Drift Lining

My time to get out to the pier, the wharf, the shore, and a planned boat excursion, is going to be limited for a while due to prior commitments so I thought I’d explain what I mean when I mentioned in many of my posts that I fish with a drift line.  The concept is simple but actually fishing this way can be a challenge.

As I mentioned in an early blog post, my grandpa always advised me to take a fishing pole and what he called a “wishing pole” with me when I had a chance to do so.  The wishing pole is one that I would weight down, bait up, and cast out to the deepest part of the lake, ocean, or river that I could reach.  Then I’d set my drag so it would alert me when a fish is on the line.  This pole would be used to fish for all the bottom feeding fish that tended to be larger and put up a better fight than fish who do not feed this way.  Submarine size Carp and Catfish are examples of freshwater bottom feeders while Rays and Sharks are examples of saltwater bottom feeders.    

Going after bottom feeders with your wishing pole is simple and easy to do and I think it is the way most people fish even when they use live bait.  However, going after the rest of the fish out there with your fishing pole rigged as a drift line takes more effort than simply setting your drag.  For one thing, you should never set your fishing pole when practicing this method especially when there are hard hitting fish like Mackerel and Bass in the water. 

A drift line is simply a line with no weights or bobber on it.  You can have multiple hooks if you want a greater challenge like catching three Mackerel at a time, which I have done many times.  Your fishing pole should be as light weight as you dare use and the lighter the better, I say, since I like a good fight and I like to give the fish a chance.  I always use my old ultra-light rig when I drift line so there is a 50-50 chance that I will either haul in my catch or it will get away.  Since I only fish for sport, this doesn’t matter to me.   

Whatever you use, it should be easy to cast with only the weight of the bait on it since no lead weights are used in this method.  Using a bobber is close to drift lining but it is not the same since your bait is being held in place in the water, at one level.  Though your line can drift anyway it wants, it cannot drift down which is key element in drift lining.

Drift lining is used to fish for all the rest of the fish out there besides bottom feeders though you can occasionally hook one.  In drift lining, you cast your bait into the water and let it drift where ever it may go.  As it sinks to the bottom, your bait can attract any fish at an water level.  In the ocean, you often have Smelt sitting just below the surface, with Mackerel beneath or mixed in with them.  As your bait drifts lower, it can attract Perch and Bass.  If it hits bottom and you are content to let it sit there for a while, you can pick up a bottom feeder but since you are using light tackle, you have to hope it is not too big.

One day while I was fishing at Stearns Wharf, the Smelt that are usually around had moved off to another area which allowed me to catch 33 Mackerel in a few hours.  One time, my bait made it through the horde of Mackerel that were lurking about and my line drifted closed to the pilings just beneath my feet.  Suddenly, I got a hit that I knew was not that of a Mackerel, it was stronger, but slower and after a pretty fierce battle, I reeled in a nice size Calico Bass.  Until that time, I didn’t know there were bass under the wharf.  So I started fishing for them.  Six more times my bait made it through the school of Mackerel and I ended up with 7 Calico Bass on the day.  A total of 40 fish in about 3 ½ hours.  I was very busy and I owe it all to the drift lining method.

As I said at the start, though, fishing this way can be a real challenge due to the following reasons:

