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How to Choose the Best Fishing Float for Every Situation

Floats come in a vast range of sizes, shapes and configurations for different fishing situations. Understanding variables and choosing the best float can translate into catching more fish.

bluegill and float fishing rigbluegill and float fishing rig

Fishing floats, also commonly called bobbers, are central to many angling styles. They’re used in freshwater and saltwater fishing, in current and in slack water, for fish of many sizes and types, and for presenting both natural bait and lures.

Because of the vast range of applications, the floats themselves come in many forms, so the float aisle in the tackle shop can seem overwhelming. With that in mind, we’ll break down the most important variables and how differences among floats translate on the water. Thinking through these variables can help you shop efficiently to stock floats in your boxes for the fishing you are most likely to do and to make the best rigging choices when you are on the water.

Primary Float Functions

catfish on float rigcatfish on float rig

A practical starting point for discussing the float selection process is to look at a float’s primary functions. Consider those that are important to your fishing strategies and how they might vary by situation.

  • Suspending a bait, whether natural or artificial, at a fixed depth
  • Revealing strikes and all that happens at business end of a rig
  • Adding weight to a rig for casting
  • Adding action to a lure or bait

Float Size Selection

live shrimp on float riglive shrimp on float rig

Since floats get used in fishing for everything from bluegills to large saltwater predators, it should be no surprise that they come in a broad range of sizes. Picking the right size is largely a function of balancing buoyancy and sensitivity.

Generally, the smallest size that will stay afloat and visible while keeping your bait under the float and in the zone will provide the most sensitivity for detecting strikes and keeping the fish from feeling resistance. Significant factors that affect the size needed are the size of your bait and the amount of weight needed to keep the bait in place based on the activity level of your bait, the amount of current and the amount of wind. When wind adds significant chop, a bigger float might be needed for you to be able to keep a close eye on it.

Identifying the ideal size of float sometimes calls or a bit of experimentation. Start with the size that looks like a good match, but don’t hesitate to try a little larger float if yours is riding too low or even dipping out of sight. Conversely, go a bit smaller if you believe fish might be hitting and letting go before you are able to set the hook.

Picking the Right Float Shape

brook trout on float and jigbrook trout on float and jig

Float shape also affects buoyancy and sensitivity, but in different ways, and the best shape often depends on the setting and conditions.

Pencil- and cigar-style floats reveal everything that happens beneath the surface and excel for light-biting fish. They don’t handle current or wind as well as plumper shapes, though, and will suspend only small amounts of weight, relative to their size.

Round floats are the opposite, handling heavier offering and more challenging conditions much better but offering less sensitivity for revealing what’s happening beneath the surface. If you’re fishing a big live shiner or drifting bait in tidal current and expecting decisive takes, the pros of a round float far outweigh the cons.

In between shapes, like a pear style, not surprisingly, fall in-between with strengths and weaknesses and arguably provide a suitable option for the widest range of situations. Additionally, pear floats rock in place more effectively than other shapes, making this shape very well suited for working a jig very slowly through an area and keeping it in the strike zone.

Different Float Configurations

Two primary variances define the most significant differences in float configuration: set float vs. slip float and unweighted float vs. weighted float.

Set floats, also called fixed floats, are clipped on the line in a fixed position and do the job well anytime you want to suspend the bait less than 3 or 4 feet deep. Primary advantages of set floats are simple rigging, which includes easy removal if you want to make some casts without a float or want to change sizes. They also work best for presenting jigs at a prescribed depth because the line doesn’t pull through the float.

A slip float slides on the line, sliding up until it reaches a bobber stop, which is positioned to determine the fishing depth. Prior to a cast, the float rests on your hook or split shot, whether it is rigged to fish 4 feet deep or 40 feet deep, allowing you to cast effectively and make deeper presentations at a controlled depth.

In terms of weighed or unweighted floats, unweighted is the default setting and what most anglers use the most often. A weighted float provides extra casting weight for fishing in the wind and for making longer and more accurate casts with light offerings and can be used to deliver very light offerings, like flies, that otherwise could not be cast with a spinning or spincasting rod. Weighted floats also sit lower in the water column and maximize sensitivity while minimizing resistance felt by fish, making them good choices for tentative, light-biting fish.

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