Those who regularly drop anchor or power-drift over structure in pursuit of bottomfish know all too well that if we're off our mark by as little as several feet, we'll miss the bite. Successful bottomfishing is an intricate game interweaving current, wind, structure, depth, fish habits and precise positioning: Identify where the fish are stacking, get your baits down into that zone, and come home a winner.
Power drifting is a common tactic over deep structure and wrecks in situations where anchoring would prove impractical - or monumental. It basically requires the helmsman to use the boat power to stem a current and/or hold into a wind and remain over a precise piece of bottom long enough to jig or soak baits around it. It's downright effective on all types of bottomfish, and even pelagics.
As elementary as it sounds, the tactic still perplexes many. How do you position the boat right on top of that spot long enough to probe for fish? How do you fish multiple lines and avoid tangles? And when the wind or current become a factor, how do you keep from sliding off your mark? With all of the scenarios above in play, setting up for an effective drift can require a little bit of strategizing.
One of Capt. Bouncer smith's many specialties is power drifting over deep wrecks, ledges, humps and other prominent structures off Miami, where he catches grouper, snapper, cobia, amberjack, African pompano, kingfish, and even the occasional wahoo and sailfish. He's a master of this game and has simplified the process and identified the keys to successful power drifting.
Given the advancements in marine electronics, locating and sizing up a wreck or bottom structure has never been easier. Smith recommends making a north-south pass over the structure, marking a waypoint at each end. Then he advises making another pass over the structure, this time east to west and once again marking the waypoint at both ends. "So now you have four waypoints that outline the wreck," says Smith. "With the wreck marked clearly on your chart plotter, you know precisely where it is and where your boat is in relationship to that structure."
"You should also watch your fish finder during your passes over the wreck and take note where the fish are concentrated," he says. "In our area grouper tend to station upstream of a wreck, the mutton snapper behind or downstream, mangroves and yellowtail on top, and cobia and amberjack above and in front of a wreck."
Once the structure, as well as where the fish are holding, is identified on the plotter, consider how wind and current will influence your positioning over that spot. Line up the waypoint you plan to fish and initially position yourself well ahead of the wreck. As the boat drifts back to the wreck, you'll get a good idea of how to compensate to remain above the target.
"Wind will be the biggest factor in power drifting, and with an outboard boat, you must keep stern to the wind to maintain control," says Smith. "Think of the engine as a flagpole and the boat as the flag. Therefore, seas permitting, power-drift in reverse over the structure for the most control and fishing time over a spot. Use enough reverse throttle to hold your position and keep the fishing lines nearly vertical.
"Once you're in position, keeping everyone fishing and tangle-free also requires some thought. Braided line is a must for this style of fishing, due to its minimal resistance. Furthermore, its lack of stretch promotes more solid hookups. Plus, it's just tough stuff and great for fishing around structure."
Lock and Load
The next factor involves using just enough weight to reach and remain in contact with bottom. "To keep lines from tangling in a power-drifting situation, one rod should have a lighter weight than the others," says Smith. "Just a couple less ounces of weight on one outfit could make a big difference. The line with the lighter weight will be subject to more blow-back, which will position the line and its bait farther back than the line and bait on the outfit with the heavier weight. Both baits will be fishing in different zones. You might even consider using a different bait on that lighter outfit so it will also appeal to different species."
And if working two bottom baits isn't enough, Smith recommends adding a vertical jig to the mix and free-lining a surface bait for pelagics foraging in the water column.
Power drifting also offers anglers mobility. Hook into a large fish and you can power away with it, where remaining stationary might result in a cutoff.
Power drifting produces over both deep and shallow structure, such as inlet ledges and rock piles. Master the proper boat handling and bait deployment, and your final challenge just might be trying to muscle a trophy fish away from its home.
Rigging tips: The Feel Deal
Staying in contact with your bottom bait will put more fish in the box. Braid telegraphs the subtle rolls of the sinker over bottom and strikes right up the line to the angler, giving him the advantage of knowing exactly what is happening down below. It is a big plus for bottomfishing. Here are five tips that will help you keep in touch with your bottom baits:
Use braided line and low-stretch fluorocarbon leaders to monitor your baits.
Always use the lightest sinker to hold bottom, as heavy weights diminish your ability to detect subtle strikes.
Always keep a slightly taut line to feel the action of your bait.
Always strive to feel the sinker on or near the bottom. This is done by free-spooling until the sinker hits bottom and then taking a turn or two on the reel handle to remove slack.
Watch the rod tip, as it will reveal the slightest tap on the line.