Put a Sock in It
Getting more out of your time on the water by using drift socks
With the exception of tournament walleye fishermen, hardcore walleye nuts and a smattering of other boaters around the country, not many fishermen ever think about using a drift sock on their boat. That’s too bad, because drift socks are one of the best ways to manage the movement of any boat and add a large helping of boat control to every type of bait presentation.
Drift socks, or ‘sea anchors’ as they were originally called, were first used to keep the bow of a boat facing into the wind or current. By simply deploying one of these cone-shaped, fabric devices over the bow and tying it in place, mariners could keep their boats facing into the waves and slow the pace of drift, in effect, providing a low-tech autopilot.
In the fishing world, drift socks got their start on the Great Plains reservoirs where the wind only blows twice a week (”Yep, once for three days and the other for four.”) Walleye fishermen there had a need to slow their boats down to better rig and jig for ‘eyes at a slower pace than the wind would allow. Sure, you can fight the wind with kicker motors or electric trolling motors, but working with the wind by using drift socks is much easier, more efficient, and cost effective.
When drift socks came into widespread use, fishermen became more inventive. While it may have started with a single sock deployed off the bow, now fishermen are using one or two (or even more in certain situations) and hooking them at different locations on the boat to fine-tune their drift, troll, or even anchor.
And fishermen elsewhere began to experiment with drift socks-- applications as diverse as sturgeon fishing on the Columbia River to bass or catfish or trout fishermen. In fact, the species a fisherman is trying to catch is immaterial: when a boater has a need to slow the pace of his drift, adjust his trolling speed, or otherwise alter the wind and wave's affects on his vessel, drift socks are a natural solution.
For many walleye fishermen, when the wind is blowing parallel to the structure you want to fish, drift socks shine. “I find that my main uses of drift socks is when I’m fishing along a breakline or drifting across a flat,” says Lindy pro-staffer Ted Takasaki. “But really, any time my boat is moving faster than, say, 1.5 to 2.0 miles per hour, I’ll put out a sock to keep it slow.”
Choosing the right drift sock for the right application is an art. It’s a balance between boat size, wind speed and the speed you want to travel.
“For most of what I want to do,” says Takasaki, “I’ll use a 60-inch drift sock for the bow and a 50-inch sock for the transom. I always put the bow sock in first.” He’ll add the sock off the transom only if he needs to further reduce the speed of drift. Takasaki’s boat is a Lund 208 Pro-V GL, a 20-foot boat as a frame of reference.
In any fishing situation where the fisherman is casting, drift socks can help slow the drift of a boat. For instance, when the wind is blowing parallel to the shoreline, and the fisherman is casting toward the bank, drift socks are a big help. Most fishermen, and this is particularly true of bass fishermen, will run their boat into the wind, using the bowmount trolling motor to pull the boat along.
However, effective as this technique may be, it drains batteries and takes extra concentration. Instead of running into the wind, the smart fisherman uses the wind to put his boat where he wants it by starting on the upwind end of the drift.
Drifting downwind presents two problems, though: first, the speed of drift is often too fast, not allowing the fisherman to cast to all holding water. The second problem is boat control. Too often the wind will spin a boat, catching the stern and moving it to one side or the other.
The solution to both problems is, you guessed it, a drift sock. You can deploy a large sock directly off the transom, using the eyes intended for water ski harnesses to hook up the sock. Alternately, some anglers choose to put two small socks out, one on each end of the boat (as demonstrated in the above diagram). Snug them fairly tight to the midship cleats, and that puts them toward the stern of the boat. This results in a great drift with fantastic boat control.
The idea here is that even with a light wind, the boat is steadied on a line, and you can use the bowmount electric motor to then only pull and position the boat with a lot less concentration than if you were constantly bucking upwind. Also, some folks rig a sock on a bridle with a rope to each midship cleat and run it directly under the keel. You wouldn’t want to do that in shallow water where the sock might catch on rocks or submerged timber, but for deep water precision trolling this double sock rig truly shines. The use of the drift socks essentially allow anglers to "troll down" and use their main motor for maintaining a precise low speed trolling speed.
In fact, there are so may different ways to use drift socks that it’s really up to the boater to tune his boat, his drift socks and the conditions to give him what he wants in the way of boat control.
An example of this can be seen on the Columbia River, where fishermen will anchor up in huge lines to fish for both sturgeon and chinook salmon The "Hog Lines" as they are called often consist of boats separated by little more than 5-10'. A trick commonly used is to deploy a small drift sock off both sides of the stern to “lock” the boat in place. By reducing the swinging of the boat on anchor in the current, the fishermen need to do less fussing with tangled baits, and the sturgeon in particular are less likely to be spooked by a bait that moves at the wrong time.
Another use of drift socks helps those folks who troll but don’t have kicker motors. By using a smallish drift sock on each side of the boat, you can troll slowly with a big motor. The socks must be snubbed fairly close to the boat so as not to get tangled in the prop. When you see folks with five-gallon buckets dragging in the water, that’s what they’re doing. Drift socks are a lot handier, though.
So if drift socks are that useful, how do you use them?
The first thing you must do is buy one that balances with the boat. The chart to the right gives recommended sizes. Generally, you pick the drift sock that is recommended for your boat. However, if you fish lakes and reservoirs with a lot of wind, or if your boat has a lot of superstructure like a full windshield and top, then it’s a wise move to pick a larger sock.
Takasaki pointed the way on this: pick at least two socks—one that is sized correctly for your boat and a larger one. There are times when you’re likely to use both, so it’s not money wasted. In fact, the more you fish with drift socks, the more likely you are to add a few in different sizes to refine your drift.
Using drift socks is pretty intuitive. There is no one right way to deploy them. You can vary the size, number and locations on the boat to suit your need. While it all sounds complicated, it really is simple.
You only need to balance the size of the drift sock to the conditions (and your boat) and move the tie-off point as needed to get the drift you want.
There are a couple of tricks worth noting. First, you really need to use drift socks that will float and not sink. That may seem obvious, but it’s worth noting. If you don’t have a drift sock with built-in floatation like those in the Wave Tamer and Drift Control line, then the harness should have a buoy on it. Look at Drift Control’s Harness Buoy as an example. Not only is the harness the right length, but also the flotation buoy will keep the sock at the surface should it come loose from the boat.
The second trick is to tie a dump line to the point of the cone. Sure, you can pull a drift sock in by tugging on the harness, but it does take time, and you’ve gotta have arms like Schwarzenegger for the larger socks. With a dump line, all you need to do is tug and pull, and the drift sock will come sliding back to the boat quickly by pulling the sock back inside out.
That’s about it; there are no secrets. Using drift socks is basically trial and error to find the right fit for the conditions. But one thing is certain, once you use them, you will continue.
They help boat control that much.
Size Chart incuding larger boats.
Boat Length Light Winds Moderate Winds Strong Winds
14’ --------------------------18”-24” Sock 25”-30” Sock 36”-42” Sock
16’-18’--------------------- 25”-30” Sock 36”-42” Sock 48”-50” Sock
19’-20’--------------------- 36”-42” Sock 48”-50” Sock 54”-72” Sock
21’-24’--------------------- 72”-84” Sock 84”-9’ Sock 9’-11’ Sock
25’-28’-------------------- 84”-9’ Sock 9’-11’ Sock 11’-14’ Sock
28’ Plus------------------- 9’-11’ Sock 11’-14’ Sock 14’ Sock
By: Lindy Team