Drift Fishing for Kings

When it comes to kings, I think bait. And more bait. And scent.

First thing I always try in a hole when I’m targeting kings is going to be eggs. Maybe a combo with a sandshrimp or additional scent, but it will always be eggs. There are some exceptions when I’m in a boat and I have plugs, but even they are ALWAYS wrapped with sardine.

Bry with nice King caught while drift fishing














Learning to drift fish can truly increase your ability to understand techniques. Not being able to see what is being presented and relying mostly on feel, if you can really hone in on your drift fishing skills, it will bring your fishing skills in general to a whole new level.                                                                                                                              

Read the water

When you’re fishing eggs, you’re either going to drift fish, or you’re going to float fish. The key for float fishing is going to be slow and deep. Back eddy’s and boils are Chinook’s favorite hiding spot and are perfect for running a float and eggs through.

Water that is a bit shallower and a bit faster than your float water is where you’re going to drift fish. But remember, kings are generally large fish and typically aren’t going to hold in less than 3ft of water like a steelhead might.  Fish will always travel the path of least resistance with the most coverage. If they just ran up 100 yards of shallow or extremely fast water and there is a deep slot or deep bend in the river, that’s where they are going to rest up before heading back upriver.

When drift fishing, the real challenge comes down to getting your weight perfect. Every hole is going to require a different weight to achieve the “perfect” drift. Some holes may be too fast for float fishing, but you can put on a heavier weight and get the perfect drift through it. Some holes might have large or snaggy rocks on the bottom, and you need a little less or a different type of weight. Change up your weight often to always make sure you are fishing according to the hole.

Terminal gear

Drift fishing is done most effectively when using a casting reel. While it’s nice to be able to hold your finger on the line when you’re using a spinning reel and it’s still very effective, you can’t pay out line when you’re nearing the end of the drift like you can with a casting reel. The Shimano Curado 200 series is my favorite drift rod. Casts extremely smooth and is very lightweight.

For kings, I don’t run anything less than 12lb main line and 15lb leader. This is heavy gear for drift fishing, but when you’re drift fishing, you will get snagged and pull free. This might cause unknown abrasions in your line and the last thing I want is to snap off a fish because I forgot to check my leader. Also, kings have teeth! They fight low and dirty. “Bulldogging” at the bottom of the hole and sawing back and forth and back and forth until they can break your line with their teeth. This holds especially true when bait fishing because they can swallow your bait before you even set the hook and you end up with no gear as a bumper against their teeth.

The hook size isn’t going to be as big as when float fishing. You want to go the smallest that you can without jeopardizing “too small”. You don’t want a 5/o hook that is going to weigh down your bait because it’s important that it’s buoyant (we’ll get to that in a bit). I usually stick with a 2/o when drifting for kings but everyone will find what they’re comfortable and confident with.

You’ll need different swivels and different weight. There is definitely a time and a place for each different type of weight but I prefer pencil lead when drift fishing from a bank. You can either use hollow lead and pinch it on the tag end of the knot to your swivel, or a solid, hole-punched lead fastened into a snap swivel. Some prefer the hollow because it usually slides off or breaks the tag before breaking your leader or main line, and some prefer hole punched because it is more secure and often times you can get everything back.

The last piece of terminal gear you will need is a “bobber” (not your typical float or bobber). Small, buoyant “beads” that will help keep your bait light and rising. You don’t want your bait dragging behind your weight, you want it slightly risen and following along smoothly in the current. Ordinary eggs don’t float very well so you will want to drift with eggs that are very plump and tacky, but not hard as they won’t be as buoyant. A bobber constitutes any of the following: corky, cheater, puff ball, spin n’ glo, etc. Different sizes, colors, and the type of bobber are going to vary on the water conditions. Cheaters are very buoyant and will float more than a corky, but when using small bait, a corky will work better. Puff balls are VERY light and don’t stay on extremely well, but they add just a tiny bit of buoyancy that helps even smaller clusters float. Spin n’ glo’s are exactly as they sound. They give your bait an extra spin and flash for heavier currents, bigger baits or added attraction. Slide one above a hole sandshrimp to get a new presentation through the hole. Again, there is a time and place for all different kinds of bobbers. Add a nice flash or contrast to your eggs, or use one the same color as your eggs if the water is super clear!

The presentation

The cast is going to be similar to when float fishing. You want to angle up about 45 degrees so that your bait has enough time to sink down right at the top of the hole but cast too far, and you lodge your weight in between rocks and lose your gear. Below is a diagram showing the ideal position to be in and we’ll go through in detail.

Drift Fishing for Kings












You want your weight ticking the bottom every few seconds. No more, no less. This is going to give your bait the smoothest presentation and keep your lure in perfect position and speed. You can watch your rod tip and with a sensitive enough rod, see and feel each tap. Keeping your line tight, but not pulling on the weight. You don’t want a huge belly of slack line sitting on top of the water like you might prefer for float fishing. Having a belly of line is going to catch in the current and drag your bait faster than it should and drastically reduce the sensitivity that flows up through your rod. Keep the line too tight, and you will prevent it from hitting bottom.

You want to cast just above from where you are standing but making sure that your bait has enough time to sink to the bottom at the top of the hole. You also want to be able to pay out line when you’re nearing the end of the drift if necessary. Not having enough line out will push your bait up with the current and you will begin to rise off the bottom, eventually floating on the top.

The bite

Kings are “picky” biters. Not only are they picky in terms of what they want, but they often pick at your bait until they decide to go for the big bite. It’s important to FEEL the bite and only set when appropriate. Sometimes they bite and just suck it down in which case it feels like your line turns into a rubber band. A very spongy, stretchy tug, but not a solid thud like when you snag on the bottom. Most of the time, you will feel the quick, short nibbles and if you are in the tail out of the hole, let out some line. Feed the fish. This is an extremely common bite for kings and learning to feel the difference between small ticks on the rocks and the nibble of a king will greatly increase your landed fish ratio.

Going to rivers where bait isn’t used much is really going to give you a huge advantage. If you can find a spot where no one is fishing, or others are using bait, you can really get the aggressive fish. Just because the river is packed, doesn’t mean you won’t catch many fish. If you are using bait for fall Chinook while everyone else is not, you drastically increase your chance to hook a fish that hasn’t seen bait all day.

Different types of drift fishing

Not getting too specific in detail, but this has been the basic bank fishing drift techniques for fall kings. You can also side drift from a boat, walk down the bank with your gear as it drifts (called the poor man’s drift boat, but covers a lot of water and very effective), free drifting, or bobber doggin’ from a boat.

Free drifting is great for water with a lot of boils and very deep. Boils are great for floats because it keeps your float in one place for a long time, but if the hole is too deep, it can just push your bait up with the different undersurface currents. But free drifting using minimal amounts of weight (if any) and allows your bait to naturally swirl around with the boil. You still want it to be near the bottom, but not touching the bottom. This is VERY cool to feel the bites. You literally feel nothing (have to watch your line to know what your bait is doing) and then you feel the nibbles and taps before the big bite.

Always try to bring two rods, if not more, when fishing. I always have at least one drift rod and one float rod and for fall kings when you’re bank fishing, that’s really all you need.

~ Bry