Drifting - A Two Method Approach

One of the best ways of fishing from a boat is on the drift. A lot of water can be covered in this way given a favourable wind direction, and it creates far less disturbance than does trolling - even using an electric outboard. If the wind gets too strong and the drift becomes too fast, you can always put a drogue out to slow the boat down. Casting lures ahead of a slowly drifting boat catches a lot of pike.

With two anglers in a boat it is best to arrange to drift side-on to the wind. In light to moderate winds this is quite safe. Irish lough boats are designed for this kind of fishing and are very stable - even when the wind is strong enough to require a drogue to achieve a sufficiently slow drifting speed. They are also designed to make a straight drift, while designs of boat may well slip across the wind making your path less predictable. If the rocking of the boat becomes too much when drifting with a drogue attached to the mid point of one of the gunwales, it is time to move it to the bow. Drifting bow into the wind makes the boat more comfortable to fish from in a bit of a chop, but it restricts your casting arcs considerably.

It is preferable to set up the drift so that it the boat will move onto the the fish rather than motoring over them first. The ideal is to drift in towards the bank so that you are coming from deep water in to shallow, or parallel to the bank covering a more or less constant depth. First think out where the pike are most likely to be located in a given area. Then weigh up the prevailing wind direction and plan your drifts accordingly. If there is a pronounced ledge, say at the entrance of a bay, pike will frequently be located here, and it can be worth marking the place where the depth change is most pronounced. This will make your lure control much easier to achieve, especially in places where there are few landmarks to give you visual reference points. Marking the spot is crucial when fishing open water humps on the drift, a tactic that has paid off big time on many occasions. Casting these spots without a visual clue is just a lottery. Know where the hump is and you can work lures with far more precision.

Something you will soon come to learn if you start fishing like this on a frequent basis is that wind directions are rarely constant all day long. Even from one drift to the next the wind can shift a few degrees. Don't look on this as a disadvantage, because it forces you to cover fish from slightly different angles. When they have seen a few passes of the boat and a number of lures following pretty much the same paths, a change of retrieve direction can keep fish coming to the boat when they might otherwise have become too wary to take your lures.

If you are forced to make drifts out from the bank, particularly when fishing small confined bays, make sure that you motor in slowly, on the electric if possible, and away from the line you intend drifting to fish. The same applies at the start of any new drift, don't just motor directly back upwind to the starting point, make a sweeping turn so as not to unduly disturb the pike. If the first drift is unsuccessful the second drift should be made over a slightly different path. Keep setting up fresh lines until pike are contacted and then repeat the successful drift as closely as you can. Drop a marker to line up the drift if there are no good landmarks to help you out.

Drifting is also an extremely effective way of covering large areas of water with unvarying depth. The only other option in these places is to repeatedly troll along different lines. Drifting gives you a slower, more thorough coverage of the water and casting allows you to see followers and to trigger strikes more effectively than can be easily achieved by trolling. A much more subtle approach can be adopted when drifting than trolling. When the pike are in a more reluctant mood, a very slow, considered drifting approach will allow you to finesse fish out with jigs.

One of the keys to successful casting when fishing on the drift is to make fan casts in front of the boat. Repeatedly casting directly in front of you simply covers a narrow band of water. Casts to one side or the other not only cover a wider swathe of water, they also bring the lure back in more of an arc rather than a straight line which can be more effective in triggering strikes.

The best lure types to use on the drift are those which can more or less be cranked back in. In-line spinners, spinnerbaits, crankbaits and soft baits like Bull Dawgs all have their place. Don't forget to throw in triggers throughout a straight retrieve. Twitches and pauses both work well. Some jerkbaits like Suicks and Burts can also be fished on the drift, even in moderate winds, as their actions are primarily up-and-down and they are fished on an almost tight line in any case. Keeping in contact with these baits from a drifting boat is not too difficult. Gliders like Reef Hawgs and Eddies, on the other hand, become difficult to control in strong winds because these lures require a small amount of slack line to be created between each jerk of the rod tip. As the boat is drifting towards the lure excess slack line is created, and it is difficult to gauge precisely how much to take up in order to make these gliders perform correctly.

