ADRIFT, BUT IN CONTROL
No matter what type of fishing is your favorite, nor where you tend to do your casting, it’s a sure bet that at times you fish while adrift. Drift fishing can be incredibly effective, especially when fish are spread over a large area or when you want to offer up a horizontal or vertical presentation over elongated structure, like a channel edge or shoal. But there’s a hitch: different boats drift differently.
Try drift fishing from a 22’ or 24’ bay boat, with its low sides and windage, and it’ll be a radically different experience as compared to drift fishing from a cabin boat with its sail-like appendage. Powercats and inboards tend to drift with the beam in the seas, while monohull outboards more often drift stern-to. Deep-V hulls drift slower than flat-bottom boats. And so on, and so forth — every fishing boat has its own unique drifting characteristics. And as an angler, that can make fishing a challenge. Your boat may drift too fast, too slow, at the wrong angle, etc. etc. etc. on any given day in any given conditions. It’s too bad you can’t control the way a boat drifts, right? Wrong!
With no added gear or effort, you can change the angle of your drift and possibly slow it just a hair simply by spinning the wheel. In most conditions the effect will be minimal, but noticeable. Generally speaking, the faster your drift is due to wind the bigger an effect it will have, but while drifting due to current it may well be negligible.
At the low end of the tech scale, you can use a five-gallon bucket to help change the way your boat’s drifting. Be aware, however, that the bucket trick is also at the low end of the effectiveness scale. It won’t slow you down very much, but if you deploy a bucket tied off with five or 10 feet of line and cleat it on the bow, it will help cock the boat at an angle to the wind. This can be particularly helpful when you have a boat that drifts stern-to and you’re loaded with multiple anglers who are trying to jig vertically or present a bait on bottom. By getting to boat to drift at an angle to the wind, the anglers can spread out along the gunwales, keep their lines apart. and tangles will become less frequent.
Slightly higher on the tech scale and much higher on the effectiveness scale is a drift sock. If you have one large enough for your boat it’ll not only keep the bow from being blown down-wind, but will drastically slow your drift and in many cases hold the bow into the wind. If you want the boat to drift beam-to, you can set it from a spring cleat. And serious drift fishermen will carry a couple different sizes, so they can modulate the effect to best meet the conditions. Added bonus: Since they’re just fabric and a few pieces of hardware, drift socks fold up for easy stowage. In fact, you could fit two or three in that five-gallon bucket we just talked about.
If your boat is rigged with a bow-mount electric you can not only adjust your drift, but control it close to completely. Once you start fishing it won’t take you long to figure out how to apply just enough power to slow down or speed up your drift just the right amount, how to cock the motor slightly to put your boat at an ideal angle, and also make directional adjustments to your drift to stay in the sweet spot for longer periods of time. If your motor has it, activating the autopilot to create an artificial “drift” can make up for a lacking breeze. And if you hit on a specific hotspot and want to stop the drift completely you can use virtual anchoring features at the press of a button (again, if your particular model has that capability).
Topping the techy spectrum, most of the joystick control systems available on modern boats with multiple outboards put rather dramatic forms of drift control at your fingertips. They have different names for it (Mercury calls one “Drift Hook” while Yamaha calls another “Drift Point”), but the bottom line is the same: press the button, and the boat’s orientation to the wind and/or current will be maintained while it’s allowed to drift off the position. Twist the joystick, and you can make modifications to the boat’s positioning. Press another button to activate the system’s virtual anchoring feature and the boat will maintain its position but can be allowed to let the wind and current to decide its orientation. Press yet another, and the boat will maintain both position and orientation.
One final thing we should mention about controlling your drift: if you don’t have any of the gear or tech mentioned here, it’s always tempting to simply shift into reverse to slow your drift. At times, this is just fine. But keep two important things in mind. First off, shifting an engine into reverse creates a loud “clunk” noise that does travel through the water. When fish are spooky, this metal-on-metal sound can be a total turn-off. Second, you may be tempted to try this trick when your drift is too fast due to high winds. If that wind has kicked up significant seas, think twice—more than one boat has been swamped by trying to reverse into the waves.
Email Lenny Rudow at [email protected]