Drift Fishing for Big Blue Catfish
Generally speaking the idea of drifting for Blue Cats is relativity simple, although, it goes against every instinct a kayak catfisherman might have. Instead of anchoring up like the traditional methods of catfishing, the angler is to use no anchor at all. This allows the current to push the kayak down river; the speed however should be maintained by the angler and his paddle. The angler should regulate his vessel’s speed around 1 mph; this can be achieved by using a depth finders speed readings if one is equipped. It is understood that many kayak anglers do not have this option; therefore, regulating speed must be done by instinct alone. This means, if you feel like you’re going too fast.... you usually are. It is a fairly simple concept on that end.
(8/0 Gamakatzu Circle hook, 30-50lb mono leader, barrel swivel, 2-5oz egg weight)
The rig used for kayak drifting is about as simple a catfish rig there is. It is the tried and true Carolina Rig. In most cases this rig is used for bottom fishing with great success, yet, it works equally well for drift fishing. The only modifications that should be made to this rig are shortening the leader length to a foot in length or just under. This allows the angler to drop the rig down to the bottom and give it one crank up. By cranking it once is usually puts the bait about 3 feet off of the bottom, this of course depends on the gear ratio of the angler's reel. The angler can either place the rod in the rod holder or hold it in hand and get up close and personal with the bite. Both of these options have its advantages. Holding the rod allows for the angler to lift the rod up swiftly if the bait runs into shallower water or some form of cover. This option is best suited for kayak anglers that are not equipped with a depth finder. The second option is placing the rod in the rod holder. This method allows for the angler to have more than one rod out at a time, thus increasing the odds for a double. If the kayak is positioned sideways with rods out of the front and rear it also allows for the angler to make a wider bait path, increasing the odds for hook up.
Now we get down to the advanced form of drifting, drifting using a depth finder to stay on a channel edge in rivers or a creek channel edge in lakes. Though for most boaters this may not seem like that big of a deal, however, many kayak anglers do not have a depth finder equipped, thus making this form of drifting next to impossible. Whenever I drift I usually like to keep my kayak positioned directly over the drop off, fishing where it levels off into the channel. I fish these areas because most of the time (other than the spawn) big catfish use these edges as highways up and down the river. They will usually be on this thin stretch of water more often than they will be directly out in the middle of the river. They are also great transitional areas as fish move from the depths up on the channels to feed. Having a depth finder also works wonders when drifting down the bank. When cats are holding tight to cover in holes rather than running the river I will use this techniques to drift from one hole to another, raising the bait higher off the bottom as I pass over flats.
As far as bait is concerned here on the James in Richmond, Virginia the bait of choice is shad. Usually Hickory Shad in the spring and Gizzard Shad the rest of the year. Although, eel, cut sunfish, carp, and other forms of cut bait work as well, it just depends on what the forage fish is in your area. Drifting can also be paired with live bait when targeting Flathead Catfish and more active summertime Blues.
In closing, the technique of drifting has been pioneered by catfishermen years ago, although we began using it in the kayak at the beginning of 2013. So far I have tied my personal best blue in the kayak at 65lbs; it has also produced many fish in the 20-30lb range. It proves to be an easy transition from the boat to the kayak for this technique and I expect it to catch on like wildfire with most of the kayak fishermen in these blue cat river systems. The best thing drifting has going for it is that it gets the kayak fisherman active. Most of the time these big blues are pursued in cooler month so the constant bites and increased hook ups really keep the angler on his toes and his blood pumping. If you’re looking for a lazy day on the river catching a handful of cats then by all means find a good hole and anchor up in it. If you’re looking for fast paced fishing with constant bowed rods and the increased odds of landing a monster..... I suggest giving drifting a try.
- Josh Dolin