The Only Bobber Fishing Guide You’ll Ever Need

Think bobbers are just for kids?  Well, think again.  Bobbers are a powerful tool used to seek out big fish in almost any situation.  Whether it’s slip bobber fishing for clear water walleye, float fishing for salmon or jig bobbering some slab crappie, there is always a place for bobbers.  

There was a time when I would be embarrassed to pull out a bobber in front of my fellow anglers.  I got a few sideways glances and smirks on more than one occasion.  But that didn’t last long once I hauled in my fair share of fish.  

Bobbers are not just for novice anglers and kids who don’t know how to fish.  There is a time and place for more complex techniques when targeting your favorite species  but don’t overlook the super powers of bobbers either.  

If you want to learn how to catch more fish with bobbers, then keep reading because this is the only bobber fishing guide you’ll ever need!

What does a fishing bobber do

To start this guide right, we should probably establish exactly what it is fishing bobbers do.  While many fishing tactics don’t require a bobber, there are a few good reasons to keep one handy. 

All bobbers, floats and corks provide several basic uses for fishing.  They allow anglers to present their bait or lure at a specific depth where fish are suspending.  Plus, they serve as a visual strike indicator when a fish bites.  They also give you extreme control over bait placement and drift, which is extremely useful when fishing around submerged structure. 

Types of bobbers and their uses

There is almost an infinite number of bobber styles, sizes and colors.  Each of which caters to some specific situation that enables anglers to improve their odds of catching fish.  There’s no limit to the creativity of anglers trying to out smart their quarry.  

Yet, out of all the bobber variations you might see on the shelf at your local fishing store, there are actually only two basic types.  Slip bobbers and fixed bobbers.

Fixed bobbers   

Fixed style bobbers are widely used and a good all around bobber for fishing.  Like the name implies, these types of bobbers are fixed in place on your fishing line at whatever depth you place them.  The classic, red and white round bobber uses recessed hooks on both ends to fix it in place.  Other bobbers use a spring on one end that pinch your line into a notch.  Most fixed bobbers are made from plastic, cork or balsa wood and they come in several shapes: round, oval or pencil style.  

The main advantage of fixed bobbers is their ability to easily hold your bait at shallow depths where fish are feeding.  The depth is adjustable by releasing the spring or hook and sliding the bobber up or down the line.  Fixed bobbers also are the simplest bobbers to use.  There is no need for bobber stops.  

As simple as they are, fixed bobber setups are a pain to cast with.  Place more than a few feet of line below the bobber and you’ll need to lob it carefully or it will tangle.  For that reason, fixed bobbers are best used for shallow water applications.

Slip bobbers

When it comes to getting the best depth control and the ability to cast further, slip bobbers are the way to go.  These bobbers are ideal for walleye and trout but also work for panfish that are suspending deeper than 4 or 5 feet.

Just like fixed bobbers, slip bobbers come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are designed to cast further, some reduce wind drift and others provide the ultimate in bite sensitivity.  Most are made of foam, plastic or balsa wood and weighted types offer the best casting distance.

As the name implies, slip bobbers slide up and down your line, starting from your hook, swivel or weight, all the way to your bobber stop.  The bobber stop is nothing more than a knotted piece of Dacron that tightens on your main line.  You then slide it up or down to the desired depth and it casts through the rod guides without catching. 

Rigging up a slip bobber is a little more technical than when using fixed bobbers.  Don’t worry though, it’s still super easy to setup and immensely versatile once you learn the anatomy of a good slip bobber rig.  We’ll discuss setup in more detail later.

Bonus – Bubble floats

Among the most unique and useful floats is a bubble float.  We don’t go anywhere without having a bubble float on hand.  When we can’t get fish to commit to typical baits or lures, a bubble float lets you scale down to the smallest offerings.  These floats make casting finesse lures or even flies possible with regular spinning gear.

