How to Successfully Drift Fish

How to Successfully Drift Fish

This is a method of fishing in its simplest form. It can be used from fishing in mountain streams and lakes to deep-sea fishing offshore. All you need is some basic tackle and a boat. With this method, you will let the current carry your line. This will allow the bait to pass through the fishing grounds effortlessly. When you use drift fishing correctly, you can catch anything from sailfish to catfish and everything in between. And one of the biggest advantages of drift fishing is that you do not have to pull up a heavy anchor every time you want to change fishing spots.

What is Drift Fishing?

Traditionally, you will drift fish by letting the current and wind move the boat across the water dragging along lures or bait. This is a good method to use when you are still learning how to locate fish. When drift fishing, you can do it closer to the surface by suspending a popper cork or bobber or closer to the bottom. Motion is the main difference between drift fishing and regular standard fishing. When you are drift fishing, many like to use a drift sock. This is like a parachute that is harnessed to your boat and expands into the water to create ‘drag’ so you can help keep the boat stable at the desired speed.

Over time this basic approach has been adapted to different conditions. If the current is too weak or too strong, it will allow you to adjust the speed of your boat by using a kicker motor or trolling motor. Many times when fishermen use drift fishing it is to catch the larger species of fish in the bigger bodies of water. 

Places to Drift Fish

The variety of fish you can catch using this method depends on where you are fishing. Once you know what type of fish you want to catch and the bait you need to use, then you can virtually drift fish anywhere. 

  • Lake: Whatever fish is in the lake you are casting you most likely can catch drift fishing. Catfish is one of the most targeted fish you can catch when drift fishing. You can also catch trout, northern pike, walleye, and smallmouth bass. These are just some of the trophy fish you can catch.
  • Inshore: Yes, you can even drift fish in saltwater. There are many different fish that swim in the shallow inshore waters. Some include flounder, striped bass, redfish, speckled trout, rays, halibut, and sharks.
  • River: When drift fishing a river you may also catch channel and blue catfish. You are sure to catch sturgeon, salmon, and steelhead in the Pacific Northwest using drift fishing.
  • Offshore and Nearshore: Here in the deeper waters, the fishermen primarily use drift fishing over reefs and wrecks. When drifting over the bottom you can catch grouper, snapper, and other fish that dwell in the deep water. If you are drift fishing on the surface and mid-depth, you might catch bonito, mackerel, and other pelagic. When you use it offshore, you can catch tuna, wahoo, sailfish, and mahi-mahi. 

Drift fishing is popular in the southern United States offshore and nearshore. In some areas, they also have ‘drift boats’ that specialize in drift fishing as it is a good way to get a lot of people fishing at the same time without tangling lines. 

Tackle Needed for Drift Fishing

As mentioned earlier, one of the things that should be included with your tackle is the drift sock but you can also use a kicker motor or trolling motor. Depending on the fish you want to catch and where you want to fish will decide on what type of reel, rod, and bait you should have. 

  • Rivers: When drift fishing in a river you should use a long, light action rod and spinning reel. If you are a beginner, choose an 8.5-9 foot rod with a test line of 8-15 pounds. To catch most salmon and steelhead, use basic roe. 
  • Catfish and Sturgeon: When catching catfish using the drift fishing method you need to use a rod that has a strong backbone. Catfish will bite on whatever bait works for that particular species, such as gizzard or skipjack herring for blue catfish. For sturgeon fish, use stinky bait like salmon eggs and carcasses, crawfish, or shad.
  • Saltwater: The usually short rods work best here, especially if you are fishing offshore. The best bait would be natural bait but you can also use jigs, soft plastic, crankbaits, or bucktails. It all depends on the species. Many bottom fish are most likely to take jigs while fish like speckled trout and redfish like the rest.

Where Drift Fishing Works

Drift fishing is great to use to work along the contours of a riverbed, sloughs, or any changes in the water bottoms. It is also good to use over underground grass beds. Always remember when drift fishing that you are fishing downstream as most of the time, the fish are up against a bank in the slower water than your boat is in. If you are trying to catch trout, drift fishing downstream will increase the rate of your catch. If more than one is drift fishing, casting downstream will lessen the chance of tangled lines.


When you are out fishing try this method of drift fishing and see what all the fuss is all about. It is a great way to get acquainted with the waters in the area if you are new to the waters. This is a method that can put you onto fish, even if you are a beginner or lifelong fisherman. All you need to do is cast your line and then sit back and relax while the current brings you the next fish.

All you need to remember is that when you are drift fishing, is that you keep your bait moving. This is what attracts the fish; the moving bait or lure. And with this method, you do not have to fish deep either. You can vary the debt by using popping corks and bobbers.

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