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How To Drift-Fish For Trout On Lakes

If conditions are right - and that means a light breeze - drift fishing can be a potent technique.

Drift harling

This technique could not be simpler. Place the boat upwind of fish holding territory, and then with a fly-line (sinker, intermediate, or floater, depending on the depth of the fish) or using a spinning line, simply drift the fly through the territory.

If using a fly rod use a very long leader, 25 or more metres is not too much.

Tasmanian Devil Lure

With spinning gear you can use just about any lure, as long as it has good action at the speed of the drift. Tasmanian Devils work well at very low speeds. Many jigs can be bent and this can increase their low-speed action.

Lead head soft plastic jig

Using a lead-head jig with a soft-plastic bait is a proven method of drift harling. Adjust the weight of the lead-head to fish at the required depth.

If you are using a standard trolling rod and lead-line let out enough lead-line to reach the required depth - remembering that at drift speeds nowhere near as much lead-line needs to be out to achieve the required depth. Again use more than 20 metres of leader.

Drift nymphing

Use a floating fly-line or a bubble-float when using spinning gear. The depth the fish are holding determines leader length. If the fish are feeding just under the surface you may need to apply line floatant to the leader for much of its length to stop the leader sinking.

The boat should be drifting across the wind, that is the bow and stern at right angles to the wind direction. You may need some form of sea anchor to achieve this.

drift nymphing

With 12 o'clock being the direction the bow is pointing, cast to 10 o'clock. That is downwind at angle so that the nymph will, as you drift past, pass in front of the boat and behind.

Because the boat will invariably drift faster than the nymph or line, line control is very important. The nymph should not be allowed to drag fast, but some movement will often provoke a hit. So as the boat drifts down alongside the nymph, line must be retrieved to maintain contact and to avoid a bow forming in the line. Once the line has drifted behind the boat give the line a few twitches, then retrieve the line and re-cast.

On some lakes it is legal to use more than one fly, up to three in the case of Taupo. So the top fly could be an emerger pattern, the middle fly a standard nymph, and the bottom fly a wee wet. When using more than one fly one technique that produces fish, at the end of the drift slowly raise the rod and pull the first, (and second,) fly out the water. The bottom fly will often get hit.

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Drift fishing dry flies

The basic technique is almost the same as for drift-fishing nymphs, except that the aim is to allow the fly to free-drift. That is no movement should be imparted to the fly by the angler.

Cast out to 10 o'clock, then retrieve line at a rate that will avoid bowing in the line. Once the fly drifts behind the boat, feed out line to maintain the drag-free drift.

Using nymphs and wee wets below a big dry fly is effective too - the dry fly acts as an indicator. But the nymphs and/or wee wets can be tied on droppers above the dry fly.

Getting twitchy with dry flies

Lead head soft plastic jig

If you use a big dry fly such as a Madam X, Cicada Imitation, or an ugly foam fly, (and despite the advice above to let the fly drift without drag), try giving the fly an occasional and smallest twitch you can.

The idea is to imitate the frantic movements big bugs and beasties make when caught on the water surface. Trout will often smash into a fly twitched this way - but less is best. Watch bugs on the water to learn what to imitate.

Drift fishing ‘Wee-Wets’ (small wet flies)

Cheynoble ant foam fly

Wee-Wets are an under-utilised fly in this country, but they are very effective in lakes. These flies are designed to imitate a nymph in the process of changing into its winged form as it nears the water surface. They are usually fished near the surface.

Use as long a leader as you can manage to a weighted wee-wet. A metre or so above that bottom fly, tie in to a dropper another unweighted wee wet.

Drifting Wee Wets

Proceed much as for drift fishing nymphs, but cast shallower, to 11 o'clock. Allow the wets time to sink then retrieve towards the boat, using very short, slow pulls. As the flies drift behind the boat some real finesse is required.

The flies must be kept moving, but not pulled up to the surface. So line must be played out, but not so fast that the flies lie unmoving in the water. Once you reach the point where the line must be retrieved and re-cast, allow the line to come up tight and pull the flies slowly up to the surface, lifting the rod tip high, then retrieve and re-cast.

If the wind is very light and boat drift is slow, try casting the flies directly downwind, 9 o'clock, and slowly retrieve them back to the boat, giving them just enough movement to activate the fly, but not so much as to pull the flies up to the surface.


One day while fishing at Lake Aniwhenua I was having what could be described as a hard day - and that is understatement. There were plenty of fish about, rising all over the place, but most others and I could not get them to bite. There was another factor that was making life a bit difficult for fly-casting - a strong breeze, actually typhoon would better describe it without lurching into exaggeration.

But one bloke was regularly catching fish. From a distance I could not work out how he was doing it, so I decided to throw reticence into the hurricane, and motored over to his boat, to watch and ask. Close to his boat, his technique was soon revealed - dapping.

Dapping is a very old technique, but still used a great deal in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and some parts of England.

There are three keys to dapping.

The line is fished from a drifting boat with the drift slowed by a sea anchor, or from an anchored boat. The line is fed out and the rod tip lifted to nearly vertical, this allows the wind to pick up the dapping line and lift it into the air. The trick then is to raise and lower the rod tip so that the fly attached to a two metre leader dances just above the surface and regularly touches or sits briefly on the surface.

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This dapping angler was using a big bug type fly. The action he invoked was a perfect imitation of this fly - skimming and darting over the surface of the water, and regularly touching down. I watched in utter fascination as he caught two more fish.

That night over three or five glasses of Sir Jonathan Walker Black's fine Scottish product, the Welshman explained the technique in detail, lent me a line to try, and invited me out with him next day. An invitation I accepted with alacrity.

The next day we caught a heap of fish. Actually the 'we' should be he caught a heap of fish - but even my clumsy efforts, on a too-short 9’ rod, caught one or two.

Dapping also has a place in fishing from the shore - if there is a good stiff wind blowing from behind the angler. It can be an ideal way to fish the outer edges of weed beds, without all the usual weed entangling problems.

As you may have noticed we get a bit of wind in New Zealand, now and then. In fact I have lost count of the number of times my fishing expeditions on lakes have been sabotaged by strong winds. So I believe dapping offers us a good way of turning a dud day into a great day.

Dapping lines are hard to come by in New Zealand tackle shops, but are readily obtainable from UK catalogues.

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