Catching fish is a continuous game of fine-tuning. And when drifting, one vital piece of equipment is a drift anchor, or drift sock, which helps fine-tune the speed at which a boat drifts over an expanse of promising structure, a wreck or even schooling fish.
When setting out a spread of live baits from my 28-foot center console in pursuit of sailfish and kingfish, I'll generally start my drift without the drift anchor. My speed over ground is quicker, drifting sockless, so we cover more ground and better our odds of finding fish. Once we strike fish, we put the drift anchor out and can stay on top of them much longer.
However, if we're faced with a swift drift due to a fast current or moderate breeze, the drift anchor goes out regardless, even if fish are scattered. That's because a fast drift hinders the placement and action of live baits, bottom baits and even jigs. Without a drift anchor, additional weight may be required to keep baits in specific positions within the water column. And excess weight could be sensed by a fish picking up a bait and also reduce our ability to visually monitor rod tips for subtle pickups. Furthermore, it's more difficult for smaller, less-durable baits - like pilchards and ballyhoo - to weather the rigors of quick drifts than it is for heartier, stronger baits like blue runners, goggle-eyes and tinker mackerel. When jigging or bottomfishing on the drift, constant free-spooling is a must to reach and hold near bottom; if the boat drifts too quickly, it leaves the lines too far behind to be effective.
Though we use a drift anchor mainly for our offshore pursuits, it is by no means reserved strictly for reefs and blue water. We've used it on windy days over shallow patch reefs for mackerel, snappers and groupers, and even over some of the deeper grass beds in Florida's Biscayne Bay for seatrout.
There is a significant difference between a sea anchor and a drift anchor, though they appear to do the same thing in their basic forms. A sea anchor is a safety device first and foremost, one which must be approved by the U.S. Coast Guard. Since its main purpose is to save lives by keeping the bow into the seas when a boat becomes disabled in water that is too deep to anchor in, it's built to exacting stand-ards. Failure is not an option.
Furthermore, a sea anchor is usually several times larger than a drift anchor for the same-size vessel. When choosing a sea anchor, the general rule is to select one with a diameter that's double the draft of the boat for monohulls. That is, a boat with a draft of 3 feet would require a sea anchor with a 6-foot diameter. The anchor's maximum pull (strength) in tons should equal its diameter in feet. So a 6-foot sea anchor should be able to withstand a pull of six tons. Then, to ensure the sea anchor works properly, the amount of nylon rode paid out should be the result of doubling the wave height and then multiplying by 10. This means that in a 6-foot sea, for example, you'd need to pay out 120 feet of rode (6 x 2 x 10). With Dacron and polyester rodes, double the wave height and multiply by 20 (nylon has about 10 percent stretch, Dacron and polyester roughly 5 percent). Failure to use the proper length of rode could cause the line to snap or destroy the sea anchor.