Drift Fishing For Catfish – Everything You Need to Know!

Most of us are familiar with fishing from the bank for catfish and boat fishing for catfish in general.

What many anglers haven’t tried when catfish fishing is drift fishing for catfish.

Learning the drifting method when catfishing could dramatically improve your success. Especially when river fishing for catfish.

We all have techniques we prefer to use and like to stick to our old habits when targeting catfish. Drift fishing for catfish is still a method that shouldn’t just be tossed out the window and needs some consideration before deciding on whether it’s for you or not. It can work great. Especially during certain times of the year or targeting big blue catfish in rivers.

There are a few methods when it comes to drift fishing for catfish that we need to cover. Some people have different preferences and execute drift fishing in different fashions. We will include all the methods possible for drift fishing. After that, it’s up to you which approach will ultimately work best for you and your preferences.

What is Drift Fishing For Catfish?

Drift fishing for catfish is letting your bait move freely on the water bottom. It’s a combination between a weighted fishing line, and steady slow controlled movement. You do this while allowing the line to run with currents, wind or by using a trolling motor to control your speed and overall drifting technique.

Drif fishing for catfish can be referred to as many different things depending on the exact method you use when doing so.

Some refer to it as

  • Bottom Bouncing
  • Trolling
  • Strolling
  • Controlled Drifting

There are a few differences with how these work and they do have some key variations to look out for. The general idea with all these methods does remain the same, however.

It’s merely the process of moving your bait around in a controlled and timely manner. The fundamental principle is dragging your bait and slowly moving your bait across the water to target catfish that are currently on the move.

Knowing Where to Drift For Catfish

The first key is knowing where to drift for catfish. There isn’t much of a point in floating in an area where fish aren’t likely to be. So, what do you do? This is going to be one of those situations where a fish finder/depth finder is going to be crucial. On a depth finder, it’s easy to spot the right areas for drifting.

You’re going to be looking for areas of drop-offs between 35-40 feet deep depending on the water your fishing. On the depth finder, you can look for the colored lines and clutter which usually indicates large amounts of bait within the water.

In most circumstances, your fish finder will pick up the imaging of large fish along the bottom near all baitfish in the water below you. If you are a newer catfish angler, you should probably begin with my ultimate guide for catfishing that will give you all my top catfishing tips.

After you complete that, the next best thing to learn is reading the sonar on a fish finder so you can begin to effectively locate good areas to control drift for catfish or bottom bounce. Whatever you would like to call it or “whatever floats your boat.” No pun intended.

Be Careful with Your Speed

Depending on if you’re using just wind to drift or a trolling motor, you want to keep it very slow and controlled. ¼ an MPH is sufficing and about the fastest you need to be drifting. Keeping at these speeds will keep you at optimal levels for attracting the fish with the given bait you have chosen to use for this outing. As soon as you start gaining to much speed, the chance of catching any trophy catfish diminishes greatly.

Don’t Know how to Use a Fishfinder or Read a Fish Finder?

I suppose this is catch-22. The nice thing about drift fishing for catfish is your luck increases somewhat dramatically. Your covering more ground and are bound to run into a catfish at some point. “If you hang around the barber shop long enough, eventually you’re going to get a haircut.”

Remember, you’re looking for the deep drop-offs with the clutter of bait fish/bait lingering in the area. Find the food source, and you find the catfish hanging out around the bottom of the water. Also, always look for large areas of cover and structure. The catfish will be around this structure. Trust me.

What’s The Best Bait Selection For Drift Fishing?

This depends on what you’re chasing. Maybe you’re after huge blue catfish and maybe your searching for any size channel catfish. Most would say, and I’d agree that live bait or cut bait is the most ideal for bottom bumping or drift fishing.

Select the size of your bluegill or shad you prefer based on the size of the catfish you’re trying to catch.

If you’re after the big boys, you need to adjust and go with a more significant piece of cut bait. Having fresh cut bait is the best. You can cast out a few days before your trip, catch all your live bait and shad and head home and freeze it.

This will give you a nice supply to use on the next catfish trip you take. Another tip you can use is adding salt your live bait before throwing it into the freezer. This will further add to keeping the bait fresh for your next outing.

Use The Correct Gear When Drift Fishing For Catfishing

Okay people, cmon now. I’ve been saying this in every blog post I’ve ever posted about catfishing.

