If you’re trying to drift bait, always think of the three-way rig (also known as a drift rig). Other rigs fail to present both live and frozen bait in a lifelike manner compared to the three-way. This rig is simple to assemble and even easier to fish, making it the perfect method for drifting over any type of bottom structure. You’re probably wondering how you make this trusty drift rig so let’s get started.
THREE-WAY RIG COMPONENTS
The best part about fishing a drift rig is that all of the components are fairly cheap, allowing you to buy tackle in bulk. I highly recommend buying more than you need since these rigs boast two treble hooks that easily snag rocks and other bottom structure. Here’s what you’ll need.
- Three-Way Swivels – I love the Sea Striker brand because they come in bulk and are extremely cheap.
- Snap Swivels – I usually go with the cheap Danielson swivels but if you want high-end ball-bearing swivels that are stronger, go right ahead.
- Size 2-4 Treble Hooks – Depending on the size of bait you are drifting, you’ll need trebles between size 2 and 4. Feel free to go bigger or smaller for personal preference but it’s what I like to use for drifting whole squid and live baitfish.
- 30-50lb Trilene Big Game Monofilament – This will be for your leader line to the treble hooks. Trilene Big Game gives you a ridiculous amount of line for only around ten bucks. You’ll be set for months.
- 20-25lb Trilene Big Game Monofilament – This lighter mono will be for the leader to your drift weight.
- 6-8 oz. Drift Ball OR Torpedo Weights – I personally like the drift ball because it won’t tip over when it hits bottom unlike a torpedo weight. Torpedo weights, however, are more aerodynamic underwater and will get you down much quicker. The choice is yours!
ADDITIONAL TIPS FOR RIG COMPONENTS
- Although I use cheap Danielson snap swivels to attach my weights, I’ll buy high quality ball-bearing snap swivels for my main line since I don’t want a cheap snap swivel busting on me and losing the entire rig. For the weight itself I don’t care since I want it to break if it snags anyways.
- For my treble hooks I like to use no thicker than a 2X strong hook for a few important reasons. If your hook is too thick it won’t punch through the fish’s mouth enough and you could lose quality fish. I also like the 2X thickness because it’s strong enough to not bend out while fighting a fish but thin enough so I can bend it out on purpose if I snag a rock.
- I recommended a 6-8 oz. drift weight but you can always bump up or down if necessary. An example of when you upsize is when the swell picks up and your rig is left far behind the boat. In this case a 10-12 oz. drift weight will keep you closer underneath the boat as long as your rod can handle the load. Feel free to downsize when the weather is flat calm as it gives you better bite detection and is easier to work with.
ASSEMBLING YOUR THREE-WAY RIG
Now that you have the components, it’s time to slap this baby together! Keep in mind that these are adjustments that I personally use so feel free to experiment with leader length, line strength, hook size, etc.
- Using your 30-50lb mono, cut a 3ft strip of line and tie on your first treble hook with a Snell Knot.
- Slide your second treble hook on the line and tie it about 3-4 inches away from your first treble hook.
- Attach your double treble hook leader to the three-way swivel with a Palomar Knot.
- Using your 20-25lb mono, make a short 12 inch leader to a snap swivel.
- Attach the snap swivel leader to your three-way swivel using a Palomar Knot as well.
- You’re all set. Now all you have to do is attach your choice of weight onto the snap swivel and your main line to the three-way swivel.
ROD AND REEL SETUP FOR DRIFTING
Assembling a three-way rig was the easy part, now you have to focus on the right gear to drift this rig effectively. I’d stick to a conventional/casting setup instead of a spinning setup for this rig, it’s easier to maintain the drift with a conventional or casting setup.
DRIFT ROD RECOMMENDATIONS
Look out for rod stiffness as well. Too stiff of a rod and you’ll lose feel and ultimately lose fish as well. Too soft of a rod and you’ll be overpowered and struggle every time you drag your rig back to the surface, not to mention fight a fish.
