Drift Sock Basics – What It Is & How To Use It [2021 Quick Start Guide]

What Does A Drift Sock Do? | Why Use A Drift Sock?

We’ve ALL been there… you work your butt off the entire week looking forward to going fishing and when you finally get to the water you’re met with windy or even choppy conditions! Sound familiar? 

Your solution is control. But let me tell you, the windier it is the more difficult boat control will be.

Nowadays boats, canoes, kayaks, even paddle boards are becoming bigger and heavier in size. 

Translating into a bigger target for the wind to push against and move you off your spot! 

If you’re lucky enough you can use a spot-lock trolling motor, but those are known to drain your battery fast, have proven to be unreliable in keeping your position, and even cost $3000 dollars! 

This is why you need a drift sock. 

No matter what size body of water you’re on, if you have wind or current you need a drift sock.

What is a Drift Sock?

Simply speaking, a drift sock is like a parachute, or a large funnel-like product but for the water.   

More often than not a drift sock will be made up of a nylon cloth material, but the cheaper versions can be made of a cheap tarp-like material. It can also be easily folded up and stored when not in use.

The better drift socks usually come in a kit.  The kit usually comes with 1-2 marine-grade ropes, a buoy and the actual drift sock itself. 

What does a drift sock do?

A drift sock can be used in a variety of ways. 

The most common way drift sock is used is to slow down a boat’s drift.  A drift sock can be attached to either of the sides of the boat (port), the front of the boat (stern), or the rear of the boat (aft).

In addition, the drift sock can also be used to hold the boat position when it is anchored.

Who uses a drift sock?

Fishermen are the most common people who use a drift sock. Anyone who fishes out of a boat, canoe, kayak, stand up paddle board, or any other type of floating vessel  should have a drift sock ready to use.

Other recreational boaters also like to have 1-2 drift socks handy, just in case their motor goes out on them the drift sock will help slow their drift. This could be instrumental to allow rescuers to find that boat quickly and easily.

I’ve sat down with other owners of drift socks.  They go on to say one of the drift socks best features is to slow their boat drift into a rocky shore just in case they can’t get their motor started. 

Drift Sock Anatomy 101 | What Makes A Good Drift Sock Kit?

In order to use your drift sock system you should have these three important pieces:

  1. A harness line.
  2. A drift sock.
  3. A collapsing cord.

The Harness Line

The harness line should be a long 100% UV resistant marine grade polypropylene rope. Marine grade cordage rope is known to resist drying out, fraying, and frankly it can last you nearly a lifetime. 

Harness lines should be at least an ½-inch thich and should range between 10- and 16-feet in length to give you optimal control. 

The premium harness lines come with stainless steel quick release clips on both ends. This will make it so much easier when you attach and remove both the harness from your boat.

You will notice the better harness lines should have a highly visible buoy.  The buoys will range in size from 4-8-inches in length.

The harness line with buoy serves four functions: 

  1. It keeps the drift sock towards the top of the water surface, which increases performance and helps to avoid any unwanted snagging on submerged structure.
  2. Allows the entire system visible at all times. 
  3. In the event your harness and collapsing line comes off your boat, the buoy keeps the entire drift sock afloat. 
  4. Finally, it also aids you in landing monster fish!  Those who are hooked into a giant fish tend to get worried their line will get tangled in the drift sock ropes. Here’s the solution…  simply detach the drift sock from your boat!  land that monster fish and then come back for the floating drift sock. Super Easy! 

WARNING: Do NOT use an ordinary rope to attach your drift sock to your boat. You might be inclined to, but this could have terrible consequences. 

Dragging the sock through the water using ordinary rope increases the chances the sock will twist, tangle, hinder the drift sock performance, and wind up frequently removing the harness from the sock and untangle the lines. 

The Drift Sock

The drift sock has several parts that give its unique characteristics.

Let’s start from wide-end to the narrow-end:

(1) The Harness Strap – These straps attach to the Bucket and to the harness line.  The harness strap needs to be made of a durable nylon material strapping. 

(2) The Bucket – Is the opening where the water will get pushed to. Quality of the bucket material can vary.  I recommend a drift sock that is made from heavy duty, construction grade rip-stop nylon material.   

(3)The Point – The narrow end of the drift sock.

