Bobbers and floats have been used as a very popular fishing tactic for centuries and still are today. There is no other fishing technique as effective as bobber fishing for catching fish suspended in the water column above potential snags such as weed beds and sunken trees.
But, if you don’t know how to fish with floats and bobbers it can be a little confusing, to begin with as there is a huge range of floats and bobbers on the market and different ways of fishing with them too.
Join me as I run through this beginners guide to floats and bobbers and explain everything about all the different types, how to use them, rig them, and more. Let’s get started!
What Is Bobber And Float Fishing?
Bobber and float fishing involves using a floating device (a float or bobber) which sits on the surface of the water suspending your hook and bait at a given depth in the water column.
You can choose exactly what depth you want your hook and bait to sit at by adjusting the length of line between the bobber/float and the hook. This allows you to adjust it to the perfect depth in order to target fish sitting at a particular depth.
Float and bobber fishing is, without doubt, one of the most effective ways to catch all types of freshwater fish and some saltwater species too.
What Is The Purpose Of A Float Or Bobber?
A float or bobber has two main jobs to do when it comes to catching fish: floating your bait at a given depth and acting as a bite indicator.
Floats and bobbers are always made out of a material that floats such as plastic, cork, wood, or foam. This ensures that it stays on the water’s surface in order to suspend your baited hook at your desired depth.
Floats and bobbers also come with a touch of high-vis paint on the indicating tip. This is so that you can easily see them on the surface and react appropriately when you get a bite. When a fish bites your float or bobber rig, the float or bobber will be pulled down and under the surface.
This is a sign that you have a bite and it is time to set the hook, but this will take some practice as differentiating a big bite from a nibble takes some time. Nevertheless, the float or bobber is doing its job as a bite indicator.
What’s The Difference Between A Float & A Bobber?
The term bobber is a term from the USA and it usually describes a round-shaped float which is more commonly used in the US than anywhere else. The term float comes from Europe and it usually describes a thinner long float which looks very different from a bobber.
In layman’s terms, the bobber and float are essentially the same things. They are a way to describe a device that floats on the surface to suspend your bait and indicate a bite. That being said, other anglers would very much disagree. I personally use both the terms, all anglers interchange the name.
Types Of Fishing Floats/Bobbers
Considering both floats and bobbers come in a variety of shapes and sizes these days, let’s just agree that floats and bobbers are attached to the fishing line and used as a visual indicator. When the float moves about or goes under the water this tells the angler the fish has taken the baited hook, and you can strike and hook the fish.
Now let’s take a look at all the types of floats/bobbers and when it’s good to use them.
Bubble floats are short and round floats that are clear in colour but are also very popular in a red and white color. They are perfect for use in crystal clear water when targeting spooky fish since they are clear and harder for the fish to see.
Bubble floats are very light and therefore you can not cast them too far, usually around 20 feet depending on how much weight you add below them or the lure you use underneath them.
This style of fishing float is very effective for fish like bluegill, trout, crappies, roach, perch and rudd. You can either add a baited hook below with some split shot to ensure it sinks or you can fish a lure or jig under it.
To be clear these floats are not the best bite indicators and you will need to keep your eyes on it closely as it is easily lost on the surface. Also, a bite won’t be overly obvious either considering it is a round float so you have to watch very carefully for any movement.
This is a great float to use when fishing shallow up in the water of around 2 to 4 feet as it won’t spook the fish.
The waggler is one of the most popular used fishing floats anglers use. This float is very versatile and can be used for both still water fishing and river fishing.
Waggler floats can be either a ‘straight’ or ‘bodied’ type.
The straight waggler looks like a solid straw and is usually made from clear plastic. These are often called crystal wagglers.
The bodied waggler is similar to the straight waggler but has a bulbous body at the bottom of the float that aids its stability in windy conditions. Wagglers can be attached using a silicon rubber sleeve or through the eye at the base of the float and locked in place using two split shots on the line.
Waggler floats also come in loaded or unloaded types. A loaded waggler has additional weight added into the float stem which allows you to cast further with minimal additional shot on your line.
Waggler floats are perfect to detect any bites from subtle to big and therefore it is an excellent float to use when finesse fishing. When the fish are being shy and sipping your bait in a way that you can not even tell, this is the float you want to use.
To use this float properly you will need to add some split shot to the line under the float in order for the waggler float to stand tall making it easy to see. The size of the float will dictate how much weight you will need to make the float stand up and it should tell you just how much you will need.
This is a great float to use when fishing with small baits like maggots or corn for smaller species like crappie, bluegill, roach, rudd, perch, tench and many more.
When it comes to how far you can cast with this float it totally depends on how much weight you add to it and the weight of your bait. You can probably cast it out about 30 feet on average. You can also fish this float in deeper water of up to 20 feet using a slider knot as it is very bite sensitive.
Lastly, the waggler can be used for a method called laying-on very effectively, using a single SSG shot a few inches from the hook.
