Ice Fishing Bobbers
January 14, 2014
While tip-ups often are left unattended, floats must be monitored closely so the hook can be set soon after a fish takes the bait. Drill two holes a couple feet apart and jig in one hole while a float holds a livebait a few inches above the bottom in the other hole. Fish attracted by the flash and vibration of a jigging lure often are triggered by the subtle movement and scent of the livebait.
Use the smallest float that's buoyant enough to suspend your bait and rig. Modern floats are streamlined to submerge with minimal resistance when they're properly balanced. Small-bait floats should be balanced with lead shot so the tip of the float is barely above the surface. With larger baits, the float should remain buoyant enough to resist the minnow's strongest surges.
Larger baits and deeper water may require a slipfloat, which slides freely on the line until it reaches a float stop. Use a neoprene stop knot and bead from Class Tackle, or tie your own adjustable float stop by tying a five-turn uni-knot around your main line with a few inches of monofilament or Dacron line. Thread a small bead onto your line below the stop knot, followed by a slipfloat, weight, and hook. Slide the knot up or down the line to present baits lower or higher in the water column.
The same slipfloats used for open-water fishing can be used for ice fishing. Traditional inverted pear designs like the Thill American Classic or the Wing-It Bobber from Carlson Tackle are available in sizes appropriate for species from crappies to walleyes. Longer and more bulbous designs like the Thill Center Slider handle larger baits for pike and lake trout, while smaller and more sensitive floats like Thill's Ice 'n Fly Specials and Mini-Stealths handle smaller baits.
The problem with slipfloats with a center line tube is that the stop knot sits above the surface of the water where it likely freezes in harsh weather. Fixed floats — long thin floats attached to the line with two silicone sleeves — may be a better choice. Since fixed floats don't slide on the line, however, fish must be landed by retrieving line by hand.
Thill Float Swivel Adapters slip onto the bottom stem of many fixed-float models to transform them into slipfloats. Thread your line through the eye of the swivel and set your stop knot as you would for any slipfloat. Swivel Adapters also are useful when using Dacron line with floats like the Thill Stealth and Mini-Stealth, which have small line guides on the bottom stem. The Swivel Adapter slides easily over thicker line and doesn't freeze as quickly in cold weather.
Lighted floats are convenient at night. Several Thill models are available with a phosphorescent finish that glows for several minutes after being zapped with a camera flash. The Fuji Lighted Slip Bobber and the Blue Fox Firefly Float are powered by a replaceable lithium battery. Class Night Rider floats can be used for day or night fishing by replacing the balsa stem on top of the float with a cyalume light stick. Snap the stick and the chemicals ignite, producing a soft glow that lasts for several hours.
Jigging remains the most effective way to ice most fish species, but stationary sets like tip-ups and floats are at times a better option. Set a tip-up on top of a rock reef to alert you when walleyes move shallow while you work a swimming lure in deeper water at the base of a drop-off. Or suspend a minnow beneath a float rig a few feet from where you're jigging a small ice fly tipped with maggots for crappies. Over the course of the season, you'll catch more fish and have more fun. Ice Fishing Bobbers