Bubble floats are two piece bobbers with an internal rubber tube that holds the two ends together.  Your line slides through the tube like a regular slip float but you then pull apart the two halves and twist them in opposite directions to grip the line and lock it in place.  You can also partially fill the float with water by pulling it apart and submerging it.  The added water allows for long casts even with unweighted lures.

These bobbers can be slowly retrieved or fished like a regular bobber.  They are typically clear so it may be hard to see a bite if you are still fishing with them.  However, with water inside, a slight nibble will force the water to the lower end and make the bobber stand straight up.  Set the hook if this happens.

Bobber shapes and sizes

Ever wonder why bobbers have so many different shapes?  Trust me, it’s not just for looks.  There are some wild bobber designs out there but each shape serves a purpose.  To shed some light on what each bobber style is used for, we summarized the features of the most popular choices in the following chart.

Bobber StyleSensitivityWind DriftCasting DistanceIdeal Water DepthCompatible With LuresTarget Species
PencilHighLowShort to Moderate< 6 ftFinesse JigsPanfish, Trout
WagglerSuperbLowShort to Moderate6-15 ftFinesse JigsPanfish, Trout
In-line sliderHighLowModerate5-15 ftJigsWalleye, Trout, Bass
Oval center slider/fixedModerateModerateShort to Moderate2-10 ftJigsPanfish, Trout, Bass
Oval slider/fixedModerateModerateLong 2-15 ftJigs, Spoons (in rivers)Crappie, Walleye, Trout, Bass, Carp
Cigar sliderModerateHighLong 6-20+ ftJigsWalleye, Trout, Pike, Catfish
Round fixedLowHighShort 2-3 ftNot recommendedPanfish, trout
BubbleHighLowLong2-4 ftFlies, Finesse Spoons or SpinnersPanfish, Trout

Does bobber color matter

I am fairly confident that fish don’t care what color your bobber is, but you should.  It all comes down to visibility.  Above all, bobbers are strike indicators so it’s critical that you can easily see the slightest movement when a fish bites.    

Most bobbers are brightly colored so you can see them at all times and in all conditions.  With that said, some bright colors are actually not as visible as you might think.  

For example, white or yellow bobbers stand out in stained water or along tree lined areas where the water looks dark.  Yet, they are essentially invisible on days with high clouds or bright sunshine where glare from the water hides their location.  A fluorescent orange or black color bobber actually contrasts better on bright days.

In addition to having a variety of bobber styles on hand, you also need a range of colors.  That way you can use the most visible bobber on any given day.  Our favorite bobbers have dual colors like black and orange, black and yellow or pink and yellow.  Just like any other fishing tackle, tailor your bobber choice to match the conditions. 

3 Best bobber rigs you need to know

No doubt there are countless ways to rig up with a bobber.  For the sake of simplifying things, we narrowed it down to the 3 best bobber rigs that will pretty much cover any fishing situation you might encounter.  

Basic fixed bobber rig

A basic fixed bobber rig is going to serve any angler well for panfish and stocked trout throughout the fishing season.  This rig is easy to setup and works best for delivering bait at 2-5 foot depths.  Casting is tricky once you have more than 3 feet of line below the bobber so practice lob casting to avoid tangles.

How to rig it

How to fish it –  This setup is best used for fishing near weed lines and shallow structure where panfish tend to congregate.  It is also effective for stocked trout in early spring while they feed near the surface.  It works equally well from a boat or shore. 

A fixed bobber rig is intended to stay stationary after you cast.  Watch wind drift to avoid snags.  You can give it light twitches on occasion to get fish’s attention.  This is a great rig for close-in fishing when you need to place your bait at a fixed depth right above thick structure.  Use live bait on a single hook or try panfish jigs for exciting shallow water crappie action.

Mid-depth slip bobber rig

The slip bobber rig is by far the most versatile of the bobber setups.  It’s ideal for targeting walleye, trout, bass and suspended panfish in moderately deep water.  You can drop baits down to exacting depths between 5 and 20 feet with slip bobbers. There are several ways to tie one up but we’ll show you our recommended way. 

