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Written by TV Ontario   
Friday, 09 June 1995
Article Index
Fish-On! - 2 - Rainbow Trout
The Fish - Size and Shape
The Fish - Markings
The Fish -Requirements
Habitat - Distribution
Habitat - Management
Seasonal Changes
Seasonal - Spawning
Seasonal - Fry to Smolt
Seasonal - Maturation
Equipment - Baits
Equipment - Spawn
Equipment - Tackle
Equipment - Rods and Reels
Equipment - Bobbers
Equipment - Lures
Equipment - Other Gear
Technique - Reading Water
Technique - Bait Fishing
Technique - Lure Fishing
Technique - Fly Fishing
Ethics and The Future


Steelhead floats, or bobbers, are made of cork, balsa wood, or pressed Styrofoam. Avoid plastic floats as they are easily broken and do not hold as much weight for their sizes as do other floats made of other materials. There are many commercial steelhead floats on the market, but you can always make your own.

The size and shape of bobber used will depend on the speed of the current, depth, and the amount of weight needed to quickly reach bottom in a drift. In general, slender pencil shapes are best for slow water, while rounder-bodied floats ride moderate currents better. The teardrop shape is a compromise, but the most versatile. It is very popular among steelheaders.

Figure 2.4

Color is important. The tops of floats should be highly visible to the angler; the bottoms must be inconspicuous to fish, especially in relatively shallow, clear water. Red, orange, and bright green are good colors for the tops, and white, brown, green, or black are best for the bottoms. 

There are many ways of attaching bobbers to your line. I prefer to use soft rubber tubing or those floats with removable bodies that hold onto your line with a press fit. Study the diagrams to see how they are attached.

The standard way to weight a float for steelheading is to place progressively smaller splitshots down the line, separated farther apart in a steady pattern, so that the float will ride well but will submerge with even a light hit from a fish. Rigged in this manner, the line below the float will bow in the current and the bait will proceed the float downstream. A steelhead will therefore see the bait first, not the terminal tackle. And with the weights being tapered like a fly fisherman's leader, the rig casts better. For short drifts, however, this method often does not get the bait down to the fish before you are through the holding water. In this situation, I place several heavy weights farther down the line (about midpoint) and two smaller weights below that. Both methods are illustrated in Figure 2-4. But there are many variations to these two rigs, so experiment to suit the conditions.

Figure 2.5 The size of splitshots used will depend on your terminal tackle. Light-line steelheaders even use tiny English ledger weights for clear water. Some are so small that you can hardly hold them when putting them on the line.

You can fish bobbers with any steelhead rod, but the longer the better. Long rods allow you to keep the line off the water, control the drift of the float, and be instantly ready to set the hook when the float indicates a hit. The length of rod used will also determine the maximum length of line below the float. It's hard to cast more than the length of your rod for a lead, so fixed-float fishing has its limitations in deeper water. This is when a slip-bobber comes in handy. It has a hollow stem with a drilled bead on the top through which to run your line. A bobber-stop is positioned on the line at the depth you want your float set. Otherwise, for casting, the bobber slides down to the first weight or swivel on the line. I use a Uniknot tied around the main line for a bobber-stop. When trimmed, this sliding knot will pass through the rod's guides and even onto the reel, allowing you to fish practically any depth of water. (Figure 2-5.)

You can run the same test line throughout when bobber fishing, but it is best to use a lighter leader below the float. This serves two purposes: first, if you hang up on a snag and must break the line, all you will lose is a bit of terminal tackle, not the bobber; second, when light-lining, you can run any test leader, regardless of what test your main line is. A good rule of thumb is to use a main line at least two pounds heavier than your leader below your bobber. The same principle of using a leader can apply to free-drifting rigs.

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