Whether you call them bobbers, corks, or strike-detecting-livebait-suspending apparatuses, there’s no denying that they’re tools that serve us well when it comes to positioning baits in precise locations and for detecting bites. Floatfishing for panfish is one of the best ways to cast light baits a long way into tight spots around cover. And with so many float options available designed to perform best under specific conditions, it’s easy to fine-tune your presentation to perform in a variety of conditions and locations.
According to In-Fisherman editor Matt Straw, “Floats work better than any other presentation for positioning your bait in and along cover, like weededges, weed pockets, timber, or brush. They’re also one of the best options when fish are neutral or negative and you need to keep the bait hovering in the same spot for a long time before panfish take the bait.”
Fixed floats are adequate down to depths of about 5 feet. Set deeper, the rigs become awkward to cast and make landing fish difficult. Slipfloats are easier to cast, and the desired depth can be adjusted simply by sliding the bobber stop on the line. Once the stop is set, the float freely slides up and down the line, so you won’t have to reset the depth until you move to a new location.
The basic rule when choosing a float is to use the smallest size possible. In other words, select a float that has enough buoyancy to support the weight of the bait and be pulled underwater by a fish without much resistance. “In shallow clear water, for instance, I change to a small stealthy float, like Thill’s Mini-Shy Bites,” Straw says. “The tiny float doesn’t make much commotion when it hits the water and it goes down easy. Even light-biters take it under without hesitation.”
That said, there are a plethora of floats specifically designed to perform best in current, waves, clear water, and at night. For instance, in windy conditions, waggler-style floats, which feature a balsa bulb at the base for stability, are ideal for keeping your bait stationary on a spot.
“When wind is a factor, a standard float tends to ride too high on top of the water and waves push the float and your bait too quickly past the fish,” Straw says. “Wagglers are designed to keep the buoyant part of the float under water and prevent the wind from pushing your bait past key spots too quickly. After casting, sticking your rod tip below the water and reeling in the slack sinks the line, slowing your float movement in wind and waves and giving panfish time to find and eat your bait.”
The color (or lack of color) of your float is more important than most people consider. Under certain light conditions, specific colors are easier for anglers to spot. Clear plastic floats are ideal when fish seem suspicious of floats, particularly in clear or shallow water.
Straw: “I use different colored floats based on the day and how fish are reacting to the float. On bright days, I prefer orange or pink floats. Under low light conditions and on cloudy days, chartreuse tops are easier to see. In clear calm water when the fish are ultra spooky, I like to use clear plastic floats, casting bubbles. Some companies make clear plastic floats with a hint of red or chartreuse and a few make clear floats with the just a small portion of the top painted orange, like Redwing Tackle’s Phantom.”
Lighted slipfloats designed for nightfishing also work well on dark days or in waves. Most common are those with lithium battery inserts that cause a diode to glow red at the tip of the float. Several companies also make attachments that allow you to add a replaceable cyalume light stick to your favorite float. There are also floats coated with phosphorescent paint, but they must be recharged with a flashlight or camera flash at frequent intervals.
Fine-tuning any fishing presentation is the key to making it more effective. Selecting the right float based on fish behavior, water and weather conditions, and the panfish you’re trying to catch is likely going to increase the number of times fish pull your float under. And when it comes to catching panfish, few things bring back that giddy inner-child feeling like a disappearing float.
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