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Notes About Panfish Floats

Notes About Panfish Floats

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.

Continued -- click on page link below.

Notes About Panfish Floats (cont.)


Bagley -- For light-biting panfish, the Bagley Shivers Float, designed to match European competition floats, is ultrasensitive and ideal for panfish. Their Night Rider float features a removable fluorescent stem that can be replaced with a chemical lightstick. Along with a variety of other panfish floats, Bagley makes a nice Bodied Waggler for combating windy conditions.

Betts -- Weighted and unweighted BillyBoy Balsa Floats are available in pencil, cylinder, and oval shapes that are ideal for panfishing. The Float-a-Bubble is a stealthy slipfloat casting bubble ideal for targeting panfish in the shallows or ultra-clear water.

Carlson -- The aerodynamic Wing-It float is designed to cast far and accurately. Fixed and slipfloats available.

Eagle Claw -- Eagle Claw offers a selection of panfish style balsa stationary and slipfloats. They also make a 1-inch clear Plastic Spin float ideal for launching light lures a long distance.

Gapen -- The Crappie and All-Panfish floats feature brightly painted long stems for visibility. Both float styles feature the Gapen Slip-in-Lock system that allow you to use them as either slip or stationary floats. To use as a slipfloat, simply insert the line through a slot on the bottom of the stem and pull the rubber sleeve just over the slot opening. To rig stationary, wrap the line around the stem slot and slide the entire sleeve over the slot.

Northland -- The Lite-Bite balsa slipfloat is a good all-around float that has a fluorescent stem for visibility.

Rainbow Plastics -- Cast your favorite panfish bait farther with Rainbow's A-Just-A-Bubble. Designed to be used as a stationary- or slipfloat; add the proper amount of water inside the bubble to increase or decrease the float's buoyancy and casting distance. Available in clear, fluorescent red, red-white, opaque chartreuse, and translucent green.

Redwing -- The Phantom float is a clear plastic float with an orange top and a line-loop on the bottom of the stem that allows for both fixed- and slipfloat fishing. Their TSL Floats, available in four sizes, offer excellent buoyancy plus a glow-in-the-dark tip that makes it easy to see in low light.

Rod-n-Bobb's -- The Boss Bobber has a stem wrapped with an extra-sensitive stainless-steel spring, allowing the stem to move freely up and down through the body of the bobber. The body of the Boss serves as a platform that slowly submerges as the stem is gradually pulled down, after a fish inhales the bait. With the Boss, any resistance spreads gradually from the surface of the water to the top of the stem, exactly the opposite of traditional floats. This unique bobber design allows fish to easily negotiate baits because resistance is spread out. Rod-n-Bobb's lighted LuckyJack bobber delivers a light that's 21 times brighter and lasts for over 21 hours. Convert most any float into a night-float with their Bobber Beacon that fits all sizes slip or stick bobber stems and round plastic bobbers of any size.

Thill (Lindy Legendary Fishing Tackle) -- The new Thill Gold Medal Supreme line of floats, like the Mini Stealth, Stealth, and Super Shy Bite, feature Lindy's easy on and off X-Change line attachment that allows you to add or remove the float at any time. They can also be used as either a fixed or slipfloat simply by moving the sleeve partially or completely over the line slot. Ebony black underbodies teamed with the yellow and orange-painted top offer the perfect balance of stealth and visibility. The Mini-Shy Bite and Mini Super Shy Bite are two top producers for ultra-hesitant panfish. For nightfishing, add a Thill Float Night Light (available in green, red, orange, and blue), which has a universal adapter that converts just about any float into a lighted float.

Today's Tackle -- The Ice Buster Bobber features a piece of red plastic that holds the line attachment point of the slipfloat below water, preventing the float from freezing to the line. String-tied bobber stops are best for setting the depth. The most unique feature is that you can trim the foam stem to match the weight of the bait, customizing the float to make it almost neutrally buoyant and nearly undetectable to fish. Their Wave Buster bobber has an adjustable plastic sleeve for precision balance and the added weight allows for long casts.

Plastilite -- The Mr. Crappie Popper (Bass Pro) is designed to attract crappies to your bait. The high-visibility float not only has internal rattles but also features a concave end that allows you to "chug" the surface and attract crappies. Slightly eccentric in appearance, but it works.

1 Today's Tackle Ice Buster, 2 Northland Lite-Bite, 3 Bett's Billy Boy Balsa, 4 Bagley Shivers Float, 5 Bagley American Classic, 6 Redwing Blackbird, 7 Gapen All Panfish, 8 Gapen The Crappie, 9 Thill Super Shy Bite, 10 Stops, Snubs, and Beads, 11 Plastilite Mr. Crappie Popper, 12 Thill Mini-Shy Bite, 13 Carlson Wing-It, 14 Thill Mini-Stealth.

6 Arc of Slabs, Northeast Mississippi

Like the Bordeaux region grows world-class wine grapes, the Arc of Slabs is famous for producing giant crappies. Grenada, Sardis, Enid, and Arkabutla — it's a tossup which of these reservoirs might be best for giant white crappies during March and April. Jigging in brush and spider-rigging are the best bets. Wading, too, at times. Contact: Guide John Woods, 731/334-9669; Guide John Harrison, 662/983-5999.

