Those colorful pieces of plastic, foam or cork known as "bobbers" are among the most visible angling accessories-and for good reason: bobbers are all about being seen. The bright floats suspend the fishing bait at a pre-determined depth, hopefully where the fish will better be able to see the offering below the water, while providing an easy-to-see visual alert on the surface for the angler to tell when a fish is mouthing-or has eaten-the bait.
Bobbers come in a staggering variety of shapes and sizes, from floating putty that fly anglers dab onto their leaders to buoy tiny nymphs, to beach-ball-sized inflatable floats that shore-bound fishermen use to harness the breeze to blow their baits beyond casting distance, far out across the water. Catfish and turtle anglers use empty gallon milk jugs as floats for night fishing, often putting a chemical light-stick inside each vessel and to keep track of the free-drifting jugs and the baited hooks they suspend below.
Most popular freshwater fishing bobbers are about an inch in diameter or the size of a pencil, depending on the style, are made of foam or plastic, and use a spring clip to attach to the fishing line. The depth at which the bait is suspended below the bobber can be easily adjusted by simply sliding the bobber up or down the line.
Long, slender bobbers-some made out of actual porcupine quills-are used for fooling finicky fish, species that will spit out the bait if they feel any resistance when they swim off with the bait. Carp and crappie anglers often use these low-resistance "pencil" bobber styles when targeting those species. Bass, catfish and sunfish anglers, on the other hand, find that their quarry often aren't bothered by the resistance put up by a more bulbous bobber when they swim off with a bait, and use the easy-to-cast-and-see spherical floats.
Regardless of shape, conventional, spring-loaded bobbers work well for most fishing conditions when the fish are found in six feet deep water or less. Using a traditional bobber gets tougher when you try to use the clip-on models that hold your bait at depths much more than that, and that's when slip bobbers are worth their weight.
If you've ever attempted to cast a line to which a traditional bobber has been attached more than about six feet up the line from the hook, you know how hard it is to swing the offering pendulum-style into anything resembling a cast. The working end of the rig hanging down below the bobber usually catches on the deck, the ground or the water's surface somewhere during the back cast and snubs the entire cast.
By sliding a slip bobber made for the method onto the line and fixing a stop at a point up the line where you want it to catch and hold against the bobber, you can fish as deep as you need without having to worry about casting the entire length of line below the float. The hardest part about rigging slip bobbers for most fishermen is remembering that the line must be slipped through the bobber first, before the terminal tackle like the swivel and hook, are attached to the line..
Back-Up Slip Bobbers
If you find yourself in a fishing a situation where you need a slip bobber, but don't have one handy, you can rig conventional, spring-loaded clip-on bobbers to "slip." Push and twist the spring-loaded body to expose and hold the hooked-shaped clip open against the surface of the bobber instead of aligning the clip's tip with the hole that allows the clip to snug up tight against the line. With the line allowed to flow freely through the hole created by the "jammed-open" clip, the bobbers served as a slip float and, by attaching a stop up the line, you can get your baited, weighted hook down deep into the action without having to cast the entire below-bobber length of line.
Bobber stops come in a variety of styles, including glass beads, wire hoops, plastic sleeves and rubber knots. Most come with the bobbers they are intended to be used with, but many are interchangeable depending on the diameter of the hole or sleeve in the slip bobber through which the line slips. Experiment with them all until you find the stop that suits you. Some anglers use a simple overhand knot, made by doubling an inch and a half or so of line where they want the bobber to stop and tying it loosely. The quarter-inch diameter loop that's left stops the bobber, and you can (usually) pull out the knot it by wetting it and applying pressure to the line on both sides of the loop to change positions-and thus the depth-of the bait below.
Bobbers come in lots of shapes and sizes. This "pencil" style float tips up on end when a fish mouths the bait, then offers little resistance when the fish moves off.