Drift fishing is an excellent way to fish for catfish. There’s a variety of different techniques that go by many different names and often times people use the same terms for very different techniques.
Controlled drifting for example involves the use of a trolling motor and dragging baits around.
Some people refer to controlled drifting or control drifting as using the trolling motor to move the boat around with suspended baits.
Others use the term controlled drifting for moving the boat with the trolling motor and holding the fishing rod in their hand and “bottom bouncing”.
Others place the rods in holders and drag the baits around with a trolling motor and call this controlled drifting, some call it strolling and some call it trolling.
It all gets very confusing and I for one wish we could all come up with some common names and straighten this all out once and for all.
Maybe that’s something I’ll work on…….
You’re in luck because we’ll be focusing on traditional drift fishing for catfish today with these 9 essential tips for drift fishing for catfish. Traditional drift fishing involves using the wind to move the boat across the water and dragging baits in the process.
Although it’s the simplest form of drift fishing it’s a very effective way to catch all species of catfish (but primarily blues and channels).
You can catch numbers of fish and trophy class catfish drifting also.
9 Essential Tips For Drift Fishing For Catfish
Again, these tips are focused on traditional drift fishing and using the wind to move your boat across the water to catch catfish.
Scattered Fish, No Experience, No Problem!
Often times catfish can be scattered where it’s hard to find good concentrations of fish in a smaller area to anchor on. Another issues is learning how to read sonar and locate catfish. Drift fishing is an excellent solution to both these issues and can help you learn in the process.
If you can’t locate fish to anchor on or fish look scattered, DRIFT.
If you’re not sure how to locate and catch catfish then drift fishing is an excellent place to start.
Get One Good Drift Sock, Or Maybe Two
The foundation of traditional drift fishing is the drift sock. They help position your boat in the wind and slow the drift speed down and also control the drift direction. Make sure you have at least one good drift sock and know how to use it.
For more in depth information check out Drift Sock 101 and learning boat control.
Drift Speed Is Critical and Speed Kills
Drift speed is critical to success catching catfish. If you’re drifting too fast you won’t catch fish so you need to make sure you have the right drift socks, know how to use them and that you pay attention to drift speed and learn what works and what doesn’t.
The colder the water is, the more critical drift speed is.
Drift Fishing For Catfish Rigs
There’s a variety of different catfish rigs that can be used for drift fishing and really no right or wrong answer when it comes to how to rig for catfish when drift fishing.
That being said there’s certainly some options that are better than others when it comes to rigging. I rely primarily on the Santee Rig and the slip sinker rig at times.
The Santee Rig uses a foam peg float between the hook and sinker to help lift the catfish bait off the bottom and keep it in the strike zone. All of the tackle and gear you need is covered here.
I also use the Whisker Seeker XL Rattler and the X3 Big Bertha Rattler when drift fishing which is rigged similar to the Santee Rig. The biggest difference being that the Whisker Seeker Rattlers make noise in the water when they’re moving (more on that another time).
Catfish Rods and Gear
There’s a variety of good options when it comes to catfish rods, reels and the tackle and hear to use when drift fishing.
One of the important considerations is the catfish rod you’ll use. Make sure you have a good rod that has the right action so the tip has some flex and circle hooks work correctly. I like a moderate fast action most often for a general purpose catfish rod.
You’ll also want to make sure you have a rod that’s got a good strong backbone so you can manage larger trophy class catfish when you latch into one. In addition make sure you’ve got a longer rod (at least 7’ or longer) so you have the leverage needed to manage trophy cats.
Check out my Chad Ferguson Signature Series Catfish Rod from Whisker Seeker Tackle for a good all around catfish rod that works great for drift fishing. You can get more details here and then go here to buy them.
If you’d like to explore some other options check out the Ultimate Guide To Catfish Rods for even more information on choosing the right rods.
Any of the popular catfish reels will work but I like the Abu Garcia 6500C3 reel. You can get much more information on catfish reels here in the Ultimate Guide To Catfish Reels.
Catfish Bait For Drifting
The standard catfish baits that are best for each species of catfish apply to drift fishing.
