Let the wind be your guide
Anchoring and trolling are undoubtedly productive methods of fishing in Southeast Louisiana. However, wintertime ‘yak fishermen who learn to drift will find that this method can put fish in the box when nothing else will.
Wintertime fishing requires slow presentation and feeling for that ever-so-slight bite. Drifting allows you to cover a lot of ground and locate where the fish are holding.
The marshes of South Louisiana offer countless areas that are easily accessible and are great for drift fishing. Drifting can be just as productive in deeper canals and pipelines as it is in large lagoons and bays. Many of the areas that are productive in the spring and summer will also produce winter fish — you just have to go at them a little differently.
One of the best drifting methods is to “drag” soft plastics behind the ‘yak using 1/8- or 1/4-ounce jig heads depending on how fast you are drifting. The key is that the jig must bounce on the bottom as the kayak pulls it along. If you’re not feeling the bottom, you likely won’t catch fish. The speed of the drift will determine the weight of the jig head you use. In deeper areas, letting out more line will help get the bait on the bottom and into the strike zone.
Once a productive drift is made, the trick is to quickly paddle back upwind and repeat. You may only pick up a few fish on each drift, but they will quickly add up.
If you find fish stacked in one location, you should quietly use a stake-out pole (what ‘yakers call a Cajun anchor) to stop and fish that area. However, more times than not, you will do better by making several drifts through an area than by sitting in one place. These fish are not active and won’t come to you; you have to go to them.
The bites will generally be subtle, and you should set the hook anytime you feel something different on your line. Holding your finger on the line will help feel light strikes. Submerged grass is common in many areas. If you quit getting bites, check your bait as it may be fouled with grass.
In addition to tight-lined soft plastics, popping corks and a variety of suspending hard plastics are also very effective for drift fishing. Work the baits in all directions to see where the fish are located. Working the baits slowly and paying attention to any slight changes in feel will produce more successful hook-ups.
A soft plastic under a popping cork can also be a deadly combination for drift fishing. However, you shouldn’t work it as aggressively as you do in the summertime. Oftentimes, the fish will hit a plastic tail under a popping cork while it’s sitting dead still in the water. Adjusting the depth of the cork so that the bait sits near the bottom will keep it in the strike zone and help avoid snags.
Drifting is successful because it puts the bait right in front of fish that might otherwise not expend the effort to chase it down. Most of these fish are muddy, have marks on their bellies and small leeches attached to their bodies. They’re just lying on the bottom, but can’t resist a bait that’s dragged right in front of them.
Although fish are usually found in deep holes during the coldest of temperatures, they regularly move into all but the shallowest of lakes and bays throughout the marsh. This is where a kayak gives you a big advantage in accessing these shallow areas. Most of your favorite spring and summer fishing spots will also produce fish during the winter.
Don’t overlook drifting through the many short passes and cuts between lakes and bays. It won’t take long to drift through them, but if you catch fish, you can do it over and over again.
Drifting winding bayous is more difficult than down a pencil-straight pipeline or a vast lake, but can also be very productive. It may take a little more effort to control the path of your ‘yak, but if you have a rudder, that really shouldn’t be a problem. If not, you can put the rod in a holder and use your paddle blade to steer the ‘yak during the drift.
On larger areas, it may take several drifts to locate which runs are most productive. When you end a successful drift, move over a bit and quietly paddle back upwind and repeat. The last thing you want to do is paddle right through the area where you just caught fish.
Drifting is more than simply letting the wind blow you where it will. Precise control of the kayak will allow you to pinpoint productive areas and repeat successful drifts. It doesn’t take much wind to move a kayak, and you can easily find that you’re drifting too fast for the fish to bite. Use of a small a drift sock will slow your drift speed and help maintain your course.
Many have rigged their kayaks with electronic gadgets. Used properly, these can greatly increase your drifting success. A GPS with a tracking mode can help ensure that you repeat a successful drift. In addition to plotting the course of your drift, you can mark spots along the drift where fish were found. By watching your depth finder while drifting, you can identify ledges, holes and other bottom structure such as oyster beds. You can then steer your ‘yak to make it drift over these productive areas.
One advantage of winter fishing is that you can leave a little later and not miss any action. Drifting at midday, after the water and air temps have risen a couple of degrees, can be very productive and much more comfortable.
It’s sometimes easy to lose track of how far you are traveling, especially if you are catching fish. Be conscious of your paddling limits since you will likely be heading back against the wind.
If you haven’t tried drift fishing in your kayak, you’re definitely missing out on some great wintertime fishing. So instead of staying home on those windy days or coming back empty handed, try setting up for a day of leisurely drift fishing — you will catch fish.