Simply drifting and casting lures is all well and good, but when faced with a large expanse of uniform water, where the pike could be anywhere, the benefits of an extra rod or two are not to be ignored. Rigging up a second rod each to fish a deadbait, or a livebait if allowed, suspended under a float can produce a lot of bonus fish. The rig need be nothing complicated, just a trace with two treble hooks, a weight above that and a float large enough to suspend weight and bait stopped by a bead and sliding stop knot. With two anglers fishing one should set his bait to work a foot or so above the bottom and the other one rig his to run at mid water. Obviously the presence of bottom weed growth must be taken in to consideration when setting the floats. If takes start coming to one rod in preference to the other both should be set at the successful depth.

Baits are usually rigged head up the trace so that they fish as if they were being trolled. The fishing of the natural baits really is trolling, I suppose, it is just that wind power is used to propel and guide the boat. The reel should be set so that line can be freely taken by a pike striking a bait, and if the reels offer an audible indication of a run so much the better, as you will have the rods facing behind you. Otherwise the floats must be checked after every cast is fished out. It is clear that over water of uniform depth the presentation of the trailing baits is fairly simple to manage, and this is indeed where the method excels. Yet this method still works when confronted with a drift that covers a rising or falling lake bed. Set the baits so that they don't foul bottom when the boat is over the shallowest part of the drift.

There are two ways that the float fished baits will score. A take might come after a pike has followed a lure to the boat and turned away at the last moment. I feel that pike that behave like this sometimes hang around in a semi-confused state, wondering where the lure has gone. As the boat drifts over them they are presented with an easy meal in the shape of a suspended bait. For this reason it is a good thinking to fish the suspended baits fairly close to the boat. Thirty feet or closer still, but it is best to keep them behind the drogue when it is in use. Followers seem to prefer baits fished fairly shallow, passing over their heads. The float rods are held in rod holders and given as wide a spread as possible to reduce the chances of tangles, especially with the drogue. If the drogue is out and a take develops on one of the bait rods, be ready to retrieve the drogue quickly. This will take teamwork.

At other times pike might not be following lures to the boat, but they may well be getting stirred up by their passing. In these circumstances baits can be fished further behind the boat, so as to reduce the chances of its shadow spooking the fish, and deeper. Fish that don't follow are often those which are lying just off the bottom, so a bait which almost bumps them on the nose is more likely to produce a take.

Maximum water coverage is achieved when drifting side on to the wind, but even when forced to drift with the drogue off the bow of the boat the method will prove successful. Attach the rod holders at either side of the boat as close to the front as possible. As the spread of the floats is now reduced take extra care when a fish is hooked and the drogue is still deployed.

On those rare days when no wind blows the method can still be used by inching the boat along gently with intermittent bursts from the electric motor. Here the rods can be fished off the back of the boat as in trolling proper, again the floats will be fairly close together, but this time there is no drogue to worry about. When fishing like this you obviously have greater control over the direction the boat will take, and so it is possible to follow contour lines and drop-offs. This in turn will determine the fishing depths of the baits.

If you are a lazy angler then this two pronged attack is not for you. There is a lot of work involved in setting the drogue and bait rods, watching for takes on the floats, ensuring tangles don't occur, dropping and retrieving markers and so on. It is a lot simpler just to fish the lures or float troll the baits. But that way you are cutting your options down or finding what the pike prefer on the day. Over the years this combination method of fishing lures and natural baits at the same time while on the move has caught a lot of pike for me and my fishing partner, making all the effort worthwhile.

There have been days when all the action has come to the lures and others when the baits have produced all the fish, but most times fish fall to both. Whichever way you look at it expanding your options is bound to increase your chances of catching, and produce what could be thought of as bonus fish had you stuck to either lures or baits. However, the idea of bonus fish implies an element of luck, but if you apply the same amount of thought to fishing each bait you will have earned all the pike you catch on this double whammy approach.

(This article first appeared in Dé Roofvis)