Expert guest contributor and accomplished author Steve Hanson shares excerpts from his book…

Posted: April 7, 2013 by Hellcat in Fish Reports, Gear Fishing, Out of Area, Salmon, Trout & Steelhead, Tips & Advice, Tutorials
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….The REEL TRUTH manuscript. This text was transferred from Steve directly and I have not made any changes what so ever. Please enjoy this very special treat I have for you today. Best of all LEARN SOMETHING NEW! Who knows…maybe you will. AAA is an educational and entertainment content site primarily offering river and stream angling techniques but is not limited to. Hell, I bet if you searched ‘Sheepshead’ on my site you’d even find one of those. Without any further hesitation…here’s Mr. Steve Hanson.

The Reel Truth

Salmon & Steelhead Float Fishing Tech and Other Tricky Things

by Steve Hanson

(Note: I both shortened & updated this section from my Reel Truth book manuscript. Most important info is further down the piece.)

– Many years ago the majority of bait and lure presentation in NW rivers was via drift fishing, followed by back trolling baits and lures from boats. T…he exception is fishing in the slow currents in tidewater areas, where float fishing eggs and sandshrimp has been the norm for many decades everywhere. In BC Canada, the popularity of float fishing baits and lures up the rivers above tidewater areas came a bit before it emerged as a common technique in the lower 48. Now, in most salmon and steelhead regions it rivals drift-fishing/side-drifting popularity as a method of choice to cover various types of water throughout the entire river system. It’s relatively easy to do, it’s very effective, and you lose less gear. Common to this fishing method are long and longer rods. I like my 9 1/2 footers, but I’m taller than average. Many fishers are using 10 1/2 footers in the modern era. They help to keep mainline off the water to preserve the natural and/or aimed float coverage (such as pulling the float laterally to come closer to a target slot). Using either spinning or casting reels are effective. The spinning reels avoid the backlashes and most good anglers prefer them for float fishing and they’ve become very high quality in the modern era. I prefer to use reasonably visable floating braided mainline on them – 15 to 30 lb test for steelhead & coho, and 40 to 65 lb test for large chinooks. Or you can use Mucilin line floatant coating on monofilament mainline. Salmon and steelhead are not as leader shy in most water situations as many anglers think. Except for weary fish in gin clear softer flowing water. You can achieve a slightly more natural looking drift in that situation with longer, lighter, more flexible leader (try 6 lb for steelies & ‘hos, and 15 lb for ‘nooks). I do think this line flexibility is more responsible for effectiveness in low water than the stealth of light leaders, but I also think the less visible lines help occasionally on somewhat spooked. Use heavier leaders for most water conditions, to play fish in faster (exhausts releasable fish less). I like 12 lb. Maxima Ultra Green fpr steelheading, and at least 20 lb. or more for chinooks. Those big ’nooks just aren‘t really leader shy most of the time, so use heavier leader where needed (snaggy holes or faster current areas). When both species are present I’ll often use a compromise 15 lb leader, or 20 lb with some water color. Leader length for float fishing faster shallower water only needs to be about 20″ +/-. Up to 30″ + for slower deep water, especially for lead headed jigs; and for bait, sometimes try putting a small split shot onto a half inch line tag below egg looped hooks where legal, which keeps the leader slack out for quicker bite detection

– There are many different types, shapes, and sizes of floats – just like people. An important factor is to fairly closely match the size/floatability to the amount of your rig’s weight; while still allowing for some weight change flexibility. ‘Rigs’ here refer to the combo of mainline swivel, lead weight, leader, and bait (either real bait such as egg’s and/or shrimp, or artificials such as rubber worms or jigs). When matched properly for the amount of weight used the float will be partially submerged such that enough is above the water to see well, and it stands fairly upright rather than leaning over (an exception being when purposely slowed with upstream tension). These balanced float factors help bite detection. There are both slider type floats, that move freely up the mainline to the depth set bobber stop, and fixed floats that are attached at one point on the mainline at a set depth. In most cases I prefer the slider floats with the adjustable bobber stop. They are much easier to cast, and allow for fishing deeper spots. The stand up sliders include ‘dinks’ (softer foam cylinder with line hole through the center lengthwise), Thill brand simulated wood ‘Torpedos’. I like the new Clear Floats and the medium density foam dark gray colored West Coast Floats in a tapered cigar shape. Two good fixed floats are the Thill brand ‘Turbo Master’ and the clip-on ‘Steelheader’ (this latter one allows quick changes between drift & float fishing – excellent efficiency). I also really like the old fashioned round natural cork floats with the orange peg inserted in the top and a black one inserted in the bottom. They are of natural floating wood appearance to fish and the smaller ones don’t bother fish as much as some other floats. Particularly, their high density weight makes for easier long casts.