How to rig it 

How to fish it – To fish effectively with a slip bobber, you need to know the depth fish are feeding.  Once you figure that out, it’s as easy as sliding the bobber stop on your line to match and casting it out.  Always cast with the wind at your side or back to get the best coverage.   

For fast action drops on a pack of walleye or cruising trout, use a live bait jig and an egg sinker above the swivel.  You’ll get to the fish faster and encourage reaction strikes better.  When a slower sink rate with live bait is desired, forego the egg sinker and jig.  Instead, use a small split shot with a plain hook.

If using light line for panfish, you can skip the leader and tie on a crappie jig to your mainline without a swivel.

Float N Fly

The Float N Fly technique is nothing new but it is gaining more attention than ever among today’s anglers.  It is uniquely suited for targeting bass and crappie.  Instead of explaining how and when to use it, I’ll let the guys from Tactical Bassin show you the ropes in their excellent video.

The Float N Fly Just Got Easier! | Winter Bass Fishing

If you’ve ever wanted to fish the Float ‘n’ Fly you’ve got to try this new method!

How to detect bites with a bobber

Like we said before, one of the biggest advantages when using a bobber is the ability to visualize a strike.  But a strike is not always as obvious as a bobber disappearing below the surface.  Learning the nuances of bobber movement and interpreting when to set the hook are important skills to master.  Otherwise, you’ll miss enough bites to make you consider giving up fishing.

The biggest mistake most anglers make is using a bobber that’s too big.

A bobber sized right should float high enough to be visible while remaining sensitive enough to show a bite.  When you find that perfect balance, fish barely feel any resistance from the bobber when they tug on your bait.

Different styles of bobbers show strikes in different ways.  More importantly, how a fish strikes also determines how the bobber moves.  Let’s go over a few common scenarios to help demonstrate.

  • Fish feeding up:  Fish like crappie often feed upwards.  These strikes show up best on small, fixed or sliding, pencil bobbers like the Thill Shy Bite.  This bobber normally sits low in the water and in a vertical position.  When crappie strike, they actually lift the bait, taking weight off the bobber.  It will rise slightly at first and then lay on its side as the fish continues upward.  Set the hook just before it lays over.
  • Light nibbles:  This is by far the hardest kind of bite to connect with after setting the hook.  A nibble on a bobber shows up as a short series of bounces.  When you see this, either the fish won’t commit or it senses the resistance from the bobber.  Perch are notorious nibblers but trout can do the same thing.  The best strategy is to use a smaller bobber to reduce resistance and make fish commit to the strike.
  • Swimming bite:  A cruising fish that takes your bait will neither lift the bobber nor pull it under.  They just keep swimming at whatever depth your bait was at.  You’ll almost certainly see your bobber start to pull sideways on the surface.  I find that setting the hook on this kind of strike leads to 50/50 odds of a solid hook up.  Usually, the bait is barely in the fish’s mouth.  Your best bet is to let the bobber drag for a few seconds before setting the hook.
  • Hard hit:  A hard, fast strike it the most obvious and most fun to watch when fishing with a bobber.  The bobber might give one or two fast bobs before disappearing below the surface.  Don’t set the hook too hard on this kind of bite or you risk ripping the hook out of their mouth.

What kind of fish can you catch with bobbers

With the right setup and bait, you can catch virtually any freshwater fish species with bobbers.  

Now that doesn’t mean bobbers are always the best setup for catching all kinds of fish.  Sometimes conditions demand different tactics that might be hindered by bobbers.  Sure, you’ll catch a fish or two with any setup given enough time but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach when using bobbers.

Most are easy to target with bobbers but some are downright impossible (or at least impractical) to catch with float rigs.  

Species that spend most of their time in depths of 20 feet or more are going to be difficult to pinpoint and catch with a bobber.  It’s also a challenge to catch feeding fish that hold tight to the bottom.  Catfish are the exception.

