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This page is in response to the many e-mails I've received, asking me about slip bobbers or just fishing in general. Here, then, is all of my knowledge, wisdom, and lore concerning the art of slip bobber fishing. In a highly condensed form, of course. Actually, I make no claim to the title of World's Greatest Angler, or even Houghton Lake's Greatest Angler, but I do have 2 things going for me: 1) Slip bobbers are my favorite fishing method - I use them about 60% of the time - and 2) I do catch a fish every once in a while, when I'm not too busy netting them for my son, the fish hog. We'll start with the basics and move on to specific species. For you impatient souls seeking quick tips (Swamis, even highly condensed ones, are notoriously long winded) here are some quick links to various sections: Rigging, Basic Tips, Bass, Pike, Panfish, Salmon & Trout, Walleyes, Menu.

By the way, if any of you have any knowledge, wisdom, or lore of your own that has somehow evaded the Swami's traplike mind, e-mail me with it and I'll put it on this page with full credit to you. You'll be a published outdoor writer, the envy of all your friends, and have one more reason to go fishing.

 

SLIP BOBBER 101

So, just what is a slip bobber and what does it do? A slip bobber is a float that slides freely along the angler's fishing line. Conventional bobbers - the ones that attach directly to the line - have 3 serious drawbacks: 1) The depth at which they can be set is pretty much limited to the length of the angler's rod because anything more is too difficult to cast with distance or accuracy; 2) Because of their attachment to the line they limit the amount of line that can be reeled up, thus hampering efforts to control fish (especially large ones) in that critical time when you've almost got 'em landed; and 3) Their direct attachment tends to damage line. Slip bobbers solve all 3 of these problems quite nicely. They can be fished at any depth, the line can be reeled all the way to the terminal tackle, and they do not damage line.

For any float to work, there has to be some point at which the float is restrained from movement on the line. As I said, conventional bobbers do this by attaching directly to a fixed point on the line. The key to slip bobbers is that they are not attached directly to the line, but they are limited in moving by a part that is. This part is the line stop or stop knot. A stop knot is small enough to pass easily through rod guides and reel mechanisms, but too large to pass through the stop bead on the slip bobber. The stop knot is snugged tightly enough to resist movement under pressure from the bobber, but can still be moved along the line by the angler if he or she desires a different depth setting. Thus, the angler armed with a slip bobber can fish at any depth and is only limited by the depth of the lake or the amount of line on the spool.

Sound complicated? Relax, it's not. And it's tremendously effective. Let's move on to how you actually set the thing up.

RIGGING

The first thing you have to do is set up your stop knot. Below is a snazzy graphical lesson in how to do just that. For reasons of graphic clarity (or, maybe, photographic incompetence), regular black thread has been used to represent fishing line. The stop knot line is yellow.

1. Thread your line through the plastic tube that holds the stop knot. Give yourself at least a couple of feet of free line.

2. Slide the stop knot off the tube and onto your line. Make sure you slide it off the end of the tube toward your rod tip. Slide the tube off your line and discard it.

3. Slowly and steadily pull both tag ends of the stop knot to tighten it down. When you think it's tight enough, test it. You should be able to slide it under medium (not light) pressure.

4. Clip the tag ends of to 1/16 inch. The final product should look something like this.

Another way to make your own stop knot is out of a piece of scrap mono.  Tie the scrap line on your main line above your slip bobber in 3 overhand knots.  Make it tight enough to stay in place but still be slidable when you want to move it.  Repeat the process on the opposite side of the main line.  Trim the tag ends to 1/16 inch.  The big advantage of this method is that you don't have to tear down your rig to apply it. NOTE: this used to be my favorite method, but using the stop knots I supply with ESB has kind of grown on me. It's still a very useful technique, especially if you find yourself out of stop knots or in the middle of a feeding frenzy.

Ok, the hard part's over. Thread your line through the slip float - on an ESB, this means entering through the glass bead and exiting through the brass tube guard - and tie on your terminal tackle (hook, jig, etc.). It's a good idea to attach a small split shot about a foot above your bait - this will keep the float from sliding off if Big Wally snaps your line at the bait. Now, slide the stop knot to set the depth at which you want to fish. Presto! You now have a fully functional slip bobber rig and all the fish in nearby bodies of water are in mortal jeopardy.

