'Float and fly' versatility abounds
Fall crappie are suckers for float and fly tactics as the bobber keeps the jig at the proper depth for these suspending panfish. (Jim Gronaw photo)

Fishing today can cover a vast array of tactics, techniques and tackle, so much so that it boggles the minds of both seasoned and beginning anglers alike. There are bait fishing strategies, catfish tactics, panfish techniques, bass game plans, trout tips, salt water ideas, bait casting techniques, wading strategies and much more. We haven't even mentioned fly fishing and it's entire unique realm. On and on and on.

Yet, with all the possibilities of today's modern fishing world with ever-expanding equipment upgrades, there is one true and simple tactic that remains to this day as deadly as ever.


It is the "float and fly" technique.

The expression "float and fly" was coined a few decades ago by mid-south winter time smallmouth gurus who used plastic floats and hairjigs to catch big, bronze bass throughout the TVA region. Certainly nothing new in theory, the F&F crowd was simply suspending a lead head jig several feet below a bobber, sometimes with bait, sometimes without. It has been a time-honored standby for many decades for all species of fish. To this very day, it remains a tactic that I, as a panfisherman, seldom deviate from.

There are several reasons why this elementary concept is so perennially successful. For one, it keeps the lure, or jig in most cases, at the exact depth where fish are actively feeding. Once located, various float and bobber options can be secured on the line to maintain a constant depth control. By keeping your bait or lures in the "strike zone" you increase your odds of catching fish, and lots of them. Attached, clip-on style floats can present lures or bait at depths from one foot to ten feet below the surface, depending on the length of the rod you are using. Slip bobbers are the topic for another entire discussion, so we will focus primarily on the fixed, or attached, floats for this column.

Floats and bobbers have been around a long time. Most of us, however, have only used those bulky, round, red and white bobbers that are among the poorest of strike indicators with their inability to submerse easily. Today's array of floats come in many sizes and shapes to accommodate many gamefish and panfish species. Yes, those big, round bobbers do well when casting large live baits to bass, stripers and even channel catfish or pike in the North Country. But for other game, smaller, oval or pear-shaped floats of plastic or wood get the call. So effective are smaller foam bobbers that the fly fishing crowd now embraces then as "strike indicators" rather than calling them by the "red neck" jargon of "bobbers."

They are one in the same, my dear fellow anglers, so call them what you will.

I tried to recall the variety of fish species I have caught using this method over the years. Let's see ... large and smallmouth bass, yellow and white perch, all sunfish species and crappies, channel catfish, bullheads, walleyes, northern pike, pickerel, all the trout clan (including some recent "personal bests") striped bass, hybrid stripers, and even a few white and hickory shad along with carp, suckers and big fallfish. That pretty much covers out local gamefish options in the Mid-Atlantic region.

I recently enjoyed an exceptional trout outing with young angler and friend Hunter Moffit of nearby Hanover, Pa. We were trying to take advantage of the fall trout stocking in some local waters and were meeting only marginal success with standard issue Kast Masters and Super Duper spoons. A fish here and there, but nothing to scream about. On a lark, I tied on a 1/64th ounce hairjig and snapped a one-inch diameter oval plastic bobber about 3 feet above the lure.

It just so happened to be the exact ticket those rainbow and palomino trout wanted and we enjoyed some fast-paced action for over an hour before the dust settled and the rain got heavy. Along the way, I picked up several foot-long crappies and a bruiser red-eared sunfish as a bonus.

Hunter, meanwhile, banked several high-end rainbows and a gorgeous 20-inch palomino on the bobber/hairjig combo.

Keep in mind that often the wind will be all the movement you will need to coax a strike from most species. And this is an especially dynamite tactic for those fall crappies that are on the move as we speak. I have been enjoying a good season this fall on big 12 to 15 inch crappies on tiny 1/80th ounce jigs tipped with Gulp! Waxies and suspended four feet below with a tiny bobber. Big fish, big fun ... with the float and fly!