Steelhead Bobber Tackle & Rigging

Bobber or Float Fishing is effective and a pleasant way to fish for Steelhead in all seasons.  It is very effective for trout or any game fish in holding in current that is not a strict bottom feeder.  You will loose much less tackle to snags than the popular and also very effective bottom bouncing method.  The keys to success are:  #1 setting the depth right, frequently inches above the bottom,  #2 Struggling to slow the bobber down so its speed more closely matches the slower current near the bottom where the fish are, #3 What bait, jig, fly or bead you use and any action you add to it make a difference.  An attractive bait or lure can draw the fish from further away and may get you more leeway on depth and quality of your drift.


Rods  Long medium to medium light action spinning rods popular for bottom bouncing will work very well, 10 to 13 feet would be best.  Longer rods let you hold more line off of the water and control your drift better, particularly if longer casts and far out drifts are needed.  If you are using one of the superline fused fiber lines that are very thin, strong and have no shock absorbing stretch, the rod should be long and soft enough to make a deep bend while fighting a fish.  This extra shock absorption will reduce the fish's chance of breaking off or ripping out the hook.  

Reels  Spinning or Center Pin are the main choices, they have complementary virtues.  Spinning Tackle cast further.  If the fish are aggressive toward what I am using, the added difficulty of getting a good drift on a long cast may not matter.  Jigs tied like a fly or used to impale a small rubber worm may be a good fit because when you are not getting the best drift, your lure is swimming around near the bottom which can be fine with a jig lure that they want.  Jigs get straight down to the strike zone quickly and stay there better when the drift is erratic.   

Spinning reels won't twist the line from casting but will twist the line when the drag goes out.  It is harder to regain line forcefully against a fish because the extra friction against the line roller and rod guides make the drag turn the spool and twist up the line.  This is a critical problem with thinner, limper super lines.  Monofilament is thicker and stiffer and if you just let the terminal tackle hang for 10 seconds before casting, all the twists in the mono above the bobber will unwind.  A reel with a wider diameter spool will twist line a little less as the drag goes out.  Any coiling memory of the line will be less of a problem.

Center Pin won't cast as far for me but will get a more controlled smoother drift which will be better in cold water or if the fish are not biting well.  This is a better bead or egg presentation.  You may not get smooth drag resistance when fighting against a running fish. My reel has no drag so my drag is never set too tight to help some super hot fish break off on a run.  You can gain line forcefully against a fish by direct drive cranking.  Casting Center Pin tackle will add twists to the line depending on how flawed your technique is.

Main Line  Some new Super Lines are great for big rivers where you may be making long casts.  They are lighter to better hold a lot of line off the water and control your drift.  In big rivers, whether you are using spinning or center pin tackle, you should spend more on one of the new expensive, slick, light, thin, strong, super lines.   These are fused micro fibers more than braids.  Gliss 24lb or PowerPro V2 Slick 20lb are the right thickness and stiffness to not tangle too badly if twisted a little but still cast farther than other lines.  These lines float fairly well on the surface and are lighter than Monofilament so you can better hold more line of the water to control your drift.  Expect to spend $25 to $30 for 150 yards of line.  Choose a very visable color if available.  These lines are more than strong enough for reasonable leaders and you can expect to NEVER lose a bobber! 

You need to prevent Twists from accumulating in your mainline.  As you fish, any twist you are creating get concentrate in the top few feet of thin super line, just where it causes the greatest havoc while you fish.  Try to fight fish on spinning tackle with the minimum of drag slippage particularly when fighting to regain line.  For center pin tackle you need casting technique that results in very little twist added to your line.  I find that after a full day fishing, I always have to cut back the top 10 feet of the worn and most twisted line and retie to be prepared for the next day's fishing.  Occasionally, maybe once every couple of days, you need to cut off all the terminal tackle and get all the twists out of your line.  Let a long length of mainline hang in the current, then retrieve it onto the reel while pinching the line to encourage the twist to work off the free end.  At home you can repeatedly strip off 15 or more yards of line onto the floor, then repeatedly reel in back onto the spool while pinching the incoming line tightly to encourage the twist to work off the free end of the line.

