Few scenes say "fishing success" like a float darting out of sight, but too often anglers restrict floats to fishing with live bait. Floats also work fabulously well for presenting jigs, especially in streams where current can carry the rig.
A float can suspend a jig anywhere in the water column and allows the angler to present an offering very naturally, and at the pace of the current. It also adds weight for casting a light jig, and serves as a strike indicator.
Any kind of fish that ever eats minnows, crawfish or aquatic insect nymphs is susceptible to a float/jig combo, and so that covers most freshwater game fish. Good varieties to target with this approach include bass, sunfish and crappie, with drift location and the size of jig helping dictate likely catches.
Jig sizes suited for this approach range from 1/64-ounce micro jigs for panfish feeding on insects to about 1/8 ounce for bass. Hair jigs work nicely. However, jigheads matched with grubs or soft plastic minnows or craws also work well.
Elongated floats lend themselves to drifting because they move naturally in the current. Unweighted varieties are best because they only stand up when a jig is suspended and therefore transmit whatever is happening at the business end. Fixed-depth floats work best any time the desired depth is reasonable for casting a float/jig combo. For deep drifts, use a slip-float. Finally, match the float size to your jig, picking the smallest float that will reasonably suspend your offering, even with the added tugging of currents. Matching float and jig is important for maximizing sensitivity, and that often requires some experimentation.
The approach in its most basic form defines simple fishing. Cast upstream, let the rig drift, and watch the float. Details, however, can make or break success.
Step 1 is setting depth. In most cases, you want your jig drifting barely off the bottom because that's where the most fish feed. Determine the average depth in the drift zone and start there, but be willing to adjust the depth frequently, both to pattern the fish and to adapt for different spots.
When possible, cast directly upstream and let the rig drift back to you, reeling to take up slack but not enough to influence the drift. When spots won't lend themselves to that positioning, be extra-aware that current lines or eddies between you and the float can grab your line and render the drift unnatural. Regular fishing line doesn't lend itself to mending, such as fly-fishermen do, so you might need to hold your rod high to keep line above the current or occasionally reel the rig back in and re-cast.
Target drifts along edges when you cast. Seams between currents of different speeds, edges of eddies, and edges of stumprows, weedbeds or other kinds of cover all hold fish waiting to ambush prey.
As your rig drifts, watch with vigilance and remain ready to set the hook if the float does anything unusual. Jig bites can be light, with fish not holding on for long, so react quickly. You'll sometimes set the hook on nothing, but that sure beats failing to set the hook when a fish really does grab your jig!