By Jason Mitchell
On many lakes, slip bobbers are deadly in catching walleyes. Particularly early in the season, cold fronts, crashing water temperatures, and dirty water accompanied by strong winds might absolutely wreck the walleye bite, but slip bobbers still seem to catch fish during tough conditions.
It’s hard to beat a lively leech squirming in place, just for the sake of catching walleyes. The reality with slip-bobber fishing is that it might be a challenge to find fish. Be extra selective in picking the best spot with the highest probability of contacting fish. You must be methodical and your search process can be slow. You may indeed be thorough, but using slip bobbers can be a difficult way to eliminate unproductive water and find fish.
Early in the season, when trends are going the wrong direction – trends such as water temperature or weather – I find that I will continue to catch walleyes up shallow by pitching jigs with bait, jigs with plastics, swimbaits, crankbaits, etc., but it’s not easy. Going back through an area while using slip bobbers where I could previously only catch a few fish with cast-and-reel presentations often saves the day. The difference can be striking.
In this context, slip bobbers complement other presentations. The other presentations catch a few fish, but mostly they enable you to sample water and find fish. The slip bobber might not be the best presentation to locate fish, but it sure does catch them once you find them.
Many walleye anglers don’t use braided line for slip-bobber fishing, but braid can work extremely well when you’re using slip bobbers around timber. Use heavier braid so that the bobber stop can grip the braid better, and use two bobber stops in tandem to keep the bobber stop from slipping.
Slip-bobber fishing also gives you a tremendous education on how fish move through a location. With slip bobbers, you will realize quickly any location has sweet spots that it seems every fish uses. As fish move through a location or along a shoreline, it may seem like the route of travel is preordained, much like a deer following a trail.
Walleyes using reefs or rock piles might follow the edges of boulders a certain way. Fish swimming along shorelines might travel a specific distance from shore, which seems to be a more important factor than a specific depth. Slip-bobber fishing allows you to really learn about a location and really understand how fish use that location. You can even begin to understand the orientation of fish movement by the direction fish are pulling the bobber.
In most slip-bobber-fishing scenarios, the boat will be anchored and you want to use the wind to your advantage. Keep the boat upwind from the target area you want to fish. Ultimately, the slip bobber will settle in a line downwind from the boat, and although everything is stationary, the slip bobber will have a drift that must be managed.
Successful slip-bobber fishing is often a matter of managing slip bobber drift next to the boat and keeping the slip bobber drifting continually through key spots.
There are many differences of opinion on slip bobber setups. I consider slip-bobber fishing a methodical, almost finesse presentation in that you are placing and keeping good live bait right in front of a fish. On the other hand, I also bring almost a power-fishing mentality to slip-bobber fishing. On Devils Lake (North Dakota), where you might be fishing flooded trees, I like to use a heavier braided line for my main line. Bobber knots don’t grip and stick on braid like they do on monofilament, so you need to use heavier braided line for the bobber knots to work.
I have found a heavier braid – 14- to 20-pound test – works perfect because the bobber knots stick and the line is durable. Use two bobber stops stacked on top of each other to ensure no slide.
I like to use a larger 1- to 1¼-inch-diameter slip bobber that is easy to cast and easy to see. Again, this larger slip bobber might seem like overkill, much like the heavier line, but the key to the larger slip bobber is that it allows you to use more weight. Below the slip bobber, I like to add a sliding 1⁄8- to ¼-ounce egg sinker above a snap swivel. The heavier weight pulls the line through the slip bobber more quickly and the presentation gets through the water column faster. This fast setup time is crucial around wood or if power-corking when you’re hunting for fish with your electronics.
Early in the season, I find that a plain snell hook works as well as any other. I believe part of the slip bobber’s allure early in the season is that the slip bobber and weight can bob up and down in strong winds, but the action on a plain snell below the swivel is often subdued and cushioned. This passive and subdued action combined with a lively leech is deadly during tough conditions early in the season.
In cold weather, I find that whacky-hooking a medium to small leech on a plain hook will catch fish when nothing else will. As the water warms, I find that I can use a smaller weight above the swivel and start to incorporate jigs that add some color and flash.
Long rods are often preferred for slip-bobber fishing, and you don’t need to necessarily have the highest-quality rod from a weight or sensitivity perspective. Just a simple 7-foot spinning rod that has a moderate action will suffice.
Slip bobbers often save the day during tough fishing conditions. Early in the season, this simple and effective presentation is often at its best. It’s great for fishing emerging weedlines, rock reefs, and pencil reeds as well as flooded timber and shoreline structure. Slip bobbers simply catch walleyes.