Many an angler were taught to fish by mom and dad, an uncle, or a grandparent. It’s an enduring family tradition that always changes but somehow always stays the same. The excitement of hooking a fish and the peace that can be found out on the water are hard to substitute, yet the sport is ever evolving. As climate changes and human development alters habitat, the fish respond. New technologies give us brighter and shinier rigs to try. But, some lures and tackle are tried and true, surviving generations of anglers. One thing that’s still around after all these years is the standard red and white bobber.
What is a Fishing Bobber?
Bobbers used for fishing are also called floats or corks. They’re usually made from plastic, foam, balsa wood, or cane and are almost always hollow. The point of a bobber is twofold; to suspend bait above the bottom of the water and to indicate when a fish takes the bait. In most cases, the upper half of the bobber is painted red or neon colors that can be easily seen on the surface of the water. The bottom half is a neutral color, less obvious to the fish.
There are a myriad of styles, shapes, and sizes when it comes to bobbers. Some are round spheres, some are cigar shaped, and some are teardrop shaped. The shape of the bobber will determine how resistant it is to wind and currents. The more narrow and pencil-shaped a bobber is, the less it will move from where it’s cast. You can find fixed bobbers, slip bobbers, and bubble floats and each need to be rigged slightly differently. The kind you use will depend on the situation.
Check out the incredible array of bobbers in this Bass Fishing and Catching article.
When to Use a Bobber
Bobbers are used in calm, slow flowing waters both in salt and freshwater areas when you’re using live bait. They can be handy when you’re confronted with weedy vegetation since you can simply cast your line out and have the lure sit in one spot for a while. They’re not ideal for topwater fishing, but fish that are biting at the bottom or mid-level are likely to spot your lure if it’s suspended at their eye level. The size of the bobber you use will depend a great deal on the size of your bait. As a general rule, go with the smallest bobber you can that will still hold up your bait. Too much resistance from the bobber will cause many fish to drop the bait.
A fixed bobber like the old red and white standby your grandpa probably used stays in one spot on the line. Trout, catfish, panfish, and bass are all good targets for fixed bobber fishing. They’re super simple to rig; just clip your line into the recessed hooks in the top and bottom and you’re good to go. That makes your bobber easy to switch out for another without having to dismantle your line. This simplicity of a fixed bobber also means it’s easily the best choice for kids and beginners. As good and reliable as fixed bobbers are, you probably don’t want to use one for any depths more than four feet.
For walleye, catfish, pike, and bluegill, rig up with a slip bobber. These are much easier to cast than a fixed bobber because they put all the weight at the end of your line. Once in the water, the bobber slides up until it reaches a bobber stop tied into the line. You can use a slip bobber up to around twenty feet. A lot of anglers swear by them when using live bait.
Bubble floats are an interesting new addition to the bobber world. They’re hollow and usually ball or teardrop shaped. You can adjust how heavy they are by filling them to different extents with water. Bubble floats are more of a casting aid than anything else, since their clear plastic design isn’t particularly visible. If you’re fly fishing or casting with a particularly light lure, a bubble float will give your line that added weight it needs to get far out in the water.
For more detail on cigar floats and spring slip bobbers, check out this article from The Coastal Side.
How to Rig a Bobber
Rigging a bobber can be as easy or as elaborate as you want it to be. Most of the time you will need a few split shot or other sinkers to make sure your line hangs below the bobber. For slip bobbers, you’ll also want to pack a couple of beads and bobber stops. Take these, in addition to whatever rod and lures you’re carrying for your target fish and you’re all set.
Rigging a fixed bobber couldn’t be easier. First, determine how low you want your bait to sit in the water. Then, measure that distance from the end of your line. This is where you’ll put the bobber. Remember to include the length of your leader if you’re using one. On most fixed bobbers, there’s a plastic button that will expose the hooks when pressed in. Press the button, hook your line in at the top and bottom and let go. The hooks should then retract back into the bobber.
Rigging a slip bobber is a little more complex but it’s still not difficult. Figure out where you want your bobber to sit on the line and thread it with a bobber stop. These can be sliding rubber stops, tie-in stops, or snap-on stops. After your stop, slide a bead onto the line. This helps prevent damage to the bobber. Next, slide on your bobber followed by another bead. From here, you can either tie on your lead or use a swivel. Add a few split shots a few inches about the hook, bait, and there you go.
Bubble floats come in a couple of different set ups. Most of them have a plug in the center that can be pulled out so water can get in. Once you’ve filled it a little less than halfway with water, move the plug back into place. Then, you either thread your line through the middle of that plug or, if the float has eyelets on either side, you can string your line through them. To keep the float stationary, either twist the plug or add some beads and split shot above and below the line, just like you would with the slip bobber.
To rig for different fish, check out this blog post from Havalon.
Those are the basics of fishing bobbers. They come in many styles and colors, so play around a bit and see what you like. Keep in mind the size of your bobber and how streamlined it is. That will affect how they move with wind and current. As always, stay safe and have fun!