Make Your Own Drift: Trolling Motor Fluke Tactics - The Fisherman

Make Your Own Drift: Trolling Motor Fluke Tactics

The Fisherman’s Jim Hutchinson, Jr. removes a MagicTail Magic Squid Hoochie jig with Gulp Swimming Mullet from his first keeper of ’24 in wind-against-tide conditions on May 4.

As author Napoleon Hill once wrote, “Drifting, without aim or purpose, is the first cause of failure.”

Preparing for the summer flounder season is a rite of passage, handed down from generation to generation. Last year’s vacuum-sealed frozen fillets are being moved to the front of the freezer to make room for this year’s harvest as we look over our notes, reviewing which spots were hot and which were not.  We do everything we possibly can to increase our odds of consistently filling our coolers with keepers headed for the fillet table, but what can we do to increase our odds of staying in the “Zone of Productivity” once we are out on the water?

The answer, use a trolling motor!

Now that our fluke season is well underway, you’ve probably already dealt with those instances of wind against tide, or perhaps waiting out slack water to get back on the drift.  Well before I delve into the trolling motor tactics that I use to greatly increase the probability of bending a rod, I wanted to share a story about the history of the trolling motor itself.  Its 1934 in Fargo, North Dakota when a man by the name of O.G. Schmidt took the starter motor from his Ford Model A, affixed a flexible driveshaft to it and then attached a propeller at the business end of the shaft.  He secured the motor to the stern of his boat and off he drifted into the sunset with the first ever gear driven electric trolling motor.

Schmidt’s new motor quickly caught the attention of boaters looking for more control of their vessels and his new company was born.  Since O.G. Schmidt lived close to the Minnesota and North Dakota borders, he named his company after the regions that he called home, hence, the birth of the Minn Kota trolling motor company.  Other inventors and companies eventually followed with their own versions of trolling motors, but it was good old O.G. Schmidt and Minn Kota that first gave boaters and anglers one of the most useful and important pieces of equipment that we can install on our boats today.

Today’s trolling motors offer anglers a plethora of features and functions to sharpen an angler’s flounder fishing tactics and to keep them in the most productive zones possible while pursuing their quarry.  Vessels from 12 feet to 30 feet and longer are adorned with powerful trolling motors on their bows.  Manually deploying, auto deploying, GPS capabilities, auto pilot, “cruise control,” spot-locking and tracking functions are some of the features that make today’s electric trolling motors an integral part of an angler’s fishing arsenal that leads to consistent success while on the fishing grounds.

The author manages through brisk, easterly winds on the season opener, making minor adjustments in the Minn Kota’s compass heading via the remote to help stay within the zone of productivity.

Adjusting Drift Speed

As we all know, drift speed when fishing for summer flounder is crucial; if you are drifting too fast or, to the contrary, too slow we are going to miss bites.  Using a trolling motor to control your drift speed is not only critical, but it’s relatively easy to do.  However, as we all know, there are multiple factors that affect our drift speed.  Whether it be a strong current, a stiff wind or the ever-dreaded combination of both, a boat’s drift speed can play a major part in the day’s successes or failures.

On days when the wind is calm, but the current is hustling and you find yourself drifting faster than .6 mph to 1 mph, simply point your trolling motor into the oncoming current and incrementally increase your motor’s speed until you slow your boat down and reach the desired drift speed where you’re able to keep your line straight up and down without scoping.  If the wind is brisk and directly in line with the oncoming current (wind with tide), you’ll have to increase the speed of your trolling motor accordingly.

In the event of a wind against tide situation, you will have to determine which environmental factor is taking the lead on affecting your drift speed and position your motor to ensure your boat is drifting with the current within that .6 mph to 1 mph sweet spot.  If the wind is too strong and your drift is too slow, point your trolling motor in the direction the current is flowing (with the tide) and adjust your motor’s speed accordingly.  Remember, the goal is to move in the direction that the tide is flowing to properly present your bait or lure to that flounder that is lying in wait, ready to ambush an unsuspecting meal!

