by Jeff Samsel
Drifting works wonderfully for targeting scattered crappie and finding key areas that fish are using – but don’t just go wherever the wind takes you.
“Drifting.” It sounds so random.
In truth, though, veteran drift-fishermen are as precise in their approaches as any crappie angler on the water. Like veteran golfers who learn to play the wind, drifters control their presentations and use the wind as a tool to help them find fish.
Drifting works well any time crappie structure is widespread at a similar depth, causing the fish to likewise be widespread or at least making it difficult to pinpoint which brush or stumps will hold the best concentrations of fish.
Dave “Chub” Hornstein goes into drifting mode every spring when the crappie move onto the stump-studded flats at the upper end of Pennsylvania’s Lake Pymatuning. Thousands of stumps that cover extensive flats would make it a guessing game to simply pick a spot to fish, creating an ideal scenario for drifting. Any given spring day large numbers of fish will choose to use stumps in certain depths or on some particular part of a flat. Hornstein seeks to identify key drifting depths or areas and then target his drifts accordingly.
Hornstein drifts with his boat turned sideways, which allows him and a fishing partner to put a couple of lines apiece on the same side and keep their lines visible. Drifting sideways also offer great control of drifts because you can use a trolling motor to adjust the path of a drift. For example, if the fish are hitting in 6 feet of water and the boat gets over 5 feet, sliding the boat a bit forward or backward as you continue to drift sideways is often all it takes to get back to the productive depth.
Of course, the real refining begins once the lines are in the water. Watch your electronics as you fish, paying attention to bottom depths, cover and fish on the screen. Most importantly, take note of your depth and what everything looks like on the screen whenever fish hit, watching for common denominators. If all the fish hit in a bit of a trough and you know that you can make an entire drift at that depth by beginning 100 feet to one side, shift your starting point for the next drift. Similarly, if all the fish hit in the first 10 minutes of a drift, begin the next drift a little farther upwind and don’t travel as far.
At times, finding a key depth or other pattern distinction is the ticket to success. Often, though, a relatively small area will produce far better than anything around it, with no obvious difference between that area and others. When you get bit in about the same area during more than one drift or when two or three lines get hit at once, either toss out a floating marker buoy or add a GPS waypoint or icon. GPS is precise and immediate, but a buoy makes it easier to gauge your drifting line and make adjustments.
The best rig for drifting depends upon the water depth, the nature of the cover and whether fish are suspended or holding right on the bottom. The strength of the wind and consequently the speed of your drifts also impact the sizes of jigheads or weights to use and the amount of line to put out.