By John Tertuliani
I have used a bobber from the very first bluegill I caught as a child. To this day, I experiment with how to catch more fish using one. Flowing water, such as when drifting for steelhead, is my toughest challenge. Velocity and depth change with distance downstream. It can be a humbling experience.
I started out using a traditional fixed bobber (float), stringing a line of shirt-buttoned split shot under it. I spent too much time adjusting bobbers or replacing shot instead of fishing. I stopped stringing shot to make more time for fishing. I switched to slip bobbers and sinkers, thinking it was a good idea, you know, more versatile. Slip bobbers proved more trouble than they are worth in fast water, the velocity often too high for even the large bobbers I used.
Slip bobbers did not move up the line, in particular if the line was not played out fast enough, the amount of weight used is relevant to the buoyancy of the bobber, not the velocity of the water. A bobber dragged across the surface can pull the sinker with it, not allowing it to sink before drifting past the targeted area.
Back to fixed bobbers I went. Weighted bobbers, those with a lead ring or peg underneath, were the easiest to use. Some companies make bobbers specifically for salmon and steelhead. Those are all well and good, but most bobbers will work when rigged and presented properly. I still needed weight at or near the bait to keep the leader from dangling high in the water.
Initially, I had concern on how close to neutrally buoyant the bobbers are weighted from the manufacturer. I found one company that makes bobbers of welded plastic, built solid with weight to cast, almost neutrally buoyant out of the package. It is designed to support a small jig or split shot, a good choice for calmer water. Having the majority of weight built into the bobber saves time and reduces tangles.
For now, I use a large balsa bobber, mostly because I have bags of them for the times when I need to drift through fast water, cast long distances, and use heavy tackle (catfish). My preferred method for steelhead is to add as much weight as possible, without becoming neutrally buoyant, so I can use a 1⁄16- or 1⁄32-ounce jig, 1⁄8-ounce at times.
I attach weight much closer to the bobber than I used to, as doing so can reduce tangles and offer a bit more freedom with depth adjustment. For example, if I have a 3- or 4-foot leader only weighted by the jighead at the end, I can move the bobber for necessary changes in depth, without having to restring shot or move a sinker.
Latex, silicone, and rubber tubing is an effective way to fix a bobber to the running line. Tubing in the tiny diameter you will need for a bobber stem can be a challenge to find. If you are buying single-purpose bobbers for steelhead, it helps to look for bobbers that are sold with tubing, together or separately. Not all bobbers include tubing.
Bobbers fixed with tubing are designed to be attached at the bottom of the bobber or at both ends. When looking for a new bobber, it is important to know if you need two different diameters of tubing. One company sells bobbers that require 1⁄16-inch tubing on the bottom and 3⁄32 on top.
If you need tubing, you may be able to find it at a fishing tackle store well-stocked with steelhead tackle. You can find an alternate source as well, such as medical-instrument tubing or fuel line for radio-controlled aircraft engines. Cut the tubing in 1⁄2-inch lengths – an exact length is not needed. Remember to slide the pieces of tubing on the running line before the inline sinker or swivel. Spin the tubing or the bobber when attaching the tubing to the stem. Moistening one or the other can reduce friction. Leave some of the tubinga to extend past the bobber stem to reduce tangles.
Tackle companies and digital media personalities recommend micro swivels for stealth. If a standard split shot or sinker is attached below the swivel, you may lose the element of surprise. When choosing micro swivels, consider using a 25-pound swivel if the running line is 20-pound braid. The swivel strength should be higher than the running line, as a safeguard for the snap stress of setting a hook and dealing with a snag.