While we all know trolling and anchoring are both extremely effective techniques for presenting live baits and artificial lures to prized game fish, drifting is often the best option when we locate a concentration of feeding game fish, or when we’re trying to fish productive structure deep beneath the surface. While anyone can easily kill the motor(s) and float alongside a weedline or distinct current break offshore of any coastline, there’s no better place to let it ride than South Florida where the defined reef edge dramatically drops into the depths of the Florida Straits. Fueled by the rich currents of the nearby Gulf Stream, opportunities abound within a few miles of the beach. Whether you are searching for sailfish, swordfish, tuna or hard fighting reef dwellers, success comes to those who cover ground effectively and efficiently no matter the conditions.
Stop your boat anywhere in the open ocean and the precise direction of your drift will be in direct correlation to the prevalent wind, current and sea state, in addition to your vessel’s shape, size, and drifting characteristics. No two boats move exactly alike, and by learning your particular vessel’s attitude and how slight adjustments in boat positioning influence your drift you’ll be able to assess the situation and hit the mark every time.
Make a mental note of what changes result and how rudder angle affects your direction and rate of drift. You can use this data to make slight adjustments to maximize your presentation.
For those of us who spend time sailfishing, we know bluebird days with variable wind and lackluster current aren’t the most productive, especially if we’re trying to kite fish. With little to no boat movement we often end up spinning our props as our kites fail to launch and our boat drifts with no particular pattern. This is when power drifting by maintaining course and speed with engine propulsion enables anglers to fish an effective spread rather than simply complaining about the conditions. Maintaining a little forward momentum into whatever wind there is will help launch kites and keep them aloft.
Power drifting also works well when fishing submerged structure, where you can maintain course and speed directly alongside or across a wreck or reef line and present baits in the strike zone with minimal scope. In this case, even slight adjustments to precise speed and position can greatly enhance your presentation and overall success.
Fishing structure or drifting down-sea across a heavy concentration of visible bait or sonar readings will leave you at the mercy of the elements. If you’re faced with a steady breeze and noticeable current, you can simply study your drift on a GPS chartplotter and make observations on how the conditions influence your track. You can then run back to the starting point and make slight adjustments to hit your target right on the mark.
While sportfish crews always fish the edge under power, center consoles have the advantage of stealth and unrestricted fishability. Open boats shine the brightest when they drift beam to sea, as this enables skilled teams to deploy upwards of three kites downwind along the entire length of the boat with an additional spread of flat lines and deep baits along the upwind side. While overall length greatly influences the amount of lines one can fish effectively, don’t lose sight of the fact that a 36 foot Invincible spinning in circles won’t have any greater advantage than a dialed in crew aboard a 23 foot Contender.
When the wind is overpowering the current, many open boat crews choose to deploy a drift sock to slow their drift in an effort to remain over a particular depth or feature for longer periods of time. Depending on conditions, the drift sock can be deployed off the bow or midship cleat to achieve a particular drift angle and create a wider spread. While doing so, turn the wheel hard over to port for a few minutes and then to starboard. Make a mental note of what changes result and how rudder angle affects your direction and rate of drift. You can use this data to make slight adjustments to maximize your presentation.
Depending on target species and venue, there will be times when you want to drift across a contour with depth variation and other occasions when you want to keep your drift within a specific depth. In either case, it’s critical you understand your boat’s precise drifting characteristics. You may think floating around is all fun and games, but if you care about catching it’s important you make the most of every minute spent on the water. Spend more time with your baits in the optimal strike zone and less time resetting your drift and you’ll undoubtedly increase your score. Happy hunting!