I’m not sure why, but anglers often don’t connect the dots regarding the relationship between boat speed and bait speed while mooching. It’s pretty common for bait speed to be associated exclusively with what you, the angler, is doing. Specifically we’re talking about how fast you let line out while dropping the bait through the water column and how fast you retrieve it. While there’s no doubt that a major factor in bait speed, it’s not the only one.
The speed of the boat through the water is the other big factor in bait speed. If you’re fishing on a dead calm day with no drift or on anchor, the boat speed is pretty close to zero. Your rate of drop and rate of retrieve represents the entire game. Take that boat off anchor and/or get a little breeze and you might find yourself drifting along at 1 knot. That drift will have some impact on the speed and angle of the drop unless you’re just going bombs away. It will have an even bigger impact when retrieving the bait. At that point you can pretty much add the rate of drift to the rate of retrieve and get your bait speed.
So let’s say the fish are perfectly happy to strike your bait at the speed your mooching on a slow drift in the morning. Then the wind in the afternoon. In order to keep the bait at the morning speed, you need to compensate for the boat speeed, ie. slow down. This simple adjustment is one that many people won’t make. This generates the “lucky angler syndrome” where the luck goes to Bob in the morning and Bill in the afternoon. As it turns out, Bob presents faster and Bill is a slow poke. On the slow morning drift, Bob’s bait moves through the water at the favored speed. In the afternoon, Bill’s slow presentation combined with the increased drift to give Bill’s bait the perfect speed. In this simplified example, the speed of the Bob’s bait in the morning and Bill’s in the afternoon is the same. In the real world there is another variable with bait speed – the fish are fickle and change preference.
What’s the right speed? The one that works, of course. You’ve got to fool around a bit from day to day and hour to hour to find the speed the fish favor and achieve that speed given what’s happening with the boat. When you get a bite, you’ve got it right.