Summer Drift Fishing

By Dale Helgeson - August 1, 2004
It is early August and the sun is beating down as you head out to your favorite fishing hole. It is here the "Dog Days of Summer". Your mind begins to wonder as to which technique you should try today. Do you troll the weed edges with crawler harness or crank baits, cast rubber worms under piers, or bobber fish the weeds for pan fish. There are many options when it comes to fishing. Although it is the middle of summer and the water temperatures have climbed well into the 70's on most lakes and even pushing low 80's on other smaller lakes. What will trigger fish into biting?

When the water temperatures climb I start to look for deeper water. On big lakes like Lake Geneva by my home you can fish depths of up to 120 feet, although I don't normally fish depths more than 55 unless I am targeted Lake Trout. But I have caught jumbo smallies in 70 feet of water on a hot summer's day.

Boat traffic can be atrocious in the summer especially on the weekends. So trolling can be very difficult. One of my favorite techniques for summer fishing is drift fishing. Drift fishing can produce many fish in a short period of time if you do your homework before fishing. Before you start fishing unless you know exactly where the fish are I like to go over the area with my electronics. I use my Lowrance X15 to run over some of the water I want to fish and see if they are holding in that area. It is important to trust your electronics. You can also drag an underwater camera to see what fish are down there and what they are relating to.

Once you have your target areas you must decide what bait to use. Most of my summer drifting is done for walleyes, small mouth bass, and northern pike. My favorite baits for drifting these fish are night crawlers, leeches, perch (which must be caught in the same body of water you are fishing), creek chubs, and small suckers. My standard rig is bait casting rod and reel combo with a limber tip like Pflueger Trion Round Bail Bait caster combo. It has a soft limber tip but still has a good backbone for fighting fish. I typically spool it with either 10 pound high abrasion Red Cajun or 10 pound Power Pro. I tend to use longer leaders on clear lakes such as Lake Geneva though and smaller diameter like Power Pro's 8 pound which has a 1 pound diameter. I use slip sinkers on the main line to a bearing snap. The bearing snap is preferred to the barrel swivel because it will stop more weeds from get while still being able to spin because the weeds and algae can clog a barrel swivel while it won't clog a bearing swivel. This is because only one side of the bearing swivel moves and a barrel swivel both sides move. Then I attach usually around a 5 foot leader to the snap and a circle hook to the end of the leader. I do like a small bead in front of the hook occasionally as well usually a red bead works best.

Another option depending on drift speed is using a jig. I like to use Nuckleball jigs by Fin-Tech Tackle Company because they are a stand up jig and I can actually drag them on the bottom and the bait will stick up in the air offering something for them to eat. I will lift it off the bottom 1-3 feet and let it slowly lower back down. Also if the drift is slow I will occasionally cast a rod rigged with a slip bobber to the side and put my drift rod in my RAM rod holder with the clicker on. I will usually use a Nuckleball jig at the end of my line to aid in sinking of the bait. I usually only use slip bobbers down to 30 feet though.

I like to either drift with the bail open or with the use of the clicker on the reel to detect bites. When you feel a bite I like to lower the rod tip for an a few seconds and then tighten the line and set the hook.

Now that you know how to drift them where do you start looking for them? Some of my favorite spots to drift are near deep water humps, drop off shelf's, or deep water flats. I find a lot of walleyes relating to deep water humps and deep water shelf's near drop offs or weed lines. In the large sand flats I tend to find more smallmouths and northern pike. I like water depths of 20-55 feet of water.

One overlooked area many people don't fish is the thermocline. If you have a deep enough lake to have one and you have good electronics that can pick it up you will find fish stacked through the thermocline. A thermocline is where a lake has two distinct water temperatures and it causes a layer of warmer water that can be picked up on a quality graph. Say the surface temp is 80 and you go down 45 feet and a thermocline is present and the bottom water is 50. Fish will relate to this warm water stacked right on top of the cold water. I have caught bluegills relating to these thermoclines before and the thermocline can change with changing water temperatures.

Once you find the thermocline and where the fish are relating to it I like to drift though it with my rig but you have to make sure you are at the right depths. I will often use my Shakespeare line counter trolling rods so I can repeat the depths that I am getting fish at.

In large sand flats drifting can be deadly this time of year. Since there are few obstacles or snags in this deep water anytime you feel something should be considered a fish. You are always better off setting the hook on nothing than not setting the hook and missing a fish. I like to fish near the edges of the drop offs near the flats or closer to the weed edge but you can find some lying right on top of the flats. Electronics will be your biggest asset in finding them as to their relation to the flat or edges.

A couple tips when drifting though are if the wind is too strong use a drift sock to slow you down as this is a slow methodical technique. If the wind is not present you may need to use your electric trolling motor like my Minn Kota 65 to pull you along. I always have it in the water for boat control anyway even in windy situations so your boat always faces the right direction and I can control the boat including waves from boat traffic. You may even have to incorporate both at times.

If you haven't tried summer drifting give it a try and you may be surprised at the size of fish lurking in the deep water that can be caught.

Remember to be safe and take a kid fishing.

Author Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson
Dale Helgeson is owner and operator of The Outdoor Experience Guide Service focusing on lakes in southeastern Wisconsin. Dale is a professional fisherman fishings the MWC walleye fishing circuits as well as writing articles for Lake-Link and Southeast Wisconsin Outdoor Guide among others. Dale is sponsored by these fine sponsors: Geneva Cabinet Company, Action Marine, DR Plastics, Maui Jim Sunglasses, Black Mountain Socks, RAM Mounts, Frabill, Pflueger Rods and Reels, Dave’s Kaboom Lures, Lake-Link.com, Kick’n Walleye Scents, Minn Kota, Strikemaster Augers, Mapping Specialists, Vexilar, Guest Pro Chargers, PowerPro Lines, KINeSYS Sunscreen, NPAA 872. His Pro Staffs include: Daiichi Hooks, XTools, FinTech Tackle Company, Off Shore Tackle, Navionics, Jammin Jigs/Bad Dog Lures