Then there are the tricky days when the wind is neither with nor against the tide, but is coming laterally, from one side or the other, pushing your boat off line and out of that zone of productivity.   This is where practice, trial and error, acquired experience and knowledge of your trolling motor’s capabilities come into play.  For instance, if you are in an east/west running channel and you have an outgoing tide that is flowing in an eastwardly direction with wind coming out of the south that pushes your boat into the northern bank along the channel or creek, don’t panic.  The simple solution here is to point your trolling motor into the wind and adjust your motor’s speed setting to hold you in the “zone” that you wish to remain.  That zone might be a certain depth where the flounder seem to be holding or along a certain contour such as a ledge, drop-off or slough.

Remember, it’s imperative to stay in that productive zone and at the right speed to increase your chances of catching fish.  In the event that you not only need to combat the lateral (sideways) wind, but also the current, simply angle your boat/trolling motor into both the wind and the current and adjust your motor’s speed accordingly.  Remember geometry class?  Yep, it’s all about the angles here!

Having a trolling motor mounted on the bow is like having another captain onboard to allow the angler and net man to get into position to score.

Auto Pilot

Now that you are familiar with dealing with wind speed and water current, let’s jump head first into setting our vessel on a specific course so we can relax a little and concentrate more on working the rod and not the remote.  Auto pilot simply defined is the function of your trolling motor that picks a point off in the distance and keeps your boat on that course heading.  Of course, wind direction and speed, as well as the current, will come into play here, but let’s simplify best we can.  I own a Minn Kota Riptide Terrova 24-volt trolling motor installed on my 23-foot Carolina Skiff DLV.  Though I can’t speak to the specific functions of other trolling motor brands, I can definitely elaborate on the auto pilot function of my Minn Kota and the one minor setting adjustment I made that greatly impacted my success of remaining in the zone of productivity.

The auto pilot function on my Minn Kota has two categories: “Legacy” and “Advanced.”  In my opinion, the “Advanced” setting lent to more frustration on the water when the wind was impacting the boat from the side.  The “Advanced” auto pilot setting tries to keep your vessel on a very specific line, like a snap-line, which lent to the motor tacking sharply from side to side (port to starboard) in an attempt to stay on that imaginary line, which can often lead to tangled fishing lines and interrupted drifts.  That’s why I have my trolling motor’s auto pilot function set to “Legacy,” which simply picks a specific point off in the distance and pulls your boat in the direction of said point.  In the event that the wind pushes your boat from the side, the trolling motor doesn’t tack sharply to keep you on that aforementioned “imaginary line,” but simply continues pulling your boat forward toward the imaginary point.  Then it’s up to me to make very minor adjustments in the motor’s compass heading, via the remote, to smoothly stay in the zone.

I promise you, this isn’t as complicated as it seems and the more time you spend on the water using your trolling motor, the easier this all becomes to the point that it becomes second nature.

“The more you use your trolling motor to adapt with the various conditions you encounter, the better you will get with controlling your boat’s drift,” advises the author.

No Speed Kills

And what happens when the current stops and it’s dead low or dead high tide?  What I’m about to explain has produced some of the nicest flatties I’ve ever boated since I put the Minn Kota on my skiff.  No matter the tide, incoming or outgoing, when it stops moving just keep your trolling motor pointed in the direction the water was flowing before it stopped.  Drop your “drift speed” down closer to .6 mph and get ready; big fluke love to wait for a tasty meal to slowly move into their wheelhouse with the least amount of current so they can strike and expend the least amount of energy.

The trick here while trolling motoring through slack tide is to watch your line very closely while creating your own drift.  The water along the bottom tends to change direction before the water along the surface, so when you see your line starting to scope, change directions with your trolling motor.  For instance, the outgoing tide stopped running and we are at dead low tide; keep your boat moving in the direction it was with the outgoing tide, but drop your speed down a little.  As soon as you see your line starting to scope, switch it up and change the direction that your boat is heading since the tide is starting to creep back in along the bottom.  Utilize this same tactic at the top of the tide as well to increase your chances of coaxing a big lazy flounder into striking your jig or bait.

The more you use your trolling motor to adapt with the various conditions you encounter, the better you will get with controlling your boat’s drift to keep you and your fishing buddies in the zone of productivity.  Strikes will come, drags will scream and the sweet cry of, “Get the net,” will fill the air like the chatter of those laughing gulls!

Check out the author’s YouTube Fishing Channel @BStavFishing.



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