Far from just another way of indicating strikes, the slip bobber is an important fishing tool that is useful in many situations.
Fixed bobbers are nearly impossible to cast if they are attached to the line more than a few feet from the hook. This greatly limits what you can do with them. There’s little sense suspending bait only a foot or two from the surface if the fish you are trying to catch are much lower in the water column.
That’s where slip bobbers fit in. You can suspend bait from a slip bobber as deep as you’d like. If you want to fish six feet from the surface, you simply set your stop six feet from the hook. And casting them out is no problem.
When rigged properly, the entire set up compacts as you launch it out. In the water, the line flows freely through the float until the bobber hits the stop, leaving the bait at the desired depth. When you start to reel in, the float slides back down toward the hook again.
This way, you can fish for walleye or catfish suspended inches off the bottom, panfish or pike suspended midway, or trout cruising along in the top third of the water column. There is a lot of flexibility and room for experimentation.
So how do exactly do you rig a slip bobber?
First, you have to attach a bobber stop. To do so, run your line through the small piece of plastic tubing inside of a new stop. When you’ve got it close to the depth you’d like to fish, you slide the tube out and back off the line, so that only the string stop remains. Then, you pull both ends of the stop knot until it’s tight on your line. Try to slide the stop up and down the line. It should move with some resistance. If it moves too easily, you didn’t pull hard enough. After you have the stop knot attached, trim the loose ends.
Next you should attach a bead of appropriate size. They are often included together with slip bobbers or bobber stops. The hole through the bead is smaller than that of most slip bobbers. It will slide freely on your line until it reaches the stop. If you don’t use a bead, the float can slide right past the stop.
Thill offers this slip bobber kit, which is good for starting out.
After attaching the bead, it’s time for the float. These are available in a number of different shapes and sizes. Standard slip bobbers are available for panfish, bass, walleye, trout and smaller catfish. Larger and specialized floats are available for other applications. Pole floats can be effective for bigger bait, bigger fish, and times when you need extra casting distance. A glow stick can be attacked to a pole float for night fishing with either a specialized holder or something as simple as a rubber band. Some other floats are made with glow in the dark paint or internal lights. Better slip bobber will have smooth holes running through them. Rough holes can prevent the rig from working properly or damage your line and lead to breaks. To attach a slip bobber, simply run your line through it.
After the float, you have to attach weight to your line. This is what will pull the line down through the float until it reaches the stop. If you do not attach enough weight, the line may not slide through. If you attach too much weight, you will sink your float. There are a few ways to add weight to this rig. The easiest is simply to pinch a few slip shot sinkers on your line a few inches from your hook. This is easy to set up, but the slip shot can create weak points in your line. Another way is to slide your line through a sliding sinker and then tie the end of your line to a swivel. This has the benefit of allowing you to easily attach and change leaders. The additional knots needed for this method also add weak points in your line, but probably take away less than split shot from the overall integrity of the rig. When targeting large fish that have the possibility of breaking your line, I recommend going with the sliding sinker and swivel option.
The rig is finished off with a hook. The size and style depends on the kind of fishing you are doing. A light-wire Aberdeen hook may be best when suspending small minnows for crappie. An octopus hook may be best when fishing leeches or nightcrawlers for walleye. A circle hook may be best when fishing live bait for large catfish. There are a lot of variables to take into consideration. Tie your hook to the end of the line as you normally would with any other rig. When using monofilament line, I usually use a Trilene knot.
After finishing your rig, slide the stop to the desired depth. Then reel in enough line to make casting possible. The bobber stop should easily go through the eyes of your fishing rod. The float should slide down to the split shot or swivel. Bait up. You’re now ready to cast.
Pay attention to your rig once it’s in the water. The line should slide out through the float. When the bead and float reach the stop, the bobber will usually stand up vertically. If the bead and stop do not reach the float, you either have not used enough weight or set the stop higher than the maximum water depth. Adjust your rig until you get everything right.
Slip bobber rigs aren’t always appropriate. They are not very effective when presenting tiny offerings or going after line-shy fish. They aren’t much help when targeting fish that will spit a hook at the first sign of resistance either. I most often use them when still fishing using bait for suspended fish. They can also be used for drift fishing in deep or large bodies of water. Adding them your repertoire gives you additional options that can lead to increased opportunities for success.