Drift fishing is a very effective catfishing technique for targeting blue catfish and channel catfish.
Like all techniques for catching catfish, it has a time and a place. There’s times you’ll find that drift fishing may be one of the best approaches to catching catfish and there’ll be times that using another technique is the best option.
As a general rule though you can drift fish almost all year long in some manner and catch catfish.
For the beginning angler drift fishing is an excellent way to get on the water and start catching fish and also learn more about patterning and catching fish using other techniques.
There’s a variety of different approaches to drift fishing. These approaches often go by different names that are very regional in nature but ultimately all mean the same thing.
Traditional drifting for catfish involves using the wind to move the boat across the water and dragging baits in the process.
The other more advanced techniques, multiple variations of controlled drifting and variations of trolling or “strolling” involve the use of a trolling motor and a variety of techniques. The slang and confusion surrounding these more advanced techniques is a complex topic that requires significant explanation, we’ll get to that at some point.
For these purposes we’ll focus on traditional drift fishing for catfish using the wind to move the boat while dragging baits to target blue or channel catfish.
At the heart of the drift fishing technique is a drift control device for slowing the boat down and controlling direction.
Drift socks are the most popular and readily available of these drift control devices.
What’s A Drift Sock And What’s It Used For?
A drift sock is a large “bag” (think parachute) that attaches to the boat with a harness and a buoy.
The harness is attached to the drift sock on one end and the other end is attached to the boat.
The drift sock is then placed in the water, where it fills up creating a “drag” in the water.
The action of the drift sock dragging in the water helps to keep the boat straight or moving in the intended direction and also helps to slow the boat down as it’s drifting across the water.
This allows you to:
- Keep the preferred portion of the boat (side, front or rear) pointed into the wind.
- Helps you control the direction the boat travels across the water.
- Controls the drift speed or “how fast the boat is moving across the water”.
Everything a drift sock does is important to the drift fishing technique for catfish and will contribute to your success catching catfish should you choose to use these techniques.
Why Drift Sock Size Matters
The most important consideration when buying a drift sock is the size of the sock.
The bigger the boat, the more drag is required to slow the boat down in the water. The requirements of a boat like my 24’ SeaArk ProCat 240 are much different than that of a 14’ jon boat.
The ProCat 240 is larger, heavier and there’s much more surface area for the wind to push against than a smaller and much lighter boat.
Then there’s wind conditions to account for.
Winds that are blowing five to ten miles an hour in comparison to winds that are blowing twenty miles an hour change the needs.
The bigger the boat the larger the drift socks need to be.
The more wind the more drift socks you’ll need (either additional drift socks of the same size or larger drift socks based on conditions.
How To Choose The Right Drift Sock
After years of watching catfish anglers run out and buy the wrong drift socks (usually the cheapest ones they can find) and wasting money I decided to put together this guide.
Hopefully it will save you some time (and money) in your quest to start catching catfish drift fishing.
Drift socks are available in a wide variety of sizes and the size you’ll need is based on the size of the boat, average wind conditions and exactly how prepared you want to be.
You’re better off choosing a drift sock on the larger end of the suggested sizes than smaller.
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Many of the sizing suggestions from manufacturers have tendency to lean towards being too small, but the following chart from Cabela’s is reliable for the Cabela’s Advanced Angler drift socks.
I fish from a 24 foot SeaArk ProCat 240 and I use two of the 78“ Cabela’s Advanced Angler Pro Series Drift Socks.
I use one in low wind conditions and in higher wind conditions I’ll use two (or more). Sometimes I use two in combination with a third drift sock that’s 108” if wind conditions dictate.
Just to clarify on my sizing suggestions:
- If you have an 18 foot boat, use at least the 4X large drift sock.
- If you have a 16 foot boat, use at least the 2X large drift sock
Again, always go with the higher end of the sizing suggestion rather than the lower end. This will save you a lot of time, frustration and money in the long run.
Which Drift Socks Are Best?
There are many brands of drift socks on the market with Cabela’s, Lindy and Sea Anchor being the most common manufacturers.
Some manufacturers of the cheaper models will often use a plastic material that’s similar to a tarp. Avoid this plastic material at all costs. The material will rip and fall apart and socks made from these materials will not hold up over long term use.
Nylon material is the preferred choice when selecting drift socks but different manufacturers use different quality materials.
Most manufacturers use a lightweight ripstop nylon that is much like a “windbreaker” jacket, it’s very thin and lightweight.
I prefer the Cabela’s Advanced Angler Pro Series Drift Socks.
Cabela’s uses a much heavier nylon for the Cabela’s Advanced Angler Pro Series Drift Socks and they’re much more durable than anything else available.
After years of using a wide variety of products in different styles and from different manufacturers, I can say with complete confidence that the Cabela’s Advanced Angler Pro Series Drift Socks are the very best there is.
They’re super tough and very durable so they’ll hold up over long term use and abuse. Being repeatedly drug around in the water and stuffed down in storage compartments is hard on drift socks.
I’ve been using the Cabela’s Advanced Angler Pro Series Drift Socks for four or five years now and couldn’t be happier with them.
In addition, if you’re fishing from a larger boat they’re one of the only manufacturers that offers drift socks in larger sizes.
Regardless of which brand you choose here’s some important features to look for:
- Weight and Float built into the sock (helps it open faster)
- Heavy duty nylon
- Dump line (helps when pulling the sock in)
The Drift Harness And Buoy
The drift harness is what’s used to attach the sock to the boat. You might be inclined to just try using a rope to attach the drift sock to the boat but a drift harness is a much better option.
First and foremost, a good harness will have a quick release clip on both ends of the drift sock which makes it easy to attach and remove both the harness to and from the boat but also from the drift sock.
Dragging the sock through the water will cause the sock to twist and you’ll have to periodically remove the harness from the sock and untangle the lines (the tangles will hinder the performance).
In addition you’ll want to be able to quickly and easily adjust the drift sock location on the boat to help with adjusting drift speed and direction.
The buoy or “float” on the harness serves two purposes.
It helps keep the sock towards the surface of the water while in use which optimizes performance and also keeps it on the surface if it is removed from the boat. You may accidentally lose the drift sock (it happens).
When landing a big catfish the best option at times is to drop the drift sock from the side of the boat , land the fish and then go back and retrieve the sock.
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Without a buoy on the harness the sock will sink and be gone forever.
How To Use A Drift Sock
Using the drift sock is pretty easy.
- Attach the harness to the sock.
- Attach the other end of the harness to the boat.
- Throw the sock in the water.
- Once it hits the water it will “open up” and start to drag water.
Where you attach the sock on the boat will depend on your preferred method of drifting. If you’re fishing from the side of the boat with a single drift sock then most boats need the sock in the middle or front portion of the boat.
Drift Sock 101 Video
Here’s everything you need to know about choosing and using a drift sock in video.
Be sure to check out our other catfishing videos and subscribe to the Catfish Edge Youtube Channel.
Drift fishing can be a very productive technique for catching numbers of channel catfish and blue catfish and even trophy blue catfish. Having a drift sock and learning boat control is one aspect of learning how to successfully drift fish for catfish.
To get in depth information on drift fishing, all the details you need to be successful and catch more fish checkout the Drift Fishing For Catfish program one of the digital products from Catfish Edge.
If you’re not ready to buy the drift fishing for catfish book you can get more tips on drift fishing for catfish here on this television show I hosted on Fox Sports Outdoors.