Story & Photos by Nick Ohlrich
There are many factors that contribute to a strong formula for consistently catching your desired species. The ability to run a drag free drift while targeting Kenai rainbow trout is essential for productivity. As a guide I have often seen anglers in my boat using the same gear, but one angler is in a constant state of catching while the other . . . not so much. Is it that this particular angler has more mojo or karma stacked up, wearing lucky underwear, or simply running a much smoother drift? Granted, I’ve seen some pretty interesting drifts hook some big fish, but apples to apples, a perfect drift is king.
At the start of each trip I emphasize that each drift is the most important drift of the day. The closer you can get to obtaining a 100% perfect drift, the more fish you will catch and the better chance of tangling with a big one. So what goes into a perfect drift?
Before a drift can be classified as perfect the line/leader set up needs to be perfect. We use and swear by fluorocarbon line for our leaders. Gamma is our go-to due to strength, diameter, and the perfect ration of stiff versus supple. Fluoro that is too stiff makes for an awkward presentation while fluoro that is too supple quickly curls and tangles from the slightest abuse. Forthe skeptics, fish one angler with fluoro and the other with mono using the same bead. I guarantee you will see a difference. We fish fly rods and float rods, but our leader set up below the bobber (“indicator” for the purist) is the same, from 10 to 12 feet.
Weight is the next contributor to having a perfect set up for a perfect drift. Our jumping-off point for proper weight on the Middle Kenai is two 3/0 split shot. For bigger water we may add weight, while during low water situations we may reduce it. Your bobber will let you know. If your bobber tells you the weight is ticking the bottom while floating at the same speed of the current, you’re in the game. If you’re constantly getting hung up or your bobber is moving slower than the current you are using too much lead, while if you are getting no feedback from your bobber you need more weight and/or a longer leader.
Rainbow trout do not care what your cast looks like or how tight your loop is, but they very much care what your drift looks like. I 100% agree that a pretty cast is also an effortless cast and probably accurate, but not as important as what happens once your line hits the water. We have our clients cast to the 2 o’clock or 10 o’clock position (we run our powerboats with the bow up river, and refer to the bow as 12 o’clock) and consider the drift to be drag free until 5 o’clock or 7 o’clock. However,we instruct folks to keep the line in the water until it has swung to 6 o’clock or directly behind the boat. For those that only fish from shore the same principal can be applied, however, line management becomes a huge factor in maintaining a drag free drift from a fixed position.
There are three reasons we do it this way. First, this method keeps anglers patient and their gear in the water longer. Second, it is and much easier to recast with a fly rod once the line has some tension on it at the 6 o’clock position. Third, big trout really have a fetish about the swimming bead phenomenon. At the end of your drift when the line is tight and below the boat your bead is no longer at the bottom, but rising and being buffeted around by current around mid-water column or higher. There is nothing natural or perfect about it, but for some reason big trout sometimes can’t resist that bead that does this. It is a phenomenon I have stopped questioning and just accepted.
Having your rod tip at a 45-degree angle to the water and following your bobber accomplishes two very important tasks. A 45-degree angle keeps unnecessary line off the water which reduces the amount of line that needs to be managed and with your rod tip up you have a much quicker reaction time to effectively set the hook. When your rod tip follows your bobber it means you are paying attention to your float and probably running a drag free drift. If your rod tip is upriver of your bobber you run the chance of slowing down your drift, while having your rod tip downriver of your bobber will increase your drift speed. Typically, most folks cannot see a subtle difference in drift speed, but your guide and more importantly trout are very aware of it.
The person in control of the boat is just as important as the person holding the rod, if not more so. If an angler is not the best at running a good drift the captain can manipulate the boat to iron out any inadequacies. If the captain is lacking in running a good boat drift the whole group will suffer. Planning your drift line before you start it will allow the captain to make small adjustments with the boat during the drift maximizing the anglers’ ability to maintain a long and smooth drift. Understanding how your boat grabs and drifts in current, the variances in throttle manipulation, and the interaction between the boat and throttle are all key factors in running an efficient boat drift.
Have you ever watched a boat float by where the anglers are constantly casting? I guarantee that boat is not catching many fish or anything of size. Moving too slow down river or changing your drift line will keep your anglers casting and not catching. Rainbow trout and their food source primarily live at the bottom of the river. Constant casting keeps your gear everywhere but in the strike zone. Depending on water depth and speed figure you need 5-10 seconds for your gear to get to the bottom of the river and start drifting properly. If anglers are recasting 10 or 20 seconds later they aren’t fishing effectively for long on a given cast and that greatly cuts down productivity. When anglers cast once and maintain that drift for several minutes the rate of catching will grow exponentially.
Tying it Together
Taking a good look at your basic leader set up and the angle at which your line hits the water from a boat or shore is a strong piece of the puzzle that creates a consistent catching formula. For anglers that fish from a boat, having a captain that is always thinking ahead in terms of changing current, structure, and how that translates into setting up the boat ahead of time to keep the drift speed smooth and consistent for your anglers, is mandatory. It is very easy to overlook these basic principles when trying to figure out what pattern is working and where the fish are concentrated. Remember,it’s usually the smallest details that lead to the biggest results.