|Bobber / Float Fishing|
This article will cover many aspects of "Bobber fishing", from simply using a cork or round red/white plastic float normally used for trout/panfish, to more sophisticated for Steelhead or Salmon, even to include ocean Jetty fishing. Most of us commoners call this "Bobber Fishing" while in this Hi Tech world of today, they are many times called Fishing Floats, and some elite fishers who do not want to be associated/embarrassed with us peon's simple terminology, may refer to it as using a "Strike Indicator" instead. So take your pick, however the name can also be a regional thing.
Bobber or Float fishing is probably one of the easiest way for new steelhead fishermen to learn, being the simplest and yet most effective techniques is float fishing. It allows you to visibly be aware of what is happening beneath the surface of the water without the x-ray vision. Float fishing allows you to fish anywhere in the water column (at any depth) which is helpful because sometimes fish are suspended and sometimes fish are holding 1' off the bottom. When fishing at morning daylight, where the water is still dark and the fish still feel safe. If the hole is 6ft deep, try fishing 3-4ft deep to start. When the sun peaks out and or more fishing/boat traffic comes through, the fish will tuck up behind rocks and near the bottom of the holes.
It is similar to bobber fishing for trout, except you use a unbreakable float instead of a plastic red and white bobber. They come in many styles, colors or configurations, or material compositions, but the two mains reasons to use them is to (1) position the bait in a favorable fish feeding location, (2) to give the fisher an indication a fish is taking the bait. The size of your float should be just big enough to float your bait/lure with out sinking so fish don't detect the float or sinker. There are at least three types, the main ones include fixed, sliders and casting.
Fixed floats are just that, usually being temporarily attached to the mainline at a predetermined location. The straight foam floats are commonly called dinks where the line is inserted through a tube on the top, then wrapped around the foam and reinserted into a tube on the bottom. These would be considered non-fixed floats. The line/leader distance can be adjusted very quickly to meet the fishing situation with this style of float.
Slip floats will have some means of the float slip up or down the mainline while having a adjustable stop above or even below.
For the lake/pond fisher, some of the casting floats will usually be a clear float that can be partly filled with water to gain weight and therefore more casting distance. For the bank bound angler, these water fillable floats can add considerably to your casting distance. These floats could be different configurations, but the "football" shape is very common, and made in slightly different methods of weighting. Usually they have a hollow center pin that is tapered. Pull the pin partly our allowing water to be injected or drain in, push this pin back to captivate the water/weight. The are normally clear, which does not show up well, depending on the wind/light conditions. So it is best to paint them a bright color. I have found 2 colors, work well depending on light conditions, Red or Bright Orange and Chartreuse with the orange better on bright days and the chartreuse in low light situations. But to get abrigjhte rcolor you need to paint a white primer first. However it may be best to paint only the top sections if you intend to view the internal water amount. Then you may want to superglue the parts together to make it more permanent so it does not come apart at an inopportune time.
I have found that you do not want to overfill (like more than 1/2 the internal volume), which decreases the visibility of the upper floating part. One fishing partner of mine, drills a small hole on the upper part, which he uses a Worm Blower" to insert more water or remove it from these floats. When he attains the desired amount, (visible through not painting of bottom half or a non-pained window as seen in the photos below), simply cover the hole with Scotch tape.
if you want to use these as a non-fixed float you could use a plastic bead and bobber stop knot to retain this float at a desired distance, OR, for a fixed float, make up a wire inserted down the center hole, with an plastic bead and eye on top, another eye and swivel snap on the bottom. Using this second method, a dropper leader of whatever distance you want your lure to sink. This dropper could terminate with about any lure, from worms, flies, spoons or diving plugs like Flatfish or Maglips. Cast it out and reel in at what speed or varying speeds until you find a willing biter.
