Drifting 101: how to catch catfish while drifting

drifting
Clay Henderson loves drift fishing so much that he makes a product that reduces snagging while drifting for catfish.

Cover lots of water quickly by drifting

Drifting is a very effective and efficient way to catch catfish. While anchoring down is best under some circumstances, drifting is the preferred method for anglers like Capt. Jason Wolfe when going after catfish.

“When you’re anchored down, you’re waiting on the catfish to come to you. But when you’re drifting, you’re presenting your baits to fish you’d never cross paths with if you were sitting still. You can cover a lot of water in a short period of time by drifting,” said Wolfe, of Wolfe’s Guide Service.

Anchoring also limits you to whatever depths and structure are within casting range. But when drifting, you’re hitting every depth and every type of structure as your boat glides along the surface. It’s a much more active approach. You’re going to the fish, not sitting still and hoping they come to you.

“But one thing you need in order to drift properly is some help from Mother Nature. You need the wind to blow,” Wolfe said.

If he had his way, the wind would blow a constant 10 miles per hour.

“I like it when it’s at least 6 miles per hour, but 10 is better. That’s about perfect,” he said. “That will push my boat at about .7 miles per hour or slower.”

Control your speed

Wolfe controls the speed of his drift by deploying a drift sock. This parachute-shaped device fills up with water, slowing the boat down. The higher the wind speed, the more drift socks he uses. His goal is to stay below .8 miles per hour.

When fishing out of his G3 aluminum boat, Wolfe usually deploys the drift socks out of the back of the boat. That’s because the boat is set up with rod holder and seats that make it better for fishing out of the back of the boat. When fishing from his pontoon, he drifts backwards, deploying the drift socks from the front of the boat where it’s more feasible to fish from.

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Team Drifting Stix: Jason Henderson, Jason Wolfe, and Clay Henderson caught these catfish in quick succession while drift fishing on Santee’s lower lake.

When the wind is strong enough, Wolfe likes drifting sideways instead. To do this, he uses one drift sock from the back corner of the boat and one from the front corner. If necessary, he’ll toss another into the mix, adding it to the center on the side of the boat.

“When drifting sideways, you’ll cover even more water. That’s because your rods are spaced out the entire length of your boat — not just the width, which is what you’re limited to when drifting forwards or backwards,” he said.

When necessary, Wolfe uses his trolling motor to either correct his course or to aid the wind if it’s not blowing strong enough. But he’d much rather drift with the wind only, if possible.

Stay snag-free when you drift

Basic egg sinkers are fine when anchored down. But using them when drifting will guarantee you constantly snag on stumps and other sunken debris. This often results in broken lines, which means spending time retying (and often re-spooling line on your reel). And that means you’ve got one less hook in the water for however long that takes.

Many anglers use “slinky rigs,” which are sections of fabric filled with ball bearings, buck shot, or other small but heavy materials. These work better than egg sinkers. But their design still causes numerous hangups.

Clay Henderson of Rock Hill, S.C. also prefers drift fishing. He got so tired of getting snagged while using slinky weights that he developed his own product called Drifting Stix. He initially made them just for his own use, and began sharing with some friends. They’re so effective, folks began asking to purchase some from him. So he patented the design and now sells them to tackle shops and anglers all over.

Wolfe uses Drifting Stix, and swears by them

“I have made it through days and days of drift fishing without ever getting hung on debris. Sometimes, one rod will go down and stay down until I’m just about to pick it up to try freeing it, and it almost always frees itself before I ever touch the rod. With egg sinkers or slinky weights, I always expected to get snagged a certain percentage of the time. With Drifting Stix, it’s very rare that I get snagged,” said Wolfe (803-487-3690).

Henderson’s newest rendition of the Drifting Stix has an improvement that he said reduces snagging even more.

“They’re flexible but will keep the shape better than the originals. So if you put a curve in it, that curve will stay. And that makes it easier to ride over logs and stumps and other debris. We’ve watched how they work, and adding that feature makes it work that much better. Our customers rave about how little they get snagged. And they’ll get snagged even less with these new ones,” he said.

Basic drifting set up

Wolfe’s basic drifting set up is a baitcasting reel on a Big Cat Fever rod. His main line runs through a slider with a Drifting Stix attached. Next is a swivel. To the swivel, he ties a leader which runs through a styrofoam cork. The cork helps keep his bait slightly off the bottom. He then ties the line to a 5/0 to 8/0 Triple Threat hook.

Jason Henderson of Rock Hill shows off a nice blue cat caught while drift fishing.

Wolfe said one mistake many people make when fishing this way is they don’t let enough line out.

“If you cast out and immediately engage your reel, then your line isn’t going to reach the deep holes you’ll drift over. So you’ll spend a lot of time without the bait in the strike zone. Your bait will be suspended in the air, often very close to the surface,” he said.

Wolfe makes a cast, sets the rod in a rod holder, then casts another line out and does the same thing until all his lines are in the water. Once all his rods are in rod holders, then he’ll start engaging the reels, stopping line from running out. That’s how he makes sure he’s got plenty of line out to get down and cover all the debris.

“Even on the toughest days, fish are feeding somewhere. Drifting gives you the best chance to put a bait in front of those fish. Drifting can turn a good day of fishing into a great day of fishing. And it can turn a bad day of fishing into a decent one. It’s also a great way to catch big fish, because you’re covering areas where big fish are,” said Wolfe

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Brian Cope
About Brian Cope 1873 Articles
Brian Cope is the editor of CarolinaSportsman.com. He has won numerous awards for his writing, photography, and videography. He is a retired Air Force combat communications technician, and has a B.A. in English Literature from the University of South Carolina. You can reach him at brianc@sportsmannetwork.com.

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