(4) The Collapsing Strap – This is strap where your collapsing cord will tie on to.

(5) Collapsing Cord – Should be a 15- 20 foot Marine-Grade/ UV resistant 1/2-inch cord.

The Collapsing Cord

The collapsing cord is often overlooked as an integral piece to your drift sock kit.  

Like the harness line, the collapsing cord should also be made out of UV resistant marine grade polypropylene rope. 

The collapsing cord will save your back – literally!

When you are done using your drift sock, you do not pull in the harness line.  If you do this you could injury your back since you are pulling against the water that has filled the drift sock. 

Pulling on the harness line could also place unneeded stress on the harness straps and could cause tearing over time. 

Before deploying your drift sock system simply tie one end of the collapsing strap to your boat and the other end to the drift sock collapsing strap.

The best practice is to pull in your drift sock after use is pulling in the collapsing cord. The collapsing cord quickly and easily collapses the inflated drift sock.  

Getting Started With Your Drift Sock…

Step 1)  – Start by choosing a cleat with a hole big enough for the harness line to clip or tie down on to.  

It’s easier if you’re using a kayak with an anchor trolley you can rapidly adjust the location of the drift sock.

The easiest and most common location to attach the drift sock harness is the aft of your boat. 

Later in this post I’ll go over additional locations where you can attach your drift sock.

Step 2)  – Clip the other end of the harness line to the drift sock harness straps. 

Step 3)  – Tie off one end of the collapsing cord to your boat or the harness line carabiner clip.

Step 4)  – Then tie down the other end of the collapsing cord to the collapsing strap located on the narrow end on the drift sock. 

Step 5)  – Place the sock in the water and allow it to expand slowly/open up and fill with water. 

Step 6)  – You can let out as much or as little amount of harness line that you want.  Make sure the buoy is closer to the drift sock. Furthermore, I recommend positioning the sock out approximately 6-10 feet at first. 

Helpful Tip:  If the weather is giving you choppy water conditions, try to let out as much rope as you can for better control.  

Allow your Drift Master Drift Sock to slowly drift or slow troll. 

When you’re ready to move spots, simply pull in the collapsing cord to “collapse and dump” the water out of the sock. 

How do you use drift socks for trolling or drift fishing?

The preferred way to use your drift sock for trolling is to first find the fish or landmark on the map you want to target. 

Then continue past the spot heading into the wind. 

Drop all lures or bait into the water that you want to use. 

Deploy your drift sock and let it slow the boat down.  This will allow for your lures to remain in the strike zone longer, giving your more opportunity to catch a fish.

How far out do you have to motor past before starting to drift over the target area?

It depends on a number of factors such as wind or current speed, the size of your boat, and what type of lure you are using.

If the wind speed is really blowing, you want to position your boat farther back. It will take a least a minute or two to deploy the drift sock and for it to inflate and slow down the boat.  

In windy conditions, it can really push you over the target spto faster than you think.  So you’ll have to time it through trial and error. 

Helpful Tip:  Whatever distance you think you need to start you drift at, triple it.  

Larger vessels also can take longer to slow down.  Many anglers like the option of using multiple drift socks to allow them the flexibility to drift at different speeds. 

Using different styles of lures also plays a factor of how far past your target you need to go before you start to drift back. 

For instance, if you are trolling jig heads with soft plastic grub trailers that lure sinks fast. You can easily drop the lure down to the desired depth, either using a line counter you just count the lure down in your head. Then start your drift over the target area.

However you need a different approach if you’re trolling crankbaits or jerkbaits.  Hard plastic baits that have diving bills will often need extra distance to dive down to get to the desired diving depth.  

With this in mind it’s best to give yourself at least 3-times the normal distance. 

How To Use A Drift Sock On A Boat Or Kayak

As I alluded to earlier there are multiple ways to use a drift sock. Here are some of the best ways to use a drift sock for your boat or kayak. 

Forward Stroll

One of the easiest setups that we recommend to start is the slow troll (ei; Stroll). This will slow your boat down when moving forward. Remember, the wind has to be at your back. 

All you have to do is attach your drift sock system to the stern of your boat. 

If you have a trolling motor in the front you can steer the bow left or right. 

