Spring Quick Drift Strategies
Spring along the Gulf Coast means warmer weather, more dramatic tidal movement and, most of all, strong winds. The higher than normal wind velocity is often a game changer for coastal fishermen, many of whom are accustomed to drift fishing inshore lakes and bays. The most obvious affect of the higher winds on drift fishermen rougher water and faster drifts. Most often, fishermen simply look for protected water. However, sometimes the best concentrations of fish are not in protected coves, but rather right out in the middle of wind-blown flats. Fishermen hoping to be able to productively fish these areas under high wind conditions should learn to use spring winds to their advantage, rather than looking for a way to avoid unprotected areas.
Probably the one thing drift fishermen struggle with the most under high wind conditions is being able to thoroughly cover an area with repeated casts. Essentially, a quick drift speed means fewer casts in a given area, as the boat passes over the area too quickly to allow multiple casts. Of course, there are various ways to slow the boat in order to get more casts in over a productive stretch of water. Anchoring and staking out at various intervals along a flat will accomplish this. And, most every seasoned bay fishermen knows to employ a drift sock to help slow their drift and stabilize the boat. But, at times these measures can be more trouble than they are worth. Typically, by late March, the water has usually warmed sufficiently to make fish more aggressive, meaning “power fishing” tactics are in play. So, rather than spend too much time and energy trying to fight the wind, anglers should learn to adapt their fishing style in order to take advantage strong spring winds.
A very simple solution to many high wind situations is something many fishermen refer to as “power drifting.” This is basically a mad dash across a flat while fan casting and trying to cover as much water as possible. Power drifting is effective in two situations: 1) fish are scattered making it necessary to cover massive amounts of water; or, 2) fish are very aggressive and willing to swim a pretty good distance to attack a bait. One or both of these conditions is often present during April.
In order to be effective with power drifting there are a couple of things that need to be considered. For starters, the right type of bait or lure is essential. Because you will be moving a quick clip during a power drift, finesse baits or any other lures which require a slow retrieve are a poor choice. It is far too difficult to maintain line contact with a slow sinking or suspending bait when drifting rapidly toward it. Also, baits which require a lot of angler manipulation to impart action are not good choices. Twitching baits at a high drift speed usually results in line twists and tangles. Rather, it is better to use simple cast and reel retrieve baits such as paddle tail soft-plastics and spoons. If using soft-plastic tails, it is usually best to use a bit heavier (1/4 or 3/8 ounce) jig head than may generally be utilized for a given water depth in order to get a bait down and keep it in the strike zone while being rapidly retrieved from a fast moving boat.
Popping corks are another option. Because they keep baits suspended at a predetermined depth, corks are a good way to fish more slowly and methodically from a fast-moving boat. But, anglers using popping corks are not immune to the effects of the wind. These fishermen need to be diligent about keeping slack out of line in order to pop the cork and set hook when a fish hits. Virtually all soft-plastic lures and natural baits can be used under various sizes of corks and floats.
Stay in Contact
Again, a quick drift speed makes it difficult to maintain contact with the lure. And, maintaining contact is necessary in order to detect bites and set the hook properly. So, anglers need to do whatever possible to ensure they continue to feel the lure or bait throughout the retrieve and avoid having slack line. To help offset the problem of slack line, anglers should look to have a "high wind rig." When fishing under high wind conditions, is best to use a combination of heavier line, longer rods, and higher retrieve ratio reels. Higher retrieve ratio reels pick up more line per turn of the handle. When a boat is drifting fast, slack is being introduced into the line literally every second. A high speed reel will help anglers keep up with the drift speed of the boat without having to reel un-Godly fast. A slightly longer (7' 6") rod will help pick up any remaining slack on the hookset, while heavier line results in less stretch, meaning maximum sensitivity for feeling strikes and power for setting the hook.
