Float Fishing Setup: How to Rig a Bobber the Easy Way

Float fishing is a great option for beginners as well as experienced anglers alike. It’s an easy-to-learn and fun to master technique that involves having your bait secured below a …

Float fishing is a great option for beginners as well as experienced anglers alike. It’s an easy-to-learn and fun to master technique that involves having your bait secured below a float, or sometimes called a bobber. Float fishing is extremely common for trout fishing, salmon fishing, and steelhead fishing in rivers that range anywhere from 3-12 feet deep.

The Float Fishing Setup


The float, or bobber, itself can be a very important part of the setup. It’s normally made from polystyrene foam, though wood, plastic, and cork floats can be used as well. Some floats are made to be secured on the bottom only, while others can be secured on the top and the bottom together.

The best floats for float fishing are of a somewhat narrow profile that floats vertically in the water. If they are floating at an angle, you will need to adjust the placement of the weights or bait on your setup since this is usually a sign that the hook is dragging the bottom, or the weights are not heavy enough to keep the bobber vertical.

Bobber Stopper

A bobber stopper will only be needed if you use a free-sliding bobber on your fishing line. In a float fishing setup, these floats are attached to the line and allowed to move up and down freely so the natural movement of the water and the wind will adjust the height of your hook in the water column.

This, however, means you do not have any choice in setting your depth and targeting certain fish, so a bobber stopper will be used to limit the movement of the float along the fishing line so you can decide on your desired depth.

Main Line

Your main line is the bulk of the fishing line that will be on your reel. The main line should always be stronger than the fishing line you choose for your leader, but the leader line can have other features that make it more durable than the main line depending on the type of fish you are targeting.

Most main line options will have a weight limit on their packaging, though it is not uncommon for a main line to actually break closer to double that. Keep this in mind if you are looking for large fish as the right weight fishing line might end up being too thick for your rod eyelets after being knotted.


Almost as important as the float in this setup is the weight. You can find weights in a variety of shapes and sizes to suit your needs and help get your bait down to your desired depth, but the most common weights on the market are the split shot style which are a small ball that has a slit on one side.

You want to ensure the split shots or other weight hold your bait down in the water and causes the float to stand vertically at the surface of the water at the suitable depth. If the float is leaning to one side and you are sure your hook is not dragging the bottom, you may need a larger weight or more split shot added to the fishing line.


The bead is a protective element between your knots and any sliding weight or other component you choose to use. As a sliding weight moves up and down your line, it can bump into the knot repeatedly. Over time this can cause friction damage which will lead to your knot being cut or weakened. You definitely don’t want this damage to the fishing line going unnoticed since it always seems to break at the worst possible time – when you have a trophy sized fish on the line.

Snap Swivel

A snap swivel is optional, but can be extremely useful if you plan on changing up your bait presentations when going from deep water pond fishing to river fishing, for example. Using a snap swivel can not only make switching these setups quick and easy, but it gives you the freedom to try out new baits and presentations when fishing for new species of fish or in new locations.

The addition of the swivel also helps ensure there is no line twisting between your leader and main line. A twist in your line can cause weakness in various parts, but a snap swivel will help prevent this.


Your leader line is a shorter piece of line that holds your hook and bait. While the weight of your leader line should be less than that on your main line, it should have more durable features if you are fishing for fish that have sharp teeth or abrasive scales, or if you plan on hooking a fish around rough rock debris.

Most anglers will use high quality fluorocarbon line for their leaders. You can find fluorocarbon in a wide range of weights and thicknesses, as well as a diverse array of colors to help when fishing in both crystal clear shallows and cloudy deeper water.


There are countless options for hooks, and most will work just fine to catch fish on a float setup. You can choose a simple hook and attach your own bait to it, or you may decide to go with a jig, spinner, or other lure that has a hook attached.

Regardless of your choice, always remember that bigger hooks will not always lead to bigger fish. In fact, choosing a hook that is much too large for the majority of fish in your specific fishing area can end up doing nothing but scaring the fish away.

If you choose a high quality smaller sized hook that has plenty of strength, you will still be able to land some very large, trophy quality fish on your float fishing rig.

How to Set Up a Float Rig

Setting up a good float fishing rig can be relatively simple and quick to do. Since you won’t be using any complex rig or multiple-line setup, creating your own fishing float setup can be a great way to introduce brand new anglers to the hobby.

1. Select your mainline.

This can be any line you are comfortable with, but try to make sure it is a good fit for the fish you will be landing as well as the water you are fishing in.

2. Prepare the rod.

Make sure you have plenty of line on your reel, and run the line up through the eyelets on your rod. Leave up to 24 inches of extra line at the end of your rod to work with.

3. Add your bobber stopper.

If you will be using a sliding float, decide where you want the float to stop when sliding freely on your line in the water and add the stopper there.

4. Add your weights.

If you are using a bottom-tie float, you can add split shot weights to either side of the float. If you are using a sliding float, add your split shots near the bottom of the float movement area.

5. Add your leader.

This should be a lighter weight line than what is in your reel, and will be what your hook or lure is attached to. Secure the leader to your mainline with a knot, or by connecting it to a snap swivel.