Sideways Drift

Start by turning your boat perpendicular to the wind. 

Using two drift socks are preferred. One will attach near the bow and the other at the stern. 

For the bow use the smaller 33-inch drift sock is recommended. 

Likewise for the stern, you can either use a 30-inch drift sock (for a smaller boat) or a larger 50+ inch drift sock for larger/heavier boats. 

Helpful Tip: Use your trolling motor to adjust your position the sideways drifting too!  It will aid you and push you forward or backward in any direction you need to be at. 

As a word of caution, it is not recommended to drift sideways in very windy or heavy choppy conditions.  It could possibly rip the cleat off the boat or even capsize your boat!

If you find yourself repositioning the cleats on your boat, the cleat should be located a few inches behind your trolling motor.  That way it does not get in the way when your raising it or deploying the motor. 

The right cleat should be at the equidistance from the bow. 

Choppy Conditions = Long Line

Your drift sock performs the best when the line is parallel to the water. 

When facing choppy conditions let out more line from your harness line. Your Drift Master Drift Sock should be approximately 10-20 feet from the boat in large chop conditions. 

Wind Blown Banks

We all know that wind blown banks can produce a TON of fish. However fishing a windblown bank can be incredibly hard and possibly dangerous if you don’t have the right equipment. 

That’s why some anglers will put use a drift sock on one of the corners of the stern of the boat. If you notice that the wind is still too strong attach a second Drift Master Drift Sock. 

Depending on the wind, start with the 33-inch size, then if you notice the wind is still too strong, then use two drift socks. 

Keeping your drift sock located on the rear corner of the boat so it allows your electronics to perform optimally by staying out of the way! 

Rivers & Current

Drift socks also work amazingly when fishing in a river or a current. 

In addition, there are a few ways to use a drift sock in a river or in tidal current.

You can “pin” your position.  This involves anchoring upstream and using the drift sock to lock in your location. 

You can also use a drift sock to slow down your drift to fish a spot that you would normally cruise by. 

Want to be the best fisherman?  I wrote an in depth report that shows you a weird trick to use a drift sock in current… in less time than it would take to drink a cup of coffee

Read more:  A shocking drift sock fishing trick has vloggers annoyed. Try this weird solution and catch more fish.

What Is The Best Drift Sock?

It’s a difficult question to answer because of the variables that need to be considered.  The most important factors you must consider is: what type of vessel do you own?  A boat, pontoon, kayak, or canoe?  What length and size is your craft you’re fishing from?

Unfortunately I do not have enough room to discuss that in this post…

But you’re in luck!  I wrote two separate reports that cover that exact topic.

If you fish from a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard and want a drift sock, I wrote a complete report on all the best drift socks for these products.

Read more: Best Drift Sock For Kayaks or Canoes (Our Top Picks)

Likewise, if you fish from a boat, then you must read my detailed report of all the best drift sock for any size boat you own.

Read more: Best Drift Sock For Any Size Boat (Our Top Picks)

Drift Sock Sizing 

Drift Socks are available in a variety of sizes. 

When you’re faced with different options you need to know what size drift sock you need to deploy that is why we made this basic sizing chart:

Boat Size Light – Moderate Wind or Current Strong Wind or Current
14 feet or less (small jon or v-hull boats, canoes, kayaks, SUP 33-inch drift sock 33-inch drift sock
15 – 21 feet (standard fishing boat or small pontoon boats) 33-inch drift sock 50+ inch drift sock
22+ feet (large fishing boats or pontoon boats) One 50+ inch sock, or two 33-inch drift socks Two 50+ inch drift socks

But it doesn’t stop there…

If you’re a boat owner and you want to be given the perfect size drift sock for your make and model boat, well you’re in luck. Click here, where you can find your boat and be given the perfect drift sock size recommendation.

Read more: Drift Sock Size Chart For Boats

If you already have a kayak and you want to find the exact drift sock size that best fits your kayak then you need to click here.

Read more: Drift Sock Size Chart For Kayaks

DIY “Drift Sock” - How to use a 5 gallon bucket for a “drift sock”

If you don’t want to buy a premium drift sock and think it’s the best idea to build your own, then check out this youtube video.

