Tuesday, September 26, 2023
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3 Tips For Better Float Fishing

Have you ever wondered why some people float fishing at the lake or river seem to have more hookups than you? You see your float go down and you set the hook, but you don’t get the fish. Or you didn’t see the float go down and missed a hit. Here I’ll share some tips and tricks that will help you to be the one who gets more hookups.

Choosing The Right Float

There are four general float shapes: circular bobber, short wide float, long narrow float, and long wide float. The circular bobber (like the classic red-and-white bobber we fished as kids) is meant for fishing shallow water and minimal current. I find they are good for lakes and up to 5′ deep for sensitivity. Short wide floats are far more sensitive than the classic bobbers. They are the same shape and size, and therefore good for shallow, still water but also for shallow, fast-current water. Long narrow floats are good for deeper water and/or slow currents. Depending on the length and buoyancy of the float, these floats are sensitive for 5′ to 15′ deep. Long wide floats are good for deeper water and/or fast current. They have roughly the same characteristics of the previous float shape, except the wider float will help keep the float on top of your lure in fast current.

Balancing Your Float

Balance your float properly to get the most sensitivity to those light takes. Do you notice there is a number on the side of the float? That’s the maximum buoyancy weight (typically in grams) the float can handle before the tip of it disappears below the surface of the water. When you’re fishing with jigs under the float, remember to account for that weight along with your lead. When your float is balanced correctly, the water line will be between the bright color and the dark color on the float. Sometimes there is a line between the two colors. When the float is weighted correctly, it will get the most sensitivity for those light fish strikes. I normally use a long wide float of 20 to 30 g for lake fishing and river drift fishing.

Sensitivity And Strikes When Float Fishing

You need to mend your line to feel every strike and takedown. Most of the time, the fish already has the bait and hook in its mouth before the float goes down. So you need to have sensitivity to the line and be able to set the hook fast. After you cast out your setup, you should try to get control of your line as soon as possible. Try to make it as straight as possible, following your rod tip. Remove as much slack line (those S-shaped curves on the surface of the water) as you can. That slack line will cause you to have less sensitivity to the float and slow down your hook set. Most fishing line will not float on the surface of the water after a certain amount of time fishing, and it will sink below the surface. This causes drag, removes the sensitivity to the light bites, and slows down hook sets.

Two Float Fishing Tricks

Here are two tricks to help you get that sensitivity and line control back. First, I use dry fly floatant on my main line to help make it float on the surface of the water. I apply the dry fly floatant from the top of the float to the first 50 feet of the main line. This will make your main line like a floating fly fishing line, which will help you gain control of your line and increase sensitivity and hook set speed. This also prevents water from sticking to the fishing line, which is a bonus when fishing for steelhead in winter. Second, extend the top part of your float so your line will have more lift off the surface of the water. Use a coffee straw or stiff plastic tube to help extend the top part of the float. These two tricks  combined will help you get more fish when you’re doing a long drift.

Finally, use a longer fishing rod to gain control of the line when fishing a long distance away from the float. I typically use a 10’6″ rod when float fishing in the rivers and a 7′ rod for lakes. For the river, most float fishermen will use a 10’6″ to 15′ rod just to gain control of the line and have a faster hook set. Combine all three of these tricks, and you’ll have the best of all conditions for float fishing.

This article appeared in Island Fisherman magazine. Never miss another issue—subscribe today!


  1. Excellent article. A brief note for folks who are fairly new to float fishing on still water, for example, a Dad or Mom taking a child to a lake & fishing with a worm on the end. From my experience Trout are naturally spooked by larger diameter floats on still water, so try & use as small a diameter float as possible. Counterbalance the amount of weight to be able to cast out while a portion of the float remains above water when settled. Split shot works as one can add or subtract as necessary.


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