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KAYAK DRIFT FISHING

The author provides a few basic guidelines that will help you catch more fish and spend less time paddling on your next kayak adventure.
By Elias Vaisberg
Tags: inshore
KAYAK DRIFT FISHING
Setting yourself up along structure and letting your line out properly makes a world of difference between catching and getting snagged.

I’ll never forget my first year with a kayak and my first experience under the Marine Parkway Bridge on New York’s Jamaica Bay. My vessel back then wasn’t as nimble as my current Hobie and I was quite intimidated after being humbled by a hard three-knot current.

Needless to say I had several trips where I ended up skunked because I just hadn’t figured out how to fish areas of strong current from these self-powered vessels. Rather than deal with harsh the currents in areas I knew to be especially productive, I ended up sticking to mostly backbay zones and fishing marsh edges.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with fishing back bay waters if you know they hold fish, and I enjoy a relaxing trip as much as anyone. Still, it’s a fact of fishing that over the course of the season you’ll do best in areas with significant current and that’s where I concentrate most of my efforts today.

In 2012, for example, I spent close to 80% of my season in “hard current” areas. The change in my focus waters has come as a gradual adjustment made possible by an evolving understanding of how to tackle these tough spots. It took five years to for me to learn how to properly approach fishing areas like bridges and jetties with my kayak but as soon as I grasped the major concepts, my catches soared.

Hopefully, the following guidelines will cut your learning curve significantly. Just keep in mind as you digest this information that the most important thing is to take it easy. Don’t go right out to the middle of the channel if you aren’t ready for it. Gradual steps will bring you there, comfortably and safely, in due time.

DON’T SCOPE OUT
Those who fish from kayaks spend a lot of time and exert a lot of physical energy getting into position to work prime water. Don't blow all your effort by letting too much line out when you finally drop your rig to the bottom. I spent a good part of my early kayak summers trying to figure out how to get a bucktail down quickly in 40 feet of water. In the process, I often ended up both skunked and physically exhausted.

Over time I learned that casting uptide just as I was coming off the momentum from my paddle could be a key to fluke bucktailing success. By pointing my bow directly into the flow of current and guaging how far uptide I had to cast for the lure to settle right under the boat turned out to be a huge key in improving my hook-up ratio with fluke and stripers. If you plan your attack so that your line will settle vertically a little bit uptide of your kayak your lure will spend more time in the strike zone.

Simply put, catch ratios are significantly less when bottom bouncing with bucktails or jigs if your line has scoped out before hitting the sea floor. Precise positioning makes the difference between using a 1-ounce bucktail or a 1-1/2-ounce bucktail as well, and that can really make a world of a difference in what you end up catching.

There is nothing more frustrating than having your line run straight to the stern of the kayak, forcing you to repeat the drift almost immediately since you have already exited the target zone. Keep in mind, too, that every day is different. Sometimes you might need to cast only a few feet off the bow if the current is mild and between extreme moon phases, other times you'll need to send out a legimate cast.

ZERO IN ON BRIDGE RIPS
Bridge rips can really be dynamite for bass but learning how to fish them is tricky. Some rips hold stripers and some are simply void of life. Knowing where the fish stage to ambush their pray is a huge help. These areas tend to be very small and up tight to the structure. If your jig is not in that zone – at the exact right moment - you’ll catch nothing except nasty snags.

It’s easy to get frustrated with bridge fishing as the current can be especially difficult to work with and you need to constantly be on guard at all times. Bridge rips tend to have a lot of cross currents that can put a belly in your line, and it is possible to get snagged around such structure in the blink of an eye. these rips can also spin your boat at times so it is vital to keep track of your line to avoid costly tangles. If you are jigging with soft plastics or diamond jigs, avoid casting while your kayak has high momentum as you come off the pedals.

When it comes to working bridge rips, the most important point to keep in mind is to locate the fish before casting so that you know exactly where they are stacked. This way, when you pass over them again, you can make sure your line is vertical and your jig is working tight to the bottom. Sometimes you need only have your lure in the strike zone for 30 seconds or connect - so make the most of you sight, hearing and electronics to pin-point the fish whenever possible. Oftentimes, performing a castless drift through a target zone will provide the info you need. I generally expect to find stripers feeding withing three feet of the bottom but they can be anywhere in the water column on any given day.

Also remember to always have your paddle ready if you are headed into the bridge itself so you can gently push yourself off if necessary.

SOME SAFETY ADVICE
I learned first-hand early-on that running into bridge rips too quickly in a kayak with foot peddles and put you at risk of a dumping. That's because these rips often have cross currents, some strong enough to flip your rudder in the opposite direction beneath your boat. When that happens, your kayak will swing around and, if you are caught off guard, a simple weight shift can be all it takes to roll.

In a paddle kayak the navigator has more direction control since he or she is not relying on a rudder - but it is always important to respect areas with strong or divergent currents. For this reason, it is always a good idea to approach bridges and heavy structure slowly until you get a feel for the immediate current flow.