Catfish Pro UBI How to Quickly Make a Drift Sock

Homemade drift sock bucket

Therefore, before you even think of making your drop shot rod, you have to understand how they are made up and what qualities they should carry. You have to ensure that the blank rod is solid and powerful enough to set the hook, yet sensitive enough to detect even the smallest bites.

Choosing the right drop shot rod can be a little stressful. You want to get the best rod your money can buy. That’s why I wrote a complete hands-on review of the best drop shot rods for any budget. I discussed all the great features and even I outlined the durability issues I found. Click HERE to read more.

Accessories You Need

Bait board  – Bait Boards are an excellent multi-purpose workspace that allows you to cleanly cut any bait or fillet your catch. I also highly recommend getting a Scotty bait board because it can also help store and organize all your tools, tackle, and bait prep items. The Scotty board also comes with a universal post base.

Filet knife  – Having a surgically sharp fillet knife is an absolute must have when you’re prepping bait or filleting your catch. I really like this Rhinoreto fillet knife because it stays consistently sharp even after you cut through the thickest scales. There is good reason this is the number one best seller of fillet knifes. Click here to check availability.

Planer Boards  – Designed specifically to assist anglers to cover more water when trolling. Planer boards, are vertical board-like products that are built with an angled leading edges. The board is then pulled behind a boat or kayak. The movement of the boat causes the board move your line and lure away from the boat. That way your lure is presented to the fish quietly, away from the sound of any motor.

If you’re serious about trolling you need a planer board set like the Krazywolf Planer Board system. I’ve used other planer boards in the past. And unlike the competitors, the Krazywolf planerboard just seems more rigid. I really like that I can adjust the flag spring when I decide to use larger baits.

Fish Finder  – Discovering the best fishing spots could mean the difference between an action-packed day catching nonstop fish over a day of utter boredom. The fish finger is a necessary tool for drift fishing whether you’re just getting started or if you’re a seasoned angler. Having a quality fish finder tells you what is underwater, help you locate hidden habitat that is not found on any map.

Fish Finder  – Discovering the best fishing spots could mean the difference between an action-packed day catching nonstop fish over a day of utter boredom. The fish finger is a necessary tool for drift fishing whether you’re just getting started or if you’re a seasoned angler. Having a quality fish finder tells you what is underwater, help you locate hidden habitat that is not found on any map.

Best Fishfinder For A Experienced Seasoned Fisherman -- I highly recommend the Lowrance HDS-9 LIVE – 9-inch Fish Finder.

I use this on my 21′ Ranger. All I can say is IT. IS. AWESOME!

This fish finder definitely gives you the best bang for your buck. The high-definition 3D Structure Scan is a really cool feature that shows you all the underwater features and fish in the front, back, and sides of your boat.

Lastly, having the shortcut keys is a phenomenal idea that allowed me to customize my unit for my needs.

For example, I like to drop waypoints as I’m trolling. Now I can push a single button and the Lowrance HDS-9 LIVE quickly and easily assigns a waypoint to that exact spot!

In contrast, having an advanced fish finder may be a little overwhelming and may not be suitable for everyone.

Best Budget Fishfinder For Small Boats  – I strongly recommend the Garmin Striker ClearVu Scanning Sonar with built-in Quickdraw Contours Mapping Software.

This Garmin is great if:

  • You’re on a budget
  • Perfectly sized for kayaks or small aluminum boats
  • Just getting into fishing and don’t want to spend a lot of money.

I actually own two of these units…

For the first one, I use it on my kayak. The Striker is small, lightweight, and compact. It displays a TON of information that in need when I’m on the water.

Personally, I like the mapping feature that best. When I’m on a small farm pond or deep in a cove that hasn’t been mapped I can chart out all the features and structure that has never been seen before.

My other Striker I own I use on my father’s small 14′ aluminum v-hull boat we use for trout fishing.

The screen stays bright and offers a crisp definition, even in blue-bird skies at high noon. And unlike others, the screen won’t fade.

The unit comes with everything you need. Garmin doesn’t nickel and dime you by forcing you to buy hidden accessories. Just hook it up to a power source, add water, and off you go.

One of the hang-ups about this unit is that it doesn’t come with an owner’s manual. But luckily I solved that problem. Now you don’t have to search high and low for it, you can download it free right here.