in the photo below, the top RH float is set for
steelhead fishing with a 1/4 oz. weight below the foat and above the jig about
24". The two top center floats have 1/4 of the lower paint scraped
off for visibility of the water fill. The center bottom float is called a
Dink Float, where the body is simply a 1/2" foam "Backing Rod" found at a
builders supply that is used to fill cracks around windows or doors before the
trim is attached, and has a small plastic tube entering top and bottom center,
but protruding out the side about 1" + from the ends at about 180 degrees from
each other. These are designed to feed the line through one tube, wrap the
line around the outside and back in the bottom tube, which allows for quick
|Shown below are various floats|
Float fishing is a very effective method from calm pools, and boulder strewn rivers. In actual fishing, the bobber floats, which keeps the bait at your predetermined distance from the surface and away from tangling on the bottom, and when a fish bites the bobber will pull down indicating a bite. In clear water, it may be best to use a clear float or a natural cork float.
The perfect drift will usually have your float sitting completely vertical with the water at the indicated water line on your float and as little belly (extra line) on the water as possible without pulling on the float. You want your to float to move as freely and natural as possible as if there were no line attached to it. This will indicate your lure or bait is moving freely and looks as natural as possible. Your leader length should always be about the same as the depth of visibility you have in the water. Sometimes you will need to shorten a bit if you are fishing a shallower hole.
If you have too much slack line out, not only will you have difficulty setting the hook, the excess line will catch current and pull your float downstream giving it an unnatural speed and also causing your lure or bait to swing upstream behind the float. To counter this, you may need to mend your line, (or hold your rod tip high, and flip, or roll the excess away or upstream as you reel in enough to maintain a more direct contact to the float). If you have too little line out, your line will be holding the float back and your bait/lure will swing downstream and up toward the surface.
The size of your float should be just big enough to float your bait/lure with out sinking so fish don't detect the float. A float should ride the surface naturally occasionally stuttering as the bait/lure hits a rock. You can cast a float farther upstream than in a drift fishing approach since the float will keep the line from going around rocks. As a float comes down stream reel up the slack, and as it goes down stream free spool with just enough tension not to disturb the float but enough to set the hook immediately. Hold your rod tip high to keep your line off the surface of the water so it doesn't drag the float. This is where long rods really help. It is extremely important not to drag the float which will cause the bait to rise off the bottom out of the strike zone. Always use sticky sharp hooks, repeat always use sticky sharp hooks.
Without float fishing in your arsenal you may be missing some very good opportunities to catch more fish.
Float Stop or
Bobber Stop Knot
Float fisherman use a sliding float for casting and yet being able to adjust it's dept. This knot stops the float from sliding up the line. The advantage that the stops can move readily through the rod guides, but grips the monofilament nylon so tightly that the float will not slide up the line.
It should be made of Dacron, usually the same diameter as the line itself.
1. Take 2 or 3 turns around the main line
at the chosen point.
2.Bring both ends around to form a
3.Tighten into shape bringing the coils close
together, then trim the ends.
Swivels : Most
fishermen prefer black swivels for this method of fishing (not wanting a bright
swivel that the fish may be attracted to instead of the lure), a size 7 barrel
swivels seem the most common size used to tie to the terminal end of the
mainline. Below the barrel swivel, you can tie on a wide selection of
terminal rigs, and add weight according to what you are using.
Line : If you are a dedicated float fishermen you should use a main line that will float on the surface so you can mend the line. The ideal line here is going to be braided line. The weight is going to be dependent on the species you are fishing. Some will use 30lb for steelhead and 40lb for salmon. The idea behind braided line is that it floats so you can not only see the extra line on the water, you can mend easier, and it doesn’t drag down/back the float. The ideal leader weight is also going to be again dependent on the species of fish being anywhere from 8-30lbs going from steelhead to large Chinook and Chum. Braided lines work well for this purpose or you can use dry fly line dressing to help keep mono line from sinking. Mucillin is a material available at fly shops and a coating of it on the mainline will promote better floating ability allowing your line to float and be mended more easily if it starts to overtake the float.
Leader : You should always use a leader of a lighter strength below your float so you don't lose your float when your lure breaks off. Leader length should be at least 18 inches to the swivel. One rule of thumb is to duplicate the leader length with water clarity. For Steelhead during the summer you can go as light as 4# test with the right setup and successfully land most steelhead. During the winter 20# test leaders can be used in colored water when chasing Trophy class steelhead.
