By Darl Black
Bobbers don’t just “bob” – your bobber choice and rigging will add more fish to your frying pan.
Sitting on a folding camp stool while watching a large red-n-white globe bounce on the water’s surface is the earliest recollection I have of fishing. A few years later I was presented my own single-tray metal tackle box. It came stocked with hooks, split shot, swivels and, of course, a supply of colorful clip-on bobbers.
Back then I thought all bobbers were the same, serving the sole purpose of showing the angler when a fish had taken a minnow. But over time I discovered bobbers were more than bite indicators for live bait; they could also be used in conjunction with certain artificial lures. I came to realize there’s a lot to consider when choosing bobbers.
Three Reasons to Use Bobbers
Most fishermen use the term bobber and float interchangeably; I certainly do since both serve the same purposes – specifically, three purposes:
- Foremost, they are bite indicators – although in some instances a fish does not need to actually pull the bobber underwater before the angler reacts with a hookset.
- Second, bobbers serve as a presentation aid, enabling anglers to retrieve a lure or live bait at a constant pre-determined depth.
- Third, a properly rigged bobber can increase casting distance when employing almost weightless live bait or a micro jig.
Bobbers are divided into two distinct categories: fixed and slip. Each has advantages and disadvantages. A fixed bobber attaches at one point to the line by means of either a spring-loaded clip system, a small peg, or silicone sleeves. Once in position, the bobber does not move until the fisherman readjusts it.
The primary advantage of the fixed float is maintaining a defined leader length between the bobber and a lure or live bait throughout a retrieve. An example would be keeping a small jig or live bait swimming very slowly above a submerged weedbed.
The primary disadvantage of a fixed bobber is difficulty in casting. Both accuracy and distance suffer when the leader between bobber and bait tumbles end over end. The shorter the lead from bobber to bait, the easier it is to cast. To be practical, a fixed bobber rig is limited to a leader of four feet or less.
A slip bobber (or slip float as many anglers call them) slides up and down the line, with the depth setting controlled by a bobber stop placed on the line. The most popular bobber stop is a braided line slip-knot tightened onto the line, followed by tiny sliding bead which prevents the sliding bobber from passing over the knot. The knot passes through rod guides and is wound onto the reel spool in preparation for a cast, while the bobber slides down to near the bait.
This system has two advantages over the fixed bobber. It offers the ability to set a bobber at any distance from the bait, and it increases casting distance. You make your case with the bobber stop on the reel and the float near the bait. After completing the cast, the weighted bait pulls the line back through the slip float until the float encounters the bobber stop on the line. Although bait can be theoretically suspended below a slip float at any depth, from a practical standpoint the maximum depth setting is usually about 20 feet.
The disadvantage of a slip float is the inability to maintain a consistent leader distance between the bobber and lure during a retrieve. In other words, you cannot swim a lure at constant depth since the line will slide through the float. Slip float rigging is widely used with live bait on either a bait hook or small jig.
Tricks of the Trade
Bobber rigs can be used effectively for any species. The size – or rather buoyancy – of the float will vary based on the bait being used, but the principle of the rigging remains the same. Some float manufacturers list the buoyance on the bobber.
Over time you will discover nuances to rigging bobbers. For example, when trying to tempt skittish walleye or panfish, bobber buoyancy can be adjusted by adding split shot to the line so only the top tip of a long stem float is visible. Rigged in this manner, a fish doesn’t detect any resistance when taking the bait.
Another trick allows the angler to read “up bites” which occur most often with crappies. First, remove split-shot from the line so a long-stem bobber lies at a 45-degree angle instead of standing straight up. When a crappie lazily swims up and takes a minnow but does not move off with it – simply sitting there instead – the float will lay flat on the surface rather than disappear under water. This signals an up- or lift-bite, and the angler can respond with a hookset.
Drifting a single salmon egg in a steelhead stream is easily accomplished with a fixed float on the line. The possibilities go on and on – see my “bobber recipes” below.
Now that you know about bobbers, go get some fish for tonight’s supper!
A lifelong freshwater angler and veteran writer and photographer, Darl tackles a wide variety of fishing related stories for print publications and websites. Of all fishing, angling for smallmouth bass is his favorite pastime. He may be reached for assignment at firstname.lastname@example.org.[hs_action id=”7720″]
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