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Flow control: where current & floats match.

FLOATS ARE THE TOOLS OF CHOICE FOR WALLEYE FISHERMEN WHO WANT TO SUSPEND JIGS AND BAIT, BUT RIVERS POSE UNIQUE PROBLEMS, DEPTHS VARY UNDER THE FLOAT AS IT'S CARRIED ALONG, AND CURRENT PLAYS GAMES WITH "BOBBERS" AND JIGS TIPPED WITH CRAWLERS OR LEECHES, CAUSING LINE TWIST AND PRESENTATION PROBLEMS. FOR WHATEVER REASON, FLOAT TACTICS SELDOM SEEM AS PRODUCTIVE AS THEY SHOULD BE IN RIVERS.

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Part of this problem stems from rigging woes. Floats that work well in lakes don't necessarily work well in rivers. Asians and Europeans have been "trotting" floats in rivers for well over a century now, and long ago learned that current demands specific float designs. While a common, everyday float can produce strikes well enough in slow water, each increment of increasing current speed demands the efficiency of a well-designed river float.

Floats designed for use in current have longer stems. The body sits up higher on the stem and tends to be thinner with a steep taper, giving the current less to grab. Being able to slow down the float without creating a huge disturbance on top is important, giving walleyes a longer look at the bait. While river walleyes tend to make decisions faster than lake-bound walleyes, they still require some coaxing. Slow-moving baits tend to perform better, and it's possible to make a bait move more slowly than the current, by holding back the float or "checking" it. Just keep the line (don't let a "bow" develop in the line) and pin the line to the blank of your rod for a few seconds at a time, allowing the bait to swing downstream of the float. In order to do this right, you should use a "fixed" float like the River Master, as opposed to the traditional slipfloat, which allows the current to pull your float down the line toward the bait when you "check" or slow down the float.

One classic river float is the Thill River Master, which consists of a balsa body sitting high on a denser wooden stem. When held back, current parts easily around this float. Available in three sizes (6 1/4-, 7-, and 7 1/2-inch) to match most every type of bait, the River Master is held on the line with two small rubber sleeves, one for each end of the stem. Slide them onto the line and tie on a barrel swivel below them. Slip the float into the sleeves, then tie a 4- to 5-foot fluorocarbon leader to the swivel. Split shot can be pinched onto the line in a group down near the hook or can be spread up the line, with the largest shot placed closer to the float. The business end of the rig can be a hook or a small jig.

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You'll find that the River Master, like its counterparts from Europe (such as the Grayling Ultra, the Drennen Avon, and so forth), easier to control in current. A slightly longer rod works best for this technique, and while "trotters" may opt for rods 12 to 15 feet long, an 8- to 10-footer works nicely for walleyes. One good rod designed for slipbobbering in both lakes and rivers is the St. Croix Legend Tournament Slip Stick, which is 8 feet long but telescopes down to fit in any rod locker. The Slip Stick is rated for 4- to 10-pound line, which is the perfect range for leaders meant for walleyes when using these techniques.

Active walleyes tend to move much shallower in rivers than they do in lakes. Typically, the bite zone is in 8 feet of water or less, another good reason for using a fixed float. Slipfloats excel when baits need to be deeper than 10 feet, and one of the best for river use is Rod-N-Bobb's, which has a relatively small body that can be adjusted on the stem. Slide it up a little higher on the stem for slipfloating in rivers.

Leeches, crawlers, minnows, and plastic versions of all the above can be presented below a float. Scented softbaits, such as the Gulp! Nightcrawler, can be very effective rigged "wacky style," a bass fishing tactic wherein a single hook is slipped through the center of the worm, leaving both ends to dangle, wave, and swim in the current. Gulp! Leeches are another great choice.

WHERE AND WHEN

Places where walleyes commonly feed that suggest the use of float tactics include eddies, gravel banks, rockpiles, mudlines, and flats behind current breaks. Otherwise, wherever you find walleyes biting in areas of fairly consistent depth, float-fishing is an option.

Slipfloats work in all conditions because the target is neutral or relatively inactive. And since float tactics appeal so well to neutral fish, search for highly active walleyes first with cranks, jig-plastic combos, or jig-bait combos. After probing an area with these presentations for active fish and finding a few takers, drop the hook (anchor) and begin drifting through the spot with floats and bait.

Most anglers trying floats in rivers for the first time are surprised to discover how many walleyes can be missed on jigs or crankbaits, and how well these fish react to a bait simply caught in the flow, moving naturally at or slightly slower than the current.

Active fish often position in the "push" on the upcurrent side of a creek. Less active, feeding walleyes often group behind a current break like a bridge abutment, wing dam, fallen tree, natural point, or rockbar. Behind these areas, long, slow drifts are the rule. Start deep, off the tip of the structure, toward midriver. Each subsequent drift should be closer to the bank, right up into 2 feet of water. River walleyes often position themselves and feed in 2-foot depths, even in the middle of the day. Simply readjust the float by sliding it down toward your bait a few inches to a foot before each drift.

The colder the water, the better it is to use jigs for anchoring baits in the flow and delivering them right on the nose. In summer, a single #2 to #6 baitholder hook works better, allowing the bait to swim freely and the current to move the bait more. River walleyes tend to be more aggressive than lake walleyes. They won't mind rising a couple feet to take a free-swimming leech, minnow, or crawler.

Follow up your initial approach to rivers this year with a slipbobber rig. You'll expand your opportunities--and catches--while broadening your understanding of how walleyes use the spots you fish.
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Title Annotation:FOCUS ON FLOATS
Author:Straw, Matt
Publication:Walleye In-Sider
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
Words:1088
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