Here's a threading tip from an ESB user:

Hey Leroy,just got my order today for the all orange floats size #1. They are perfect. I have a tip you can pass on for EZ threading through the brass grommet end. I found a product called the Butler Eez Thru floss threaders by G.U.M. products.It's desighed to thread standard floss through bridgework for your teeth. It's similar to your technique by making a loop in a piece of mono, threading it through the top portion of the bead, then pull your line down and through the brass end. This comes with a loop at the end for pulling regular floss through bridgework, but there is no knot attached to where the loop meets and when you pull it through there is no hang up with the knot.I have done it a dozen times and there is no hang up whatsoever. The line is heavy nylon and is perfectly straight I have done it over a dozen times and it works quickly and flawlessly.I hope you can pass this tip on to the other millions of customers to get threaded fast and get in the water. Thanks again for the best slip float I have ever used.

Regards, SH

BASIC TIPS

1) Bait up with whatever they bite on in your area and cast your rig upon the waters. The slip bobber will rest in a more or less horizontal position as your bait sinks and your line slides through it. As soon as it contacts the stop knot, it should assume a vertical position. The length of time that this takes depends on how deep you are fishing and how much terminal weight you are using, but you want the bobber to be vertical because many game fish will carry the bait upward as they strike, causing a vertical bobber to pop up to horizontal. You can't detect this if your bobber is already horizontal, and you may lose a fish because of it. If your bobber doesn't tip to vertical, here are some reasons why: A) Your depth setting is too deep and your bait is resting on the bottom of the lake; B) You are not using enough terminal weight; C) Your bait is hung up on a weed or some other structure; or D) A fish has taken the bait on the way down (more on this later).

2) If your float tips to vertical and immediately sinks, A) You are using too much terminal weight; or B) Fish On!

3) Pay attention. Any movement of the float - down, up, sideways - should be regarded as a fish. If you keep getting strikes while the bait is sinking, the fish are suspended above your depth setting and you should shallow up.

4) When should you set the hook? Swami is a member of the Hit 'Em Now And Hit 'Em Hard school. I have lost far more fish by trying to wait them out than I have by setting the hook with speed and gusto.

5) How big a bobber should you use? Swami says just enough to float your bait. The smaller the bobber, the more sensitive it is and the less the fish can feel it.

6) When you cast, allow your line to remain slack until the bobber tips to vertical. This will help prevent the float from "running up" your line and pulling your bait away from the structure that you casted to.

7) As good as they are, slip bobbers do have a drawback. They are not a "fast" fishing method, so they are probably not your best bet for locating fish. I typically drift or cast until I find actively feeding fish; once I find them, I get out the slip bobbers and clean up on them.

8) The single best piece of advice I can give beginning anglers is Take What The Lake Will Give You. Inspired by Hollywood and TV, too many beginning anglers hit the water with the mind set of "I'm goin' bass fishin' and all I want to catch is bass". These folks miss out on a lot of great fishing. Slab bluegills taking a liking to your crappie minnows? Get 'em! Fishing for walleye but catching smallmouth? By all means, fish for smallmouth - they're more fun, and the walleyes will bite another day. Carp may not be your idea of fine table fare, but they're a heck of a lot of fun and challenging enough for anyone. I think the successful angler is not the one who catches the most fish, but the one who has the most fun fishing.

Next, some techniques I use for specific species.

BASS

The two main bass species, largemouth and smallmouth, have very different habits and habitats. Largemouth tend to favor weedy, warm waters and tend to be territorial ambush hunters - big ones will stake out an area with good cover and forage and not stray far from it except to spawn. Smallmouth favor cooler, clearer waters, and move much more. In lakes with a mixture of habitats, both species can be found. Both species feed by grabbing their prey with a fast strike and gulping it down, but largemouth, by virtue of their "large mouth", can prey on a wider range of forage, which allows them to be more opportunistic (and territorial) than smallmouth.