– Advantages over drift fishing are many. Baits and jigs float along in currents fairly uniform from top to bottom and look more natural looking than bait attached to a bottom bouncing lead. When using floats you can cover various water column depths, and the fish aren’t always right near the bottom. Sometimes you will get bites at various depths in some types of holds (usually deeper and slower holes). But it’s best to try keeping the float fished bait moving along at around a 6″ to 12″ off the bottom for the most part, when up the river above tidewater. Then follow that with presentations further off bottom if you know fish are present in a deep hole (particularly for chinooks in tidewater). Float fishing affords better coverage of holding water that has lots of big rock and branch snags, without losing as many rigs to them. It also allows more thorough water coverage per given angling position, both longer distance casts up river and longer extended float drifts down stream of your stance. It allows you to much more effectively fish the slower seams toward the other side of the river, beyond the faster water, by keeping the mainline above it (braided line best), whereas doing this with drift fishing usually gets it pulled out of the holding seam too quickly. The seams are the slower water fish holds just off to the side of the faster currents. You can also cover the best looking fish holding slots first and cover secondary holds closer to you afterward, because with the bait hanging straight down from the float won’t hit and spook fish, as drift fishing lines can sometimes do to fish holding closer than your drifting rig. And float fishing allows you to see bites immediately, and even light bites that would be hard to detect otherwise. Always keep your eyes on the float! While eggs and/or shrimp have long been a mainstay of float fishing for salmon and steelhead, it’s also very productive for lures such as jigs, rubber worms, and even spinners (light bladed ones with weighted bodies used in faster and shallower water).

– The largest advantage of drift fishing over float fishing occurs during conditions when the fish are usually hugging bottom in swifter up river areas, because the lead drifted rigs will stay right in the most productive strike zone along the entire variable depth bottom of a hole or run, while float fished rigs vary in distance off the bottom (except in places where the depth is uniform, which is less common). Drift fishing also slows the rig closer to the bottom current speeds, which are commonly slower than the surface. Therefore, float fishing is more productive when there is decent water visibility and the water temperature is from 44 to 56 degrees F*, in which the fish will move further up or over to grab a moving bait or lure. And where the surface current doesn’ move the float overly fast. But it will still work in more adverse conditions. In faster water, also try a spool out line feed from above the fish holds with heavier lead (with large enough float) and keep some tension on it to slow it down. Also keep the baits closer to where it needs to be via more float bobber stop adjustments. Don’t fish lazy! They are pre-coiled thread put on and tightened on the mainline above a small bead and the float, and slide adjustable to set the depth your rig will drift (available at tackle shops); or make your own with Dacron backing line, or use a piece of thin rubber band tied in a tight knot on the mainline with the tag ends clipped short. Be sure that the hole in the bead put on above the float is small enough so the bobber stop can’t go through it. And keep another bead below the float as well, which prevents it from hanging up on the swivel. For snaggy areas, it’s a good idea to put another bobber stop just above the swivel the mainline knot, which usually is where line breaks, thus saving some floats. … For non-snaggy drifts, a great egg or shrimp or yarny presentation is to use the same type of weights and rigging for float fishing as you do for drift fishing, increasing the rig’s depth until the lead is barely tapping or lightly dragging bottom; for bank or boat fishing. This method is a combo of float and drift fishing, and is really affective in long moderate to faster current stretches in a river. When boating it’s often referred to as ‘bobber-dogging’ or ‘side-floating’ baits, and can be presented with the same boating method as side-drifting. Keeping the boat moving so as to allow the float to move at the speed of the current, or slightly slower when lead is ticking along. This combo of float and drift fishing is really affective in long moderate to faster current stretches in the river!

