5 Helpful Drift Fishing Tips for Beginners

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Written By Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler with more than 20 years of fishing experience and a writer whose work has been featured in magazines for over a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States. He also fishes for trout in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, Paddling Space, Man Can Outdoors, Alabama Outdoor News, and Bassmaster.

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Drift fishing is angling without using an anchor and letting the current move your boat and bait, which is especially effective when fishing along a coastline or river.

Drift fishing is one of the most popular methods of angling in the world. It is effectively used to target and catch fish in a wide variety of locations including mountain streams, rivers, reservoirs, and even fishing on the open ocean. The concept of drift fishing is quite simple and requires a basic understanding of how currents work in order for anglers to take advantage of this type of fishing. 

There are a large number of different baits and lures that can be used for drift fishing. The main idea when it comes to drift fishing requires that an angler allow the current to carry their boat along with the current, or if they’re fishing from the shoreline, to cast their lure or bait upstream and allow it to be taken along with the current until it has reached a point where you simply retrieve it and cast again. 

In this article, we’ll take a deeper look at drift fishing and try to help beginner and novice anglers understand how it works, as well as various techniques they can use to help increase their chances of hooking up with a fish while using the drift fishing method. 

What is drift fishing?

Drift Fishing Along Rivers 

Drift fishing is one of the most common techniques for catching salmon and other types of fish that roam the rivers of North America and other parts of the world. This is mainly due to the fact that steelhead and other game fish species basically rely on the river currents themselves to be presented with an opportunity to make a meal out of a passing bait fish, egg, or a number of other potential prey items that can be eaten. 

This fishing technique can be used on just about any scale and trout fishing enthusiasts commonly utilize the river’s current to catch fish in a method known as nymphing. This kind of fishing basically requires the angler to cast their lure or bait upstream above where they expect fish to be staging and and carefully allow the current to let their bait ‘drift’ along in the river and appear as a naturally-occurring meal opportunity for these fish. 

Targeting Salmon

Drift fishing can be employed on a larger scale by serious salmon anglers who take to some of the larger rivers in the upper portion of the North American continent. Some of the most skilled salmon fishing enthusiasts will use the current to drift fish in a way that is highly effective. 

Drift fishing for salmon is typically done using a weight and some type of bobber or cork just above the hook. An angler will usually work their bait along the river’s bottom by bouncing it over rocks and allowing the current to gently carry the bait along. This method allows the bait to be presented to hungry salmon in such a way as to appear perfectly natural—the same way most other types of prey come into the mouths of these popular game fish species. 

in Lakes 

Drift fishing is actually quite common among freshwater fishing enthusiasts who frequent lakes and large reservoirs across the world. This technique is best used to catch certain species that utilize a lake’s main channels and rely on the water current deep below the surface to successfully catch certain types of fish. 

Most anglers who utilize drift fishing on lakes are going after catfish, walleye, smallmouth bass, pike, and other kinds of fish that are usually found in open water, well away from the shoreline in some cases. These fish commonly rely on the lakes current to carry small bait fish and other potential prey items along and into range of these hungry species. 

in the Ocean 

Perhaps the most common type of drift fishing, or that which is most well-known, is drift fishing in the ocean. This is mainly due to the fact that drift fishing in some of the ocean’s largest and fastest currents provides anglers with an exceptionally productive way to catch a wide variety of the most popular saltwater game fish species in the world. 

Some of the most skilled saltwater anglers typically plan their attack by putting their boat in the ocean’s current and understanding when and where it will carry them. As you might expect, drift fishing is most productive when anglers position themselves in such a way as to drift over reefs or shipwrecks deep below the water’s surface. This is where most of the popular saltwater species will be lurking, waiting on unsuspecting prey to come along with the ocean’s current and within striking distance of their hungry jaws. 

Offshore drift fishing is a great way to target such species as wahoo, sailfish, tuna, mahi mahi, and many other kinds of saltwater game fish species that are considered top sportfishing targets. This kind of drift fishing can usually be done relatively close to shore, or far offshore, away from land. 

Best Type of Tackle for Drift Fishing 

There are a number of different rods and reel setups that you can use when it comes to drift fishing. For anglers who plan to drift fish in rivers and small streams, it’s best to use a rod that’s longer and light action which will allow you to have greater control over the bait as it bounces and floats along the river bottom with the current. 

If you’re going after larger fish that can be caught in a river or lake current while drift fishing, it’s best to use a heavy rod that will stack up well against these potential heavyweight fish species. 

Lastly, for offshore drift fishing, its ideal that you use a short, heavy rod that will allow you to adequately fight some of the monstrous-sized fish that you’re likely to encounter. 


When drift fishing, it’s important to be aware of the different types of game fish species you’re likely to catch and to plan ahead to better your chances of landing them. Be sure to use the kind of tackle and bait that will optimize your chances to catch the kind of fish you’re going after. 

Drift fishing, like most other forms of angling, is best done in such a way that the angler can learn to use their own individual techniques and tactics to maximize their chances of catching fish. There are plenty of online resources that provide ample amounts of information as to where, when and how to use drift fishing to your advantage and catch fish that are utilizing the water’s natural currents to search for prey and potential meals.