Drifting for bass

Updated: April 10, 2006, 11:13 AM ET
By Tim Tucker | BASSMASTER Magazine, April 2006
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In the 2003 CITGO Bassmaster Southern Open, J.T. Kenney seemed to have the big largemouth inhabiting the northwestern corner of Lake Okeechobee completely wired. Fishing fans will recall that he fished a small plastic crawfish and a huge weight in thick surface mats of shallow hydrilla to catch 15 bass weighing 61 pounds.

But unless they were following Kenney on the water, no one would realize the degree of delicateness he applied to his very best patches of grass. During those times, the Okeechobee guide actually stowed his MotorGuide trolling motor and allowed his boat to drift across certain weedbeds.

"I had hammered these fish for three days, so I was afraid they were getting spooky," Kenney said. "I had to be real quiet to avoid spooking them and it doesn't get any quieter than drifting with the wind."

Indeed. When it comes to sneaking up on bass in a variety of situations — shallow and deep — drifting can be a deadly approach. Few anglers understand the value of drifting for bass as well as Bernie Schultz.

"I live in Florida, but that's not the only place where drifting works," says Schultz, who won a major tournament in Canada using the technique. "Anglers use this technique up north, like in the Ontario area, and on the big lakes in Texas where they have underwater grassbeds that they drift across. Anywhere that you have underwater shoals or expansive grassbeds and a windy situation, this technique is applicable. "There are two strong advantages to it," Schultz continues. "First, the wind begins to work for you, rather than against you. Windy situations often create good feeding activity for the fish, and you're inclined to cover more ground if you have a large area of underwater cover like grass or shoals. Two advantages to that are: You can cast and set up a controlled drift by using a trolling motor or sea anchor, and you're not spending time navigating the boat with the trolling motor or fighting the wind. Therefore, you have more of a hands-on fishing situation."

Ohio pro Frank Scalish has long been a proponent of drifting, a tactic that has produced for him from the Great Lakes to the great Florida waters.

"Drifting gives you the ability to cover vast amounts of water rather quickly and efficiently," he notes. "The key to any drift is to float over productive areas. Just to throw drift socks out and start aimlessly floating around is like fishing in the dark. You're not going to be productive doing that. "Done properly, drifting is as quiet as a piece of driftwood floating over the fish."

It was on massive Lake Okeechobee where Scalish scored impressively by drifting across large peppergrass flats in 4 to 6 feet water — catching bass amidst his competitors whose trolling motors were apparently spooking resident bass. While those anglers were flipping in the shallow vegetation, he used the wind to silently float through the area pitching a Yum lizard and Houdini worm into the holes where bass were hiding.

"In a situation like that where I'm drifting for largemouth, I toss a drift sock out, leave my trolling motor up and shut my locators off," Scalish says. "I keep the noise to a minimum and just pitch in front of the boat as it's drifting. You try not to make noise or commotion by banging on the side of the boat or dropping something on the deck — that sort of defeats the purpose of drifting," explains Scalish.

Scalish utilizes the same approach to catch smallmouth in the shallow water of Lake Erie. It is a particularly effective method for sneaking up on spawning smallies in grass.

But for him, drifting isn't limited to leafy cover.

Last fall, Scalish won the CITGO Northern Open on Lake Erie with a 55-pound, 4-ounce catch. He did so by targeting open water rockpiles in 40 feet of water with a tube or Yum Dinger impaled on a heavy jighead while drifting in 8- to 12-foot seas. "If I'm working a rockpile or something specific, I use the trolling motor to make sure that my drift is going to get me in contact with the structure," Scalish emphasizes. "If I'm fishing grass flats like on Okeechobee, for example, I only use my trolling motor if I'm drifting off course.

"With smallmouth on rockpiles, I use a controlled drift. Instead of buoying my rockpile, I'll take one drift past to see how my boat's going to list in the wind. Then when I drift over the rocks, I'll drop the buoy on the other side of the rockpile about 20 yards away. This way, every time I set up a drift I make sure that I'm drifting toward my buoy so that I know I'm going over the rockpile."

Multiple sea anchors or drift socks are standard equipment for drifters. Scalish utilized three socks to slow his waft in the rock-and-roll waters during his Lake Erie victory. "Sea anchors work really well in emergent grass," Schultz says. "They have a tendency to shed or part the weeds as they go through them. And they are surprisingly snag-proof in bushes. I've used them on Rayburn under flooded conditions, picking shorelines where I could make sideshore drifts. This bag will actually collapse around bushes and re-open on the near side. This will slow the boat down, which gives you a chance to focus on lure presentation or casting angles. And by fishing slower, you're more thorough."

Tim Tucker recently released Volume 2 of the Bass Pro Workshop: How to Promote Yourself and Attract Sponsors. The three audio set is available for $69.95 from his Bass Catalog at www.timtuckerout doors.com or by calling 800-252-FISH.