Bait/Lures : All kinds of setups can be placed below the float. All kinds of methods can be combined in one way or another to meet almost any situation. Straight bait such as eggs, sand shrimp or night crawlers can be extremely effective when presented in the correct manner. A jig can be used with bait and without. You can use a drift fishing rigging below a float where fishing tail outs are a problem, or for just to cover water that tends to be too snaggy to drift fish. Soft plastics are also a favorite used on jigs and with out. Soft plastics can be used in worm, egg cluster and single egg presentations. In extremely clear water you may even give single eggs a try.
Bobber Fishing in a Lake/Non-Moving Water ; Many of us started our fishing career using this method. And the tackle does not necessarily need to be expensive. This was usually done by fishing from a bank, however it could have also have been from a floating device. Many years ago we simply used a bottle cork that had a nail hole poked through it in the center and a match stick to hold the line at the desired location. Then along came the plastic red/white bobbers (as seen in the photo below) which used a center spring loaded push button which had a wire hook on the end of the button that attached it to the mainline. These could be added/removed without threading the mainline through the cork center hole. Those were the good old days when we were young and had few responsibilities other than being home by dark. Today these bobbers are still being made along with some improvements as seen in the above photo of various floats.
Here the old red/white
|Here an unaltered new water fillable float||Here we see the bottom 1/4 panel paint scraped off & the filler method. Hard to see here is the scotch tape covered hole|
Bobber Drift Fishing From the Bank for Steelhead or Salmon ; A variation of casting would be Bobber fishing. However here you use a bobber that holds you lure, (eggs, jig, etc.) just up off the bottom. This may eliminate hang-ups and lost gear. You may have to adjust the bobber height from the bait, until you find the right depth of the water for the particular drift you are doing. You can cast a little farther with this type of fishing than the flipping and then allow your line to pay out on the lower end of your drift, to cover slightly more water if conditions exist. On this type of fishing you want the line to the bobber as straight a possible, so you may have to “meld” your line to take the slack out of the line and to keep the side or current pull off.
A longer rod really helps,
like a 10 1/2' 12-20# weight rod can be used for salmon. Either a
level-wind or spinning reel will work, depending on your preference, loaded with
65# braid line with a 20' length
of 30# flouro-carbon topshot and a 25# leader with a split shot 1/2 way down the
leader. Use a weight 1/4 oz less than the float weight.
Here the bobber and sinker is adjusted so the lure will be drifted about 12" off the bottom. The bobber needs to be sliding on the mainline and be able to adjust it to the river depth and current at your current location. This lure can be eggs or a small jig. With this technique, you cast upstream at a bout a 45 degree angle, and take up the slack (reel in) slightly keeping the lure just bouncing along the bottom. When the line and lure is straight below you, you reel in and then start over.
Here the lure may also be a lure/egg combo, but using a lighter sinker ( 1/2 oz less than the float weight of the bobber/float) that will allow the lure to bounce along the bottom and at the same time allow the float to remain vertical. Here the bobber/float is adjusted so the sinker will be near the bottom allowing the lure to raise slightly and be drifted about 12" off the bottom. The bobber needs to be sliding on the mainline and be able to adjust it to the river depth and current at your current location. The sinker is attached to the mainline but restricted by securing the bobber by a stop. The leader can be 24" to 36" depending on flow. The lure can be eggs or a small jig. With this technique, you cast upstream at a bout a 45 degree angle, and take up the slack (reel in) slightly keeping the lure just bouncing along the bottom. You may need to raise the rod tip to pull the line up out of the water if the current is pulling it faster than the lure, this is called MENDING. It helps if the mainline is floating. This can be accomplished by using Muscilin line coating paste which is used by fly fishermen. When the line and lure is straight below you, you reel in and then start over.
Many times now days, you will not be alone on the river bank. This dictates a protocol to where everyone understands and works together where with the potential of many fisherpersons sharing the river bank, to keep from getting tangled with your neighbor, if you are all strung out along the bank, the lower person casts first, with the next person upstream following. The farthest one upstream in the row will be the last to cast. If you miss your turn because you are re-baiting or attending your gear, tough. You have to wait until the rotation comes around to you again.
