A drift anchor, by comparison, is a specialized tool for particular types of fishing when you need to slow the drift of the boat. Although it could keep the bow into the seas, it is not built to the exacting standards of a sea anchor and, therefore, should not be considered a worthy substitute. A drift anchor uses its funnel shape to catch water and restrict flow through the small opening at its opposite end. This generates drag and slows a boat's drift. While a sea anchor requires an exorbitant amount of rode, a drift anchor needs only enough rode so it rises and falls in sync with the boat. If the rode is too short, the bow of the boat could dip down as the anchor rises on the crest, and vice versa. Should that occur, the anchor could repeatedly collapse and fill, which can stress and possibly break the chute or rode.
The components of a drift anchor include its conical chute, rode, swivel shackle, shackle to join the rode to the anchor, and trip line, which floats (if it's made from polypropylene) or has a float attached to it so that it remains separated from the main rode and within easy reach. The trip line allows the angler to collapse the chute and pull it into the boat to fight a fish by the boat or move to another spot.
There are several brands of drift anchors catering to various fishing styles and budgets. The Drift Control drift sock (www.lindyfishingtackle.com) is a popular choice catering to inshore, nearshore and some offshore fishermen. The company's top-selling Original series is available in four sizes, ranging from approximately 25 inches to 5 feet, and costs from $55 to $85. The socks are fabricated from lightweight nylon and fortified with 1-inch nylon straps. Their upper cylinder floats, and bottom weights promote swift openings and limited rotation. They're popular with bay and nearshore coastal anglers drifting for halibut, fluke, striped bass, seatrout, redfish and mackerel.
For midsize and large fishing boats that frequent rougher waters, Wave Tamer drift socks (www.lindyfishingtackle.com) are a bit more durable and less prone to spinning, sinking or collapsing in such conditions. A spring-biased opening and top flotation promote quick deployment and retrieval. They range from 3 to 14 feet and cost from $70 to $185.
The Hercules of Drift Anchors
A popular choice among many serious offshore anglers is the Para-Tech sea anchor line (seaanchor.com). These are more in line with true sea anchors yet are widely used for fishing from big center consoles and midsize and large offshore fishing boats. They can be found assisting the drifts of many crafts fishing for tuna, swordfish, shark and sailfish, from the Northeast canyons to the Pacific. Their performance and durability - particularly in rough seas - make them a hit among the offshore crowd. In addition, they do double duty as a safety device should a boat become disabled in rough seas.
Para-Tech has eight models, ranging from 6 to 40 feet and priced from $270 to $4,200, including a deployable stowage bag, heavy-duty shackle, float line and instruction manual, but not the floats, anchor rode or swivel shackle.
Harry Vernon III, an ardent live-bait sailfish and swordfish angler from Miami and owner of Capt. Harry's Fishing Supply, swears by his 15-foot Para-Tech sea anchor. "It's the best there is," says Vernon. "It keeps my 31-foot center console's bow into the sea and helps stabilize it. No matter how rough the water, we can comfortably fish a full spread of baits behind the boat. I chose the 15-footer because I want my boat to nearly sit still. It really cuts down on drift speed, and I stay over good bottom much longer."
The manufacturers of drift anchors have charts to help you determine the most effective one for your size of boat. Keep in mind that you can fine-tune the drift with the size of anchor you select.
Drift anchors are indeed a drag - but in a good way. Every inshore, nearshore and offshore boat that drift-fishes even occasionally should have one. Find one angler who wouldn't want to stay longer on top of a feeding school of fish, and I'll show you a person who has no business being out there in the first place.
Where Drift Anchors Shine
DEEP-JIGGING: Slows the vessel's drift so that deep jigs and flutter-style jigs can easily reach bottom and be worked effectively. Allows an angler to go with a lighter jig to get the job done, especially when braided line is used.
BOTTOMFISHING WITH NATURAL BAIT: Reduces drift speed so sinkers and baits remain on the bottom longer. Lighter weights can be used under a slow drift.
STEALTHY APPROACHES: For quietly drifting into schooling or feeding fish in shallow water. Get upwind, deploy the drift anchor and unobtrusively "slide" into the fish.
COMPETING WITH OTHER BOATS: When the noise and ruckus of boats working over a school of fish sends them down or slows the bite, try drifting through the fish quietly and without power.
WRECK FISHING: Deploying a drift anchor enables you to position an attractive spread of live baits throughout the water column and keep them in the strike zone over that wreck much longer.
SHARK, TUNA, SAILFISH AND SWORDFISH: A must-have item when drifting in the canyons, over deep peaks and depressions in the Gulf Stream, over reefs and along color changes.