Mono Mainline  is in many ways more pleasant to fish with,  for lighter tackle and shorter cast it would be a good choice.  10 pound nylon monofilament Raven Float Line is economical, floats well, is soft with no coil memory and stretches for good shock absorption.  It is mostly strong enough for light leaders 2X or 3X leaders (0.009 or 0.008 inch diameter).  It breaks a little too easily, abrades easily and weakens in sunlight.  I would not use it anymore where loosing bobbers is a problem.   8 pound Raven mono is great for targeting trout or white fish with  smaller floats and short casts using light 3X or 4X leaders(0.008 or 0.007 inch).  12lb Raven might work well in small rivers, it is strong enough but to heavy to cast as far or control long drifts as well.

Leaders should be quality Fluorocarbon and between 2X and 1X for most steelhead (0.009 to 0.010 inch respectively).  Diameter +  X number add up to 11 thousandths of and inch.  Diameter is critical, the Physics works out that a 10% increase in diameter means a 21% increase in crosse section area and strength!  1.1 x 1.1 = 1.21    Any Seagar is great and 200yds of Red Label 8lb is the most economical choice and is good enough in big water with lots of room for all but big, hot steelhead in strong current.  Sun Line FC Sniper comes in more diameter choices to better match any condition.  Lots of good quality fluorocarbon choices out there, learn the diameter you need and buy accordingly.  I would choose something made in Japan and never buy a Berkley product.

Leader length is more critical if you are not using bait, I like a little over 3 feet.

Which Bobber?   11 gram bobbers work well for big water and long cast.  Larger floats may even be better.   Smaller floats would be more stealthy in smaller streams.  The type where rubber sleeves holds the mainline to both a top and bottom post are simple to rig.   You need to have your line come off the top of the bobber to keep more line off the water and control your drift better.

Slip Bobbers have no protruding top post to catch on another fisherman's line who might cast across your line while standing down stream from you.  Slip bobbers are more involved to rig because you need a tiny bead and a bobber stop knot above the float and sometimes another stop some distance below the float.  I use a very tiny split shot for my lower bobber stop.  You want a simpler rig if loosing bobbers is a consideration here.  The slip bobber is free to slide a few inches up or down the mainline, the first few inches of a hook set hit the fish quicker and harder.   

Knots  Typically the mainline below the bobber is tied to a small swivel 8mm or 9mm long 3/8 inch.  This knot is what keeps you from loosing your float if you have to pull off a snag.  I use a double line, improved clinch knot here.  If you mainline is in danger of breaking tie this knot well and retie it occasionally discarding the first few feet of mainline which suffers a lot of wear and tear abrasion from casting.

For mono like 10lb Raven, a double line improved clinch knot with 5 turns works well to tie to the top swivel.  Lube up all knots before carefully pulling them so they set evenly and very tight. For the thinner, slicker Fused Super Lines I use a double line, 6 turn improved clinch knot.  

For the 10lb or 12lb Fluorocarbon Shot Line to the top swivel a 6 or 5 turn improved clinch knot to the top swivel is fine.  Its a good thing if this breaks before you lose the bobber but you want it stronger that the knots to your slightly thinner leader.  Around 2 feet of shot line is convenient in deep water to have more flexibility to adjust your shot spacing relative to the distance to your fly, jig or bait. In shallower water you may need to cut it back to 12 inches to be able to set your float shallow enough.

Terminal Tackle in general  The more the fish want whatever bait or lure you are offering, the further they will move to take it and the less precise your tackle and presentation need to be.  For fish in heavily fished popular spots, you may well need some very desirable offering along with precise tackle and presentations.   For beginners trying bobbers, bait or jigs tipped with bait are probably the best choice.  For bottom bouncing, getting you offering to the right depth is largely automatic.  The sinker bouncing on the bottom also jiggles enticingly whatever fly you might want to try.  

Under a bobber, most flies are pretty dead.  I tap the  bobber once every 3 or 4 feet of drift.

Leader Material is the critical link between you and your fish.  It has to be Fuorocarbon and thin enough to get the bite but strong enough to land the fish. Terminal Knots have to be at least as strong or stronger than a six turn improved clinch knot.  A well tied lubricated improved clinch knot's strength is about 80 something %, never 98%.  A 6 turn improved clinch knot is easiest and good enough for egg flies, or trailer hooks for behind a bead.  Harder knots that are stronger include: San Diego Jam 6 turns, Uni Knot 5 or 6 turns, Fishing Fool knot (twice through the eye Uni Knot) or a snell knot  

 Loop Knot is better for any fly or jig that represents something that moves.  A figure 8 loop is easy and quick, but wastes 4 inches of leader, Rapala and Kreh loop knots are also strong but harder to tie.  A challenge with loop knots in general is that they are harder to tie and pull tight and still get a loop smaller than 1/4 inch.  An "extra turn" figure 8 is very strong.  It is the same as a 2 full turns (four (1/2) turns) spider hitch and is  definitely stronger than the improve clinch knot. 