6. Choose your bait.

If you’re using a bare hook, decide on the bait you want to go with. Maggots, grubs, crayfish or small baitfish are a common choice.

7. Catch more fish.

Head out onto the water with your new float setup and toss it in the water. Adjust your bobber stopper so the bait hangs at the depth you want.

Good Float Fishing Scenarios and Types of Water

You can go bobber fishing in almost any body of water, however extremely shallow water will not be a good choice since your lure needs to hang below the fishing float a short distance. Fast moving rivers are viable options for bobber fishing setups, but the water needs to be at least a few feet deep and if you can find areas of pocket water that are not as fast moving, this will be the best place to toss your bobber fishing rig in.

Saltwater fishing is also an excellent option for fishing float setups, and one that many anglers overlook. You can land a wide variety of saltwater trophy fish using a float rig, especially on the West coast where fish are more than willing to attack a new lure depending on the time of year.

Fish Species You Can Catch Float Fishing

Since you can adjust the depth your bait or lure falls, fishing float style is diverse enough to land fish at almost any depth. Top water fish including gar and mackerel are common targets for sport fishing. For those that like to target midwater fish, wrasse are an excellent choice, as are pollock whiting. Deepwater bass can also give anglers a good run for their money since they are both ravenous fish and excellent fighters when on the line.

Some of the most common species anglers will float fish for include:

You can also try your luck with steelhead, which many anglers find to be an excellent option for both beginners and experienced fishermen alike. Salmon are also a common choice, though can sometimes be difficult for fishing floats depending on the season and the depth of their rivers.

How to Fish with a Float

Float fishing is extremely easy and highly enjoyable for anglers of all skill levels and all ages. You won’t be required to be an expert on fish behavior, nor will you need to keep an eye on extremely subtle movements of the water ripples or feel the rod for the most delicate vibrations.

Float fishing gives you a brightly colored float and lets you enjoy the time on the water while also catching more fish along the way, simply by looking for downward movement on the top of the float. If you are using a slip bobber, this might not be as easy to notice, but for a fishing float that is secured to the line, fish action below the water will be easily noticed at the top of the float by anglers on the boat, the dock, or on shore.

Line Management

Always ensure you are using the proper drift fishing line for the fish you are targeting. Drift fish line comes in a variety of weight limits and sizes. Thicker line can land big fish, but can also scare away smaller fish which in turn will keep the big trophy fish at bay.

Additionally, if you are using any slip floats or weights, be sure you inspect your slack line knots for damage every second or third cast. The last thing you want is for a knot to be weakened by friction and have the line snap when you have a big fish hooked.

Also keep in mind that larger weight line might not fit well into some spinning reels or other reel styles. Not to mention the eyelets on your rod may cause a thick line to become snagged if you are trying to run a knot through the rings.

Watch Your Float!

Always make sure your float or slip bobber is straight up and down in a fully vertical position. If it is angled in the direction of the current, you may need to adjust your depth so your hook is a bit higher.

If the float or slip bobber is angled in various directions and not specifically in the direction of the current, you may need to add more split shots to your hook or lure to get more weight as it is not hanging properly below the float and into the water column at the depth you desire.

Pay Attention to Wind

Wind can be a big help in getting your set up into areas you may not be able to cast directly into. Cast a bit outside of a heavy vegetation area and let the breeze move it in further for you. This slow and steady movement of your lure or bait can help entice even the most timid fish to come out from hiding and strike.

How Deep the Float Should Sit in the Water

Most floats will be found in two or three colors. There is a distinct middle line that will give you a visual indication of where the float should sit in the water. Try to balance the hook and bait below the float in such a way that it keeps your float vertical, but doesn’t pull it too far under water.

If your float is sitting well above the water, or tilting to one side, you may need to adjust the number of split shots by adding slightly more to it. This can be done with a single split shot or even a change of line on your leader.

If the float is falling deep in the water, you may need to remove a weight or two so it has more buoyancy. Some lines can be very heavy in the water, and of course your choice of bait and lure can also play a part on the weight as well.

Final Thoughts on Float Fishing

Float fishing is a very versatile and fun way to catch some of your favorite fish species. It’s a very simple rig to set up as well, so you don’t need to be intimidated by it. In fact, float fishing is a great way to start youngsters on the path to fishing as a hobby, and can also be a way to bring seniors into the hobby as well since float fishing doesn’t require any extremely fast movements or continuous babysitting of the rod tip.

Some of the most popular floats can be used on this set up, and you can choose from a wide range of hooks as well. Catching trout, bass and salmon is easy with this style of drift fishing. In fact, other methods just can’t come close to catching as many fish as a great float fishing rig does. Not to mention, even the most inexperienced angler can pick up a rod, set up their own floats, and head out onto the water to catch more fish.

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Rick Wallace is a passionate angler and fly fisher whose work has appeared in fishing publications including FlyLife. He's appeared in fishing movies, founded a successful fishing site and spends every spare moment on the water. He's into kayak fishing, ultralight lure fishing and pretty much any other kind of fishing out there.