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Saltwater Float Fishing Tactics

Saltwater Float Fishing Tactics

When fishing a float in saltwater there's more to it than just clipping a bobber to your line. Here's a primer on when and how to use a float rig.

Imagine an Egyptian pharaoh sitting on the banks of the Nile River watching his cork drift along the reeds. It's entirely possible since archaeological records show that humans have been using floats as part of their fishing gear for at least 4,000 years. Seems we learned long ago that suspending bait in the water instead of having it just lay on the bottom increases angling success. But it's more than that.

Saltwater fishing floats come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Photo by Capt. Spud Woodward.

There are few angling thrills like watching a float go down, especially when it happens over and over again. Guess that's why the red-and-white bobber remains one of the most recognizable tackle items in fishing.

The 21st century angler finds an astounding array of choices when it comes to picking a fishing float. Thanks to new designs constructed from corrosion-resistant materials, the fishing float now enjoys widespread popularity anywhere you find seatrout, redfish and other saltwater brawlers.

In some areas, the difference between high and low tide may only be a foot or two, while in other locales the water may rise or fall as much as 7 feet in a six-hour period. In those latter areas, the depth-adjustable slip float reigns supreme when it comes to putting natural bait in the strike zone, whether it's 2 or 20 feet below the surface.

Slip floats for inshore saltwater fishing come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. By far, the most popular are the 8- to 10-inch pencil floats like the Lindy Tackle Little Joe Pole Float.

When properly rigged and fished, the brightly colored upper half of the float extends perpendicular to the water's surface, while the white or black lower half remains submerged. The float's position does two things. It ensures the float drifts at the same speed as the current, resulting in a natural bait presentation, and it makes the float very visible to watchful anglers.


On days with a stiff wind, fishing high-profile floats can be difficult. That's when it's time to switch to another Lindy product, the Thill Big Fish Slider float, which comes in lengths from 4 to 8 inches. Properly weighted, the majority of this float stays below the surface, meaning that the current and not the wind controls its drift and attitude.

While it's possible to fish slip floats with spinning tackle, the best choice is a level-wind bait-casting reel like the Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 5500, spooled with 30-pound-test braided line, paired with a 7- to 8-foot casting rod with a 12-inch or longer butt. A bait-casting reel can be free spooled, allowing the float to drift along or over fish-holding structure with the current. When the float goes down, a quick turn of the handle engages the reel.

Most brands of braided line are buoyant, which helps when tending the line to remove slack between rod tip and float. The longer rod with extended butt provides leverage when making hook sets.

Savvy fishermen know it takes the right combination of sound, motion, color and scent to turn on stubborn game fish. That's the reason rattling floats have become an indispensable part of the inshore angler's arsenal.

The first rattling float, the Mansfield Mauler created by Texas guide Capt. Bob Fuston, hit the local market in the early 1980s. The first mass-produced rattling float, the Cajun Thunder, came a decade later. Nowadays, a half-dozen tackle companies produce some version of a rattling float.

While there are subtleties in design, most rattling floats look and perform about the same. A short length of corrosion-resistant wire is finished with a loop on one end. Then, plastic and/or brass beads and a float are slid onto the wire, which is finished with a loop at the other end. Anglers tie the upper end of the float to the main line and tie a section of leader to match the water depth to the other end, tipping the rig with a natural bait or lure.

When jerked sharply with a flick of the rod tip, the beads and float crash together, creating a sound that mimics fish feeding. This jerking motion also imparts movement to the bait or lure suspended below. While the traditional slip float functions solely to suspend bait in the water column, the rattling float is as much a lure as a source of buoyancy.

Many rattling floats, particularly the inexpensive ones, are built from a single length of stiff stainless-steel wire. However, under repeated use or the savage attack of a big fish, the wire can kink, adversely affecting performance from casting and sound-producing standpoints. Offshore Angler's Inshore Extreme, and Saltwater Assassin's Kwik Cork are built from flexible wire to eliminate this problem.

Typically, rattling floats are lightweight, which is great for stealthy presentations in shallow water, but somewhat limiting when you need those critical extra yards on your cast. Some manufacturers, such as MidCoast Products, now produce weighted versions. It's wise to keep a few in your tackle bag.

Rattling floats prove very effective when fished on spinning tackle and most productive in areas less than 10 feet deep. After the float lands in the water, wait a few seconds then vigorously snap the rod tip from 3 o'clock to 12 o'clock. Quickly recover any slack, pause and then repeat. Often the float goes down immediately, but sometimes fish hit the bait or lure a few seconds later as it descends. Change up the pace until you find the right rhythm.

While impressed with the upstart rattling float, traditionalists in some areas weren't willing to give up their depth-adjustable slip floats just to follow the crowd. An enterprising angler in Charleston, South Carolina combined the best of both worlds to create a depth-adjustable rattling float by substituting a hollow brass tube for the single strand of wire. His invention is now manufactured by Bett's Tackle as the Depth-Adjustable Aggravator

The main line passes through the hollow tube, and the float is rigged very similar to a conventional slip float with a stop knot-bead-float-bead sequence. A barrel swivel replaces the weight. After that, the rigging is identical to a fixed-depth rattling float.

The Comal Tackle, Plasti-Pop and the Texas Tackle Factory, Alameda Rattler look more like traditional plastic bobbers than conventional rattling floats. The combination of metal beads in a hard plastic shell produces a sound much different than traditiona

l rattling floats, but the most attractive feature is the ability to make quick depth adjustments without the hassle of tying knots. A few twists of line around the top and bottom of the float set the depth.

With so many options, any angler can put a little shake, rattle and float into his fishing. Besides putting a little extra excitement in your trip, all that motion and commotion will definitely put more fish in your boat.

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