Take a look at this list of our favorite fish to target with bobbers.  Plus, a few fish that are better fished for without

Fish you can catch with a bobber

  • Crappie
  • Perch
  • Bluegill
  • Stocked trout
  • Walleye
  • Pike
  • Catfish
  • Carp
  • Bass

Fish that are tough to catch with a bobber

  • Muskie
  • Kokanee
  • Whitefish
  • Burbot
  • Lake trout
  • Suckers

Can you use bobbers for bass

Of all the freshwater gamefish, bass is by far the most popular.  That’s evident just by looking at the shear variety of tackle available at any tackle shop. 

Unfortunately, buying the best bass lures is as much about following the latest fads as it is about selecting gear that actually works.  Using bobbers for bass certainly won’t win you any popularity contests, but that doesn’t mean bobbers don’t work for bass.  

Bobbers can be very effective tools to catch smallmouth and largemouth bass under the right conditions.  You can use live minnows suspended under a slip bobber to target bass along deep weed lines or near points and humps.  It’s even possible to expertly place wacky rigged Senkos around downed trees or thick structure using a bobber.

The Float N Fly bobber technique is also gaining popularity as a finesse tactic for early and late season bass.  

Bobbers might not be the most “sexy” way to fish for bass but there is a time and place for it.  If it makes you feel better, just wait until no one is looking before you pull out your bobber.  

Do bobbers scare fish

Anyone who has casted out a big bobber and watched it splash down with a hard smack surely assumes that any fish nearby are long gone.  However, bobbers might not scare fish as much as you think.  

In our experience, bobbers do not scare fish as long as you suspend your bait at least 20-30 inches below the bobber.  The initial splash of a bobber may startle fish temporarily but won’t scare them away completely.  Bobbers look like floating debris which is a common sight for most fish.  

Keep in mind that this applies specifically to fixed bobbers.  Slip bobbers are even more stealthy since they are used for deep water applications.  Usually between 6 and 20 feet.  Fish that far down the water column won’t even notice the presence of a bobber or the initial splash from casting.  

However, using a bobber that is too large, regardless of type, will alert wary fish that something isn’t right.  Big bobbers add excessive resistance when a fish strikes.  If you are only getting nibbles and not hooking up, it’s probably because your bobber is too big.  Size down and fish won’t even notice until it’s too late.

5 Must have bobbers for all situations

Now days, there is a bobber for every kind of fishing.  However, most of us don’t have room in our tackle box for all of them.  Instead, collect a few of the most versatile bobbers and you’ll have your bases covered.  Here are our favorite bobbers for almost every situation.

1.  Thill Crappie Cork

Love catching crappie?  Then be sure to get a set of Thill Crappie Corks.  This versatile bobber can be used as a fixed or slip bobber so you can adapt to any situation.  From shallow structure to suspended schools, the Thill Crappie Cork fits the bill. 

2.  Rainbow Plastics A-Just-A-Bubble Float

When it comes to ultra light fishing for trout or panfish with flies, spoons or jigs, a bubble float is priceless.  You can cast “uncastable” lures from shore or boat.  It makes using flies without fly fishing gear possible for average anglers. 

3.  Lindy Thill Wobble Bobber

This is the ultimate in power slip bobber fishing.  When you need to drop down fast to walleye, bass or trout, the Lindy Thill Wobble Bobber excels at the job.  Brass grommets help the bobber slide smoothly on your line and its custom shape is specially designed to be extremely sensitive.  

4.  BassPro Shops Pencil Floats

For the most sensitive and cost effective bobbers, go with BassPro Shops’ premium balsa wood spring floats.  The pencil shape improves your presentation to wary panfish and trout.  The lightest of bites is easily seen and fish have no idea they’re hooked until it’s too late.

5.  Thill Shy Bite

Nothing beats the sensitivity of Thill’s Shy Bite bobbers.  When panfish are pressured hard and biting light, you need a Shy Bite.  If balanced right with a panfish jig or bait, this bobber will move with even the softest gulps.  Miss fewer bites with this bobber.