Freshly caught Threadfin Shad, Gizzard Shad or Skipjack Herring are without a doubt the undisputed kings of bait for blue catfish and widely accepted as the best baits. You can use frozen shad if you must, it’s better than no bait at all but certainly not the best option.
As an alternative you can use some other form of cut bait. There’s many options including:
For channel catfish cut bait is also a good option and can work well. If you’d prefer to catch numbers of channel catfish instead of larger ones then shrimp soaked in some form of prepared bait works well also.
Many anglers use chicken livers when drift fishing for channel catfish. I’m not a big fan of them but they’re certainly an option if the others listed aren’t available. If you absolutely must use livers then turkey livers are a much better choice.
There’s some great tips here on fishing with shad.
If you want to learn everything you need to know about locating and catching shad (and blue catfish also) then you should check this out.
Drifting blind is what I refer to as “just picking an area to fish because you think it might be good, someone told you it was or you caught fish there once”.
This is the worst approach to any form of fishing for catfish including drifting. The only reason you should drift blind is because you don’t have a sonar fishfinder on your boat.
If you do have a fishfinder, make sure it’s installed correctly, learn how to set it correctly and learn how to interpret the images on the screen. This takes a some time and experience but will make you a better angler.
The end goal is to make sure that you’re not drifting blind.
If you’re putting lines in the water you want it to be in an area that you’ve used your sonar to verify that there’s fish.
Drifting vs Fishing on Anchor, What’s Better?
Whether it’s best to fish on anchor for catfish or drift for them is a topic of great debate among many catfish anglers. There’s a time and place for everything including both techniques.
Ultimately the best technique to use is the one you have the most confidence in but as already covered drifting is a great way to learn and get experience.
I know catfish guides and tournament anglers that don’t do anything but some form of drifting, others who never drift and only fish on anchor. and then some that do both.
As long as what you’re doing is putting fish on the hook and in the boat then use what’s working and then expand from there.
There’s a lot of very experienced catfish anglers that win major catfish tournaments consistently doing nothing but some form of drift fishing. That in itself should be enough to encourage you to at least learn how to drift and give it a try.
One of the biggest advantages of drift fishing above fishing on anchor is the ability to cover more water and get baits in front of fish with pinpoint accuracy, especially with more advanced forms of drifting for cats.
Hi Vis Fishing Line Makes a Difference
Hi-Vis or high visibility fishing line makes a difference when fishing for catfish and is an important piece of my catfishing gear. This basically means that it’s brightly colored and easy to see while you’re fishing.
This line is available in a variety of colors and from many different manufacturers. The best brand choice boils down to personal preference, just make sure it’s good strong fishing line that will stand up to the demands of catching catfish.
The best color is a matter of personal preference also as everyone’s eyes are different. The end goal is to make sure you have fishing line that really “pops” and stands out against the water so you can see where your lines are and what they’re doing.
When drift fishing for catfish this helps you to see where your lines are in relation to each other so you can keep them straight and from getting tangled.
It also helps you to see what the fish are doing. In an ideal world every fish that bit would grab the bait and pull down or away from the boat bending the rod tip but that’s not what happens. Catfish will bite and run towards the boat, sideways and even move up in the water column.
A majority of the big trophy class blue catfish I catch never move the fishing rod tip to alert me that they’re on the line, the run sideways or some other direction. These fish are identified by the line suddenly going slack or moving sideways and without line that you can easily see, you’ll miss many of them.
I’m currently using Stren Catfish Monofilament and Whisker Seeker Monofilament fishing line and both are bright orange in color. You’ll also find bright green and bright yellow to be popular options among catfish anglers that are easy to see.
Here’s The Video!
Get On The Fast Track
Experience is the best teacher. These tips are a great foundation to getting started drift fishing for catfish and being successful.
If you really want to shorten your learning curve and get on the fast track to catching catfish drifting then check out the Drift Fishing For Catfish eBook. This in depth guide covers everything you need to know to start catching catfish drift fishing all from my experience of over fifteen years as a professional catfish guide.
You can check out the other digital products from Catfish Edge here.