by Jeff Goodwin
I do a lot of drift fishing on the Sacramento river for salmon, trout, and steelhead. In fact, it's by far my favorite way to fish from my boat, when either side drifting or boondoggling through holding water. I've spent countless hours on the water over the years drift fishing, and I've tried every weight system out there looking for the most efficient weight that is quick and easy to make and hangs up less than the others I've tried over the years. Success on the water depends highly on keeping your baits in the strike zone and in front of holding fish. Hang ups, and subsequent break offs will significantly reduce your chances of hooking fish when drift fishing. The less we all hang up, the less lines and lead we'll leave on the bottom to create even more drift hazards in our favorite stretches of water. The following drift weight system is by far my all time favorite and I know it's helping me catch more fish by hanging up less.
Ordering all the components for these weight systems is quick and easy. First, I get my heat shrink tubing at buyheatshrink.com. They have a huge variety of sizes and material and you can buy from 25'-250'. I get my .240 and .330 lead shout from riverguidesupply.com and you can buy the shot in 5-10 lb bags. As for the #5 barrel swivels, I get the cheapest I can find from eBay and they work great for this application. The last item you may or may not need is a small heat gun for the spring wrap.
Prepping Your Weights
I use .330 size lead shot for my salmon fishing and use .240 shot for my trout and steelhead fishing. I use the appropriate diameter heat shrink tubing for my two different size lead shot. The heat shrink is cut to the appropriate length for the size of weight I plan to make. In the picture above, you can see that I cut the heat shrink to a size a bit longer than the number of shot I plan to use. This allows for shrinking and I can cut a number of pieces of heat shrink to speed up the process of making them.
Making Your Drift Weights
The first thing I do is to run one of the open ends of the heat shrink tubing over the heat gun to shrink one end of your cut piece. This allows you to drop your lead shot into the tubing without any of them falling out. Once you have filled the appropriately sized piece of heat shrink, simply add a #5 barrel swivel so that it rests under the last piece of lead shot. Note the piece of 1/4" steel plate under the drift weight. I use this under my weight to heat my shrink tubing so it doesn't burn or heat the average surface of areas where we usually do this sort of thing.
Finishing Your Drift Weight Assembly
I fire up my heat gun and heat both sides of the heat shrink around the lead shot and swivel. It just takes a second to do both sides. Once it's completed, I set them aside individually to cool off for a few minutes. Don't stack on top of each other until they cool off or the heat shrink tubing will stick together. It's quick and easy!
The Final Product
Now that you know how to make these great drift weights, I'll explain some of the advantages to their use. I find that they are easier to make than slinky material weights and they are easy to attach a snap swivel to. A little more labor intensive than pencil lead, but they hang up way less and you don't have to cut and punch holes in the pencil lead, sometimes guessing how much length you will need for the area you are fishing.
The heat shrink is slippery in the rocks and doesn't grab like parachute chord or raw pencil lead. The hang ups are far fewer, and time in the strike zone is extended. I can also easily organize my weights by the number of lead shot in each piece. It also helps me to communicate to my clients which weights to attach to their lines for a specific drift on my home river. As flows often reduce with water releases as they do on the Sacramento River where I fish, I can simply cut off a shot to adjust how the weight is fishing if it's a tad too heavy. It's a great drift weight system and if you use them I think you'll agree. Good luck and I hope this guide-proven drift fishing tip helps you put more fish in the fish box for many years to come!
Jeff Goodwin is a full time Northern California fishing guide. He guides year round for salmon, trout, steelhead, Kokanee, and bass on Northern California rivers and lakes. He fishes many bodies of water in the Redding area, but also guides the Sacramento River and Feather River during certain times of the year. Jeff can also be found on the California coast chasing ocean fresh King salmon and steelhead each year. To learn more about the fishing trips Jeff has to offer, please visit Jeff Goodwin's Guide Service. You can also find him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or please feel free to call him anytime at (707) 616-1905.