Casting out over the smooth mirrored surface of the lake, you watch your bait and bobber sail through the air and plop into the water, causing ripples to cascade over the surface. You flip your bail and wait. Watching in anticipation and awe your bobber slowly dips below the surface, you reel in your slack, make a sweeping hookset, and feel the weight and the tug of a big fish. Hearing the zip of the drag as the fish dives downward you feel the head shakes as the fish tries to dislodge the hook. Time almost stands still as you stare laser beams into the water trying to catch a glimpse of what’s on the end of your line. And just as you see it’s a big walleye your excitement level peaks and you cry out in celebration as the net scoops and you successfully bag your catch!
In this daydream are you a child? Or dreaming in the present time? The brain usually goes to children and panfish when referencing bobbers, but could you be missing out on catching if you are disregarding bobbers? The traditional red and white, round plastic bobbers are a classic introductory way to fishing, and I bet you still have some in your tackle box. Clip it on, toss it off the dock and keep kids busy catching panfish all day. But does that make bobber fishing too easy? Or an antiquated way to fish that you “grow” out of as you learn new techniques and gain skills as an angler? No, it’s not, and it shouldn’t be. Slip bobbers are a great tool to continue utilizing bobbers with your advanced skill set to determine when to use them to put more trophy fish, during notoriously difficult conditions, in your net.
A bobber is simply a device made of a floating material – typically balsa wood, cork, foam, or plastic – that is used as an indicator to detect a bite by pulling it under the surface; regularly referred to as floats or corks and used interchangeably with the term bobber. Floats have been around for thousands of years, used by millions of anglers, and have hundreds of variations and dozens of uses.
The two most common types are spring and slip bobbers. The easiest explanation of a spring bobber is they are clipped onto the line in a fixed position, are best for non-windy, shallower water conditions, and are frequently used for panfish. A slip bobber is a moving bobber that slides, or slips, freely up and down the line, can be used year-round for many different species, and many different applications. Let’s delve into the details on the how, what, where, when, and why to use them. It may not be as simple as you think.
The five main components of the slip bobber rig are the following: bobber stop, bead, slip bobber, weight, and hook. The bobber stop is tied on first, followed by the bead, the slip bobber is then threaded onto the line and the hook is tied to the end. After sliding the bobber up the line attach your split shot or an alternative to the weight and hook combination is using a jig head for a power corking approach.
Let’s break down the terminal tackle and components on what I use and why, and explain why slip bobbers can be a top pick presentation. First is the bobber stop. Basically, you need something to stop your slip bobber to set your depth, and while there are multiple variations, such as a rubber egg-shaped stop, bead stops, tying your own line, two- or four-hole plastic stops, or a nylon tie – I prefer the nylon tie. The nylon tie is small in profile to smoothly move through the eyelets while casting, is easily adjustable, and is readily available at most tackle shops. All bobber stops have pros and cons, just decide what works best for you.
The nylon slip knot comes packaged on a plastic tube that easily slides onto the line, then slides the tube out from underneath the knot in the opposite direction, so that you can remove the plastic tube from your line. Next, pull the knot tight enough to stay put, but loose enough to be able to slide to your desired depth where you will cinch it tight. You can trim the tag ends or leave them – leaving them provides more visibility when watching for the bobber to meet the knot, and more easily adjustability, while trimming them allows for further, easier casting due to less friction caused when traveling through the eyelets.
The distance the bait is set off the bottom is determined by the distance of the bobber stop from the hook. The farther away from the hook the deeper you are set. The bobber will stop at the bobber stop and turn vertical, indicating the hook and bait are suspended in the water column. If the bobber is lying sideways there is no weight on the end of the line; several factors can cause this, but the most common is that your bait is lying on the bottom. Simply put, you are set too deep and need to adjust your bobber stop.
The second component is the bead. Don’t forget the bead! The bead is used to protect the knot from getting caught in the tube of the slip bobber – different slip bobber models have different size eyelets and the knot can easily fit through the plastic tube. The bead prevents the knot from going through the bobber.
Third, is the slip bobber itself. There are many aspects to crafting the ultimate slip bobber, from size and weight combination to eyelets, and visibility. And it’s not surprising that all slip bobbers are not created equal. Line wear will create grooves in the eyelet of the slip bobber and your line will catch in the cracks and prevent the bobber from easily sliding up the line to the bobber stop, rendering it useless. Also, the balanced size and weight of the slip bobber are extremely important when choosing the correct size to use, and are dependent on which species and conditions you are using them for. The fish should be able to pull your bobber below the surface without feeling tension. If a fish feels the weight of the bobber, it will drop the bait before you are able to set the hook, so if you are having consistent bites, but cannot get the fish hooked your bobber could be too large or too heavy.
I prefer Northland Fishing Tackle’s Lite-Bite slip bobbers because they come in multiple shapes and sizes and have high-quality components. Made from lightweight balsa wood, the Lite-Bite series is light enough the fish cannot detect it but heavy enough to support the appropriate split shot and easy castability. The top antenna, known as the hi-vis strike indicator, is colored bright orange for easy eye-catching visibility on the water’s surface and tipped with a brass grommet eyelet to prevent line wear for frequent and long-lasting use. And with a new line-up on the horizon, it might be time to replace some of the old red and white bobbers gathering dust in your tackle box.
Next, I tie on my hook, which secures the other components on the line. I recommend using size 2, 4, or 6 live bait hooks for walleye fishing. The smaller hook is preferred for clear water situations and best for leeches and crawlers. Size 4 or 6 hooks have longer shanks and larger gaps more appropriate for minnows, chubs, and suckers and lower water clarity situations.
