Drift and Drag

Beginning river fishermen have a tough time keeping the right amount of line tension while presenting a tube or jig.  You do not want to put so much tension on it that the tube or jig is in constant motion.  You also do not want to have slack in the line – you will not feel the bite.  Consider the speed of current, the speed of your boats drift, and the angle of each cast before making the presentation.  Find the balance between slack line where you will not feel the hit, and too much tension, where your tube or jig is moving too often or too fast.  Boat control is the best way to do this.

The first step is to know just how slow to drag.  Go to your local stream with a bucket, gather some gravel and sand, and catch a crawfish or two.  Put them in an aquarium, and watch them.  Seeing the speed and method of their travel gives you an idea of how your tube or jig should move.  They can move fast if need be, but even when cornered, they usually hold their ground rather than lifting quickly off the bottom.  Once separated from the crevices of a river bottom, they are actually easier for a fish to inhale.  Your tube or jig should stay on the bottom too!  Watching a live specimen in captivity is a great way for the idea of slowing it down to sink in.  You will find that the crawfish moves with plenty of long pauses in between slow movements of short distances.  They are trying to not be noticed.  Their life depends on it.

The next consideration is casting angle.  Casting downstream works if you are able to stop your boat completely.  This means anchoring, wedging, putting one foot on the bottom, or pulling into an eddy.  Once fully stopped you can cast downstream let the bait fall on a pendulum swing to the bottom, and wait for a hit.

However, if you are drifting at all, you have to constantly take in line, as you are drifting toward the bait, causing slack in the line.  This type of presentation is not usually productive, as the constant movement of the reel handle muddles any vibration of a subtle hit.

A better angle is one where the downstream drift of the kayak keeps tension on the line.  Casting directly upstream will accomplish this, but it is also the casting angle with the greatest likelihood of snagging on the bottom.  Casts to the side will accomplish the same thing with lower chances of snagging.  Besides, if you do snag, it is easier to move across the current than to paddle or motor back upstream to unsnag the bait.

Using hours on a clock face to describe angles, think of directly downstream as 12 o’clock, and the bank on your right 3 o’clock.  Fishing the right bank, the preferred casting angle is 1:30.  Slowly drift on a taught line until the bait is at 4:30.  Once the bait is at 4:30, one hand paddle or trolling motor in place, or bring it in quickly to recast to another downstream 1:30 angle.  This pie wedge represents the least snaggy angles to present a dragged tube or jig.

By controlling your boats angle in current, you can lengthen the amount of time you present to each spot.  If your boat is in line with the current, your drag time will be longer per cast.  If the wind is stronger than the current you are in, line up your boat with the wind direction.  Just like controlling a ferry maneuver, small adjustments in boat angle early on make the task easy.  Waiting until your bow has swung cross current will make drift and drag very frustrating.  A very lightweight paddle or a very powerful trolling motor are huge advantages when making these frequent quick adjustments.

Before making each cast, take notice of your present drift speed.  It is usually necessary to break your downstream momentum and adjust your boats angle before making the cast.  A beginner blunder often looks like this:  The boat is moving and pointed toward the intended casting target.  The angler makes a cast at the 1:30 angle.  The boat’s stern swings slightly downstream, putting the boat exactly perpendicular to the current.  The boat is still moving toward where the bait splashed down.  The angler is gathering slack while the bait is sitting on bottom getting chewed on by a huge smallmouth bass.  The angler finally gets the slack out of the line, but does it too abruptly and the fish feels a tug.  The angler feels the throb, the fish spits the bait, the angler swings wildly to set the hook, the bait comes flying back out of the water, and the fish swims off.  The boat and angler are now well downstream of the target, and the angler paddles or motors powerfully to get back to a spot that the fish has just left.

Here’s how it looks when the correct boat speed and angle are used:  The angler sees a likely looking spot.  He turns the nose of the boat into the current before he is within casting distance.  He patiently drifts until he can reach the target with a cast.  He takes 3 or 4 gentle and quiet paddle strokes or blasts his foot controlled trolling motor to break his downstream momentum.  He looks to the bank, and sees that he is stopped, even though the current is moving quickly underneath.  He casts downstream at the 1:30 angle, flips the bail by hand immediately so if a fish hits on the bait’s descent, he can feel it.  No hit comes, but he patiently drifts slowly downstream.  He occasionally picks up the paddle with one hand or depresses the trolling motor control to adjust the boats angle into the current.  The bait has been in the same spot for 20 seconds when he allows the line tension to build enough so that the tube or jig is pulled out of the crevice, advancing downstream 2 inches.  The fish that saw the splash 20 seconds ago and has been searching for what fell sees the movement from afar.  The fish quickly positions itself over the bait, flares its gills, and the crisp single vibration travels up the line to the rod, and the angler slams the hook home.

On flat water, the situation is similar, but instead of lining up the boat with current, you line it up with wind.  The act of breaking your momentum becomes more important, as your glide is more pronounced without current.  Casting in the direction that you just stopped paddling or motoring in will result in slack line.  Stopping your forward movement completely and in some cases creating a backwards glide may be necessary.  Keep one eye on the bank, or some other stationary object to monitor your drift speed.  If you come to a complete stop for more than 45 seconds, give yourself one or two small backward strokes or a gentle burst from the trolling motor to keep the drift and drag going.

Paying attention to each presentation is difficult when you have to constantly monitor and adjust the speed and angle of your drift.  Paying close attention is much easier when you are wedged or eddied out.  But wedging or eddying out is not always an option.  Line up with the current, break your momentum, cast between 1:30 and 4:30, and know just how slow it should drag.

Jeff Little teaches kayak fishing skills through his DVD series available at Confidence Baits LLC.
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Chris Payne

A lifelong Texan, Chris Payne has been an outdoor enthusiast his entire life and has spent the last 15 years fishing mainly from a kayak. He is known for his thorough and helpful reviews as well as how to articles for nearly everything kayak fishing related. If you have questions or comments, you can leave them on this post or email Chris at: paynefish@gmail.com

2 thoughts on “Drift and Drag

  • April 6, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    thanks for the great article jeff. you’ve given me a whole new jig presentation–looking forward to trying it out.

  • April 23, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    Thank you Jeff! I spent last summer trying to figure this out. Now I get it.

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