  • First, you have to be aware of where your line is at all times, especially if fishing in a area where others are also fishing since you do not want to cross their lines.  This means paying close attention to what you are doing. 
  • Second, since you should be using the lightest tackle you dare use, you will feel every little nibble and the temptation will be to yank your line up on each one but as I wrote about in a previous blog, grandpa always said that patience is the best bait.  This is what he was referring to.  If you are an experienced fisherman, you most likely know a hit from a nibble but when drift lining, the nibbles can multiply greatly so you have to be patient.  When a real hit occurs you’ll know.  The same is even truer for beginning fisherman and it is something you will learn over time so don’t give up on the method.
  • Third, I always recommend that you keep your pole in your hands at all times when drift lining and you have bait in the water.  The reason is that since you are using light tackle, it would not be that much of a challenge for a good-sized Calico Bass or speeding Mackerel to pull your rig into the water and since you are looking for hits as soon as they happen, you need to be ready to set your hook at any time which you can’t do if you are not holding your pole in your hands.
  • Fourth, since your bait starts at the surface and drifts downward, it will eventually hit bottom where you can leave it if you wish, but since you may have another pole baited for bottom feeders it is a good idea to keep your drift line moving which means a full day of reeling in and casting out.  I like this because it keeps me busy and because I like to have bait in the water at all levels of water as much as possible.
  • Fifth, wind can really affect fishing this way.  When the wind is blowing so hard that you are having trouble keeping your bait in the water, you can add a small weight to compensate for it.  If you choose not to use one, you have to be just that much more vigilant about watching where your line is at any given time.

So, that is the drift lining method.  I have caught thousands of fish this way even when others around me were being shut out.  Though I have told and shown many fishermen this method, I have not seen that many actually use it because of the attention needed to be successful when using this method.

Memory: Canyon Lake

Canyon Lake, Arizona

As I mentioned in my last Memory posting (Encanto Park) after I found a good job, bought a car, and could afford to travel, I began to fish in many of the lakes around and outside of the Phoenix area. 

Lake Pleasant was one of the newer lakes and the closest to where I lived.  While I caught many nice Striped Bass, Crappie, and Perch in the lake, it was altogether uninspiring as far as looks go.  It is essentially a big man-made puddle of water. 

I also fished in Apache Lake, Roosevelt Lake, and Saguaro Lake which are all nice lakes where you can catch your limit of whatever freshwater fish on any given day, but for pure, awesome beauty, plus fish, you cannot beat Canyon Lake .

Though I cannot swim a stroke (something about the rocks in my head pulling me down), as often as I could afford it, I’d rent a boat at the marina and go out just to explore the lake.  It is called Canyon Lake for a reason; the lake is in a canyon with waterways that branch off in all directions.  Many of these waterways lead to a dead end only accessible by small boats where you can sit in your craft and stare up at the soaring cliffs that tower hundreds of feet above the surface of the lake.  These spurs were usually very isolated, so I’d sometimes forget about fishing and just lay back in my boat and look up at the true magnificence of nature.  It was in these moments that I often wondered if there really was a god who made this place and put me there to observe his/her handiwork.  If so, I hope him/her knows that I was impressed.

During one of these lazy fishing trips, I heard the drag on my new Zebco reel (and rod) fiercely playing out.  Picking it up, I realized that my gear may just be over matched since I could not, at first, turn the fish that had taken my bait.  After 15 minutes or so of a back and forth struggle, the fish started to give in.  When I finally got the beast up to the side of my small skiff, I realized that it was a “Submarine” Carp and I knew that I could not get it in the boat and that I would eventually release it but, still, the massive size of the fish made me want others to see it and to get some idea of how big it was.  So, like Hemingway’s “Old Man And The Sea”, I hooked the fish up to my stringer and slowly, in deference to the Carp, made my way back to the marina. 

When I pulled up to the dock, I told the attendant what was up and that I’d like to weigh and measure the fish.  He took one look at it and agreed heartily.  So, after we tied up, we hauled the fish into the marina where there was a scale.  The Carp weighed 62 pounds and measured 44 inches in length, both statistics this attendant had never seen before. 

When we were finished, we carried the fish out to the dock and released it.  The attendant thought I was crazy, but I kept thinking about my grandpa and what he would do which was the same as I was doing.

Decades later, when I was a frustrated writer, ready to give up on the craft, I wrote a story about this incident called “Just Another Fish Story” which has never been published but did win a Blue Ribbon at the Ventura County Fair.  That ribbon, along with a few more, started me writing again after a decade or so of neglect of my craft.

So, fishing rebooted my desire to write and thus created this blog.

What goes around comes around…