Controlled Drift for Big Cats

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Editor’s Note – Phil King is well known in catfishing circles. He is the owner and operator of Phil King’s Catfishing Guide Service on the Tennessee River Valley Lakes and has been a strong competitor on many catfishing tours. He has qualified for the World Championship of Catfishing four times and finished fourth in the event in one of his trips there.

His sponsors include: Cabela’s, Mercury Outboards Pro Staff, Daiichi Hooks, Berkley, Abu Garcia, Driftmaster Rod holders, Kimberly Clark Professional Products and The Rod Shop.

Story by Phil King – Photos Courtesy of Phil King Catfishing Guide Service

Drift Fishing is simply another effective way to catch catfish. We will cover the following topics: key equipment, baits, how and where do we start, other locations, how to drift fish deep holes and ledges, where is controlled drift fishing effective and, finally, proof that drift fishing works.

Trolling Motor
When choosing a trolling motor, there are a couple of key points to consider: (1) most variable speed models come with extended battery life technology. They will pay for themselves by not having to have 2 or 3 extra batteries. (2) The main reason to choose variable speed over a “clicker speed” is sometimes you need that in-between speed for drift fishing, with a clicker speed you don’t have that option. You are either going a little too fast or a little too slow.

Braided fishing line versus mono
It’s really important to feel the fish when they first inhale the bait and my personal choice is 80-pound-test Spiderwire Stealth or Ultracast braided line. Remember that you must have mono-filament backing on your reel to prevent slippage on the spool. You must back your drag off to keep from breaking rods, remember there is near zero stretch in the super braid lines. We have increased our head count using the super braid lines, so give them a try if you want to catch more fish. Use mono to tie your hooks off with and always use a lighter line for your lead leader. I use 60-pound hook leaders and 15 to 20-pound-test for the leader itself.

Phil and Lanie King - Big Blue
Medium/Heavy Action Rods
Medium action rods are used in low to moderate current, another reason for using them in these conditions is the fish aren’t as apt to let go of the bait if you’re were using a stiffer rod. I prefer a long handle that I can tuck up under my forearm for support in the 7’ to 7 ½’ range. Medium action rods need to be rated for at least 30-LB line. Heavy action rods are preferred when you know bigger fish are in the area or you are fishing heavy current. Mr. Tom Knox at The Rod Shop (816-454-6740) currently makes three different rods for drift fishing light, medium heavy and heavy action currents and the different bait sizes.

Go lightweight but don’t sacrifice durability, Abu Garcia’s Ambassador 5000 to 6000 series or these two with line counters. Reels must have a reliable drag and use the drag properly. By this I don’t mean cranked all the way down, a drag is a useful tool so use it to your advantage when fishing.

There are lots of different types of sinkers available; I prefer the bell type sinker that contacts more of the bottom of the river. This type of sinker will help you feel your way through rocks, wood and down drop offs. Feeling the bottom is one of the most critical elements of being successful drift fishing.

Shad – use the guts or cut in half and use head or tail. Skipjack fillet – cut cross sections, cut in half, use the guts or combinations of guts and cut bait. Dip baits work well for numbers of fish and an occasional big fish. You will find that there are days that fish will prefer dip baits over natural baits as well. Chicken livers must be fresh and you can place them in the microwave for a minute or two to toughen them up. Turkey livers work well but they are tough even if frozen.

Phil King and Client Blue Cat
How and where do we start?
You don’t want to vertical fish because of all the rocks and trees in most rivers. We want to start by turning up the trolling motor speed to get the line out at an angle, once sinker contacts the bottom raise slowly. You will want to back off the trolling motor, at this point to keep your line tight and slowly walk the bait down the river. You will want to lift the sinker up off the bottom three to six feet each time to ensure you aren’t hung up on the bottom.

Remember the slower you raise and lower the bait the more likely you are to get the fish to bite. You simply want to continue this process till you catch a fish or complete the drift through a hole you are fishing. Pay attention to where fish are showing in relation to the bottom and, if you are fishing below them, increase your lead leader length.

High water fish will congregate at the dam; numbers as well as large fish tend to stay at the dam because of the supply of food. It seems the path of least resistance is between the turbines. The low current and eddies hold fish and the chopped up and dying bait fish collect here. This is a smorgasbord and where would you rather eat, a food bar with several choices or the same thing every day? One key thing to remember is outboard motors will scatter fish or turn fish off, so once you have located the fish don’t keep going across the top of the fish, go around them and drift back through the hole.

Other Locations
It is easy to find fish around any underwater “visible structure”. Baitfish hold in these areas and the bigger fish will be hanging around these areas to feed. Some catfish “houses” that aren’t visible include rocks, trees, stair step drop offs, small unknown holes, or maybe even a car. Look for “structures” to hang up in outside and inside bends. Remember a good fishing hole may be a half mile long or only a few feet wide by a few feet in length. The main thing is to pay attention to the detail your depth finder is showing you. Hummingbird Side Imaging units are quality sonar / GPS units to start with and the GPS works great to permanently make waypoints for those locations.

How to Drift Fish Deep Holes and Ledges
Start above the fish in a hole and drift through the area. Once you have located the fish go around the fish, never directly across the top of them. Make short runs and catch the active fish in an area. Another key point is to keep a fishing log and write down any unique information about different holes you fish.

Cameron and Mike Rexin 69.02 Flathead
Where does Controlled Drift Fishing Work? Proof it Works
Try drift fishing below Hydroelectric dams, deeper holes, drop-offs, in lakes along the tops of the creek and old river channels that are submerged. For proof drift fishing works, the World Championship of Catfishing has been won five out of past eight years drift fishing. You can cover more fishing holes in less time and show bait to more fish.

Remember “You Can’t Catch em’ at the House and until next time keep your lines tight.”

For more information on fishing with Phil King contact him at 662-286-8644. He is the owner of Phil King’s Catfishing Guide Service. Fishing trips on the Tennessee River, Pickwick Dam area. For more information about the Pickwick area contact Hardin County tourism at (901) 925-2364 or 1-800-552-3866