The Best Fishing Bobbers For Every Situation
February 22, 2015
Suspending lures or baits at a precise depth in the right way and having success becomes addictive. Any freshwater fish can be approached with a proper float designed specifically for wind, current, stealth, or cover.
Europeans have been "trotting" suspended baits in rivers for everything from trout to carp for more than a century. They approach stillwater with designs for everything from large live- and deadbaits to tiny grain baits for herbivorous species. Europeans have refined float-fishing into something transcendent and elegant, producing — this is no exaggeration — thousands of different floats, each in a range of sizes.
I use floats and bobbers for bass, trout, salmon, steelhead, pike, bluegills, crappies, perch, muskies, whitefish, and more — seldom packing for anywhere, in any season, without including float-fishing options. Fishing from a pier for steelhead or salmon on calm days where two rods are allowed, why not suspend a tube, spawn bag, or livebait under a float while casting lures? The same philosophy is applied whenever we anchor or drift while targeting any species of fish.
"Trotting" a bead, baited hook, fly, or jig in current for big browns, cats, steelhead, carp, or salmon is one of the most entertaining things I find to do in the angling universe. The float disappears in a way that demands it can't be a snag, and the split second before the hook is set recalls the electric moment before the swing after a pitcher delivers a big, fat, hanging curve — that gorgeous, wide-eyed nanosecond after a quarterback releases the ball and you realize he didn't see you in perfect position to intercept. More satisfying is the realization everything was done right. Rigging was sound, bait selection perfect, and it was a "proper drift," as the English would say.
Floats are fun, and these are the ones I fish with for everything under the waves.
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"The Wing-It Quick Swap Slip Float is the coolest thing to happen to floats in a long time," says walleye pro Tommy Skarlis. "When fishing with jigs or split-shot rigs and I want to switch tactics, I can clip this float to the line, tie on a stop, and presto — instant slipfloat rig. In a tournament, time is money. Quick Swap floats save time."
The Wing-It Quick Swap is a bottom-connect float. The line passes through the clip on the bottom stem as opposed to sliding through the middle. Makes changing to larger floats when the wind rises much easier, and the triangular shape is revolutionary, providing maximum flotation combined with minimum resistance when pulled under. Fish feel less pressure and hold on longer.
When I travel to walleye or pike hotspots in float planes, through rough country on boulder-strewn roads, into the Boundary Waters, or anywhere we need to hike in, I pack Wing-Its and Cast Away Bobbers. The Cast Away can be passed on to your kids. The tough poly-foam material survives being driven over by a truck without breaking the stem (no lie), and it's heavier than any float of similar size. It casts well and covers more water from one anchored position. And it has a metal grommet in the tip of the stem promoting longevity and easy line passage.
Pitching slipfloat applications for walleyes and salmon, I typically use Thill Pro Series Slip Floats. The Pro Series is well constructed, hanging in there year after year in the tackle box. It suspends ample amounts of weight, slides under easily on the take, and has a brass grommet in the tip. Line eventually cuts into the tip of plastic stems without metal grommets and stops sliding, not allowing baits to reach maximum depth.
For crappies and bluegills, I often rig up with Northland, Rod-N-Bobb's, and Redwing Blackbird Slip Floats. The smaller sizes are just right for shallow applications. Blackbirds and Northland premium floats are black on bottom, hiding a little better in clear, shallow water. Rod-N-Bobb's are rigged and ready for crappies and perch right out of the package, with the right size split shot to balance the float — making it my favorite and most efficient float for kids.
Europeans make the best stream floats, which is one reason why Lindy Legendary Fishing Tackle acquired the lineup of Thill Floats, designed by European match-fishing champion Mick Thill, who once told me a stream float should be "light and sensitive." When properly balanced with sinkers, stream floats for most tactics should slip under the moment a fish makes contact.
