Ice Fishing Floats Make A Curtain Call
Ice Fishing Floats Make A Curtain Call
By Noel Vick
As the antiquated saying goes, “What’s old is new.” Another one contests, “Whatever goes around comes around.” In both fishing and fashion, what this means is that popular and proven things inevitably fade from the limelight, only to regain their prominence at a later date. Such are the circumstances with bobber fishing on ice.
In the words of On Ice Tour cofounder Chip Leer, “Float fishing has come full circle.”
“As kids, we started fishing with bobbers. As adults we abandoned them in favor of jigging. But I believe it’s time to revisit float fishing and incorporate it into modern day ice fishing.”
Chip’s partner, professional angler Tommy Skarlis puts it this way; “In order to be the complete ice angler, you cannot afford to neglect foundational tactics like float fishing. I also want to make a distinction between bobbers and floats. Bobbers – you know the red and white plastic jobbers – bob on the surface. Floats are part of system that presents bait in a natural way and with the least amount of resistance.”
Bobbers on the Ice…Tried and True
There have always been undeniable merits to bobber fishing. No matter if you’re a seasoned mobile angler and use bobbers as they best apply, or prefer the simplicity of babysitting a single hole and bobber, these concepts hold true:
The Fundamentals of Rigging
- Bobber fishing is the definitive means of “controlled depth angling”.
- Bobbers are used to catch every species of fish, fresh and saltwater.
- Bobbers present live bait in the most natural way possible.
- Bobber rigs stimulate responses from inactive fish that refuse to strike jigs and spoons.
- Bobber rigs are simple to use, easy to rig, and inexpensive.
- Bobbers are a great way to introduce a kid to fishing.
- In all of fishing, there’s nothing more exhilarating than watching a bobber being dragged beneath the surface!
On Ice Tour’s objective is to explore float fishing in the modern era of ice fishing, but in order to get there we first must outline the basics. Warning: Intermediate to expert ice anglers risk learning a trick or two by reading on…
There are two fundamental types of float rigs. First, you’ve got the fixed float, where the float is fastened to the line at a specific distance from the bait – ideal for ice fishing in five feet of water and less. Then there’s the slip-float, where the fishing line actually passes, or slips, through the float until hitting what’s known as a “bobber-stop”.
The basic slip-float, from top to bottom, consists of a bobber-stop (controls depth), in-line bead (keeps the bobber-stop from sticking inside the bobber’s shaft), the float itself (holds everything up), shot, which is the weight (pulls the bait down and maintains balance – more on balance in a minute), and lastly, the lure or hook (tool used to dupe fish and firmly stick in their jaws).
With a fixed float, the bobber-stop and bead are eliminated and the float is fastened directly to the line.
Thill’s Ice ‘N Fly floats are ideal because they’re designed to operate as both a slip-float and a fixed float; a wooden peg quickly converts it from a slipped to fixed presentation.
Float Fishing Tricks
Equilibrium: A truly balanced float will sink by adding the tiniest amount of weight. After tying on a hook or lure, pinching on shot, and sticking on live bait, your bobber should be barely strong enough to keep the package afloat. This way, fish experience little or no resistance while pulling the float under.
Try to match float size to the conditions at hand, smaller ones for panfish and bigger versions for walleyes, pike, etc. But it’s entirely possible to make an oversized float work in any circumstance by adding the correct amount of weight.
The Deadly Drop: Tommy really enjoys taunting panfish. Positioned over a school of sunfish or crappies, he loads up just enough Thill Double Cut Soft Shot to make his float and bait sink, ever so slowly, through the pod of fish. He knows there’s something-fishy going on if the float shifts sideways, stops, or begins plunging downward.
Minnow on a Leash: Minnow control is an important aspect of float fishing. Chip is able to manage a minnow’s “swim range” by modifying the distance between the hook and shot. When fish are aggressive or Chip’s trying to draw fish in, he builds at least a one-foot gap between the shot and bait. Inversely, when they’re off or tightlipped, he shrinks that distance – shortens the leash – to six-inches or so. This rigging method works with everything from crappie minnows to decoy suckers.
