We've often discussed the advantages of float rigging for catfish, describing dozens of situations where floats can increase your catch by suspending baits off the bottom, indicating bites, and allowing you to to reach difficult spots. If you can't drift or cast a bait into a hard-to-reach spot, use a float to deliver and hold your bait hundreds of feet downstream. In current, floats drift a bait accurately and keep it moving smoothly along the bottom. And in still water, floats hold struggling livebaits above cover to attract big cats after dark.
Effective float rigging, though, requires more than a round plastic bobber clipped to the line above a set rig. It's necessary to match the size and style of the float to your bait and conditions. Float size depends on the total weight of your terminal rig. If you fillet the side from a one-pound sucker and cut the fillet into three chunks, each chunk weighs about an ounce out of the water and considerably less in the water. But you also need a few 3/0 lead shot to get the bait near bottom and keep it there as it tumbles along in current. The combined weight of the rig and the bait requires a larger float than the bait alone would.
Float style is determined by water turbulence, bait activity, and in some cases, light conditions. Generally, use the most sensitive float that is buoyant enough to remain on the surface. All floats perform well in calm conditions, but a special design may be needed for lively baitfish or rough water. Many floats are packaged with instructions explaining how to weight them so they're balanced — ready to be pulled under with minimal resistance. Using less than the recommended amount of weight offers better buoyancy, while more weight causes the float to sink.
Most catfishing situations call for slipfloats, which slide freely on the line until they reach a float stop. Use a neoprene float stop or make your own by tying a uni-knot around your main line with a short piece of monofilament or Dacron line. Clip the tag ends of the knot close to the main line and add a small bead. To change depth setting, just slide the knot up or down the line. The stop knot can be retrieved through rod guides and onto the reel, and the slipfloat will slide down the line to the lead shot.
Larger sizes of the inverted pear-shaped floats used by walleye and panfish anglers work well for presenting small baits in calm water. Smash the head of a couple small minnows and hook them through the tail on a #2 hook. Pinch a couple BB-size lead shot on the line about a foot above the hook and drift this rig around the perimeter of a small-stream snag for channel cats. For pond cats during summer, try suspending a dip worm a few inches off the bottom. Load a dry worm with your favorite dip bait and cast it into a corner of the pond, where cruising cats tend to concentrate.
The aerodynamic shape of the Wing-it Bobber from Carlson Tackle Company may offer better casting distance and accuracy than standard oval floats. Slide the line through the center of the float stem to rig the Wing-it as a slipfloat, or clip the spring on the bottom of the stem to the line to function as a fixed float for shallow-water presentations.
Cigar-shaped slipfloats are more stable that stemmed slipfloats. They won't tip in waves and current, and they help keep line off the water as it slides through the float under the tension of a falling bait. They're a good choice for working larger baits in slow to moderate current. Use thinner designs like Thill's Center Sliders to drift portions of fresh cutbait through riffles and into the head of a hole, along the edges of snags, and over the first several yards of a flat at the tail of a hole.
Larger floats are needed for bigger baits. The Thill Big Fish Slider series consists of 4 floats from 4 to 7 inches long. Use smaller models to drift large portions of cutbait — the side of a baitfish or several small cubes packed on the shank of a hook — for big channels in a tailwater eddy or for blue cats in deep slack areas in rivers and reservoirs.
The largest Big Fish Sliders are a top choice for suspending big livebaits for flatheads. Their bulbous shape keeps lively baitfish struggling against constant tension — the harder it pulls, the more resistance it feels. Thill's Brute Force fixed float is designed for even larger baits or heavy current.
A longer, thinner float made with the same volume of material offers the same amount of buoyancy as a short, squat float, but with less water resistance. In other words, a float 12 inches long and 1 inch in diameter might suspend the same amount of weight as a 6-inch float that is 2 inches around. But less force is required to submerge the longer float. And since more of a tubular float is above the surface, it's more visible than a cigar float.
Tube floats work best in slack or moderate current. They're effective for presenting livebaits above the thermocline for suspended cats in lakes and ponds, or for drifting large baits across a windswept reservoir flat. But they quickly drown in turbulent water. Because tube floats are slightly more sensitive and visible than large cigar floats, they're sometimes used in float-paternoster rigs for flatheads. Weighted tube floats from Lindy-Little Joe and Rainbow Plastics allow better casting distance without adding weight to the line, which interferes with bait movement.
Fishing for cats in windswept lakes, ponds, and reservoirs may require a specialized float design. Standard slipfloats begin surfing across the surface once winds reach about 15 mph. Bodies of floats designed for strong winds, like "waggler" floats, submerge when properly weighted. On these floats, only a brightly colored stem remains visible above the surface. Even the line rests underwater. With the rod tip held low or submerged, these floats are quite wind-resistant. Without line or a float body to catch wind above the surface, the float hovers precisely.
Lighted floats are convenient at night. Most work only for small baits, but lighted floats aren't for big fish anyway. Big cats don't mind the constant tension of a float, and the bait clicker on your reel indicates strikes. Being able to see your float helps, though, when you're drifting baits after dark or when you're targeting smaller cats.
Fuji-Toki offers the Flash Float and Lighted Slip Bobber, lighted floats powered by a replaceable lithium battery. Class Night Rider floats are designed for day or night fishing by just replacing the balsa stem on top of the float with a Cylalume stick. Snap the stick and the chemicals ignite, producing a soft glow that lasts for hours. Several Thill float models also have a phosphorescent finish that glows for several minutes after being charged with a camera flash or flashlight.
Many anglers slip a float or two into their tackle bag, but don't use them. You need a handful of floats matched to the conditions you encounter on the water — small slipfloats for channel cats, big cigars for flatheads, even a lighted float or two for bullheads after dark. Opportunities abound for floats to deliver baits more efficiently. You'll catch more cats.
Company Contacts: Carlson Tackle, 217/359-6398; Fuji-Toki, 800/336-0669; Lindy-Little Joe (Thill), 218/829-1714; Plastilite, 800/228-9506; Rainbow Plastics, 303/493-4189; R.J. Tackle (Class), 941/693-7070.
Big Ten Tackle Magnetic Bobber
Class Night Rider
R.J. Tackle (Class), 941-693-7070
Lindy-Little Joe Pole Float
Rainbow Plasticone In Line Bobber
Rainbow Plasticone Slip Bobber