A pellet waggler is a variation of the traditional waggler. It typically is around 4” to 6” long, and much wider in diameter (up to ¼” to ⅜” inch) than a normal waggler. It is heavily loaded at the base of the float.
These factors allow the float to be easily cast longer distances and used at shallow depths of around 12” to 24” inches for carp feeding near to the surface. This method of fishing is very effective in the warmer months from May to September.
A stick float is almost always used in rivers where there is a flow on the water. This method is called the “trotting” method and works well for slow and fast-moving water.
The stick float looks a bit like the waggler float except its floatation bulb sits close to the top of the float instead of at the bottom. This means only a small section of the top will be showing above the water’s surface once you have loaded it up with enough split shots.
The top of the float is painted red or orange usually so you can see when you get a bite. This style of float is very sensitive to bites and is excellent to use when the fish are being shy. Once you have added the correct amount of split shot below the float you can fish it with bait or with a small jig.
When it comes to casting distance, the stick float is pretty solid and you can push it around 30 feet or more if you like. It is also good to use in shallow and deeper water ranging from 2 feet all the way up to 10 feet.
This is the perfect float to use for carp, crappie, trout, roach, perch, and other smaller freshwater species too.
Predator floats are also referred to as cigar floats and they are a little different from all the others as they are made from foam and are in the shape of a cigar instead of being round or long and thin.
These floats are designed to be incredibly buoyant so that you can use them with dead baits or live baits and they won’t pull the float under. This is also how they got the name predator floats since you are targetting species like pike, muskie, and more.
You can fish your dead or live bait between 3 and 30 feet underneath a predator float and once you have thrown the bait out, you can watch the float as your bait swims or as it drifts around but doesn’t sink it.
When watching the float with live bait on it, pay particular attention to when the bait starts swimming nervously as chances are there is a predator waiting to eat it.
These floats are also designed for casting long distances and this is handy considering you might want to get your live or dead bait way out into the deep. It’s also a great float to use when saltwater fishing for big predators too.
A chubber float is a long float that is quite fat and chubby, hence the name. It is designed to only have a tiny quarter-inch section of float sticking out of the water as a bit indicator when properly weighted.
By having such a small amount of float sticking out the surface, every tiny bite is detectable as the float will simply disappear no matter what size fish ends up biting your bait. This makes it perfect to use with small species like roach, chub, barbel and crappies or with subtle biters like carp.
You can cast this float a fair distance and it is good for use in water between 3 and 10 feet. You should fish it with a hook and bait only as chances are the movement of a jig or lure will give you a false bite alarm.
Pole floats look a lot like stick floats except they are much smaller, thinner, and designed for use with poles only. Being so small and since you don’t need to cast them, you can use them with very light line and tiny baits to detect the subtlest of bites.
There are dozens of different sizes, body shapes, stems, bristles and colours available from several quality manufacturers of pole floats. Anglers always seem to build up a huge amount of different ones over the years, and just like lures, their tackle boxes end up full with them!
The most common pole float is the body up type, which is used by many match anglers for commercial fishing.
You can read more great articles on poles and pole accessories here!
Using a Slip Or Fixed Bobber/Float
When you rig up your bobber/float you have a choice as to whether to use it as a fixed float or a slip float.
A slip float involves using a bobber stopper above the float which stops the float from moving up the main line. The great thing about this setup is that you can adjust the depth of your bait in a matter of seconds.
All you need to do is unclip the bobber stopper and then move your float up or down the main line, and put the bobber stopper back on at your exact desired depth.
Using a fixed float involves rigging your float by tying it onto the line. This means the float is fixed and in order to adjust the depth, you will have to re-rig your entire setup which can take a few minutes.
I personally would always opt for using a slip float as it gives you the option to work different depths quickly to find where the fish are feeding actively. Slip floats are very effective when fishing at deeper depths where your fishing rod is shorter than the depth.
Picking The Right Size Float/Bobber
You always want to use the smallest float/bobber as possible. If you use a bobber that is too big you will scare fish and miss a load of bites, also larger bobbers create more resistance when the fish take the bait which isn’t natural and you will catch fewer fish because of this.
If your bobber/float is too small, it will sink without getting bitten, so you will need to go a size or two up in order to keep it floating until a fish bites.
A key item in choosing the right size float is the distance that you want to cast, smaller floats will not cast as far and will restrict the areas you may want to fish unless you switch floats to a heavier one.
Thank you very much for reading my article. I hope you enjoyed it and now know everything you need to in order to catch fish effectively using a bobber/float. Just remember to choose the right kind of float and the right size too.
Please share the article with your fishing buddies, leave a question or comment below, and take a look at some of our articles for Beginners which are full of tips on a complete range of topics.
Steve is a seasoned angler whose lifelong passion for fishing has not only shaped his personal life but also laid the foundation for Positive Fishing—a community where he and his team of dedicated fishing enthusiasts share their love for the sport. With an impressive repertoire of skills honed over five decades, Steve has mastered both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Steve holds a special place in his heart for the mighty Carp and the elusive Tench