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Bobber Basics for the Panfish Angler

Bobber Basics for the Panfish Angler

When fishing for crappie, bream and other panfish, using the right float can mean the difference between catching a lot of fish or catching none. (Photo by Keith Sutton)

Whether you call them bobbers, floats or corks, these simple devices perform several functions important to panfish anglers.

They add weight so you can cast tiny 1/32-, 1/64- and even 1/100-ounce lures. They keep your bait moving efficiently into areas panfish inhabit. And because they move along a distinct path, you know exactly where your bait is and something about what it’s doing.

You won’t get snagged as often when using a bobber, and you’ll know when a fish is biting.

Bobbers also hold your bait at a level where fish are feeding, as deep or shallow as you wish, and allow you to suspend your enticement just above the bottom or over the top of weed beds, sunken brush and timber or other submerged cover.

Bobbers also let you know how close you’re fishing to the bottom or cover, a function that is especially important when fishing for redear sunfish and other bottom feeders. If your bait is touching the bottom, the bobber lies sideways on the surface, because it’s not being pulled upright. If you move the bobber closer to the bait, however, so the bait no longer rests on the bottom, the pull causes the bobber to ride in a vertical position. Knowing this, you can position the bait just inches above the bottom where many fish feed.

There are several bobber styles from which to choose, and, naturally, each has its strong points. Most are made from hard plastic, foam, wood or cork. They may be round, pear-shaped, cigar-shaped, pencil-shaped or a combination of these and other designs.

When selecting a bobber, take into account the size of the bait, the depth of the fish and how visible the float is to you and the fish.

You want a bobber that will not cause finicky panfish to drop your bait, yet one that properly supports the bait while being easy to see.

Keep several different styles and sizes in your tacklebox to match different fishing conditions and rigs.

Fishermen use two basic types of bobbers: fixed bobbers; which attach firmly to the line with spring-loaded hooks, pegs, rubber bands, or other devices; and sliding, or slip, bobbers that move freely along the line.

Fixed bobbers are best suited for fishing waters no deeper than the length of your rod or pole. This style of float allows the bait to remain at a preset depth during your retrieve.

In deeper water, or when casting long distances, use a sliding bobber to eliminate casting problems caused by the long length of line between the bobber and the hook.

These bobbers slide up and down the line, and your entire rigging (bobber, sinker and hook) can be reeled almost to the rod tip. When cast, the bobber floats on the surface while the sinker pulls the line through the bobber. A rubber band or small bobber stop placed on the line stops line movement and suspends the bait at the preferred depth.


The major disadvantage of sliding bobbers is that, during a retrieve, the bait tends to rise toward the surface because line is pulling through the bobber. Minimize this yo-yo effect by using a very slow retrieve.

Round, red-and-white, snap-on bobbers are a style frequently used by many panfish anglers, but because they offer a greater amount of resistance in the water, picky panfish can and do feel resistance, causing some to drop the bait. If you use this style, stick with the smallest feasible size.

Tiny cigar-shaped floats made of foam or cork are also widely popular. These are positioned on the line with a small wooden or plastic peg, so the depth of the bait can be easily adjusted. Their bantam size and elongate shape offer little resistance to persnickety panfish, making them a superb choice for many shallow-water panfishing situations.

Pencil bobbers have been around a long time and are very popular with a number of panfishermen. The pencil-shaped design offers little resistance in the water and isn’t readily detected by panfish.

A spring fastener on one end is compressed while the line is placed in an underlying slot. When the spring is released, its tension against the line holds the bobber in place. This float is easy to use, but check your line frequently for abrasion caused by the spring.

Long, thin “quill” bobbers are excellent for panfishing in calm, shallow water. They’re extremely sensitive, betray the slightest nibble and enter the water with only the slightest hint of a splash. If a stiff breeze kicks up, though, these lightweight bobbers are very difficult to cast.

Under windy conditions, casting bobbers can add extra distance to your casts. Some can be partially filled with water to provide added weight for easier casting. Others accomplish the same objective with lead weights attached to one or both ends. Both styles are dynamite for fishing the shallows with tiny leadhead jigs.

One final word about bobbers: whenever possible, select one that is easy to see so you know where your bait is and when a fish bites. Bright, fluorescent colors stand out on a rippled water surface much better than a white or cork-colored bobber. If you’re fishing clear, shallow water, or if fish seem fussy, you may want to use a transparent plastic bobber. Under most conditions, though, bright-colored floats are best.

Good fishing!

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