An effective slip bobber technique for both species is the jig hop. This is similar to a Carolina rig in effect. Set your slip bobber so that it suspends your jig just off the bottom or just over the top of submerged weeds, depending on your lake structure. Reel up any slack you have and sharply "pop" your rod tip about 2 feet. This causes your jig to hop - the slip bobber keeps it from hitting the bottom or entering the weeds. Repeat this for the duration of your retrieve. If the bobber goes down or does not return to vertical between hops, set the hook immediately. This technique is effective along drop offs for smallmouth and over submerged weeds for largemouth.

A favorite method of Southern anglers in search of monster largemouth has long been to suspend a large golden shiner beneath a bobber and fish it on the edges of thick cover. You need a large float for this (size 5 or 6 ESB) to keep the shiner from pulling it under.

Slip bobbers are also effective when used to fish pockets in thick weeds where bass like to hang out. The idea here is to provide yourself with a relatively weedless and precise presentation.

NORTHERN PIKE

Ah, the predator. Even if you don't like pike, you have to be impressed by them. With blinding speed and a mouth full of large, razor sharp daggers, they are the most efficient killing machines in any waters they inhabit. Pike strike with a fury, hitting their prey (which is any living thing small enough for them to eat) in the middle of the body and slicing it open with their huge teeth. The speed of a pike's strike often carries it and it's prey a good 20 feet beyond the initial point of impact. The pike will then stop, spit out the now-dead prey, and swallow it head first. If you're out fishing and start catching pike, there are only 3 options: A) Fish for pike; B) Move; or C) Go home. Most other fish have the sense to not hang around when pike are on the hunt.

The problem with catching big pike is that you have to use big bait to get their interest. Studies have shown that a pike's preferred meal is 1/3 his own size. That 40 inch monster in your lake is dining on 13 inch walleyes. My favorite technique is akin to the southern bass chasers - I like to use 10 inch golden shiners, when I can get them. Use a large float (#6) and suspend the shiner half way between the bottom and the surface. This insures that the shiner will be in a position of maximum visibility. Precise depth setting is not important - if a pike wants your bait, there is very little that will stop him from getting it. A #4 treble is my hook of choice, imbedded in the shiner's dorsal fin. A steel leader is helpful in preventing the pike from cutting your line. When a pike strikes, your float will disappear immediately, and sometimes audibly. Set the hook right now! Don't worry, he's got it, because you hooked your shiner in the middle of it's body and that's where the pike hit it. And hang on.

Pike is actually quite good eating, too, if bony. The white meat is quite firm and tasty.

IMPORTANT TIP: If you've never fished for pike before and are planning on trying it, you need a nice, long pair of needle nose pliers. NEVER put your fingers in a pike's mouth, even a small one, unless you really like stitches.

 

PANFISH

BLUEGILLS AND SUNFISH: These tasty little warm water fish are usually found in areas of good weed cover. They are browsing feeders, moving slowly through the weeds in schools while they pick off insects, shrimp, and small minnows. The little ones will attack a bait with abandon, but the truly large ones feed with great deliberation. Often, they will consider a bait for several minutes before inhaling it without moving. This bite may transmit to the bobber as only a slight rising or settling. They are remarkably good at spitting anything that seems suspicious. The angler pursuing these fish needs to use small hooks, the smallest float possible, and pay strict attention. Bluegills and sunfish will suspend at any depth between the surface and the bottom, and ordinarily will not move much to take a bait, so proper depth setting is critical. Watch carefully for those bites on the drop, and set your depth accordingly. An exception to this cautious behavior is the spawn, when male bluegills and sunfish will vigorously attack anything coming near their nests.

CRAPPIES: Most of the above applies to crappies, with the exceptions that they tend to seek out deeper water, are usually found below the level of light penetration, and feed primarily on minnows. Crappies have a well documented fondness for solid, complex structure like brushpiles. If your lake has brushpiles, that's where you'll find the crappies.