– >>> Proper line control is paramount to the most effective float fishing techniques! Mending the casted mainline is important, by quicking throwing a crescent loop upstream in uniform currents, or sometimes downstream when there’s a significant amount of slow water between you and the faster target water. If you are able to keep most of the line off the water, and keep the slack out, it becomes less important. But particularly for longer casts across the fastest water to fish slower seams on the other side of the river it becomes crucial for a good presentation. In that situation, you can keep a bait or jig very slowly moving along the excellent holding water that seams provide. You can also leave these rigs almost stationary in them for a bit if you can hold the rod tip high enough. Then dip tapping the line in the fast current for a couple seconds at a time will pull the float downstream some, so you can slowly work your bait down an entire seam in this productive manner. The occasional short quick pulls on the float will impart a little action on the jig or bait, which more often will entice a bite than spook a fish, unless they are weary in real clear water. I greatly improved my float presentation by adapting the mending techniques learned over several years of steelhead fly fishing. Jig fishing made it necessary to become more adept at it with regular lines, because they’re not as easy to control as fly line. Especially important when the float (or fly) is drifting down river from your position. My line handling role model was famed steelhead fly fisher Bill McMillian. I fished the same holes near him many times on the Washougal River in SW Washington. I was quite young, and sometimes spent more time observing his techniques than fishing. His style of line mending is one that I would call ‘smooth power application’. He could finesse a floating line better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Describing it is difficult. As his line moved along downstream and started to develop a downstream belly, he would extend his arm and rod outward and higher, then pick it up off the surface very smoothly to do a gentle roll cast type of mend; barely moving the fly, if at all. This puts an upstream curve into the line for a moment, to both keep the fly/float drifting naturally and to put a little more line on the water to help extend the drift a longer; also using line spool out on longer drifts. Learning to do that with a fly line helps teach the same mends with float fishing lines; particularly with the braids. If the belly slack has some ‘S’ curves you should slowly and smoothly reel in some of that before you gently toss the upstream mend; plus less line slack allows quicker hooksets. However, some occasional line & float movement is inevitable, but it doesn’t spook fish if kept smooth and not too often. Sometimes when I can’t get the line high enough to keep it off variable water currents, such as a combo of faster and slower water around boulders, I will do a fly fishing type roll cast of the floating line outward to then purposely put some slacked curves into it so as to allow the float more time to go naturally in the swirly flow in these good holding spots. Roll casts are done by letting out a little line, unless there is already some slack, and then slowly raising the rod tip back and high, picking the line up off the water, and then sharply snapping the rod tip downward and forward to throw line curves outward. Then quickly reel in slack and do it over again if it starts to form another float pulling line belly. Through typical riffle and roller runs the common straight dead drifting of baits and jigs is the ‘go to’ presentation. But after doing that first with several casts of good coverage, both right near bottom and up off bottom a ways, try adding twitches to the float (better in water that isn’t gin clear & smooth surfaced) which can sometimes help draw strikes by imparting some flutter action to jigs and baits; particularly on the swing over to your side. Particularly if you are using a fixed float. <<<
– HEY, watch your float the entire time – always! Bites will most often either just stop the float’s drifting, cause small dipping or tilting movements of it, move laterally to the current, or just dip right under the surface = “bobber down”, set the hook! … In some slow water presentations the fish will come up under a bait and carry it upward with a bit of momentum, and astute float watcher will then notice the float raise a tiny bit more in the surface. When in doubt, set the hook. If you have more slack line than intended, reel up quick when you get a bite. The less slack the better chance of a good hookset. If the bobber down is upstream of your position it’s best to set the hook with an upward and straight back. That should set the hook into the upper corner of the fish’s mouth; a good place to hook them. If the take is approximately out in front of your position, if space allows, do a downstream swinging hook set with the rod tip low to the water. This will also help hook the fish further back in the mouth, and sometimes in that good place in the corner of the mouth. Same when the float is a long ways downstream of your position. That’s when the biggest and hardest swinging hook sets, sideward toward the shore if possible, helps get it buttoned. Otherwise, with both the distance out and downstream angle, if you do a moderate swing straight back you could get a marginal front lip hookup or even pull the hook out of it’s mouth. … If you are getting lots of tidewater pogey or upriver squaw fish biting float fished bait — hmmm, either swear real LOUD or stop wasting bait? When in doubt during this trashfish feed, just gently lift your rod up, and if you feel head shakes from a big fish – lucky you – quickly set a second time, harder.

  1. REEL LIfestyle says:

    I read this three times and if it is not illegal, I will copy this for future use..Excellent Stuff. I have never caught a fish on a float rig..Tried many times but maybe with this information my luck will change..<<>>

  2. Sal says:

    Nice article and very informative. Great to have Steve on the site and to share some really nice subtleties of float fishing. Sal

  3. Steve Hanson says:

    Thanks much Chris & members. You have a class fishing site here – not only very useful info techs from various fish slayers, but also well deserved promos for excellent NW tackle makers. Buy local, it’s the best anyway! …

    Keep an eye later this year for “The Reel Truth II” updated 2nd edition. [ ]. I’ll be edit upgrading my manuscript for it AND hopefully top slayer & host Christopher Heller will write a long chapter on the latest useful catching info to augment mine. He & friends get out on the river a lot more often than I do the last couple years. As I’ve written, nothing increases catching knowledge more than proper river time.


  4. Steve Hanson says:

    I forgot to mention, AAA is likely to be one of the main sales outlets for the 2nd Edition. The first book printing sold out long ago. – Steve

  5. les baxter says:

    I float fish a lot and THOUGHT I knew a bunch.. This article added so much more information to my knowledge toolbox.. Thank you for sharing this article. Chris, I thank you again for making me better, in life and at fishing..

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