The final terminal tackle component is the split shot or weight. You can vary weight depending on the depth you are fishing, but be careful you are still using the appropriate size bobber. The more weight, the faster they fall and easier to cast, but too much weight can’t support the bobber and is easier for the fish to see. I find a number 5 split shot (1 or 2) attached about 8-10 inches above the hook is the most effective. Attaching the weights further up the line can lead to tangles, the hook catching the line and creating knots and difficulty casting; therefore, it’s important to keep the weights closer to the hook versus farther away.
Generally, I prefer an 8 – 10 lb. monofilament line when using slip bobber rigs, because the nylon knot is adjustable, allowing me to change depths and if I use braid the tie will set into the line and it will no longer be feasible to alter the position of my knot. If you prefer a braided line one of the other bobber stops will work better for you.
And the final piece to the set-up puzzle is a long rod with a moderate to fast action tip to allow longer casts and better hooksets. I use a 7’9” medium-light fast KCR (Kramercustomrods.com) with the best success. Designed for fishing with slip bobbers in mind these rods have enough backbone for walleye fishing, a softer tip for flinging baits, and the length allows for longer more accurate casts and to pick up slack faster when the rod is engaged. If using slip bobbers for finicky or spooky fish staying away from the fish is a huge key to your success and the longer rod allows for farther casts. When casting be aware of casting off your bait, because that will definitely lead to a lack of action – a side arm cast, or lob will help keep the bait on. And be sure to read the Trampe Talk for further rod breakdown.
Now that we discussed the what and how, let’s break down the when, where, and why. Several summers ago, Tyler and I were out fishing for walleyes on spots where we had caught them a few days prior, with no luck. The season had progressed from active, chasing fish to lethargic suspended fish. What causes fish from actively chasing a bait down to needing a more spoon-fed approach? A very basic explanation is hot summer temperatures warm the water, warm water and sun grow weeds and algae, which take up more oxygen in the water system. Less oxygen in the system means less oxygen available for the fish, creating slower more lethargic movements. But fish metabolism is still peaking due to those same water temps, requiring them to eat frequently – fish are cold-blooded and their metabolism is directly correlated to water temperatures; low water temps mean low body temps and low metabolism; whereas high water temps mean higher body temperatures and higher metabolism. Lower metabolism means eating less often and high metabolism requires the fish to eat more to main basic metabolic function. Finding a way to trigger a strike, while not causing excessive use of energy – and oxygen – is a key to your success.
We began searching deeper water with known structures because the fish are moving to find more oxygen, cooler water temps, and following their food source. We began marking suspended fish in 12 to 15 FOW, but when we still weren’t catching fish, we had to change our tactic. We had fallen victim to the mindset that it almost felt “too easy” or “too old fashion” to fish with bobbers, but the jig heads we were using fell too fast, right past the strike zone, and moved too quickly – meaning the fish would exert too much energy to chase down the bait to eat. The angler needs to either trigger a reaction strike or have the best food option to entice the fish to bite. One of us decided to tie on a slip bobber, cast out, and watched the bobber go down almost immediately. We looked at each other and knew it was time to go back to bobber fishing.
Slip bobbers are a great tool for effectively working around various structures, such as rock bars, main lake reefs, weed edges, and downed timber by suspending the bait in or above the fishes’ strike zone longer. Knowing where to set the depth of your bait is also extremely important. Use your electronics and pay attention to how far the fish are suspended off the bottom. Remember to always place your bait above the fish, as fish, generally speaking, feed up. But not too far up, because the fish need to see your bait and have enough energy to go after it. If you do not have electronics, fishing for suspended summer walleyes in clear water I will usually set my depth 4-6 feet off the bottom. If it is stained or has low water clarity, I will set it 2-4 feet off the bottom.
Due to the relative size of the walleyes, we are targeting I use a size 3 (¾” Oval) lite bite bobber with a size 2 hook and a leech. This smaller hook allows the leech to move more freely, creating more action and natural movement to help trigger a strike. With a strong forage base of leeches, this slow-moving, yet abundant and easy food source is the number one option for fish to eat during warm water periods.
Now every year, during the dog days of summer, when the bite transitions from active, chasing fish to schooled up more lethargic fish we consistently grab the slip bobber rod for the most effective way to continuously put walleyes in the boat. During summer it is typical for walleyes to school up in small pods, scattered throughout their preferred cover and depths. Using my electronics, I locate a pod, note what depth the fish are suspended at, and set up at my farthest casting distance to not spook them. And remember to be patient when the bobber goes down, I count to three while reeling in my slack and then make a gentle, but powerful, upwards sweeping hookset. You are using small hooks, so a quick reaction hook set could pull it out of the fish’s mouth. Once the bite slows on the school you are working on, move on to the next one.
We have had many incredible days on the water slip bobber fishing for mid-summer walleyes and you can see an episode we did focusing on this topic on our YouTube Channel Sportsman’s Journal TV.
There are a lot of pieces to the slip bobber puzzle. And so many different conditions when the slip bobber can outproduce other techniques. Don’t overlook a tried-and-true tactic because you think it’s beneath you. When the sun is hot, the air humid and we anglers aren’t as aggressive in the boat, neither are the fish; so let your presentation do the work for you. Slip bobbers keep the bait in the strike zone longer allowing the lethargic fish to move slowly and eat when they are ready. Lethargic fish don’t want to chase, finicky fish need the bait in the strike zone longer, and spooky fish are difficult to get close enough to. The slip bobber can eliminate those challenges and entice the fish to bite making you a more successful angler.