How To Drift Fish

Whether you refer to it as boon-dogging, rolling shot or side-drifting, drift fishing is a tried and tested fishing technique.

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Whether you refer to it as boon-dogging, rolling shot or side-drifting, drift fishing is a tried and tested fishing technique that requires little more than a boat and a basic fishing tackle.

We have to admit that there are various techniques and approaches to fishing that choosing the most appropriate can be baffling to many anglers, particularly those with no or little experience. In addition to knowing the area you will be fishing at and the fish species you’ll be targeting, knowing the fishing technique that you’ll be using is important too. Going with a particular technique not only makes your fishing trip comfortable and fun but you’ll also likely catch more fish. One such technique is drift fishing.

Drift fishing is essentially a boat fishing technique in which you allow your boat to move freely with the current and wind to allow your bait and lures to pass naturally through fish grounds or concentrations. While the direction of the drift may depend on the strength of the wind and current, the idea is to let these two factors drag your baits and lures. The primary benefit of drift fishing is that you’ll quickly cover a lot more ground than you would if the boat was anchored. This increases your odds of getting a bite, which is, of course, the essence of fishing.

This article, therefore, shows you a thing or two on how to drift fish so that you increase your chances of catching more fish using this effective fishing technique.

Table of Contents

Advantages of Drift Fishing

Whether you’re targeting amberjack, king mackerel, catfish, tuna, swordfish, crappie, redfish, dolphin or redfish, drift fishing is one of the most effective fishing techniques that you can use to catch just about any fish species in both freshwater and saltwater. Well, this is because it’s a versatile technique that can be used to catch fish in shallow water, deep water, as well as in mid-water structures. You can also use just about any live or artificial baits and lures but this may depend on the fish species that you’re targeting.

Perhaps the most important advantage of drift fishing is that it gives you the freedom to cover a lot more ground. You, of course, do not need to haul up a heavy anchor every time you want to shift fishing spots. All you need is to ensure that the boat doesn’t drift too fast or too slow as this may change how your baits are presented to your target fish. Instead, you should drift at the right speed to keep the bait at the right depth and to avoid frustrating tangles, which will up your chances of getting a bite.

Factors to Consider when Drift Fishing

Here are a few important factors to consider if you want to successfully drift fish.

Environmental Factors – One of the most important factors to look at when drift fishing include the current, wind, and tide. You can perform a dummy drift to see how a combination of these elements might affect your drift. You can also use GPS, fish finders or chart plotters in assessing vital data on the drift speed and direction.

Type of Boat – The type of boat that you’re planning to use plays a huge role in how you’ll drift fish. For example, a 6-meter hardtop tinny can act as a sail by catching the wind, which will overwhelm the effects of the currents. On the other hand, a kayak has little weight and minimal windage and might go about the same speed as the current. Lastly, a launch has more weight and a hull, which makes it quite difficult to push through the water.

Controlling the Drift – Although the speed at which your boat is sailing is critical in drift fishing, you should effectively control the drift so that your baits and lures have maximum time in the strike zone. The first way of doing this is by selecting an appropriate sinker weight that will perfectly get the lure in your targeted zone. In essence, you should get a decent amount of weight that can get your bait to the area where your targeted fish will most likely go for the bite.

Drift Fishing Tackle

Besides a boat and your fishing tackle, the most important piece of equipment in drift fishing is the drift sock. This is principally a large parachute-like bag that’s attached to the boat with a harness and a buoy. The drift sock is attached to the boat using the harness and is placed on the water so that it creates drag in the water when it fills up. The main aim of using a drift sock is to help in keeping the boat straight and move in the intended direction. It’s also essential in slowing the boat down as it drifts across water.

In short, the drift sock is a must-have in drift fishing as it:

– Helps you in controlling the direction that you want the boat to travel across the water

– Enables you to keep the preferred part of the boat (front, side or rear) pointed towards the wind

– Helps you in controlling the drift speed and how fast the boat moves across the water

Choose The Right Gear

When it comes to selecting the rod, reel, and bait, all these should depend on your targeted fish, your fishing location, and experience. For instance, a light rod action and spinning reel can be great in rivers while an 8.5-9 ft. rod with a test line of 8-15 lb. can be perfect for beginners. Again, you can go with shorter casts is you’re planning to drift fish in smaller streams while you can go with longer casts if you’re planning to drift fish in larger rivers or bigger water bodies.


It’s important to note that sensitivity is critical if you want to become successful in drift fishing. For this reason, the best fishing rod material is high modulus graphite.


When choosing the spinning reel for drift fishing, you should select an excellent drag system that can allow you to apply consistent, even, and smooth pressure in various situations to tire even the biggest of fish.


In terms of the fishing line, you can select a monofilament line with a test pound ranging between 10 and 14. However, you can consider going for something different depending on the water conditions. For instance, you can consider using an 8-pound test monofilament line combined with a less visible fluorocarbon leader if you’re using a light action rod and spinning reel in low clear waters. On the contrary, you can use a 20-pound test mono line with a baitcast rod and reel if you’re drift fishing in water bodies with strong currents and high winds.

Hook Size

The best size of hook to use in drift fishing is a size 1 but you can combine it with a size 10 or 8 for effectiveness. The idea here is to match the size of the hook with the size of the drift bobber so that they don’t overshadow each other. In terms of the knot, the best knot for drift fishing is the egg loop.


In terms of weights, the best type of weight to use in drift fishing is the pencil-shaped weights as it’s easy to use and will easily take the tackle to your preferred fishing zone. You should, of course, have different weight classes that are efficient for various depths.


Last but not least, natural baits are the most ideal for drift fishing. However, you can also use artificial lures such as soft plastics, crankbaits, jigs, and bucktails but this will depend on your targeted fish. For example, soft plastics, bucktails, and crankbaits can be ideal for speckled trout and redfish while jigs can be perfect for many bottom fish including amberjacks and tuna.

How to Drift Fish

Now that you have everything you need, drift fishing should be quite easy. All you have to do is cast out, across and upstream with an appropriate weight that will take your sinker to the bottom as your tackle drifts downstream in the river current. Using an appropriate weight should enable you to feel the tap at the bottom not continually and not once but a number of times. This is a perfect indication that you’re within your preferred strike zone.

In other words, you shouldn’t use too much weight as this will eliminate the natural flow by creating drag. Again, not having enough weight will take you out of your preferred strike zone. And because drift fishing revolves around presenting your bait within the strike zone just off the bottom, you should ensure that the weight is enough to feel the bottom every 10 feet or so.

The most important thing is to know how to differentiate between a snag and a bite. As such, it’s fundamental that you stay focused and keen on what happens on your line with your rod tip. You should make sure that the rod height is below the bill of your cap to give you optimum leverage when setting the hook. Additionally, the bait should bounce along the bottom or float in your preferred strike zone with no resistance. So if your drifting outfit stops, hesitates or pauses, the golden rule is to set the hook and set it hard!

In Closing

No matter where your next fishing trip is likely to take you, drift fishing is perhaps one of the easiest, effective, and most versatile fishing techniques. Whether you’re looking to fish at the bottom or in mid-water structures, drift fishing will help you land just about any type of fish in any water condition. All you need is your boat, fishing tackle and the wind and current will put you on your next catch!

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