Applying a Swivel: Tying a barrel-type swivel 12 to 18-inches above your hook/lure eliminates line twist. Additionally, you have the ability to present a different line weight than what is fixed on your spool.
For instance, six and eight-pound monofilament is easy to handle, but choosy fish might bock at it, so Chip and Tommy fix lighter, less visible line below the swivel. Berkley Vanish and Micro Ice are two fantastic fishing lines for making finesse snells.
Hole Hopping Panfish: Shallow weed and timber-oriented panfish are a specialty of Tommy’s; after all, he is an Iowa native. One of Tommy’s leading tools for plucking panfish out of three to eight feet of water is a hefty fixed float teamed with a wax worm loaded jigging spoon. Noisy Lindy Rattl’r Spoons and Northland Buck-Shot Rattle Spoons are perfect for this aggressive panfish tactic.
Tommy raises the float six inches to a foot and jiggles it with authority. He then plunks it right back down, lets it lie motionless, and watches for Gulpers. Nothing? Tommy moves on to another hole. This technique is tailor-made for cherry picking vicious slab crappies and bullish palm-sized bluegills.
Marrying a Dropline and Float: Ice anglers use droplines to catch everything from perch to lake trout. In ice fishing, the basic dropline consists of a de-hooked vertical spoon followed by a hunk of fishing line and a plain hook or lure. It’s designed to “flash” fish in and at the same time offer a natural and more edible morsel – droplines are amazing!
Chip and Tommy incorporate dropline tactics with float fishing. It’s simple. Instead of affixing shot and a hook beneath a float, tie in a dropline. The attraction is twofold. You get the pageantry of a jigging spoon and the ingrained triggering capability of live bait. The boys have found that Northland’s glitzy Fire-eye Minnow and System Tackle’s Pow’r Dart, which features a beaded chain and propeller, make superior dropline spoons.
Adding Color: The fundamental bobber rig can be spiced up without adding size and weight. Tommy likes to tie in a couple of colored beads above his hook; experimenting with color combinations is part of the fun. Chip reaches for a pack of Northland Fire-eye Attractor Hooks when he wants to dazzle ‘em.
Ferreting Out Jumbos: Setting your float rig just above or below a marked school of fish oftentimes calls out the aggressors. Likewise, the biggest specimens frequently range at the tops and bottoms of a school.
Keeping the Drive Alive: Knowledgeable jig fishermen put float rigs to use even if they don’t plan on ever hooking fish with one. How’s that? Live bait dangled below a float, especially an enormous minnow, can keep a feeding frenzy going while you’re busy jigging, unhooking, and rebaiting.
As you can see, the float rig presents numerous applications to modern ice anglers. So it makes perfect sense to carry at least one species-specific float-fishing package at all times. And it’s wise to pre-rig before hitting the ice.
Beyond the float, lure, and line factors there’s also a need for quality and suitability in rods and reels. Length, balance, and hook setting power are considerations for choosing a float fishing rod. Dave Genz Signature Lightning Rods make the grade. The 28-inch light action rod is ideal for perch and panfish, while the 30-inch medium action model is better fitted for gamefish.
On Ice Tour is pleased to announce the arrival of Abu Garcia’s miniature Agenda, which is the smallest reel available with instant anti-reverse – perfect for spooling up two and four-pound lines. Instant anti-reverse ensures immediate contact when you go to set a float rig – no clumsy handle spinning backwards; Agendas come in seven different sizes.
Float fishing is in the midst of a renaissance. And modern ice anglers shouldn’t shun its resurgence, because with a flare of creativity and preparedness, you’ll be glad this age- old tactic is swinging back around.
On Ice Tour is an intensive effort directed at expanding the sport of ice fishing. Cofounders Chip Leer and Tommy Skarlis offer public seminars and kid’s clinics; appear at in-store events; exhibit at sport shows and ice fishing competitions; broadcast a weekly radio show and conduct hands-on product demonstrations. On Ice Tour produces an annual ice fishing publication (On Ice), and they can be found on the Internet at www.onicetour.com