Why it is on reservoirs in the south, all boats drift under control of a drogue, yet boats of northern lochs rarely use a drogue? Could it be tradition? Well, for those looking perplexed, a drogue is a sea-anchor – basically a small underwater parachute – made of canvas with rope ‘cords’ secured to the side of the boat and which is often used by fly fishers. It opens out underwater to arrest the boat’s progress as it drifts; in high winds it can slow down the drift to a manageable fishing speed, in a breeze it can slow the drift speed to virtually nil. But why do some boat anglers hardly ever use one, and others insist on throwing the drogue over the side of the boat every time they cut the engine?

As nothing in life is simple, the answer to the question comes in three parts.

1 Safety
The use of drogues is best and safest where the water is clear of obstructions. Most reservoirs are relatively free of obstructions, and the fact that they are generally uniformly deep also helps. Lochs are natural environments and the amount of obstructions in them is in direct proportion to the quality of their trout fishing, in other words, shallow water full of things which will snag drogues is ideal for wild brown trout fishing.

A snagged drogue is a potentially dangerous occurrence, especially in a big wave. Many anglers in the north just don’t believe that any advantages gained are worth the risk.

2 Speed and direction of drift
Reservoir rainbow trout fishing styles tend to require drogues even in the gentlest of breezes. More often than not, reservoir fishing requires slow retrieves, and slowing down the boat to a virtual crawl helps with line control.

Slow and static fly-fishing, and sunk line techniques also require that the line is kept straight and, as drogues greatly reduce ‘boat yaw’ (the movement of the boat across the line of drift/direction of the wind), the regular use of drogues by reservoir fishing grows into a habit, until the first thing done on a fishing day is to rig the drogue.
In wild trout fishing, techniques do not generally require that the boat be rendered slow drifting or straight drifting as fly retrieve for wild fish tends to be much faster than for rainbows. The need to be able to move the boat during the drift in order that the boat sticks to the right depth of water or simply avoids obstructions (shallows, rocks, etc.) is essential, and drogues can interfere with movement. Loch fishing often involves fishing a shoreline, on a specific depth contour, and sticking to this line is essential for results. Having ‘an oar out the back’ to provide small, but necessary, alterations in drift is standard practice, but one that cannot be done whilst a drogue is in the water.

Reservoir drifts are generally straight-line affairs because the topography of the reservoir bed plays little part in trout location; loch drifts are rarely straight lines as the conformity of the loch bed is the key to finding trout habitat.

3 Fish behaviour
Wild brown trout are largely territorial, whilst rainbows and, to a slightly lesser extent, stocked browns are shoaling fish. The best tactics on a wild fish hunt is to consistently cover ‘new’ water and avoid spending too much time in the one place, letting the boat take you from fish to fish. A free drifting boat, keeping pace with the breeze, will provide this service.

Rainbows are continually on the move, and if you find a ‘taking place’ it’s a good idea to spend as much time in it as possible as there will, hopefully, be an unending supply of fish coming through that area. Short, heavily ‘drogued’, controlled drifts within such an area will ensure that the angler stays in the zone for the maximum length of time.

Also, rainbows can and will be found in a wide range of depths, whilst brown trout tend to inhabit shallow water. In my experience, the passage of a drogue through a population of wild trout will alarm them to some degree. The same drogue presence doesn’t seem to bother rainbow trout at all. If the fishing was good on that particular drift, the angler may want to repeat it at some point and be disappointed to find it unproductive.

Certainly, tradition does play a big part in it. But that doesn’t take away from the arguments against habitual drogue use for loch fishing … or for reservoirs, for that matter!