Your catfishing gear makes a huge difference when fishing for catfish. Especially when drift fishing. You don’t have any way around this. The biggest thing to understand when drift fishing for catfish is that you aren’t targeting tiny fish anymore.

Big fish can and will put substantial bend and pull on your rods and can place some wear and tear on your reel quickly. It takes a reel not releasing the drag or the “drag sticking” for your rod to shatter, or your line to snap.

In most circumstances, a low-profile bait caster will do just fine. Just make sure the drag is always set and can release. You can do this easily by just pulling the line out before use. Keep up with providing a little TLC on your reel, and it should always last you damn near a lifetime. It’s important to realize that you don’t want to go as cheap as possible.

If this is your plan, you should stick to anchor catfishing or targeting smaller fish. I’ve wasted enough money to know that it’s going to take that one “drag sticking” on a 15-20-pound channel or blue catfish sitting in your rod holder on the boat and it will be game over for your pole and your chances of catching that fish.

The Fishing Rod is Equally as Important

The rod is just as important as your fishing reel when drift fishing for catfish. A lot of this will come down to personal preference. Some people prefer cork handles or even high-end cork. That’s your call and not really the critical piece of the puzzle. Guides can also be chosen in a variety of choices.

You just need to plan. If you use braided line often, you want to go with more robust guides. The braided line will eventually cut into the cheaper guides after enough pressure and wear and tear. I also understand that sometimes you can’t afford the best of the best but if you can, and you love catfishing. Spend the money. It will be well worth it in the end for you.

It’s worth it in the end, and they will last as long as you don’t get reckless with them and put them under constant beatings.

Suspended Drift Fishing

Suspended drift fishing is also prevalent. It’s a method of following the ledges and natural bends beneath the water surface. When using this method, you’re also going to be about 5 feet off the bottom of the water. Once your bait strikes the bottom, you will wait just a moment, reel up briefly to about that 5-foot mark and leave your bait suspended at that depth level.

The rest of the same methods will apply. Control your speed, keep it slow and allow the fish to have the chance to see the bait and lock in and you will do just fine.

Fishing Muddy Water When Drift Fishing For Catfish

This can be very challenging, and my preference would be just to avoid it. In my opinion, I think it’s just too tricky for the catfish to zero in on the bait or pick up the scents. It only becomes tough to get much action in real muddy water conditions. I know some others have probably had luck doing so, I’m not one of those people unfortunately so maybe my advice isn’t exactly what you’re looking for on this topic.

Try Braided Line for Drift Fishing for Catfish

Braided line can prove to be very beneficial when drift fishing for catfish. You are going to be dragging the bottom of the water and bumping against all kinds of cover and structure. Braided line will help you avoid snags. Snags only lead to frustration so anything you can do to reduce this happening will make for a more pleasurable trip onto the water.

Another tip is to feel the bottom as you drag it. Hold the rod and if you begin feeling the structure or potential snags beneath the water surface, reel quickly to avoid it and then you can drop back to the bottom after avoiding the possible line twister.

What’s a Good Rig Set Up for Drift Fishing

A basic rig set up that can get the job done efficiently for drift fishing would be the following

Basic Catfish Drifting Rig:

  • 1 Ounce Egg Sinker Attached to the Mainline
  • Swivel Attached to
    Hold the Sinker in Place
  • 17-30 LB Test Line (Braided Should Be Considered)
  • 30 Inches of 14 LB Test Leader Line Attached to the Swivel
  • Size 4 Hook (This May Vary Based on Your Chosen Shad/ Live Bait or Cut Bait Size)

What Tactics Do You Intend to Deploy Your Next Time Drift Fishing for Catfish?

This post was designed to do nothing more but get you started and educated on the ins and outs of drift fishing for catfish. It’s a bit difficult to learn at first, but if you keep it slow and learn from mistakes, you will get it down to a science in no time.

Keep the boat speed controlled and steady, use the correct fishing rod and remember to have fun, and you will be well on your way to landing your next trophy catfish in no time. If you have any stories to share related to drift fishing for catfish, be sure to comment below.

Also, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign up for my email newsletter. I’ll continue to post new blogs to give you in the inside edge on everything catfish and release my latest fishing gear reviews on a weekly basis.

As always, I appreciate you and thanks for stopping by.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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