John's Journal...


How to Rig for Drift Lining

Click to enlargeEDITOR'S NOTE: With snapper season in high gear this summer, I've collected new and better ways to catch more and bigger snapper. And there’s plenty of good news on the Upper Gulf Coast this summer. If you look at the area Hurricane Dennis went through in July, 2005, you’ll see the resulting destruction, but not nearly as much as Hurricane Ivan caused. Many of the charter boats are still up and running, however many of the fisherman normally there at this time of the year aren’t, but you should be and here’s why. Right after a major disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico, like Hurricane Dennis, bottom feeders like snapper and grouper migrate. If history repeats itself, the Alabama/Mississippi Gulf Coast would have a tremendous influx of grouper and the Florida Panhandle, including the Destin and Panama City area, should have a huge influx in snapper. Right now, you have a window of opportunity to travel to the Upper Gulf Coast and catch more and bigger snapper than ever before.

When Captain Jack and Debbie Wilhites drifted cigar minnows off the stern of the boat, one factor caused their baits not to get down to the depth where the snapper fed. The current would wash the bait past the snapper is the bait didn't have enough weight to fall into the area where the snapper concentrated. To solve this problem, the Wilhites added a small slip sinker to the line to get the bait down and used spinning tackle to cast the bait in front of the boat. "The current determines how much weight you add to the line," Jack Wilhite reported. "If the current is moving at one knot, you'll have to add a 1/2-ounce sinker. With no current, you won't have to add any weight to the line. But generally, we use a 1/4-ounce, egg-shaped slip sinker ahead of the bait." Wilhite recommends you fish with a 7-foot spinning rod and either an Abu Garcia 904 or a Penn 950SS Click to enlargespinning reel. He uses 30-pound-test monofilament line and tries to match the color of the line to the color of water. "We've learned that fish can see clear line in clear water, and we get more strikes using green-colored line," Wilhite emphasized. "If the water has a little stain to it, then we'll use a gray-colored line to receive more strikes."

On the line, Wilhite attaches a 1/4-ounce, egg-shaped sinker and a No. 5/0 bronze-finish Eagle Claw hook. He prefers the bronze to the silver because the silver attracts more king mackerel, which will take the baits and cut the lines. With the bronze hook, he catches more snapper and fewer mackerel. When you prepare to cast, the lead will slide all the way down the line to the eye of the hook. Wilhite baits with a whole cigar minnow or herring, placing the point of the hook at the X-mark between the eyes and the mouth of the cigar minnow. He brings the point of the hook from the X-mark on top of the cigar minnow and out below the gills.

"Once you've got your bait on the hook, cast upcurrent of the boat," Wilhite explained. "Make about a 40-foot cast. Then when the bait enters the water, the current will pick it up and wash it back toward the boat. I usually try to hold the boat right on top of the artificial reef we're fishing. We've learned that by casting upcurrent, the bait will drift back, pass about 40 feet above the wreck and then drift back about 10 to 20 yards behind the wreck before the lead finally reaches the bottom." As the bait enters the water, the lead begins to fall away from the hook and the bait. Because the lead is heavier than the cigar minnow, the lead will slide down the line and away from the bait. By the time the bait floats 30 to 40 feet from the bottom, the lead may have fallen 5 to 10 feet below the bait. When the line begins to come back to the boat, free-line more monofilament off the spool by simply pulling the line out and allowing the current to catch the line. Then the lead can continue to fall even after your Click to enlargeline has passed the boat. When the snapper spots the cigar minnow moving down toward the bottom, it sees a free-floating bait that presents an easy meal.

As the snapper takes the bait, the line will pick up speed and come off the reel much faster. When you notice the strike, put your reel in gear. Point the rod tip at the water in the direction you see the line running. Let the fish take up the slack. When the line becomes taut, strike the fish with a solid hook set. "We've found that using this drift-line technique helps us consistently catch more double-digit-sized snapper, weighing from 10 to 25 pounds, than any other technique we've tried," Wilhite advised. The biggest snapper the Wilhites ever have boated using this tactic weighed 26 pounds. But they catch 10- to 15- pound snapper on almost every trip when they employ this drift-line method and other species, including amberjack and grouper.

How to Play the Fish:

When a fisherman hooks a fish, and it heads toward a reef, often an angler will pull hard against the fish, attempting to get his rod to the 12 o'clock position and then reel down to the 4 o'clock position. However, Wilhite has discovered that an angler can land more fish if he'll pull his rod to the 11 o'clock position. Then when the fish quits fighting against the line, he can reel down to the 9 o'clock position and try to pump the fish back up to the 11 o'clock position. "You'll put more fish in the boat using a short, pumping action than you will if Click to enlargeyou use a long-pull, drop-down-low and try-to-take-up-slack tactic and also gradually gain line," Wilhite emphasized. "Little short pumps on the rod will keep a fish coming to the surface faster and its head turned toward the surface better than when you drop the rod tip drastically and attempt to take up a lot of slack at one time." Wilhite has discovered, and I have to agree, that drift lining produces big snapper. All the tactics we’ve discusse this week will produce action for the saltwater bottom fisherman.

For more information on snapper fishing, go to, or call (800) 745-7263.

Check back each day this week for more about BETTER SNAPPER STRATEGIES

Day 1: Catching Black Snapper and Chumming
Day 2: Churning Up Snapper
Day 3: Using Diamonds to Catch Snapper and Locating Reefs
Day 4: More and Bigger Snapper Drift Lining
Day 5: How to Rig for Drift Lining



Entry 309, Day 5