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Give fish the slip (and clip-on) floats

A collection of floats: Top: Left: String type bobber stops and beads, Right: Plastic bobber stops and beads. (Instructions are on the packages.) Second row: Left: Two slip floats, Right: Weighted clip-on float, clear clip-on float.
A collection of floats: Top: Left: String type bobber stops and beads, Right: Plastic bobber stops and beads. (Instructions are on the packages.) Second row: Left: Two slip floats, Right: Weighted clip-on float, clear clip-on float. (Bill May photo)

One of the best ways to catch fish, for the next few months especially but even year-round, is with the old standard shad dart and minnow below a float. I caught my largest pond pickerel, weighing over 5 ½ pounds, this way. I had anchored my cartop boat in a cove, flipped this rig into a pocket in the pad field and started to eat lunch. Then I noticed a slow, short sideways movement of the float. I tightened the line, set the hook and quickly realized a lunker was on the other end.

That was several decades ago. The basic rig described still works, as it had for decades before. But tools and techniques have evolved.

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If you think about it, you can see the logic of rigs that barely move –- like bottom rigs, dropshot rigs, deep jigging rigs and baits and lures suspended beneath floats. Typically most of the time baitfish suspend in place then dart ahead a short distance. With these rigs you can mimic those actions, while lures like spinnerbaits or crankbaits imitate fleeing baitfish or crayfish.

Floats come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes and specialty uses like the popping or rattling "corks" used for redfish and trout to the solid wood, barrel-shaped models for long casts, quill floats for delicate presentations and glowing and lighted floats for night fishing. But two basic types meet a wide variety of fishing applications.

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Slip Floats

This rig is not as complicated as it looks. The first step is attaching a "bobber stop" to the line. This can be a knotted piece of string, commercial or do-it-yourself version, or a small plastic clip. Next a small bead is strung on the line. The bead must have an opening small enough that it cannot pass by the aptly-named bobber stop yet have a diameter large enough to block the float. Then the slip float is strung on. The ideal float is bright colored, oval, with a smooth center tube and be just large enough to float the terminal lure or bait and any added split shot. Then the lure, bait and shot as necessary is added to the end of the line.

The bobber stop can be adjusted to whatever depth at which you want to suspend the lure or bait. The bobber stop locks onto the line and can slide through the rod guides on the cast; the rest of the rig slides to the end of the line. When the cast is made, the float and bead rise to the surface, while the terminal materials sink and draw line through the float until the stop and bead hit the float.

This rig allows long, accurate casts without the "helicoptering" occurring with a float clipped or pegged to the line. It also allows fishing deeper than possible with a clip-on or pegged float.

The Clip-On Float

This float attaches to the line via clips on the top and bottom and works well for fishing water five feet or less. It cannot be cast as far or as accurately as a slip float and will go out with a "helicopter" action.

Again I prefer oval shaped floats just big enough to float the rest of the rig, but the colors should be muted or clear. The virtue of this float is versatility.

I often scout trout streams with an ultralight spinning outfit using a small spinner attached via a snap swivel. I can quickly switch to drifting an artificial worm, egg, or beadhead nymph by replacing one of these lures on the snap swivel, adding a removable split shot if needed and adding a clear clip-on float up the line.

When fishing for bass and pickerel I attach a lure or bait via a lock snap. When I encounter panfish I can replace the larger lure or bait with a size 12 beadhead wooly bugger, add a clip-on float and start playing with the little guys.

Obviously you can quickly switch back with these rigs.

Baits and Lures

The aforementioned shad dart with a "bull minnow" attached is probably the most effective rig for largemouth and smallmouth bass, pickerel, crappie and white and yellow perch. Most shad darts have soft, gold-colored, wire hooks that hold fish but can usually be pulled from snags by applying steady pressure until the hook opens slightly and pulls free. The hooks are easily bent back to shape with pliers or just thumb pressure.

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Small jigheads or feather or bucktail rigs, all with the above type hooks, can be used with minnows, grass shrimp, or a piece of worm. Berkley Gulp Alive Minnows or 1 to 2-inch PowerBait Power Grubs or Trout Worms are effective scented artificials.

When fishing for trout, bluegill, sunfish and other panfish I like to use like to use size 12 or 14 beadhead nymphs like a black wooly bugger, Pheasant Tail or Prince Nymph.

Tackle and Lines

Spinning tackle is the choice, medium to ultralight weight with 10 to 4-pound test monofilament depending on the species. However when fishing waters containing pickerel and other toothy species like snakeheads, bowfin and walleye, I recommend braided line with a long 20-pound fluorocarbon leader.

The Float and Fly Rig

This rig developed in the South for cold water fishing for smallmouth. It calls for an ultralong rod, fine monofilament and a small float clipped about 10 feet above a tiny hair jig. The rig is cast over a breakline and allowed to drift and bob.

I tried my own version on Prettyboy Reservoir recently using a standard 7-foot rod, 8-pound mono, a slip float and a beadhead wooly bugger for the jig. It really works; I took a mix of 3 largemouths and 4 smallmouths in my less than 2-hour trial before my buddy wanted to move off to fish sunken trees. And this slip float version is a lot more accurate and easier to cast.

Bill May is an outdoors writer. His column appears every other Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7896 or sports@carrollcountytimes.com.

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