Salmon fishing calls for a sturdy Thill Pro Series slipfloat because those fish often sulk in deep, slow pools where ultimate sensitivity and current-negating designs are less important. Not to mention float-fishing for kings is comparatively barbaric, calling for 15- to 30-pound mainlines and heavy sinkers for quickly dropping skein into the kill zone. Breaking through brush for big sea-run browns and rainbows, I prefer Thill River Masters and Turbo Masters most of the time.
I enjoy trotting floats made in England by Ultra, Drennan, and Middy. These companies offer more sizes for perfectly matching current, depth, and the weight each of those factors demands. Tiny versions, like the smallest Drennan Alloy Sticks, can double as pole floats, but are perfectly designed for drifting little 6-mm plastic beads in small trout brooks. The Drennan Wire Avon, a slightly larger stream float with a wire stem, is one of the most sensitive, efficient floats I've found for trout in quicker mid-size streams, largely because wire catches less current. It checks like a feather on light line.
Cigar-shaped stream floats like the Drennan Loafer are designed for slower water. Low water is slow water, and generally clear, so I tend to reach for clear versions when the target is a fish with great vision, like steelhead. On really low, clear trout streams, I reach for a Drennan Crystal Avon. Clear floats pose less of a spook factor in those conditions, giving trout less to see when approaching overhead.
Stream-float design revolves around control. Line is attached to the top and bottom of the stem, providing complete control in moving water. The best ones can be checked, slipped, or otherwise manipulated into position easily with a long rod, like the 12- to 15-foot centerpin models created by St. Croix and G. Loomis. A long top stem that extends 2 or more inches above the body helps keep line off the water behind the float so current can't overspeed or pull the rig out of the targeted current lane. A sleek oval body serves several functions. It allows water to slip around it when checking the float and provides less resistance when the presentation needs to slow down. Offering less resistance, it slips under easily on the take, and rises just as easily on the set.
Great muskie guides like Bill "Fuzzy" Shumway and Steve Herbeck tell me lures catch fish and suckers catch fish, but combine the two and more muskies are caught. Followers often turn on the sucker, especially in cool water. "Starting in mid-September, about 90 percent of our muskies are caught on suckers," Shumway says.
TV personality and muskie enthusiast Joe Bucher designed one of the best floats to use with suckers for muskies and big pike, the Joe Bucher Outdoors Musky Slip Float — designed to keep big suckers up with less resistance on the take. "Traditionally, the most popular floats were circular classic bobbers," Bucher says. "I didn't like them. My Slip Float is deadly with livebait in conjunction with a quick-strike rig."
The Polaris International No. 17 Pike Waggler is another fine English float designed to present large deadbaits on bottom for pike. European pike, remember, grow as large as muskies, and the Pike Waggler can suspend large baits, both live and dead, when used as a bottom-connect slipfloat. Line slides through the base in unique vertical fashion, creating no angles to kink the line.
I like those floats, but when using magnum suckers, I opt for the mega version of the Cast Away Bobber — which seems to be designed in reverse with the blunt end down. Even though Cast Aways are almost neutrally buoyant, resistance is high with this design and suckers can't easily pull it under.
Chubbers from Ultra and Middy are commonly used in Europe to "trot" bread for carp in relatively quick water, but — being a brick-headed American — I find them efficient at drifting light suckers and chubs for bass and pike in current.
Technically, a waggler is any float with the line connect at the bottom. "Feathering," or brushing the line coming off the reel with a finger during a cast, is required to keep longer wagglers from tangling.
For many years I've suggested using wagglers to hold baits over precise spots on windy days. Bodied wagglers are the opposite of stream floats, having a body near the bottom of a long stem and closer to the line connection. This places the bulk of the float out of wind-driven currents near the surface. The longer the float, the less wind affects it. The single line connection at the bottom of the stem keeps the line under water where it, too, is unaffected by wind.