2 Lake Erie, Ohio

The best opportunities are between Port Clinton and Vermilion, says Ohio fishery biologist Travis Hartman. Many marinas and backwaters have excellent crappie fishing in the spring, peaking in late April to early May, and occasionally in the fall. Good open-water spots are East and West harbors and Sandusky Bay. Check connected rivers, too. Lots of fish to 12 inches, with 14-inchers not uncommon, Hartman says. Craig Lewis of Erie Outfitters says Lake Erie is a surprisingly overlooked crappie fishery, considering the numbers of fish caught, up to 18 inches, as big as any in the state. Contact: Erie Outfitters, 440/949-8934; Ohio DNR,

4 Reelfoot Lake, Tennessee

Guide Billy Blakley says the crappie forecast for the 'Earthquake Lake ' is excellent for 2013, with average fish running 1 to 11„4 pounds and catches up to 23„4 pounds. The lake contains both black and white crappies. From March through May, spider-rig and jig around underwater wood, and jig around exposed cypress stumps. The bite picks up again in the fall. Top-notch lodging and food at Blue Bank Resort. Contact: Guide Billy Blakley at Blue Bank Resort 877/258-3226,

7 Weiss Lake, Alabama

The crappie outlook is very good for 2013, reports Alabama district fisheries supervisor Dan Catchings. Samples indicate one, and possibly two, strong year-classes of crappies in 2010 and 2011. Expect good numbers of harvestable-size fish from the 2010 spawn this spring, with the 2011 year-class contributing to the fishing in mid- to late 2013. Fishing picks up in February as crappies move shallow. March through early May is best, with April being the peak. Contact: Guide Richard Green, 859/983-0673, or book through Little River Marina and Lodge (256/779-6461); Guide Mark Collins,, 256/779-3387.

8 Kentucky Lake, Kentucky / Tennessee

Anglers look forward to the 'Crappie Capital ' living up to its name in 2013, says guide Steve ­McCadams. Expect numbers of quality fish with a shot at slabs over 2 pounds. While action during the spawn in late March into April is outstanding, don't overlook May and June, when stable lake levels and weather patterns find crappies concentrating around fish attractors at midrange depths, he says. Contact: Guide Steve ­McCadams,

9 Kerr (Buggs Island) Reservoir, Virginia/North Carolina

Numbers of crappies from 1 to 13„4 pounds with a chance for 2- to 3-pounders. Once the spider-rigging bite wanes in shallower creek channels by April, action turns to jigging deeper brushpiles. Contact: Guide Bud Haynes, 434/374-0308; Guide Keith Wray, 434/635-0207; Bobcats Bait and Tackle, 434/374-8381.

3 Lake Eufaula, Oklahoma

This shallow reservoir boasts numbers of crappies in the 2- to 3-pound range, with 37-fish limits common. In spring, the action is shallow, doodlesocking flooded buckbrush in high water, or working rocky banks and brush cover in low water, says guide Todd Huckabee. Crappies move to deeper brush later in spring. Contact: Guide Todd Huckabee,; Guide Barry Morrow,; Blue Heron Bait and Tackle, 918/334-5528.

5 Lake Fork, Texas

Numbers of slabs from 11„4 to 21„2 pounds tend to get overlooked in this lake famous for lunker bass. Mid-May through June is guide Terri Moon's favorite time for crappies, when the fish head to brushpiles and bridge abutments in 20 to 24 feet of water. Pitching Fork Tackle's Live Baby Shads on 1/16-ounce jigs is a top option. Ivan Martin and Rick Loomis also guide clients to Fork's crappies in November and December, when fish are on points and in deeper brush. Contact: Guide Terri Moon, 903/383-7773; Guide Ivan Martin, 918/260-7743; Guide Rick Loomis,; Lake Fork Marina for lodging, food, and tackle,

1 Lake of the Woods, Ontario

The Woods is top-notch for black crappies to 16 inches, says In-Fisherman contributor Jeff Gustafson. Many crappies on this massive water have never seen lures, so once you find them, the numbers and quality are second to none, he says. Action starts in mid-May, with fish moving to shallow areas with cover. After spawning in early June, target them on weedflats in 6 to 10 feet of water. Float-and-jig combinations excel. Also try small suspending jerkbaits and swimming marabou jigs. Contact: Guide Dave Bennett,, 807/466-2140; Guide Jamie Bruce,, 807/466-7134.

10 St. Johns River, Florida

The stretch of the St. Johns River south of Lake George offers outstanding fishing. Crappies from 2 to 3 pounds are caught regularly, with average catches well over a pound. This was the scene of an In-Fisherman television episode that airs this spring. Weedflats hold fish that can't resist tubes fished under a float. Or troll channel edges using jigs or minnows. Contact: Lodging at Castaways on the River, 352/759-4522,; Guide Steve Niemoeller, 386/846-2861,

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