- Ugly Stick Tiger Casting 7’ 20-50lb – This rod will do the job perfectly at an extremely low price. The action is perfect for drifting an 6-8 oz. or even 10 oz. weight if necessary. Not the prettiest rod but it definitely gets the job done and beats its peers in price.
- Daiwa V.I.P. 870 – This 7’ 15-40lb rod is similar to the Ugly Stick Tiger but with better action and overall feel. The foam grip is triangle-shaped for much better grip.
- Phenix Abyss 808 – By far my absolute favorite drift rod, but it can do so much more too. If you’re willing to spend the extra dough, you get an 8’ beauty with perfect action that will make drifting a breeze. Not to mention it has a lifetime, over-the-counter warranty so you don’t have to worry about breaking it, ever.
DRIFT REEL RECOMMENDATIONS
I always spend more money on the reel, simple because it needs to handle heavy weight constantly while battling the harsh effects of saltwater. You don’t have to break the bank, but I would definitely spend at least 100 bucks if not closer to $150 for a decent reel. It truly is an investment that will pay off over the years.
- Daiwa Seagate Star Drag 20H or 30H – At around $150 these are perfect for a number of applications. The Seagate is extremely simple yet high quality, and if you spend a little more you can get the Saltist Star Drag Black Gold 20H or 30H for higher-quality body materials and more bearings.
- Penn Squall 30 Star Drag – For $150 as well, you get an absolute workhorse. The beauty of Penn products is that for the mid to low-range line of products you get all-metal body construction and a practically indestructible reel. Definitely worth checking out.
Shimano Torium 16HG – I currently own two Toriums and I absolutely love them. If you’re willing to spend the extra cash you get a compact, lighter reel with extremely smooth feel and tough carbon-fiber drag system. Worth the investment.
WHAT TO USE FOR MAIN LINE WHEN DRIFTING
If you aren’t fishing off of a charter boat, definitely use braided line. The braid will get you down to the bottom faster, give you crazy sensitivity and also cut through water better during the drift. With braid I can tell exactly when I’m on rock or sand and feel every tiny bite possible. Here are some of my suggestions
BRAIDED LINE OPTIONS (30-50LB)
- Daiwa J-Braid
- PowerPro Spectra
- PowerPro SuperSlick
MONOFILAMENT LINE OPTIONS (20-25lb)
- Trilene Big Game
- Yo-Zuri Hybrid
- P-Line CXX
- Maxima Ultragreen
WHAT BAIT TO FISH ON A THREE-WAY RIG
The possibilities are endless, but there are a few staple baits out there when you’re drifting around in the salt. If you can get your hands on fresh-dead squid then you’re in the money, but if not it’s always great to buy frozen boxes of squid for pretty much the same results. Fish such as halibut will be more picky whereas a hungry lingcod wouldn’t care less.
A FEW BAIT OPTIONS (BOTH LIVE OR FROZEN)
HOW TO FISH A THREE-WAY RIG
Finally, right? Fishing a drift rig is surprisingly simple, there are just a few tidbits to look out for if you want the best chance at avoiding snags and hooking the fish properly.
- When you hit bottom, reel up a few cranks. The last thing you want is for the treble hooks to dig into rock and other structure, causing you to break off valuable tackle not to mention spend time re-tying. Don’t worry if you’re a few feet off bottom, the fish aren’t always planted at the bottom and will most likely swim up to eat.
- Every few moments, free-spool back down to the bottom just to see where you’re at. Sometimes you’ll drift over a huge drop-off and your bait will be too high up without you even knowing. Constantly touching back down to the bottom will give you an idea if you go from sand to rock structure and vice versa.
- When you get bit, reel in the slack before you set hook. Reeling in before a hookset will pick up the slack from the heavy weight you’re using, allowing you to get a better position before punching the hooks through. Reel and swing in one steady motion.
- If the drift is too strong, use a drift sock to slow down your boat. This will make an enormous difference and help keep your rig right below you where it belongs.