If someone gets a fish on, then the others MAY have to pull their lines in or allow the fisherman with the fish on to negotiate over or under their line to create less a chance to tangle the fish and possible lose it for the fisherman. If it is a large fish, the lucky fisherman needs to head downriver to where you can being it to shore in calmer water. When it comes your turn with a fish on, they will do the same for you.
However if you happen to find a day, or early enough in the morning then you can walk downstream with your bobber, allowing you to cover a longer drift.
You want to fish with a float in medium speed holes; typically 4-10' depending on the species. The desired speed is going to be walking pace. If your float moves at the speed in which you jog, it may be too fast and a different technique, like drifting, might be more effective. Most of the time, you are going to want to fish 1-2' from the bottom and in order to find this depth, you’ll want to actually hit the bottom, reel up, and shorten in 6 inch spurts until your float is no longer pointing down river or ticking. When casting, you want to cast just above the top of the hole and standing directly across from where you cast. You bait/lure needs time to sink down depending on how deep the hole is. You also want to feed line to the float to allow it to continue rather than casting upstream and pulling it towards you. Therefore it is ideal to stand at the top of the hole.
You can float the drift as long as the hole is and let it go all the way into the tail out if the hole is deep enough as this is going to be where the fish are. When the float goes down, quickly reel the extra slack (only if necessary) and set the hook. If the float is just tapping with quick little tugs, you don’t necessarily want to set the hook, but be aware it could go down at any minute. Chinook salmon are notorious for “trout bites” and just nibbling on your bait but if you don’t let the float go all the way down, it’s very likely you will miss that fish. Coho salmon are not afflicted with this disease and usually bite ferociously.
Drift Fishing From a Boat ; This would probably be called Side-Drifting and is a very common method but no bobber is used. Here the boat drifts downriver with the current, with the operator possibly maintaining position using a electric trolling motor. The fisherpersons cast toward shore and reel back. The boat can be floating parallel to the shore or at 90 degrees from it. If more than one person fishing and the boat is parallel, the lower rod is cast toward shore first, when the boat drifts a few feet, the second rod is also cast, and the third also. This compensates for each fisher not casting over and tangling with the others.
Sometimes, especially if there are 3 or more fisherpersons in a boat, then the 90 degree method works better. Here the rods are cast downstream as far as possible, reeled in as the boat drifts toward them. This allows for more coverage of more water. But the reel in speed has to be enough to compensate for the boat's downward movement, otherwise the lure's movement will be minimal, not presented properly and possibly not being very effective.
Bobber Doggin vs Float Drift Fishing ; Now we now have a shift in gears, where we are purposely dragging the bottom with the weight. The only difference between these two methods, is whether you are doing it from a boat or from the bank. Bobber Doggin is from a boat, while Float Drifting is from the bank.
These situations would be very close to
Side-Drifting from a boat, except using a bobber.
Here again the boat drifts downriver with the current, with the operator possibly
maintaining position using a electric trolling motor BUT allowing the float/lure
to precede you. However the fisherpersons cast toward shore but
refrain from reeling back, BUT may have to mend line to keep a belly out so if a
fish bites, you have minimal slack from your rod to the float. Everything
is pretty much the same as Side-Drifting described above, however the bobber
stop is usually set so the weight can go about 2' deeper to where it actually
will just drag the bottom, and you are PURPOSEFULLY DRAGGING THE WEIGHT UNDER
No matter which one you use, it all starts with how
to rig up. How to rig up really comes down to matching the right size
weight with the float. Here, as in any drift, you are trying to achieve a
seamless drift. In other words, you want to be able to let your weight
drag along the bottom without constantly getting hung up.
When using this method and the weight you have selected continuously
lightly grabs the bottom, even for a split second, it does a couple of things.
