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Catching the drift

Drift fishing works well on Utah's windy waters.

Phil Douglass is the DWR's conservation outreach manager in northern Utah. He is an avid videographer who works closely with the public and the media to highlight Utah's great wildlife opportunities.

CATCHIN’ THE DRIFT IS a great way to fish on windy days in Utah. My first introduction to drift fishing on a lake actually happened by accident. I love to fish from a kayak or canoe. It is quiet and peaceful, and I never have to worry about the motor not working.

Well, on one windy day I was “paddle trolling,” and after a while, my shoulders were ready for a break. So I decided to throw my line out and let the wind do the work for me. I laid down on the bottom of the canoe, secured my fishing pole in the rod holder and enjoyed the gentle rocking of the waves. The clouds floated overhead, and my eyelids began to relax and close, and then…WHAM! The rod slammed down!

Blake Douglass "catches the drift" on a windy day at East Canyon Reservoir and as a result, ends up with several nice rainbow trout.

It turned out that the gentle rocking of the waves had given my daredevil just the right action to drive the trout into attack mode. Since that first experience over 30 years ago, I have drifted in canoes, kayaks, float tubes and even motor boats. I have had great results with spinners, plugs, flies and, most recently, popgear and a worm.

Blake holds one of the rainbows he caught while drifting popgear and a worm. Windy days can produce some good action for boat anglers.

East Canyon Reservoir is one of Northern Utah’s more popular fishing spots, and the early summer fishing can be great. But like many of the reservoirs in Utah, it can get windy. On a recent fishing trip with my son, Blake, and my great friend, Don Paul, we employed this time-proven drifting technique with the same good results.

The day started out calm, but the wind picked up. On this trip, we were in Don’s motorboat, and the plan was to troll for trout with popgear. Shortly after starting, the trolling motor began acting up and we just couldn’t catch anything. So Don turned the motor off and again, the wind worked its magic — even with a heavy popgear rig.

Since Blake had never fished with a popgear rig before, he started to thread a worm on his hook in a ball. Don and I explained that to get the best drifting results, it was important to attach the worm so it was strung out from the hook.

Blake was the first to hook up. It always makes me laugh to watch him catch fish — he just gets so excited. As a teenager, he is active and off with friends much of the time, so when I get to go fishing with him, it is a treat for me.

While drifting really is a fun way to fish, there are some safety considerations:

  • Don’t overextend yourself. Remember, you have been drifting with the wind and you will probably have to paddle against it to return. Don’t go too far.
  • I have drifted with a float tube, thinking that I would put in at one area and let the wind push me to the other side of the lake. Then, I would carry the tube back. Unfortunately, the heavy combination of waders and a float tube will limit how far you can hike. So again, don’t overdo it!
  • Be aware of thunderstorms developing and remember that a float tube just doesn’t move very fast. You can’t escape lightning storms quickly if you drift across a large lake. Use caution when drifting in a float tube.

In today’s world, we often talk of being too busy. Drift fishing is a great way to slow things down and just go with the flow. Now, if you need a little extra motivation to get you into the “drift”, listen to the Driftin’ Blues by Eric Clapton, a personal favorite of mine for some strange reason!

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