Fishing with Floats

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"Fishing with Floats"

with Barry M. Thornton

Over the years floats have played a very important part in my fishing career. From the time I can first remember I used bottle corks for whitefish and bullheads. Then I remember the white and red floats I used for lake trout. Next, I graduated to red topped cork floats common for steelhead. Finally, I experimented with subtle drifting torpedo floats in kelp beds for coho. Above all, floats have added a dramatic visual experience to my fishing.

One of my favourite home films is a short clip on a super 8 film (remember Super-8 films?) that shows the dramatic take of a steelhead. But, it is not the fish you see on the film. Rather it is the take down of the float when the steelhead took my Gooey-bob lure drifting about four feet under the float. The film shows the steady drift of the float as it travels down the pool; the slight hesitation in the drift as the steelhead obviously mouths the lure and drifts downstream with it; then the brightly coloured float suddenly disappears in tannin river waters. The clip is neither artistic nor dramatic but, for me, it is the anticipation I feel when I watch the sequence for I know, it is, 'Fish on'!

My first experiences with floats came with the usual bobber and worm in a small lake. I was a novice at fishing at that time, still in my preteen years, but, I can still remember the intensity I felt watching the innocent red and white cork, waiting, just waiting for it to show some movement. In recent years I continue to feel that same intensity as I watch strike indicators (miniature floats) on my fly fishing leaders while stillwater chironomid trout fishing or steelhead river fly fishing.

Over the years I have marvelled at the variety of floats available and the ingenuity of anglers in their use of this simple fishing tool for successful fishing. While travelling in France last year I was astounded to see a complete wall of various fishing floats in a village sports fishing store.

One of the more successful floats is the transparent torpedo float which is used to fish flies with spinning tackle. This clear plastic float provides the weight needed to cast and at the same time keeps the fly near or on the surface where it is most effective. The torpedo float is simply tied to the end of your line and then a short or long leader is tied to the other end of the float to which is tied the fly of choice. Pink salmon found along beaches and estuaries in August rarely take a lure and are very difficult to fish in shallow beaches. But, they will actively take a small pink fly much to the pleasure of fly fishermen. The clear torpedo float is the solution for spin fishermen as they have found that they can cast on the shallow beaches and use that one lure, a pink fly, which is most successful for these spunky salmon.

In recent years strike indicators have become standard for fly fishing when specific depths are required for your flies. These indicators vary from small foam balls to miniature torpedo floats. I like to use Spin and Glo lures with their wings clipped as my floats, because they are highly visible, cast well, and are easily moved up and down my leader if I need to vary depths. Today, strike indicators are common for chironomid fishing for trout and for some steelhead or river salmon fly fishing situations.

Steelhead float fishing has given me a wealth of experiences - my intensity is such that at night I often fall asleep recalling the day's imprinting of the many float drifts on that particular day. My float fishing techniques have changed little from those I first tried decades ago. In fact, I float fish for steelhead in the same fashion that I did for trout and whitefish in North Okanagan rivers where I grew up. The only difference today lies with the artificial lures that I use.

While methods have not changed, floats have gone through a striking evolution; from cork to plastic; from balsam wood to foam. The most common float used today for steelheading is the 'dick' float, a six inch long foam tube, an economic rather than practical choice. Wood floats have become very pricey and plastic will break when it strikes river rocks - hence, we have small tubular foam floats as the replacement. However, I still prefer the teardrop torpedo wooden floats because they give me a greater view of that 'take' when it comes.

Sitting in your boat watching torpedo floats drift with the tides, knowing that at any moment a salmon will snatch your bait, has to be one of the most exciting float fishing experiences. I have done this on a number of occasions while I fish for feeding coho or chinooks using the same red-topped floats that I use for steelheading . It is always a heart-stopper when the float suddenly disappears and at times, even before you can grasp your rod, a chrome bright coho leaps and prances across the waters behind the boat. It is one float fishing experience that I would recommend all anglers try. I know that with your first fish you will be hooked.

Likely the most important aspect of float fishing is that it provides an excuse for an action filled family outdoor adventure with few snags. Casting floats is easy and requires only the basic fishing tackle. Lures can be natural, those found under logs or dug from the ground. But, best of all, when the fish are reluctant to bite, floats can be left, but, attended by those who still have a limited attention span. Then, when that red topped cork bobs, everyone can see and share in the action. Floats in all their variety provide a visual experience that few other fishing techniques can match. Next time you are on the water, experiment with a float, you may be astounded at how successful you can be.

© Copyright Barry M. Thornton

Barry M. Thornton

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Fishing with Floats