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Use Floats for Better Trout Fishing Presentations

Fishing floats with artificial lures can help you catch more trout from creeks and rivers. We’ll examine how floats can enhance your presentations and discuss how to maximize their effectiveness.

float rig trout catchfloat rig trout catch

With too many trout following my lures but turning away, I decided it was time for significant change. I’d already experimented with the crankbaits, minnow baits, spoons and jigs that normally work best for me – all with similar results. I’d also noted a fair number of small insects hatching, with trout sipping on them.

I walked out of the stream and to my car and grabbed a box of flies. I replaced the lure on the end of my line with a Prince Nymph that matched the size of most bugs I’d been seeing, added a small split shot 8 inches above the fly and clipped a small, weighted float about 3 feet up from the fly. I tucked the fly box into a vest pocket and walked back to a spot in the stream where I’d seen several fish but caught none.

You probably know what happened next. It was like flipping a switch, and I spent the rest of the day catching and releasing trout after trout. Experimenting until you unlock a pattern isn’t unusual with trout. Switching to flies without picking up a fly rod isn’t so common. The key to that strategy working was the float, which provided necessary casting weight and facilitated natural drifts through the key zone.

Float Advantages

fly on spinning rodfly on spinning rod

It should be no surprise that floats provide benefits for presenting flies and other lightweight offerings for trout in streams. Most strike indicators, which fly anglers commonly pair with nymphs and other wet fly patterns, are functionally just floats, controlling presentation depths and transmitting what is happening at the business end.

A spin-fisherman’s float likewise controls depth, allowing for targeted presentations in the key zone, and reveals when a trout grabs the bait. In addition, a float provides the weight needed for sufficiently long and accurate casts with lightweight offerings. Beyond opening the option to drift flies, a float facilitates longer casts and better presentations of tiny jigs, spoons and more.

Depth control is a critical element for many trout fishing scenarios. Trout commonly feed just off the bottom and without a float on the line it’s extremely difficult to fish many sinking baits at the speed of the current and keep them near the bottom without being on the bottom, where they get hung.

A properly set float allows you to drift the bait very naturally just off the bottom, in the primary ambush zone for many feeding fish. In pools and other low-current area, you can reel slowly or use rod sweeps or twitches to add action to your offering and cover water while keeping the presentation slow and the bait in the strike zone.

Lure Options

baits to drift beneath a floatbaits to drift beneath a float

Small jigs pair exceptionally well with floats. A few of my favorites for stream trout are a Lindy Little Nipper, a Bobby Garland Itty Bit Slab Hunt’R on a 1/32-ounce or smaller jighead and a Bobby Garland Mayfly. I generally favor baits that have natural profiles and built-in subtle action when drifted, as opposed to those that have active swimming tails and that need to be reeled to fully engage the action.

A small spoon provides a nice element of flash, but not just any spoon will work. Many need to be swam or lifted and dropped to have any appeal. The smallest size of the Lindy Quiver Spoon – a bait designed for ice fishing – lends itself exceptionally well to drifting. This very lightweight spoon, which is only 1 inch long, flutters with the slightest movement and comes to life as a rig drifts and the float hits even the slightest riffle.

As noted previously, the capability to fish flies without having to switch fishing outfits and techniques is one of the real benefits of adding a float. Nymph patterns are designed to be drifted at the same speed as a current to imitate aquatic insect nymphs and larvae being carried downstream. The best nymph pattern and size varies based on in the insects the fish are feeding on and the stream’s character, but you can’t go wrong with a few generalist, buggy nymphs, like Hare’s Ears, Prince Nymphs and Pheasant Tails, along with a few stonefly and caddis patterns.

Other flies that work great beneath a float are San Juan Worms, bright attractor type egg pattern, and Woolly Buggers. With the Buggers, you’ll want to set the depth just a bit deeper and add some rod pulls to engage extra action.

Gear Consideration

fly box and floatfly box and float

For floats, choose the smallest one that will keep your offering suspended and provide enough weight to deliver your bait accurately. If you’re fishing with a jig that has sufficient casting weight, unweighted floats are best, so you don’t have two weights flopping in the air. For flies, micro jigs and tiny spoons, a weighted float works better.

Foam Floats are light and durable when you invariably bounce them off rocks and are cost efficient, which can be a consideration in snaggy rivers where you’ll sometimes lose rigs. Round floats maximize buoyancy for their size and are helpful in strong currents, but narrow cigar sorts offer minimal resistance and drift smoothly. Pear-shape floats fall in between and lend themselves better to rocking the float to add action to the bait.

Deep rivers might call for slip floats to facilitate casting. If manageable, though, set floats work better for most situations because baits are often too light to pull line through a slip float fast enough to work the proper zone.

Light line – typically 4- or 6-poud test – works best for this application, with monofilament being far better than fluorocarbon because the sinking nature of fluoro creates substantially more drag and make natural drifts harder to execute.

If your line is on the heavy end, and you want to drift a small fly, you might need to add a bit of light tippet to your line. Fly related, a small split shot or two is sometimes needed to keep your fly in the primary zone.

A 7- or 7 1/2-foot light action spinning rod works well for drifting float rigs. The extra length facilitates casting a rig when the float might be set three or four feet from the float and makes it easier to control the line and keep it out of faster or slower currents, which can cause unnatural drag.

Float Rig Presentations

drifting a float rig for troutdrifting a float rig for trout

The default presentation is to cast upstream of a likely fish-holding zone and let the current do the delivery work. Watch the float continuously and set the hook if it does anything unusual. Trout often grab an offering and keep moving in the same direction and let go if it feels at all unnatural. If you wait for the float to dart under, you’ll miss a lot of strikes and potential catches.

Line management arguably presents the greatest challenge. As the rig drifts toward you, it’s important to retrieve line at the same pace – not dragging the rig toward you but keeping the line tight enough to allow for a quick hookset. If the rig is drifting downstream, away from you, feed line for the same reasons.

As much as the situation allows, use your rod position to keep your main line out of any currents that are faster or slower than the current line your float is in. While mono doesn’t drag as severely as fly line, it can influence the speed and direction of your drift, which is a red flag for fussy trout. Mono also can’t be mended as well as fly line, but an occasional snap of the rod will pull out slack and restart a natural drift.

If the fish aren’t responding to dead drifts, experiment with little twitches or sweeps to trigger strikes. Also experiment with your offerings and with depth. If you aren’t snagging your bait from time to time, you probably aren’t fishing deep enough. As with so many angling situations, the fish will let you know when you get it right!

Not Only for Trout