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Drift Fishing Techniques

By Luhr Jensen, 🕔Mon, Mar 21st, 2011


Drift fishing is easy, fun and effective. The technique has gained popularity over the years as more and more streams across the country are supporting trout, steelhead and salmon runs. Whether a beginner or a more experienced angler, this Luhr Jensen Tech Report can help you become even more successful using this method of fishing. Typical drift fishing waters consist of a series of pools and rapids, with the pools (drifts) holding feeding, resting or migrating fish. Drift lures fished through these pool areas, with the drift fishing technique, will often produce excellent results.

The basic drift fishing technique consists of casting across and slightly upstream, and then allowing your drift bobber and accompanying sinker to drift naturally downstream in the current, the sinker gently bouncing along the bottom. When your lure has drifted back near the bank, it is reeled in and another cast and drift made.

Buoyant drift bobbers simulate fish egg clusters, shrimp or other natural baits. Their success is attributed to color, action and buoyancy as they are drifted naturally along the bottom through fish-holding water. (The various drift bobbers are listed separately on the following pages along with a description and fishing application.)

There are scores of ways to add weight ahead of a drift bobber. Pencil lead, either solid or hollow core, is the most popular and has proved both economical and easy to use.

Solid pencil lead is best fastened to your line using a Lead Cinch which consists of a three-way swivel and a length of surgical tubing. Your main line is tied to one end of the swivel, leader and bobber to the other end and a section of pencil lead inserted into the Lead Cinch. If the lead becomes snagged, it will pull away from the tubing and your drift bobber and Lead Cinch can be retrieved.

Fishing in British Columbia

Hollow pencil lead is best fastened by crimping it to a short leader dropped from a barrel swivel as shown in the illustrations. If this lead becomes snagged, a sharp pull will free the lead from the dropper leader and your drift bobber, leader and swivel can be reclaimed.

Pencil lead comes in coils or long sections so you can cut off the desired amount. Most lead available through sport shops comes in diameters of 1/8, 3/16 and 1/4 inch, with 3/16 the most popular size for average fishing conditions and stream flows.

In addition to pencil leads, an unusual drift sinker is available from Luhr Jensen. The Bouncing Betty ® snagless sinker, because of its spherical shape and size, is much less likely to hang up than convention pencil leads . . . although it still won't guarantee that your hook won't snag! (rig like pencil lead)

Fishing in British Columbia

Due to its mass, the Bouncing Betty ® is best used in slow or shallow water, where conventional-weight rigging makes drifting difficult or impossible. It will produce a smooth, long, snag-free drift. Its shape works in combination with slower currents to be pushed gently downstream, avoiding most rocks and snags. Also, the Bouncing Betty ® makes long casts easier and it's non-toxic.

One of the big tricks to successful drift fishing is to select just the right amount of weight for the water you are fishing. A weight that's too heavy will snag easily while one that's too light will not keep your drift bobber near the bottom where the fish are. The ideal weight is one that results in a tap-tap-skip action as it makes regular contact with the bottom and then rises a bit before hitting again. Experienced drift anglers usually begin working an unknown drift with a 2 1/2 to 3 inch piece of pencil lead and then, after making a drift or two, shorten it until the drift feels just right with that tap-tap-skip action.

Your pencil lead should always hang straight, as a bent or crooked piece of lead will often result in twisting or tangling of your line.

With the lead rigged, you now are ready to add a drift bobber to your hook and leader. Depending on the particular rivers you fish, you will want main line testing anywhere from 8 to 20 pounds. Leader lengths should be from 18 to 24 inches, with the longer leaders selected for low or clear water drifting and the shorter lengths for average water conditions.

Birdy ® drift bobbers will fish better if a small, round bead is added between the bobber and the hook. The bead acts as a tiny ball bearing and allows the bobber to spin more freely, giving it improved action. A bead will also keep your hook straight out behind the bobber, allowing better fish-hooking capability.

Successful drift fishing requires that your line be close to the bottom. Hence it is important to use a heavier line than you would ordinarily select for lake fishing as it will have to take the added bottom-scraping abrasion that comes with drifting. We recommend that you use a premium quality, monofilament line, such as Trilene XT or Berkley ® Big Game.

There are three instinctive reasons a fish bites a drift bobber: It's either hungry, protecting its territory or curious. Although strikes can be hard, they're often almost imperceptible. Some fish will only lightly mouth a bobber and this kind of "take" is very difficult to discern from the lure's ordinary bottom tapping. Many fish are lost or not hooked simply because the angler just can't detect these soft pickups. There are, however, two things you can do which will help you nab these light-biters: Use super-sharp hooks and add some yarn below your bobber.

