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Bobber Basics: Pick the Right Float to Draw More Bites

From bluegill to pike, employ the best floats for the given situation and species to catch.

Bobber Basics: Pick the Right Float to Draw More Bites
Longer, thinner pencil floats are among the most sensitive types of bobbers. They are perfect for panfish, especially the subtle upward bites of crappies. (Photo by Keith Sutton)

Some experts say that the biggest part of a successful fishing strategy, besides finding fish, is presentation, and, there’s no more precise presentation than one that utilizes a float or bobber. A float presents your offering at the exact depth fish are at and keeps it there. What could be more precise?

Bobbers come in a host of different shapes and sizes to customize your presentation since different techniques and target species often require different types of floats.

“There’s a direct relationship between bait size and bobber size,” says Jeff Samsel, content specialist with PRADCO Outdoor Brands, which includes Thill, a manufacturer of floats. “You’re going to want different floats, for example, if you’re suspending a big chub for pike or using a tiny teardrop for panfish. Bobber shape has a huge bearing on which float you choose.”

PENCIL FLOATS

“Pencil-shaped floats are going to be the most sensitive,” Samsel says. “Pencil floats offer very little resistance, so even the daintiest bite from a panfish will be obvious.” They are also very conducive to imparting action to the bait.

When fishing shallow water for panfish, use a fixed pencil float and remove the spring holding the line. Replace it with a short piece of surgical tubing to slide over the notch and keep the line in place. The surgical tubing prevents fraying thin lines and is easily adjustable. Use a tiny 1/16- to 1/64-ounce ice-fishing jig that is just light enough so the bobber doesn’t stand up when at rest. When a fish bites, the float will stand up instantly.

“Fixed pencil floats work best in 3 to 4 feet of water,” Samsel says. “You can’t practically use a fixed float set deeper than your rod’s length. Casting such a rig is difficult.”

In deeper water, a slip pencil float is better. Slip bobbers can be set to fish any depth, and the fact they can be reeled up to the rod tip facilitates easier casting.

Pencil floats make it easy to keep track of your bobber’s attitude and potential bites. Bobbers don’t always shoot underwater when a fish bites. Long, slender floats telegraph the slightest details.

When fishing in the wind or current, the float gets pushed along with the bait trailing behind. The stem of the float will be at a 45-degree angle until a fish grabs the bait. If the float stands straight up, set the hook.

Other times, a pencil float will shoot straight up and then suddenly tip over. That’s a sign a fish has taken your bait from below, thus taking the weight off the float. Again, set the hook.

Occasionally, the float will just sink slightly deeper when a fish hits. Colors on the float can ultimately help you detect the most subtle bites.

FOAM VS. BALSA

Most floats are made of balsa wood, but Clam’s Ice Buster Bobber is made of foam and may be the most sensitive pencil float available. Invented by ice-fishing guru Bruce Mosher, the Ice Buster Bobber can be trimmed to size to permit incredible sensitivity. The Ice Buster float easily snaps on and off the line, and it never freezes to your line when ice fishing because the base is below the waterline. It’s built with a straight, slotted hole, so there is no need for a plastic bead, and your line will zip through it when using only a stop knot. This bobber is glued together with a special waterproof adhesive, so it won’t fall apart.

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“Balsa is the material of choice when it comes to floats in most situations,” Samsel suggests. “Balsa as a float material is durable and aerodynamic to facilitate casting and comes in various shapes to adapt to any fishing situation.”

Thill’s Pro Series Slip Floats have a brass grommet on top so the line can’t cut a groove into the rim. The grommet lets the line slip freely through the float, which is especially helpful when ice fishing.

OVAL-SHAPED FLOATS

Bobbers with an oval shape are a favorite among walleye anglers. They’re aerodynamic and come in various sizes to easily match the float to the jig when fishing plastics or live bait.

“Oval-shaped floats are the ultimate in castability,” Samsel says, “and are perfect when you need a small float but enough weight to cast.”

Thill’s Premium Weighted Float comes with a lead collar on the float’s stem for ultimate sensitivity. It’s enough weight to stand the float up, yet it also pulls it down to the “water line” that separates the top and bottom colors. When a walleye even breathes on your bait, the bobber starts to sink.

Northland Tackle makes their Lite-Bite Weighted Slip Bobbers in several shapes suited to both panfish and walleye fishing. Thill and several other manufacturers make lighted floats ideal for night fishing for walleyes or crappies, too.

Weighted bobbers also excel when fishing for steelhead in rivers. Thill’s Premium Steelhead Float features a latex sleeve that slides up the float shaft to adjust the depth. The buoyant balsa body rides lower on the shortened float shaft, providing a compact but very visible steelhead float.

Samsel adds that floats come in various colors to promote increased visibility. He advocates experimenting with colors to determine which you can see most easily. Having bobbers in different colors can also help you differentiate between floats when multiple anglers are fishing together.

TACKLE TIPS

Longer spinning rods are best for fishing floats. They aid in keeping line out of the water, creating drag (which isn’t always bad) and manipulating baits, and they let anglers set the hook with a long, sweeping motion, which is preferred when fishing floats.

St. Croix makes a few rods designed specifically for float fishing. The 8-foot Eyecon rod is ideal for bobber fishing. The 7-foot-6-inch, medium-power St. Croix Legend Elite, meanwhile, is solid for those seeking a slightly shorter rod, and its guides are bobber-stop friendly (stay away from rods with micro guides to save yourself some headaches).

Another great choice that won’t break the bank is Bass Pro Shops’ Micro Lite Graphite Spinning Rod (the 7-foot-6-inch, ultra-light version). It has just the right length and action for pitching floats close to docks and brush and a soft bend to prevent pulling the hooks out of slab crappies or chunky bluegills.

Reels should be fast and smooth for fishing floats. Pflueger’s Supreme XT spinning reel is a personal favorite that features a smooth, sealed, carbon drag and effortless retrieve. The SUPXTSP25X model is ideal for floats when fishing for panfish and walleyes.

Line choice is largely a matter of personal preference. A premium, clear monofilament, like Sunline’s Super Natural, is hard to beat when targeting panfish. Strip off 50 feet of line every so often to eliminate twists and frays, and you’re in business. Fluorocarbon works, too, and has the benefit of being tough and fast-sinking. I’m not a big fan of braid for float-fishing, as this is one time when a little stretch is good.

With recent advances in sonar, side imaging and the like, finding fish has never been easier. Knowing exactly how deep the fish are and what structures or cover they are relating to eliminates a lot of the guesswork. Combine modern-day electronics with the precision of a float or bobber to put your bait right in their face, and it is game on.


  • This article was featured in the May 2024 issue of Game & Fish magazine. Click to subscribe.



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