The Slip Bobber Swami was produced by:
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 -
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.
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.
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 bobber - on an ESB, this means entering through the purple 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.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 bobber 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.
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.
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