cut — on that break.

“There’s a lot of breaks out there,” said Tom. “The breaks you concentrate on is whatever depth the bait is suspended at; it could be 15 to 40 feet.”

Earlier that day we were fishing a break in 22 and 24 feet of water in the Oconee River between Rooty and Crooked creeks.

Because there were linesides in the area we were all bouncing a green/white, 5/8-oz. Killer Spoon made by D.T. Lure Co. in Roberta. Tom likes this small spoon because the bait matches the small threadfins that bass will feed on in January and February.

We had just finished catching more than 40 linesides when Tom began working down a break with the jigging spoon still on. He said the spoon will catch some good largemouths; you just have to know how to fish it properly.

“In February, when it’s super cold and you can’t beg a fish to bite, this thing will catch a fish,” said Tom.

While he was “walking a breakline,” Tom saw a bass right on the bottom, all by itself. He dropped the spoon down to the fish.

“I tell people to visually imagine trying to turn the spoon over without taking it off the bottom,” said Tom. “You can’t literally do that but in theory that’s the easiest way to teach yourself. You’ll catch more lips than hybrids or stripers. The colder it gets the more you just want to flop it.”

Tom’s spoon hit the bottom, and he used short strokes to move the spoon. The fish he was watching hit the bait, and after a brief battle at the boat, Tom lipped a healthy 5-lb. largemouth.

Maybe there was a new depthfinder and some drop-shot tackle in your Christmas stocking. You’ll need it for January and February sight fishing on Sinclair.

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