I use small wagglers, like the #1 Thill Gold Medal Shy Bite, for panfish over isolated rockpiles, brushpiles, submerged trees, and other places where wind-driven floats are quickly out of the bite zone, in trouble, or both. When it's really windy, I opt for a longer Middy No. 2 Bodied Waggler. On calm days, I go with a Middy No. 4 Dart.
For walleyes in similar situations — when keeping a bait over a specific boulder or tree top in wind is the goal — a large bodied version, like the Middy No. 2 Bomb Waggler, is a terrific tool. The No. 2 Bomb is perfect for leeches and small to mid-size minnows. When I want a float that stays put with the minimum of weight on the line, I use an "insert," with weight attached at the bottom. The bottom of the Match Angling Products Bodied Insert Waggler screws off for adjusting buoyancy by adding or subtracting rings. (You can also roll tiny split shot into the interior.)
Some wagglers have little or no body, offering the least resistance. Europeans make many of quill or plastic. The Ultra Clear Tipped Waggler is primarily for sensitive species that balk at the least resistance, like carp and tench. I use them for bluegills and crappies — both as pole floats for dapping with 12-foot rods, and for casting to shallow spots where I want the float to stay put.
European poles can extend to 30 feet or more. The Drennan Acolyte Pole, for instance, is 16 meters long. These are used for match fishing from the bank. Most Americans prefer to move the boat a little closer to the spot. And what I call "pole floats," well, Europeans might be rolling their eyes already.
I use a 12-foot Uncle Buck pole and sometimes a 16- to 20-foot extending pole from Hawkland or Grey Falcon to reach out over the visible tops of individual cabbage plants, deadheads, or pockets in pad fields for bull bluegills. Pole floats are dapped and don't require castability. Most of the time I use Thill Shy Bites and Super Shy Bites. Working pressured fish in clear water, however, I use a waggler style like the Ultra Clear Spot Waggler or a tiny, sensitive float like the Drennan No. 2 Double Rubbe Balsa. Both are excellent at indicating up bites and inhalation takes.
BulletBobber Enterprises makes directional floats. The Bullet Bobber is unique. Toss it out, pull it, and it planes left or right. Flip it with a mending motion of the rod tip and it planes in the opposite direction. Great for slow rolling little spinner heads, grubs, and plastic worms at a prescribed depth over and around cover for panfish and bass.
The Rainbow Plastics A-Just-A-Bubble is one of my favorites for bass and bluegills. It's dense and water can be added to make it even heavier, so it casts way out there. I use it without sinkers on the line to parachute little jigs slowly into position for spooky fish.
The A-Just-A-Bubble is my first choice with bobber-wacky techniques for bass. A wacky-rigged cigar or finesse worm just hanging in space, or gently waving up-and-down in waves drives all species of bass nuts, and a "fixed" float (as opposed to a slipfloat) is far better at it, allowing you to pull the bait horizontally to cover water with triggering actions. Keeps the hook out of brush and weeds.
So many floats, so little time. The incredible variety spices my addiction to floats, bobbers, and indicators of all shapes, sizes, and makes. No matter what hurdles are placed by wind, current, cover, or the moods of fish, a float is out there, somewhere, ready to help you overcome them.
The FOAM Advantage
Bruce Mosher invented the Ice Buster Bobber — a foam float — for ice fishing. Like the more recent Venom Floats, the Ice Buster has a bottom connection, keeping it under water where the opening can't freeze shut. It can be underweighted so it stands tall, making it more visible when standing away from the hole for trout and steelhead.
Foam floats can be trimmed back to any size required with a knife or pair of scissors. Foam floats are versatile, functioning as pole floats and panfish floats in summer. And the foam itself is practically indestructible. The Ice Buster is yellow and available in 3.5-, 5-, and 7-inch lengths. The smaller version suspends just over 1/16 of an ounce; the longest version can handle up to 1/2 ounce of weight. Venom Floats come two sizes to the package in a variety of colors.