How to Choose the Correct Bobber…
Plus Secrets Many Experts Don’t Know!

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.

bobbers or floats available in various shapes and sizes 448x299

Bobbers, or floats, are available in various shapes and sizes. Some styles are more suited to still water while others work better in current. Select a bobber with the buoyancy needed to “float” your bait, trying not to go with too large (too much buoyancy); otherwise skittish fish may detect too much resistance when trying to move off the bait. Some companies, such as Thill, will mark the weight the bobber will support right on the float.

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.

sometimes basic cork float is all thats needed 448x299

Sometimes a basic cork float is all that is required
for your presentation.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Second, bobbers serve as a presentation aid, enabling anglers to retrieve a lure or live bait at a constant pre-determined depth.
  3. Third, a properly rigged bobber can increase casting distance when employing almost weightless live bait or a micro jig.
fixed float held with silicone sleeves won't damage line 299x448

A fixed float held in place on the line with silicone sleeves will not damage the line. Fixed bobbers attached with metal clips may pinch the line and weaken it.

Fixed Bobber
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.

Slip Bobber
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.

slip bobber slides down line 448x200

A slip bobber slides down the line to near the bait when the angler casts.

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.

stopper knot critical to good slip bobber rig 448x247

A stopper knot is critical to a good slip bobber rig. Stopper knots come pre-tied on short straws. Feed the tag end of the line through the straw. Then slide the knot off the straw onto the line. Gently pull each end of the knot but do not over-tighten. Remove the straw and slide the knot to the desired depth setting, then snug it a bit tighter. Add a stopper bead and then the slip float. Most anglers add a second bead after the slip bobber to ensure the bobber does not get wedged on the
eye of the hook.

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.

stopper knot on bobber set at eight feet 278x448

As this angler prepares to cast, the stopper knot (set at eight feet) is wound on the spool and the slip bobber has slid down to the split-shot above the small jig. (It looks so big because it’s swinging back over her shoulder toward the camera.)

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!

DBs favorite bobber rig recipes 480x614

For more great articles by Darl Black, click here.


Darl Black iconAbout Darl Black

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[hs_action id=”7720″]

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