Another way to deal with a quick drift speed is to use a "sidewinder" retrieve. To utilize a sidewinder retrieve, it is still best to slow the drift somewhat by using a drift sock. Then, anglers should cast parallel to the drift (off the front or back of the boat) and allow the wind and wave action to form a "belly" in the line ahead and to the side of the drifting boat. This "belly" of line will actually turn the directional pull of the lure and begin the "retrieve." Anglers simply need to keep a low rod angle and reel slowly and steadily. This allows for ample line tension to detect strikes. In order to set the hook, a long sweeping motion is best. Again, a slightly longer rod, heavier line and high speed reel help on the hookset. The best baits to use for this type of presentation are paddle-tail soft-plastics and lipped hard baits, each of which provides adequate resistance against the line “belly.”
This retrieve technique is most often employed by waders; it is possible for drifters to utilize it as well. Basically, this technique reverses the retrieval process – instead of the bait coming back to the fisherman, the fisherman goes to the bait. The rigging is similar to a drop-shot rig. A heavy (1 or 2 oz) pyramid or bell sinker anchors the bait, which is tied to the standing line via a short staging a foot or so above the weight. The rig should be cast down wind. The angler then just has to maintain a taut line as the boat drifts toward the bait. This technique is most effective with natural baits, but scented synthetic baits also work well.
For those fishermen who always want to throw out of the back of the boat, drift trolling provides just such an opportunity. Essentially, this isn’t a lot different than traditional trolling. The main difference is the wind provides the power. As the boat is drifting, anglers should trail baits some 60 to 70 feet behind the boat. Lipped plugs, lipless crankbaits, and a variety of soft-plastic baits can be used with this technique. When using plastics, it is important to adjust the weight of the lead head based on drift speed in order to keep the bait at the right depth – too light and the bait will be skipping along the surface, too heavy and it will eventually descend to the bottom.
Two additionally considerations for drift trolling are water depth and tackle. Because the boat is ahead of the bait when drift trolling, this method is really only effective in water deeper than four feet. Tackle also plays an important role. Keep in mind a hooked fish will have the advantage of being up wind and be able to leverage against the drifting boat. So, slightly heavier tackle should be used in order to “muscle” fish up to the boat. Also, if a large fish is hooked, it may be necessary to stake out, anchor or start the engine to hold the boat in place while the fish is fought.
Dredging isn’t a lot different than drift trolling except the bait is bounced along the bottom as the boat drifts. In order to be effective with a dredging technique, it is necessary to slow the drift speed as much as possible by using a drift sock. It is also necessary to use enough weight to prevent the bait from lifting off the bottom as the boat drifts. Soft-plastics and natural baits are the best choices for dredging. Soft-plastics can be rigged on jig heads, but they can also be trailed behind Carolina rigs. Natural baits can also be dredged on Carolina rigs. Although any natural baits can draw strikes on this rig, it is usually best to use baitfish or cut baits, as they stay on the hook better than shrimp when being dragged across the bay floor. Again, a little bit heavier tackle helps with the hookset and fighting a fish being drug behind a drifting boat. Anglers also need to be careful not to foul on the drift sock while fighting a fish behind the boat.
Poppin' on Top
Although many fishermen believe high winds render topwater plugs useless, certain surface baits can be used effectively in high wind conditions. But, anglers need to use larger, noisier topwater plugs in order to get the attention of fish over the sound of the choppy bay surface. Heavier plugs also provide more tension on the retrieve, making it easier for anglers to maintain line contact with the lure throughout the retrieve. Again, heavier line is handy as it will reduce line stretch, making it easier to impart action to the lure as well as provide more punch on the hookset.
Again, spring is synonymous with high wind along the Gulf Coast. That is an unavoidable fact of fishing this region. But, it is also a fact that some of the best fishing occurs on these very windy days. And, anglers who reside themselves to the couch waiting on the occasional calm spring day will miss out of some of the year's most amazing angling action. So, rather than dread the wind, fishermen should accept it and use of the methods mentioned above to take advantage of it.