First thing you will notice is that your float constantly goes up and down all
day long. Second you may never achieve a free flowing natural drift or
presentation. Yes it’s true the weight is dragging, so the float will
point down river as it lies on its side. None the less, you still cannot
fish this method effectively if your float stops and submerges every 5 to 10
feet. You need your float to keep moving, coming close to matching the
current speed, giving you a nice smooth natural presentation.
If you are just starting out, set your gear at 8-10' and adjust your lead rather than your stop knot. Your float will be pointing downstream, and kind of 'ticking' while your lead plinks off the bottom. If you see very pronounced movement on the float, lighten up, if the float wants to slide thru too quick, or doesn't tick' at all, or even tries to stand upright... add more lead.
Weights were originally lead wire in 3/16" to 1/4" size, cut to numerous lengths and held onto the terminal end of the mainline by a short section of rubber surgical tubing. The weight was simply pushed into the tubing and if it got hung up, it simply pulled loose. After that came SLINKIES, which were about 30 caliber round lead balls that were slid inside OD colored parachute cord, and secured by searing/burning the ends. These were attached to the mainline by using a swivel cheap snap, where they could also be readily changed to match the weight needed for that particular section of water.
Now enter stick weights, which are usually made of about 5 1/2" of 1/8" hollow core lead fishing lead, which will weigh about .40 or just under 1/2oz. This is attached to a eyed loop on .035" dia spinner wire and crimped over on the bottom end to retain it. This design of weight was thought up by ex-guide Duane Inglin and is usually fished under a 5/8 oz float. It's non hang-up ratio will amaze you, however your hooks may find something to grab onto. However using a line weight ratio listed below, you will not loose anything other than your leader.
If you are a bankie, you can walk the bank upriver from the float, or if access is a problem, simply let more line out, but have control over it. This works great in low CLEAR water where you don't want to spook the fish.
Here it works best to have a strong mainline, this is the place for a heavy (50# to 65#) braided line, then tie a 15' to 20' fluorocarbon/mono topshot to the mainline with a snap swivel to the end to attach your leader to. The topshot could be lesser strength than the mainline, like 20 to 25# test, with the leader another 5# less so it is the weaker part of your tackle. This ratio could be the same for most of your fishing if you want to not loose a lot of expensive gear. This line weight will vary depending on the size of the fish you intend to encounter AND the possible underwater debris there.
They have come up with a special float just for this where you want the float to pull the weight downstream. This is accomplished by it having a more flat lower end so the current grabs it more than if the lower end was tapered. AERO-FLOATS by Hawken, Bobber Doggin' Large (about 4.5" long by 1" in diameter). They are made in three sizes.
|Here is a float designed just for Bobber Doggin, with the blunt lower end|
More on Bait/Lures ; Bait is the most tried and true method of float fishing in the Pacific Northwest, salmon anglers have been long using been using bait under a bobber, especially in the tidewater stretches of the rivers as well as some of the back eddies and other difficult to fish water found further upstream. Bait under a bobber can be a deadly technique for extreme low water salmon in the fall.
Salmon eggs, or roe are generally most the most popular bait of choice, especially for salmon, although sandshrimp are used to a lesser extent. Sometimes a combination of the two is used ... referred to as a 'shrimp cocktail'. Bait sizes and hook combinations may range from a cluster of eggs no larger than your little fingernail on a size 4 hook to a glob the size of a golf ball or larger on hook sizes of 3/0 or 4/0. The size depends upon your targeted species and the prevailing water conditions.
Under low water conditions, straight bait is usually most popular. When the water has a little more color in it, however, you might consider adding a tuft of colored yarn to your offering.
Generally speaking, the leaders for fishing bait are a little longer than for worms or jigs. In addition, an added inline weight is usually kept a little higher above the bait.
most versatile of the terminal rigging are feathered jigs, we have had lots of success with these
for steelhead and have also had some good luck fishing for salmon under very low
water conditions with them. Typically, the jig is tied on with about 18-24
inches of leader below the swivel, with a couple of size 3 split shot attached
near the swivel. You will have to ask or try the different size for what
fits your water. Lead-head jigs used here come in size from 1/8 oz to 1/2 oz size.