Sharp hooks are critical no matter what kind of fishing you do, but they become even more important when trying to hook light-biting fish while drift fishing. A fish will have a great deal of difficulty getting a sticky-sharp hook out if its mouth without it catching somewhere. Once a sharp point catches, every move the fish makes to expel it will only drive it deeper and you will feel a harder "take" as the fish attempts to throw it.

Yarn is your second edge for hooking light-biters. The addition of a tuft of colorful yarn just ahead of your hook and below the drift bobber will add color contrast to your lure, plus make it very difficult for a fish to spit out the hook. Once taken, the yarn can become tangled in the fish's teeth and every effort to get rid of the lure will send another signal to you to set the hook. NOTE:
When using yarn, always make sure it's not so long that it covers or interferes with the hook point.

Any momentary slowing or stopping of a drifted lure, slack line or a tap that shouldn't be there should be answered by setting the hook HARD. In drift fishing, if you're in doubt, always set the hook!

Designed to be the ultimate drift bobber for salmon, steelhead and trout, Birdy ® Drifters are made of super-buoyant E.P.S. material that will float the hook just off the bottom where the fish are. The wings on the Birdy ® are tapered sharp on one end for an effective fast spin, and tapered dull on the other end, allowing it to be effective in fast water conditions where other bobbers may cause line twist. The Birdy ® Drifter combines three fish-catching ingredients: Color, action and sound. They are available in Sizes #0, #1 and #3 in a variety of colors including Cerise/Pearl, Fire, Cerise, Orange, Rainbow, Chartreuse/Fire, Glo/Fluorescent Orange Stripe and Fluorescent Salmon Egg.

For even more action, you might try this soft vinyl drift lure that has an "Action Tail Scent Chamber" built in. It provides the additional enhancement of scent to the drift equation. Bob Tails are available in Cerise, Chartreuse Crystal, Orange and Blood Red.

A soft vinyl drift lure representing a cluster of natural fish eggs. Because of the lure's softness, it often will result in a longer, more deliberate "take" because it feels real to the fish. Three sizes (#1, #3 and #5) and four colors (Cerise, Orange, Blood Red and BC Orange) are available.

These free-turning attractors slide right on the leader above the hook with a Birdy ® or other buoyant drift bobber added on top. They are available in Green, Black, White, Orange and Pink.

Another of the easiest, yet most important, things you can do to improve your fishing success, is to maintain sticky-sharp hooks on your lures at all times. A fine-toothed file such as Luhr Jensen's Sharp Hook File is the absolute best hook sharpening tool available. Hold it parallel to the hook point and with gentle, one-way strokes, remove a small amount of metal on at least two sides of the point. This will create a point with a knife-like cutting edge. Keep the file clean and dry and occasionally spray it with a non-corrosive lubricant such as WD-40. Sharp Hook Files are available in 5 1/2' x 3/4" or 4 1/4" x 5/8" sizes.

A round, rubber drift sinker designed to bounce along the bottom and pop free of rocks and snags. It comes in 1/4-, 1/2-, 3/4- and 1-ounce sizes. Because of its mass, the Bouncing Betty ® is particularly effective in slow, low or shallow water conditions where it will provide a smoother, longer, more sensitive drift than other sinkers. (See the illustration for rigging details.)

A fluffy and durable fishing yarn in a reusable dispenser. Colors include Fire, Cerise, Chartreuse, White, Orange, Red and Pink. Drift fishermen use yarn to give their lures added appeal and color. By tying a tuft on the hook itself, or just below the bobber so as not to interfere with its action, you will often increase a bobber's effectiveness. As indicated earlier, yarn also can catch in the teeth of fish, allowing you extra time to feel the "take" and set the hook.

The perfect way to keep your drift tackle pre-rigged, sorted and ready to fish. Six individual see-through vinyl compartments allow for complete hook-bobber-swivel ties that are available in an instant. Avoid spending precious fishing time tying tackle. Use a Leader Tote in the handy 4 1/4" x 3 3/4" pocket size.

Surgical tubing and swivel rig for holding and attaching solid pencil lead. It comes ready to tie on and is available in three different diameters to fit all popular lead sizes.

Soft, plastic, scented, imitation salmon eggs that can readily be added to any drift bobber hook, ahead of the bobber or in conjunction with yarn. They can also be fished by themselves just above a hook like a small drift bobber (see rigging diagram). They represent a natural food commonly eaten by a variety of game fish. The single eggs come in Cerise, Chartreuse, Orange, Fluorescent Green, Blood Red or Blue and in three sizes - Standard, Magnum and Fat Freddy. The Clusters come in Cerise, Orange and Blood Red and in either three-egg or five-egg clusters.

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