If you’ve spent enough time on the water then you are well aware of the fact that flats fishing is forever interlocked with the wind. A part of life whether you chase tarpon, trout, redfish, permit or bonefish, stiff winds can at times seem like too much to handle. However, experienced trophy hunters have come to embrace and appreciate a swift breeze for its ability to concentrate fish and conceal your presentation. While a breeze can be advantageous, if you drift a flat too fast your offerings will loose their effectiveness. Unfortunately, it’s a love hate relationship anglers will never overcome, so it’s simply better to deal with it than complain about it.
Florida anglers certainly have their fare share of windy days and here in Hawaii it is no different. In fact, in the land of Aloha big winds are the norm, not the exception. Along the east side of Oahu, which is my favorite area to hunt giant bonefish, relentless trade winds blow 15 to 20 knots a good portion of the year. However, when the winds start pushing 25 to 30 knots it becomes a real challenge to control our drift when prowling area flats. With winds like this many anglers would choose to stay home, but with the proper tools of the trade and a little know-how you can still get connected. The same theory applies across the Sunshine State.
It’s a compromise for sure, but the tradeoff is the ability to fish in ugly winds and get shots you wouldn’t otherwise get.
Mainly used in offshore arenas to enhance stability and reduce drift speed, drift socks or sea anchors also have a rightful home along inshore arenas. I got a bit frustrated with the wind and started brainstorming with my good buddy and transplanted Floridian, Captain Chris Asaro, who now guides with me in Hawaii. After a few failed contraptions including a 5-gallon bucket with holes drilled in the side, we started eyeing drift socks. I currently run an Andros Backwater to handle big water and the sides and bow rise higher than a conventional technical poling skiff, so the wind influences it a bit more. However, all boats track faster in heavy winds, low gunnels or not.
The problem with fishing windy days is that line slack becomes a huge issue. When guiding fly anglers, casting in the direction of your drift means you must strip fast enough to overcome the forward momentum of the boat. If you can’t strip fast enough your fly simply won’t move. In light winds this isn’t much of an issue, but when the breeze gets going this is a big problem. If you can’t effectively present your offering you don’t have much of a chance of fooling intelligent game fish.
Although Lindy and Para-Tech are just two of the many companies that make excellent sea anchors, I turned to Zach Smith of Fiorentino Para-Anchors. I pitched the idea of designing a drift sock for inshore applications and he immediately jumped at the challenge. I told him that the design needed to come off the back of my skiff to slow us down with wind blasting at our stern. In no time I had a custom 36-inch chute fabricated with heavy-duty stainless steel hardware, bulletproof rigging and lightweight rip-stop material. The chute slows us down to walking speed and gives us a real chance to both spot fish and make natural presentations during breezy conditions.
While this editorial is clearly about drift socks and I don’t want to get too sidetracked, fly anglers must remember to really reach and rip with their double haul in high winds. Anglers need to get their rod into the ¾ or sidearm position to get the fly line under the wind. The same holds true for anglers casting conventional tackle. The lower to the water the cast, the less impact the wind will have.
Since inshore arenas are critical nursery grounds for a variety of forage and predatory species, you’ll need to take the necessary steps to ensure you don’t damage the frail ecosystem. Because of this, you’ll want to avoid using your drift sock in super skinny water. However, your chute should be equipped with plastic floats rigged into the canopy aprons to keep it off the bottom. It’s obvious that dragging a drift sock along shallow seagrass flats isn’t advised, although there are many shallow water arenas and situations where fishing a drift sock really pays big dividends.
No matter what brand of drift sock you choose, placement plays a large role in drift speed, angle and attitude. When guiding a client off the bow, I prefer to deploy my Para-Anchor off the stern. With winds blasting us from behind, our drift is slowed to a crawl and I’m still afforded a bit of steerage with my push pole. You can’t expect as much directional adjustment as you would normally have, and the general direction you are traveling is the direction you are forced to live with. It’s a compromise for sure, but the tradeoff is the ability to fish in ugly winds and get shots you wouldn’t otherwise get.
When running a chute out the stern it’s important you center it as much as possible. You’ll also want to attach it with a short length of rope to eliminate the bungee effect. Deploying a chute off the stern works great for me, but you can also secure your drift sock mid-ship if conditions allow. This will force your skiff to drift broadside to the wind and offer a greater spread of baits and lures, but you’ll forgo the ability to make fine tune adjustments with a push pole or trolling motor.
Freshwater anglers in the Great Lakes have been using drift socks for years and even fish with multiple drift socks deployed at the same time. While drift socks certainly aren’t the end all answer, they are an effective tool that will get you connected during less than ideal conditions. You can certainly expect to lose mobility, but no technique avoids compromise. There’s no right or wrong way to use a drift sock in the shallows and after some experience you’ll be able to fine-tune your drift exactly the way you want to. Every boat has different drift attributes and with varying wind conditions you’ll have to alter your approach to find your ideal drift. The bottom line is that there’s no need to get discouraged when the winds are howling. Get out there and get bent!