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Using Drift Anchors

Drift anchors help you catch more fish

March 29, 2011
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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.

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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.

**Purpose Built
**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.

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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.

**Components
**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.

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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.

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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.

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