Tying the Figure 8 Loop, a double line knot 

  • 1)  Put 4 inches of lead through the eye, double it back along the standing line
  • 2)  Pinch the 2 lines closer together to get the loop narrower at the eye
  • 3)  Cross the fly end of the double line across the doubled line forming a 1 inch long, double line loop
  • 4)  Circle the fly end around the standing double line for 1 full turn and push the fly through the 1 inch formed loop.  If you did 1/2 turn it makes an simple overhand knot loop, it should should look like a figure 8 shaped knot.
  • 5)  Shrinking down the figure 8 loop, you will use the eye of your fly as a temporary tool.  Insert the eye of the fly into the lobe of the "8" nearest the fly.  Pull double line back against the eye of the fly "snagged" in the knot. Pull the double line out of the knot as the lobe of the eight tightens around the eye of the fly. Pull more double line out to shrink the knot down as much as possible. 
  • 6 Extract the eye of the fly form the lobe of the knot, spit lube up the knot and pull both ends of the double line to tighten the loop.

Another tiny swivel or a tiny leader ring can be the link to connect shot line to lighter leader with easy knots.

Surgeon Knots are double line knots.  Here we will join two sections of monofilament having different diameters.  Examples:  Thicker Shot line to leader line, Leader to thicker bite leader.  A 3 turn surgeon not is pretty good, about = strength to a 6 turn improved clinch knot.  A 4 turn knot can be stronger but is harder to tie and to keep the double lines parallel and tighten it right.

  • 1)  lay 6 inches of the 2 lines parallel beside each other
  • 2)  grip  both lines near the Standing line side of the double line, which is connected to some large object, a reel or a fishing rod
  • 3) form a one inch loop with the double line and about 1.5 inches of double line free.  There should be 3 feet of additional leader also free.
  • 4) take these free ends, keep them parallel and feed them all the way through the formed 1 inch loop.  Repeat for a total of 2 to 4 passes through the 1 inch loop.
  • 5)  Pull this as tight as you can keeping a strong grip on both ends of the double line so they remain parallel as the knot tightens.  Do not let one line slip so more of one line comes out of one end of the loop.
  • 6) Spit lube the knot
  • 7) Gradually in stages, get this knot tighter and keep the double lines parallel inside the knot,  start with the heavier line, pull long against short with a soft pull, then the the thinner line short against long with a soft pull.
  • 8) Repeat, first heavy against heavy, long against short with a moderate pull, followed by thin against thin moderate pull
  • 9) Repeat .....Repeat with more force at each stage until the knot is as tight as possible.
  • I have healthy molars which I use to clamp the short end while pulling the long end with my hands.  Works for me with steelhead leaders.  Pliers would be better when tightening down stiff 50lb musky bite leader.

Bobber Stop Knot  for slip bobbers.  Use 30lb braided nylon or similar.  Lay 8 inches along the mainline where you need a bobber stop.  bring one end around to again lay along the main line but now a 1 inch wide loop is formed.  Take one end of the bobber stop line and feed it through this loop while wrapping it one turn around the parallel  main line along the side of the loop.  Do a total of about 4 turns this way.  Pull out both ends of the braided nylon while also pulling out on the main line on both sides of the knot.  The mainline should be straight through the center of the knot which can slide up or down the mail line but with considerable friction.

  • Slide a small plastic bead up onto the mainline below the stop knot.
  • Slide a slip float up the main line
  • Tie your small top swivel to the main line.  A double line Improved Clinch Knot is good for this.

    Split Shot is the easiest and most versatile way to get the right weight in the right place.  Whatever weight system you use, it should sink about 3/4 of the float so only the top 1/4 is floating.  I like one large shot to mostly sink the float clamped on a slightly stronger shot line that is 4 to 5 feet from a jig or a fly.  then a small point shot that is about BB size, a gram or less is usually clamped to the leader about 30 inches or more form the jig or fly.  For the top bead in a 2 bead rig these distances are 12 inches shorter, then another 3 feet of leader from the top bead hook bend to the point bead.  As you retie new lures or hooks on the leader, these shot have to be slid back up to keep these shot back away from your lure.  Distances to bait don't need to be this long.  If you are not getting bites,  move your shot back.

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