Gronaw: Float and fly for trout
Using hair jigs for trout almost always enables a successful release as lip/jaw hooked fish are the norm. (Jim Gronaw photo)

It wasn’t a long cast, but it was long enough, perhaps 30 feet at the most. The light weight, plastic oval float touched down along with the tiny jig trailing behind it through the air. The stiff breeze at my face made any kind of cast challenging, but this wind-swept bank was indeed where the fish were.

They were trout, rainbow and goldens, and yes, even though they were long-time occupiers of a concrete raceway, they were sizable and acrobatic, just what the doctor ordered.


After a long winter of watching sensitive floats that would barely tip from a nibbling bluegill it was nice to see a float that would actually “go under” and disappear from the strike of a fish. As I kept my line tight with the wind-drift I noticed a slight movement followed by a slow dive through the murk.

A quick hookset and the weight of a heavy fish made my aging heart come alive and once again all was well with the world, at least this part of it.

There is something about the weight of a good fish that both thrills, yet scares, the soul. Four-pound test is pretty skimpy string to try and land anything big, and this fish felt full-grown. Using a technique called “back-reeling,” I was able to allow the fish to run when needed and gain line when I could. It was a long, and tedious fight.

I followed the trout up and down the bank a bit and it showed itself several times with big, sloshing rolls near the surface before taking another long run. Eventually, the fish got tired — and so did I!

But finally, my friend and angling partner Andrew Shifflett put the scoop on the thigh-thick rainbow trout. Yes!

The fish was an immensely rotund female and measured 25 inches. I knew she was heavy but I was almost shocked when the weight on my digital scale read 8.96 pounds. I had caught longer, maybe even heavier trout, but this gal was special, and my first “big” fish of 2019. We unhooked her, took a few photos and revived her to watch her swim off in the chilly 48-degree water, perhaps on her way to please another fisherman sometime soon. I was literally exhausted.

Most anglers today view the classic float and fly presentation as a very basic, elementary method of catching panfish off the docks, kids’ stuff, beginners tactics. It is simply simplistic and as easy as it gets.

But when it comes to catching fish, throughout the year, and multiple species, there are few techniques that can out-produce it on a day-to-day basis. And especially where stocked, even wild trout are concerned, it may be as good as it gets for getting the fish.

The basic setup is this — light, 4-pound test monofilament is tied to a tiny hair jig that weighs 1/64th ounce or even less. About 3 to 4 feet above the jig a small, plastic or wooden float is attached to the line to maintain proper depth travel. You cast it out and allow the wind to push it around or else retrieve it with slow twitches or a straight travel.

Light tackle giant — I duked it out with this plus-sized rainbow trout couldn't resist the classic float and fly tactic and a tiny hair jig. The loser went 8.96 pounds, but will fight again.
Light tackle giant — I duked it out with this plus-sized rainbow trout couldn't resist the classic float and fly tactic and a tiny hair jig. The loser went 8.96 pounds, but will fight again. (Jim Gronaw photo)

When the bobber goes under you set the hook and land your fish.

Any questions?

Of course there are!

What size bobber? I personally, like the Plasti-Lite ¾ inch oval bobbers with top and bottom clips. The Sheffield 5.5-gram Balsa Float is attached with silicon sleeves on the top and bottom stems and is very sensitive and easy to move up and down the line to adjust for the proper depth. Stay away from traditional large, round bobbers if you are experiencing light strikers.

How about jig size, and color? We have had great success with 1/64th and 1/48th ounce jigs that are tied to generically imitate a multitude of trout food items. Sometimes all black jigs of craft hair are hot. Olive bodied jigs with light brown tails can be effective. Sparkle braids in dark blue or green can be the ticket another day. And tiny rubber-legged micro-jigs have their own special appeal as well.


These can appear as stone flies, caddis, grass shrimp or even duplicate the size and shape of a feed pellet … something that hatchery trout are very used to seeing and eating.

And rods and reels? Most of this gear is a personal selection. However, I have enjoyed the Diawa Presso Series Rods with the 7-foot-6-inch light spinning model as it can cast far, sets hooks responsively at longer distances and offers great cushioning when a big fish bolts and surges for freedom. Shorter rods can do well, also — your choice.

And for reels the Shimano Sienna is a quality, budget level ultra-light reel that has an excellent drag system and handle quality, four-pound monofilament line admirably. But, like I said, most tackle options are personal picks.

So, essentially, the float and fly method for trout is the spin fisherman’s counter to the fly angler’s “indicator nymph” technique. Not only is it deadly for small lakes and ponds that are stocked with trout, but it works equally as well in many moving water environs like our local Catoctin streams and creeks.

Give this simple, classic application a try and see if your trout score doesn’t jump a bit this spring.