Having said this, let me throw it all out the window with one word: Spring! During early spring, bluegills, sunfish, and crappies all have an uncanny knack for finding the warmest water in the lake. This is not spawning, but pre-spawning, behavior - they're raising their metabolism and gorging themselves to get ready for spawning. Huge schools of them will occupy small warm water pockets. This works to your advantage - not only are they feeding heavily, but competition dictates that they must abandon their usual caution. Find the warm water and you will have some fantastic fishing.

PERCH: Perch are usually found near the bottom of the lake, but they will suspend if actively feeding on suspended minnows. Ordinarily, they are found in areas of sparse bottom weed cover or rocks, feeding on minnows and insects in schools of similar sized fish. As with other panfish, the little ones attack viciously and the big ones hardly let you know that they are there. They can be somewhat selective about bait, but minnows are usually a good bet. Suspend your bait no more than 1 foot off the bottom. In deeper waters it helps to use a low stretch line like FirelineTM .

SALMON AND TROUT

Salmon, when they are in their spawning runs, are suckers for a large gob of cut spawn suspended from a float. Spawn bags work, too, but not quite as well. Conditions vary but, usually, this is pier fishing, at depths of 8 feet or less.

Spawn works well for rainbow and brown trout, too. These fish are very temperature sensitive, preferring water temps in the 50's, so the season is going to have a lot to do with how deep you have to fish them. In the summer, they will usually be just above the thermocline, which could be as much as 70 feet down. In the other 3 seasons, when water temps are colder, they will orient to drops and other structure, making them easier to catch. Put yourself on a drop off and suspend your bait half way between the surface and the bottom, or wherever your fish finder is displaying schools of bait fish. Trout in lakes are moving almost constantly, rainbows even more than browns, and tend to come through in schools. Rainbows will usually hit the bait on a dead run, but browns sometimes like to play with it a while, so this is one instance when you should let the fish run a bit before setting the hook. As I said, spawn works for both species, but I think it works better for rainbows; I prefer blue or grey shiners for browns.

Slip bobbers are also useful for stream steelheading. Floating your bait just above the bottom means far fewer snags and, because the line enters a slip float from the top, it's easier to present a more natural drift. Try this rig: use 4 different sizes of split shot from BB to about #6. Pinch the smallest one on about a foot above your bait and the largest one on about 6 inches below your float. Space the other 2 evenly between the first 2, with the larger one nearer the float. If this all sounds backwards, there's a good reason behind it. River current is faster at the surface than it is at the bottom. What you are trying to accomplish is your bait moving at the same speed or faster than your float. You'll know it's working if your bobber floats at true vertical or with a slight upstream angle. Make short casts and keep your rod tip high to keep the line between your float and rod out of the water. If your float moves, set the hook and hang on. The major mistake that most new steelheaders make is trying to fight the fish too hard - a lot of fish are lost because folks take line too fast and don't have any room for error when the fish makes a serious run. This method has accounted for quite a few of Swami's steelies in the last few years.

Below is a genuine professional tip, submitted by Andy Couch of Fishtale River Guides.

Dear Leroy,

Here's a slip bobber technique that has proven extremely successful for our guide service when fishing Alaska rivers for king and silver salmon. We like to anchor a boat above a long straight run of consistent depth water. Next we adjust the slip bobbers so they will suspend salmon eggs (roe) just a few inches above the bottom. In slower and shallower water the bait can be fished with no weight, while in deeper or quicker runs a few split shot sometimes helps keep the bait near the bottom. After positioning the boat and adjusting our bobber rigs we simply drop the bobbers and bait behind the boat and let the current drift them through the run. It is important to keep the bobber drifting freely with the current, while fishing, because if the reel is engaged the bobber stops and the current kicks the bait up near the surface and away from the primary salmon catching zone.

We like to use large bright-colored bobbers like the size 6 ESB, because they can float a lunker-sized gob of salmon eggs and a couple of split shot while still riding high enough in the water to be visible a considerable distance behind the boat. How far do we let the bobbers drift? On a long straight run we may let more than 100 yards of line run off the reel while fishing. In fact, we've hooked several salmon at the very end of our line, and partially because there is so much stretch in monofilament, we have never broken the line in this situation. However, if you decide to fish to the end of your line it is good idea to have an extra fishing outfit or spare spool of line along just in case.

