The first spring tips were made from the coiled wire removed from ballpoint pens. Anglers used various methods to clip them to the ends of the primitive panfish rods of the day. A bit later, in the mid 1980s, when my friends and I were fishing small fertile western reservoirs full of panfish fed fat on swarms of scuds, we discovered one of the first commercial options, the HT Enterprises WSB-1. It was a straight-wire clip-on with a bent-down loop at the end for line passage and bite detection. Our catch rates soared.
In-Fisherman Field Editor Gord Pyzer has long studied the intricacies of bite detection and remains a staunch user of single-wire spring tips such as those by Stringease and HT Enterprises. "The key to using spring tips is in recognizing the multiple ways in which they signal a strike," he says. "Most folks think only about strikes that move the bobber downward. That's the least important type of take. Those are the aggressive fish that you feel or those that often hook themselves with or without the spring.
"With a sensitive spring tip, even a light jig bows it downward in a slight arc. When a crappie, sunfish, or perch hits, the strike indication is no more than the tip returning to its normal straightened position. You must be attentive; most days, for every fish that tugs the bobber down there are 10 that gently raise it up.
"Spring tips have all sorts of snap-on gizmos for attaching them to your rod tip," Pyzer says. "I just snip them off and permanently attach the bobbers with 5-minute epoxy. I can't think of a single time I don't want them on the rod, so when I put them on they're on to stay."
Beyond fine-tuned bite detection, spring tips offer enhanced jig manipulation. An unaltered rigid rod sometime pops, flicks, and jerks panfish jigs in a fashion contradictory the slow, smooth locomotion of scuds, shrimp, and other invertebrates. Spring tips soften and slow jig strokes, helping to mimic the natural movements of tiny aquatic animals.
Pinch the rod handle and tip it upward an inch. Line moves through rod guides and the spring tip dampening the jig's movement into a gentle fluid swim. The spring tip buffers overzealous rod-tip twitching. These aren't big rod-tip moves, but inch or less tips and tilts that move a lure up and away, similar to a live crustacean swimming away from a predator. When a fish takes the bait, a spring tip delicately "gives," helping to prevent a rejection. Without the spring tip, there's little to no give.
Many graphite rod blanks offer minimal cushioning in the tip section. Especially with 1- to 3-pound monofilament, a longer spring tip cushions shock during power runs, decreasing the possibility for slack line and lost fish.
This also applies to classic deadstick rods for walleyes, including Thorne Brothers original Dead Stick series. Rods such as these have floppy glass tip sections melded into the blank that fold to biting fish, revealing the lightest of takes. Just like a spring tip, deadstick tips minimize resistance and buffer power runs.
Here are spring bobber options, from wispy "spring" inserts for panfish, to sturdier wires for heftier predators.
The Panfish Popper is a spring-equipped rod offered in four actions, from a 24-inch ultralight to a 36-inch heavier jigging model. Each rod-and-reel combo includes a Panfish Popper coil spring-bobber that slips into the rod tip with an adjustable foam insert. The 1681 Panfish Popper Spring Bobber can be purchased separately, in three-packs, and fits most ice rods. Frabill also offers the 1682 Spring Bobber, a longer single-wire indicator that clips onto the rod's tip-top guide — frabill.com
Spring Bobbers by Thorne Brothers are short coil spring indicators that fit their line of custom rods, including the Sweetheart, Sweet Thing, Sweet Pea, and Finesse Rod. The Spring Bobber line threader is sold separately — thornebros.com
HT offers many options, including the Little Jigger Spring Bobber, a clip-on option with a fluorescent tip. The spring tension is adjustable by moving the spring forward and back. Another popular option in HT's line is the Big-Eye Spring Bobber, a clip-on that's also adjustable — icefish.com
Developed by ice expert Greg Wilcyznski, St. Croix's Legend Ice combos have a built-in coil-spring strike indicator. The system is adjustable for sensitivity levels to accommodate different lure sizes. To increase bobber sensitivity, push the spring forward through the rubber grommet. For less sensitivity and heavier lures, push it back, shortening its length. The system is most sensitive with a 30-degree bend in the spring. Legend strike indicators feature three different color-coded actions — orange for light, pink for medium, and yellow for medium-heavy. Spring indicators are included with all Legend Ice Rods or can be purchased separately — stcroixrods.com
A 6-inch stainless-steel wire, the Spring Tip clips inside your rod tip, ending with a bent-down line loop and red or chartreuse bead for visibility. Constructed from a single strand of 302 spring stainless steel, the Spring Tip's sensitivity is adjustable. Slide it back and forth on the rod blank — extended for maximum sensitivity, retracted for less sensitivity and heavier lures — stringease.com