How To Drift Fish For Trout And Salmon

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If you’re fishing a creek or river with fast-moving water, drift fishing is one of the techniques you’ll want to know. The gear you use will all depend on what type of fish you’re after but in this post, I’m going to be talking about how to drift fish for trout and salmon.

I’m not saying this is the absolute best or only way to do things but it’s been working pretty well for me. We’re going to be talking about what fishing rod you’ll want to use, what fishing line works best, what tackle you should have, the lures that work the best, and how to actually fish for trout and salmon. Continue reading or watch the video below for the full details on how to drift fish.

Fishing Rod & Reel

You’re going to be able to catch fish on pretty much any rod out there but having the right setup will make things a lot easier. The first thing you’ll want to make sure is that you’re comfortable using the rod. If you’re not familiar with how it works or how to use it, you’ll run into a lot of issues. The second thing is that you’ll want a sensitive rod so you can feel your lure and feel when something bites.

The two types of rods I’d recommend are either a spinning or baitcasting rod. If you’re fairly new to fishing I’d stick with a spinning rod because it’ll be a lot easier to use and you’ll have fewer headaches. The main thing is that you want to be comfortable casting whatever rod you’re using.

When it comes to the length of your rod, you’ll want something that’s between 7.5 and 9.5 feet long. It’s more of personal preference and won’t make too much of a difference. The thing that does matter a lot is that you have a sensitive rod. This is so you can feel your lure bump into rocks, hit the bottom, and feel as soon as something bites.

There are a number of solid setups that are fairly inexpensive such as the Okuma Celilo 8’6″ medium-action rod and the Okuma Ceymar C-40 reel. This is the setup I use myself and you can learn more about them here.

One of my favorites though would have to be the Cadence CS10-3000 (Amazon) with the Cadence CR7 (Amazon). It’s a bit more money for this setup but everything about the rod and reel is awesome and it’ll last a long time.

Fishing Line

Just like with the rod and reel, the fishing line you use isn’t going to make or break your day. The setup I use is a bit more work to put everything together but it’s going to make your life a bit easier down the road. You should catch a few more fish, have fewer break-offs, and if you do break off, you won’t leave as much of a mess in the water.

The first type of line you’ll want to toss on your reel is going to be a 20-30 lb braided line. Before you put braid on, put a little bit of monofilament on the spool as a backing (braid will slip on the spool). The reason I use braid is that it casts better than mono and fluoro, it’s stronger than mono and fluoro of the same thickness, and it’s a lot more sensitive. Here’s the knot I use:

What I’ll then do is attach somewhere around 6 feet of 12 lb fluorocarbon (or mono) to my braided line (directly). The reason I do that is for when I get caught up in something. I really don’t want to get snagged and have to cut my braided line because it causes a big mess in the water. 12 lb fluoro is going to break a lot easier than 40 lb braid and I’d way rather have my hook and a bit of line in the water than a giant pile of braid. Here’s how to connect them:

The next step is to attach a 3-way swivel. On the side hole, you’ll want to put on some sort of weight. I like using a pencil weight but you can use whatever you want. The size will depend on the depth of the water and how fast it’s moving. Most of them come in a pack and you’ll have to see how much weight you need to hit the bottom.

The final step is to attach your leader line to the last hole. I like using 12 lb fluorocarbon but a lot of people prefer monofilament. I haven’t had any issues with using fluoro, so it’s almost always my go-to leader material. Your leader should be between 3 and 4 feet long.

Lures & Bait

There are a number of different lures and baits you can use to drift fish and there really isn’t one specific setup I like to use most. There are probably 4 or 5 combos I like to use and I’ll just have to experiment to see what’s working best each day.

The first thing you can use is a soft egg with a yarn ball and a #4 hook. The soft egg will be first and something orange or red/pink should work the best. The yarn ball will go on next and I like to use a different color than the egg. You’ll then tie on your hook and you’ll be good to go.

Another thing that works really well is using some sort of bait. It could be worms, shrimp, fish eggs, or whatever else. Just think about what the fish are actually eating and go with that. Either a #4 or #2 hook will work.

fish eggs

The final thing I’ll use often would be a soft plastic worm. The same color isn’t always going to work but I always like to have a darker and brighter option. The darker worm could be black or brown and the brighter worm could be orange, pink, or red.

Drift Fishing Technique

The first thing you’ll need to figure out is where you want to fish. It’s a pretty simple concept but the main thing you’ll want to look for is faster moving water. The area you’ll be casting into should be moving quicker than the rest of the water. You need to have enough water movement so the current drags your line along the bottom without getting snagged.

You also don’t want to fish an area that has a bunch of big boulders. A few of them are fine but you’ll get snagged pretty easily if the water is full of them. If you can find a spot that has a long run and a lot of room for your line to drift, that’s ideal.

When you’re ready to cast, you’ll want to cast upstream at a 45-degree angle. You’ll then want to keep your rod tip at a 45-degree angle and reel in some of the slack. The next step is to follow your lure with your rod tip while still having it at a 45-degree angle. Just remember 45 and you’ll be good to go.

Whenever you start to feel a lot of rocks, you start getting snagged, or the run is over, you’ll want to lower your rod tip and reel in. All you have to do is rinse and repeat. It’s not the laziest way to fish but it’s awesome when fish are striking.

Here are just some additional tips:

  • Don’t put too much tension on the line as it’s drifting.
  • Use enough weight so it hits the bottom.
  • Your lure should move at a walking pace.
  • Make sure you set the hook when you feel a bite.

Until next time, happy fishing. If you want to catch more fish, use more hooks.

Let me know your thoughts and any questions you have. Like this article? Feel free to give it a share!

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Jon Webber

I'm by no means an outdoors or fishing expert, but it's something I've been interested in for over 20 years. This site is where I test out different gear and techniques to see what actually works.

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