Get the Drift

As the boat rocked gently with the waves, I leaned back in the lawn chair, soaked up the sunshine and sipped an ice-cold sweet tea. The wind blew just enough to keep the boat moving at a snail’s pace and a masseuse could not have put my muscles into a more relaxed state. Even my fingers had loosened their once tight grip on the spinning rod, which was now only held in the palm of my hand by gravity. I was nearly asleep when something at the bottom of the lake decided it was hungry for the smelly shad attached to the end of my line. It attacked the bait with the force of a semi, and I went from unconscious to cardiac arrest in the blink of an eye. I lunged and grabbed the rod as it was going over the side of the boat. A quick set of the hook and the fight was on. After a few minutes of rod bending and line stretching, a pot-bellied blue catfish was hoisted into the boat.

Drift fishing is the process of letting your bait bounce along the bottom while a gentle wind blows your boat slowly across the lake. Using this method to pursue catfish during August and September can provide exceptional results in any body of water inhabited by these bottom-dwelling, whiskered fish. During the late summer and early fall, catfish will spread out onto large, open flats in lakes. Finding the catfish can be difficult and drifting allows you to cover a large area and increase your odds of putting the bait in front of fish. Although flathead catfish can occasionally be caught drifting, channel catfish and blue catfish are more likely to engulf your bait. The widespread distribution of these fish and their willingness to eat just about anything make them a great source of fun for beginning and experienced anglers alike.

Catfish don’t care about fancy bait presentations or high-dollar fishing gear. If you can push the button on a reel and let the bait drop to the bottom, you can drift for catfish. You never know what size of fish is going to strike, so it is best to use 17–20 pound test line. Catfish are not particularly finicky and are more concerned with the smell of the bait than the size of the line. If the body of water you are fishing produces larger