These Garmin Striker units are super popular and fly off the shelves especially this time of year. If you’re interested in a powerful, small, compact fish finder then head on over to Amazon to see if they have any left. You’ll definitively be catching more fish if you do.

Trolling rod holder  – If I’m trolling I need my rod in a holder that is easy to get to when I have a fish at the other end of the line. The Atwood rod holder can even be locked into place if I’m expecting to a giant fish.

Installation was really easy and you can even swap out other products Atwood makes into the same mount.

Tackle Bag – You can’t carry all your gear in your pockets, so you need a reliable tackle bag to transport it. I wrote a complete review guide, Best Tackle Bag for Fishing, check it out by clicking here.   But if you don’t have the time to read the full guide then let me tell you I recommend the Lunker Bag by KastKing

Fishing Pliers – Nothing will ruin a day quicker than getting a hook embedded in your hand, or worse your eye.  That’s why I always recommend having a good set of pliers that won’t rust and won’t slip out of your hand.  I recommend that Cutthroat 7” Fishing Pliers.  

Landing Net – As you are reeling in that monster fish, you don’t want to injure yourself or knock the fish off the hook by trying to grab it. That’s why I recommend a dependable telescopic landing net

Fishing Weight Scale – Whether if you’re going to keep your catch or just take a photo of it and brag to your friends it’s important to have an accurate scale. I recommend a scale that has a large LED display like this one fishing scale here

Wide Brim Fishing Hat – Nowadays, you have to protect yourself against the sun’s harmful rays. Wearing a wide brim hat not only gives you UV protection, but it also keeps you cool.  I recommend the Columbia Unisex Bora Bora Booney hat. It fits any size head and it feels really comfortable. 

Fishing Sun Shirt – Don’t you stop at only getting head protection, you also need to protect your chest, back, arms, and torso. According to the researchers finding skin cancers on the shoulders and forearms rank within the top-5 locations to get skin cancer*. Avoid any unnecessary UV exposure and stay cool by wearing a UV protective PFG Fishing Shirt by Columbia.

Fishing Gloves – Fishing gloves allow your hands to stay covered from the sun’s harmful rays and stay dry by using a special material. These gloves by Fishaholic offer UPF50+ 

FAQ

What happens if your drift sock gets stuck or snagged?

Unfortunately, it’s inevitable your drift sock will get snagged on submerged structure. If that happens  you can backtrack just slightly behind where the sock is snagged. Simply pull the collapsing cord first. Many times your drift comes right off the snag.

What happens if your drift sock gets ripped?

Rips tend to occur with the cheaper drift socks and drift bags since that is not made with the ultra-durable Rip-Stop material.

If you do rip it you can try to sew it up yourself. Getting your sock snagged and torn is not considered a product defect and it is unlikely the manufacturer will replace it. But you could always try.

Do drift socks sink?

Without any float devices such as buoys, yes your drift sock will sink.

What happens if the wind or current dies down?

If the wind our current dies down it’s important to pack up your drift sock.  It’s really nice to be able to store it in a water-resistant bag. We recommend using this one here, and best of all you can buy it from Amazon.

Can I use a drift sock for saltwater fishing?

Absolutely!  Using a drift sock in any tidal or current setting will work great.  

How do I store my drift sock when I’m not using it?

Storing your drift sock, harness line, and collapsing strap is easy if it comes with a storage bag. Otherwise, all the lines and straps can get tangled, turning a fun day of fishing into a frustrating day.  I full heartedly recommend the Drift Master brand drift sock kit because it already comes with a heavy-duty water-resistant storage bag making store-and-stow quick and easy.  Click here to check availability on Amazon.  

I want to stop my kayak while I’m diving. Will a drift sock help with that?

No, a drift sock will only slow you down. Buying an anchor will help you completely stop your drift. If you need an anchor for your kayak, we recommend this one here

Wrapping It Up

We hope that we didn’t overwhelm you by giving you too much information. All we care about is providing you with the best content to help you on the water. Hands down!

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My name is George and I'm been fishing my entire life and love all things outdoors. My passion is helping anyone catch more fish. The newest things I've been doing lately is learning how to break down and clean all my reels, teaching my boy how to kayak fish, and bushcraft wilderness survival.