Slip One By Those Early-Season
Walleyes And Pike.
by JP Bushey
If you own a medium-action spinning rod, a selection
of sliding floats and have access to a good supply of natural bait,
there's a presentation you'll want to spend some time with this
spring: float fishing. Pike and walleyes are both suckers for this
system, and what it lacks in fanfare, it more than makes up for in
production under a variety of conditions. You can almost always
trick a few fish with a float.
Just like jig fishing, soaking bait under a float really shines when
you're working with a small area. This could mean a current break,
the inlet to a bay, or any specific piece of structure or cover. But
with any combination of wind, current and good boat control, you can
work a float over a surprisingly wide area if you need to.
In still water, get your back to the wind, and let the float bob and
dip all the way down through key spots. Breezy, warm days early in
the season are prime windows for slowly slipping a float and live or
dead baitfish into areas that pike are using. The key is that fish
have a lot of time to pick up on the presence of your bait.
Suspending minnowbaits, spoons or spinnerbaits often don't spend
long enough in a pike's zone of awareness. Floats lead your
presentation in slowly, and keep it there longer than any other
technique will. Slip-bobbers with extended shafts below the water
and a streamlined shape slow your approach to a crawl. Many of my
favorites also have a lead collar on the lower shaft. For a quicker
pass, go to larger, higher buoyancy floats with more surface area
and bulk. They ride higher and add action to baits below. A great
option with a frozen smelt or herring.
When walleyes are shallow, as they often are for periods in spring,
floats can simply be the best option you have. In many lakes and
rivers, fish re-group and forage in water less than twelve feet
deep, and are drawn to specific features. These can be rock piles,
sand bars, slack-water pools, even beaver houses, blow downs and
brush piles. Dunking these areas with a minnow, leech or
crawler-baited jig can be the only way to reach fish you'd otherwise
spook. At other times, a simple split shot and #6 or #8 single hook
is all you'll need. Use the wind and anchor, feeding the package
down, or silently slip along from spot to spot with an electric
motor and flip out your float.
Become accustomed to the performance differences from one style of
float to the next. Like any other tool in your tackle box, they all
have a time and place. Foam floats are often more buoyant for their
size than similar balsa versions. Shape plays a big part in the
action they transmit to the bait below, their drift speed and how
easily a fish can submerge them. Hunkering down a low-profile float
with a lot of weight will keep it in areas longer. Lighter and
rounder models with little added weight below the water will have
your bait skipping along and dancing with the wave action.
For soaking areas with floats, superlines really shine. Firstly,
they float. Mono quickly sinks, and usually weaves its way into
anything that might be hiding on bottom. Having your line and float
uniformly ride along the surface really helps for control before and
after a fish has been hooked.
Setting the distance between your bait and the bottom is a matter of
adjusting your in-line bobber stopper. They come in neoprene rubber
and Dacron models most commonly. Others are made of fine pieces if
plastic that weave onto your line. In a pinch, I've used rubber
filaments from a spinnerbait skirt to stop my float, too. Superlines
can be hard on rubber stoppers. Moisten them with saliva just as you
would a knot before sliding them up or down your line.
A selection of bright, dressed and undressed jigs from 1/32 to 1/8oz
and a handful of fine, sharp salmon-egg style single hooks from #8
to #4 are a good starting point when rigging up for walleyes. I've
also had good success with a simple chartreuse plastic bead threaded
on ahead of a red, #6 Gamakatsu Egg Hook and three-inch shiner or
ribbon leech. Thill and Black Bird make sensitive, highly visible
floats that are great tools for walleyes.
Rigging for pike always starts with a wire leader and single or
treble hook matched to the size of your bait. Wire quick-strikes go
well with dead baits. High buoyancy foam floats add extra action to
the bait, which can make a difference some days. Concave, 'popper'
style floats can be a great tool for adding surface disturbance to
your presentation. It's very common to have a pike swirl on your
float like a topwater plug, and then grab the bait below a few
seconds later. Deadbaits, in particular. In spring, the majority of
the baitfish I select are under eight inches in length. Five to
seven inches is what I go with most often. Allow the fish to run the
float, tighten up your line, and let her have it!
Long spinning rods with good backbone and a soft tip are crucial to
keeping your bait on the hook when casting it out, and they really
help take up slack line when closing in on your opponent. No-stretch
lines allow you to keep a much more direct connection with pike that
have peeled away with your float, and they help drive the hook home.
Most good spinning reels today have long-cast spools, and they allow
line to leave freely, with very low memory.
Whether for pike or walleyes, slowly comb through some of your best
areas with a slip float and bait this spring. They work well in
water as deep as forty feet, but when fish are shallow and you've
got them located, the technique really comes in to its own. Slip
floating isn't a technique that works under all conditions, but it
sure comes close. In the early season, especially. Scanning the
surface only to find your bobber has vanished matches the excitement
of any other technique you can use.