Advantages for fishing slip bobbers and bait straight behind the boat are: #1. You can fish a large amount of water quickly and thoroughly in a short amount of time, and #2. You do not have to worry about slack line bellying in the current. When a salmon bumps your bait and the bobber starts dancing on the surface, you will usually hook more salmon if you wait until the fish pulls the bobber completely under before setting the hook. In fact, even allowing a little slack line to drift downstream of the bobber before setting the hook can be a good technique, as the downstream belly formed in the line tends to pull the hook back into the corner of the salmon's mouth as it munches on the bait facing the boat. While waiting a few moments after the bobber goes down before setting the hook often produces more hookups, if your bobber suddenly dips under and torpedoes to the side or runs sideways across the water's surface set the hook immediately! The salmon has felt your hook, and is running around trying to get rid of it.

I never would have guessed longlining bobbers and bait for salmon could be so much fun. When we get on a good school of salmon, and the bite is on, everyone in the boat starts watching each bobber as they float down the river. When one bobber goes down people forget which bobber is theirs, and two or three guests jerk back in unison hoping to catch one fish. Sometimes people get so excited they jerk to set the hook, before engaging their reel, and instead of setting the hook, a big bunch of loose line jumps off the reel. Then there are times when three or four bobbers jerk under simultaneously, everybody hooks up, and people are scrambling allover the boat trying to keep their lines from tangling as thrashing salmon battle in every direction. Yes, bobber fishing for salmon can be a boatload of fun!

Andy Couch, Fishtale River Guides, Palmer, Alaska www.fish4salmon.com

Andy knows his business very well - for proof, click on the banner at right. But be warned - HL Outdoors will accept no responsibility for damage to your computer caused by drool on your keyboard.

Fishtale River Guides

WALLEYES

Swami's key to catching walleyes is figuring out where and when they are going to feed, and this is different for nearly every lake. If you can discover "where", you can figure out the "when" with a little patience, and plan your fishing time around it. The best way to describe this is to tell you how I catch them here at Houghton Lake.

I like to fish the edges of thick weed beds, near deep water. I suspend my jig about 12 to 18 inches off the bottom, to keep it above the bottom weeds. My favorite walleye bait is big, fat leeches - the bigger, the better. I'll try an area from about 3:00 PM until dark. I expect to catch a couple, but what I'm really looking for is major schools coming in to feed. When they do, I note the time and plan to fish around that time whenever I go. It's not unusual to have a good walleye spot last all summer. I will keep moving every day until I find one of these major feeding areas.

Another method, great for location, is to drift with a slip bobber. This is excellent in areas with thick bottom weeds - you can drift without fighting weeds, and once you find fish you can stop and really zero in on them.

Walleyes have a habit of zooming in and smacking a bait, and then staying right there, so your float might do some funny things. Often, with the method I describe above, they never take the bobber down - it starts moving sideways. Sometimes, they just hang on to it so the wave action makes you think you're hung up on a weed. A strange but delicious fish, and one that's pretty easy to catch. If only they fought like steelies or bass.

There are, of course, lots of other ways to use slip bobbers and lots of other fish that can be caught with them. This past fall, I used them on whitefish at the Tawas pier. As I said, if you have anything to add, e-mail me and I'll put it on here. The more swamis the better.

Here's a professional tip on fall 'Eyes by Derek Johnston of MilleLacs Guide Service.

I can’t think of a better season than the changing from summer to autumn. The bugs are gone, no more humidity, the after dark bite starts earlier due to shorter days and the walleyes start to feed heavy again. Fall fishing has long been one of my favorite times of the season. The weather can be hit or miss and so can the fishing. But there are too many hungry walleyes willing to eat to justify packing up the boat for the season. Lets take a look a few points and tips that can help you be more productive on lake Mille lacs in the fall season.