The normal size used on smaller rivers are 1/4 ounce to 1/2 ounce.
The heavier ones (3/8 to 1/2 ounce) are popular under higher water flows, but
typically, under higher water flows, we will be fishing something other than
Color preference variances are quite common amongst different anglers. For steelhead, many favorites are all pink, pink / white, and cerise / black combinations. For low-water salmon, black seems to be the best choice.
Key in your presentation is keeping the drift of the bobber as close as possible to current speed and adjusting your length of line under the bobber to keep the jig within 12-18 inches of bottom.
Pink Worm : A
very popular lure in some locations and conditions is the plastic worm. The worms
are really no different than the plastic bass worms that we have all seen at one
time or another. Available in a variety of colors, however the bubble-gum pink
color seems to be most effective for Steelhead. The worm is
utilized in water conditions closer to normal or above normal flows as compared
to the use of the jig.
The standard size of worm used is the 6 inch length. Although the 4 inch worms have proved to be very effective in lower conditions.
The worms are threaded onto the leader with the hook remaining outside of the worm worm about an inch and a half up from the tail. You will need a worn threader, which is basically a small brass tube that is pushed into the worm from the top end, once the threader is in place, push the leader into the threader in the worm from the bottom, then pull the threader out, leaving the leader in the worm.
As with the jig, leader length is usually around 18-24 inches below the swivel. Generally speaking, a little more weight is attached below the bobber with the worm than with the jig. It seems to be best to disperse a few split shot along a greater length of the leader to help keep it near the bottom. As seen in the photo below a pink corkie directly above the worm adds a bit of buoyancy holding the worm just off the bottom and in the fish's comfort zone.
|Here is a pink worm that was inhaled by a Steelhead|
The salmon don't seem to be as receptive to this offering as do Steelhead. Along the same lines, wild fish seem to be much more likely to strike this rig as compared to their hatchery counterparts ... no explanation of this, just an observation many fishermen have noticed on the Olympic Peninsula streams.
Ocean or Jetty Fishing ;
would normally fish on the river side because
the bait tends to stay in a protected area. The ocean will be on the other
side and will have more current or breakers coming in against the jetty.
However the ocean side may be more productive for sea perch at certain times of
the tide. For the
smaller breakwaters inside the bays, either side seems to usually work OK.
Here bait can be many different things. Sand shrimp, sand or piling worms, chunks of herring or squid, anything that will stay on the hook for a while will work. Others may use 2" to 4" plastic tailed curly tails either with shrimp bait on a hook or attached to a lead-head jig from 3/8 to 4oz. Others may try casting metal spoons, but the snaggy rocks many times get hungry.
Late summer and early fall if Coho salmon are in, this works great as they take bait near the surface. When these fish are a possible target, some fisherpersons use a large bobber or a rubber balloon, but above a whole herring. Again they use a small enough sinker to cast out but not heavy enough to sink the bobber. Remember 1/4 to 1/2 oz less weight than the bobber's buoyancy. In use you want to cast upstream of the current, allowing the float to carry the lure down toward you. Reel in the slack line is when a fish strikes the bait, you need in contact, not a lot of slack line where you would most likely miss the hookset. As the float passes you, then it usually gets pulled in closer to the jetty, reel in and start over with another cast.
Probably here where you need a strong floating line, there is the place for a heavy (65#) braided line will work best, but you will probably need to coat it with Muscilin line coating paste used by fly fishermen.
Now, I have recently discovered a new style of float that should really work in these situations. It is basically a Styrofoam football shaped "Planer Board". In using this, adjust your leader length under this float, cast it out preferably on an incoming tide (more bait moving in that on an outgoing) and let the tide/current pull this planer board away from the rocks and into the position you desire. You could even adjust the distance to your lure to clear underwater obstacles.
However this can be challenging if there are a lot of seagulls in the area. Using these here, get it out in a possible travel path, then let the tide and or wind to keep it there.
Remember that in most states snagging is not legal and in freshwater it is NOT legal to possess any fish hooked anywhere other than inside the mouth or on the head.
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Originated 10-07-2016, Last updated
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