A slip float stands at attention in the springtime shallows, ready for a bite. (Simonson Photo)
By Nick Simonson
There’s a sort of silent excitement in watching the chartreuse top and orange spindle point of a slip float slide under the surface of the water, knowing (or maybe not knowing) exactly what comes next. The sweep of the rod tip to set the hook, the protesting pull on the other end and the back-and-forth that follows, with the float serving as the metaphorical handkerchief tied to the rope in a tug-of-war between man and fish. Whether it’s for springtime crappies, summer walleyes, or even muskies in late autumn, employing slip floats for many species can be the most effective way to present a bait from the surface.
The Set Up
Slip floats come in a variety of shapes, sizes and compositions, but for the most part they are either plastic, foam or balsa, capitalizing on the buoyancy of those materials to provide a compact, castable package that easily suspends whatever bait is positioned below it. Above the float, a bobber-stop and a bead provide the brace on the line that sets the depth at which the bait will be presented. Bobber-stops are primarily yarn, tied in a snell-type knot that tightens along the main line, and are easily threaded over it; though sometimes rubber stops are employed depending on the size of the float or an angler’s preference. The tag ends of a yarn stop can be trimmed so the knot easily goes through rod guides and onto the reel for casting and retrieval. Below the bobber-stop, a bead is used to widen its stopping impact, especially with larger floats that have more open centers for the line to go through. Remember “stop-bead-float” for the order of components, and assembly on the water will go smoothly.
Below the float is the all-important payload. A typical set up will be a split shot, or series of split shot, above a chosen hook and bait. The presentation can be adjusted based on the mood of the fish, or the species being angled for. For an active presentation, the weight can be moved up the line from the hook, say 12- to 18-inches. This allows a minnow to move more freely in the water, or a leech to undulate more naturally. The closer the split shot is to the hook, the less the bait will be able to move. A good idea, when putting a slip float set up together, is to get the stop, bead and bobber in place, and pinch the first split shot on the line, that way nothing slides off or interferes with tying on of the hook.
On the water, slip float set ups provide great flexibility for anglers, and the ability to adjust the depth of the rig is its hallmark. When fishing shallow waters for pre-spawn panfish, the bobber stop can be slid down the line toward the hook. When fishing deeper waters for walleyes or trout, open the bail and slide the stop up the line so the bait is at the desired depth. Check the tightness of the stop from time to time and after each fish to make sure it stays put in the desired position.
For picky fish, add an extra split shot above the hook. This counteracts more of the float’s buoyancy, and eliminates some of the unnatural resistance when a fish takes the bait. It can be a process of trial-and-error, and might take a couple sizes of split shots to figure out the perfect arrangement. Just make sure enough of the float is still above the surface so it can still be seen with the added weight below it.
Additionally, the hook on a slip float set up can be replaced with a number of jigs or even soft-plastic options for a variety of species. Try substituting a 1/32 ounce jig and silver tube for suspended crappies and schooling white bass. The slightest ripple on the surface of the water will cause the bait to dance and jiggle wherever it is positioned in the water column, giving off a natural vibe. A slightly larger jig of krystal flash, bucktail or marabou can be used for smallmouth bass, and this “float-n-fly” presentation, as it’s known, is a great way to target fall bronzebacks. Even larger plastics, such as five-inch Senkos or other sinking worms, can be wacky-rigged on a circle hook under a slip float and cast out around structure or vegetation for largemouth bass. To trigger the subtle wiggle of the bait, simply lift the line up and let it fall back through the float in each new position on the retrieve; the circle hook will prevent any deep-hooking when a bucketmouth inhales the offering.
Slip floats are inexpensive, versatile and by far the best way to present a bait from the surface. They are easily modified for a number of species, and make for fast fishing and exciting memories when they pop, slide, or slip silently below the surface of any water…in our outdoors.