When is the best time to fish Mille lacs in the fall? Anytime the fish are feeding. Now that’s pretty vague answer but the fall bite can start as early as August or later in September. What causes this? I really have no idea but baitfish or biological clocks could have something to do with it. Falling water temps have scientifically proven that walleyes prefer to feed heavy in cooler water periods. But many times I have experienced a great crank bait bite at the end of August when the water temps are still in the 70’s. Trial and error and word of mouth will usually key you on when the fish are starting to go. If I had to choose a time to fish Mille lacs in the fall it would have to be late September into October. And if the weather holds up November can be hot!!!!

Night or day? Well this can also be somewhat puzzling but most of my night fishing is done around the full moon phases. I like to fish the first few nights before and the last few nights after the full moon. These periods seem to produce the biggest fish and the most consistent bite. The poorest night fishing I have experienced seems to be the night of the full moon. The best day catches seem to come on clear sky days when there is a little wind.

Deep or shallow? Here’s a real debated topic. Most of my fall fishing on Mille lacs in done in deep water. Water that is over 15 feet deep. During the moon phases I will fish the shallow waters when the big fish are mixing with the spawning tullipee which is during the after dark hours. But most of my fall fishing is during the day in deepwater. Too many anglers automatically think they must run to shore to catch Mille lacs walleyes in the fall. But there’s a time and place and being in the right place at the right time is what counts most.

Artificial vs. Live bait. I don’t think we can argue the fact that crank baits are a main staple on Mille lacs in the fall. Year after year they produce excellent catches of fish. Whether trolling or casting crank baits, speed can mean catching or not catching fish. Sometimes the slower the better other times booking along at 2+mph can be the magic speed. Only the fish will tell you. Start slow and go from there. And don’t be shy to up sized your baits. Muskie sized shallow running cranks can be some of the best producers for big Mille lacs walleyes. But one can not rule out live bait this time of year. I like leeches if I can still get them big, most of the time you will find minnows in my boat.

To crank or not to crank? This topic is probably as important as location. This is your presentation. This is where you have found fish or know your absolutely on fish and now you need to do some convincing and also find out what’s going to work. To me a lot depends on weather. If there is some wind blowing into the areas I will target like the shoreline rocks or mid-lake humps, it’s a good time to tie on some large cranks. The larger cranks I use are more geared for big walleyes. This doesn’t mean you wont catch smaller fish, but with these larger baits your main focus should be big fish and even some Mille lacs muskies!

You will always find live bait in my boat in the fall. If its spinner fishing ,drifting or slip bobber fishing, live bait will entice Mille lacs fall walleyes. Most of my live bait fishing will be done during the day except for very calm full moon night bites. That’s when I like to head to deep water if the shallow water crank bite isn’t going. Deep gravel and mud edges are prime locations for fall Mille lacs walleyes. I will almost always use minnows like Rainbows or Dace as some Mille lacs bait shops call them. Slip bobbers and plain chrome hooks have always been hot during the full moon phase. Sometimes the bite wont turn on until late. Keep an eye on your electronics when anchored, Mille lacs walleyes suspend off the bottom all the time. I use the wide cone on the Vexilar Edge to monitor fish movements. Keep moving your depth on your slip bobber rig until you connect with fish. If you are marking fish, wait them out. You have to give them time to turn on.

Leeches come more into play during the fall day bite if I can still find large to jumbo leeches. Size does seem to matter. Back in 1999 on a sunny crisp November afternoon, a buddy and I headed over to Malmo to drag the sand breaks. The wind was light and it was a perfect day to be on the water. We started fishing in 15 feet of water with jumbo leeches. In two hours we caught over 20 fish on long snells and leeches. There were many boats fishing in the area and there looked to be some nets hitting the water. About 5pm we headed back to Fishers Resort to pull the boat out. What we found out was that most anglers that were using smaller leeches, didn’t do very well.

You should be very well aware of your surroundings when fishing Mille lacs at night in the fall. Most rock buoys have been pulled from the lake. A good GPS unit like the Lowrance Global Map models when used with mapping software such as Navionics can help aid in your navigation. If your not one for cold blistering nights on the water, give the day bite a try. It’s hard to believe there’s so little traffic on the big lake during the day. Classic fish holding areas can go untouched for weeks and there’s plenty of hungry fish willing to feed during the day.

 

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