It was a hot summer day and I‘ll admit my patience was pretty low. But I still took the kids to one of our favorite shore fishing spots for a night of fishing and a campfire. Peter was about three at the time and was showing his independence every chance he could get. We were bobber fishing this trip for several reasons, one of which was lines are easy to keep track of and the kids can see the bobber go down, adding to the excitement. On this particular night Peter had some thing else in mind. Every time I went to help one of the other kids, he would reel in his line. It wasn’t a slow methodical retrieve. It was more of a nascar crossed with a marlin-charter-light-the-water-on-fire retrieve. So each time he brought in his line I went over and explained to him that if he wanted to catch fish he needed to leave the bobber out where the fish were. On my tenth or more attempt to get my point across to this budding young angler, something horrible happened. You know the thing that gets in the way when you’re trying to convince your kids of something? Peter caught a fish. Not any fish. It was a two and a half pound smallie. That’s right, I was wrong. What made it worse is that my wife took his side and used my own words against me when she said, “isn’t it about having fun? Let him fish how he wants.” It takes a lot when both your wife and your 3 year old are both right on the same day. At the end of the night Peter had just under a three pound average with 4 smallies and topped it off with an assortment of other fish with his speed-demon retrieve. Most of what I am writing in this article are bobber tactics I have learned fishing with Peter as he grew up and that I have refined with other kids and new anglers. 

Bobber fishing is one of the simplest traditional tactics there is. With just a few variations you can be extremely adaptable to some pretty technical situations. This is why bobbers are so important when teaching people how to fish. And along the way, like me, you will learn some lessons about fish you would have never guessed you’d learn. 

All bobbers are not created equal and you need to pick through the options to make the right choice for the conditions you’re going to encounter. For the purposes of this article I am going to break them down into a few categories. Traditional round bobbers, spring bobbers, slip bobbers and combination bobbers.

Traditional round bobbers are inexpensive and provide a lot of buoyancy. You can place and remove them from a line easily. The drawback to the traditional round bobbers is they are hard to cast with more than a couple of feet of line, making them really hard to cast for kids with shorter rods. The buoyancy is also a drawback when fishing for sensitive fish that feel the bobber and let go. Being made of hard plastic they tend to break easily on rocks and the internal spring likes to rust after use.

Spring bobbers typically are made of foam, cork or wood and are long and skinny in shape. They attach to the line by the tension of the spring and the groove in the bottom of the bobber. They offer less resistance when a fish starts pulling. They come in a wide rage of prices and styles allowing you pick the one that works best for you. The drawback to the spring bobber is similar to the traditional round bobbers in that they are hard to cast when trying to fish more than a foot or so below the bobber. 

Slip bobbers look very similar to the spring bobber and come in countless options. The difference is that there is a tube running through the slip bobber that your line can slide on. You place a bead and bobber stop on the line and you can cast and fish as deep as you want with a bobber that reels up to within a couple of inches of the hook. They also tend to be a little more durable and can handle kids better. The drawback to the slip bobber is that you have to cut the line to take it off or put it on. 

Combination bobbers are bobbers that have the ability to connect to the line or act as a slip bobber. These bobbers are nice because you can fish with them many different ways without buying multiple bobber styles. The drawback to this style of bobber is they don’t have the finesse that each of the other bobbers have. This drawback is easily over-looked when fishing with kids, as you will see.

The iconic look of a picture of a kid with a traditional round bobber is something we all have seen. When you are fishing with kids in a place that you can use a cane pole or a foot of line or less below the bobber, traditional round bobbers or spring bobbers are a tactic that is tried and true for panfish and bullheads. But as soon as you start getting deeper than 18 inches it is time to switch over to a slip bobber. This will save on tangles, hooks stuck in bushes and body parts, and lead to more fish getting caught.

There are a lot more ways to use bobbers, as Peter taught us and this is where the combination bobbers shine. When you are fishing in a body of water with a lot of rocks or weeds, you can use a bobber for depth control to stay above the snags. What’s nice about this option is that you can get the kids use to how fast they need to reel in to stay out of the snags. When they start getting confident you can take the bobber off and let them try it without assistance. This is also a great way to fish rivers with jigs. They can cast and retrieve, letting the current and their reeling move the jig, again keeping out of the snags. I have used this technique with spoons, inline spinners, jigs, cranks and anything else the kids could put on the line.

Speaking of jigs, I love using WingIt’s Quick Swap bobbers to teach both kids and adults how to vertical jig. Set the bobber stop just above the bottom and have them jig with the goal of keeping the bobber flat on the surface. As they progress you can take off the bobber and let them use the bobber stop as a guide to see if they are keeping the line tight enough. The beauty of this technique is when they get bored or give up the jig hangs in the strike zone and a lot of times triggers a strike. The other nice thing about using the Quick Swap for kids is as you change lure sizes you can change bobber sizes in no time at all. 

Let’s not forget the speed-demon bobber retrieve. Skipping bobbers across the surface has put a lot of pike, bass and even walleye in the bucket for us over the years in spite of my previous ignorance. That bobber doesn’t have to just sit there. It can do a little mov’en. So when you are out fishing with kids make sure you have some bobbers and let them get creative so you can catch more fish and have a lot of fun.

In next month’s addition of “Raising an Angler”, I am going to cover “Who to Ask” where to get the info you need to take a kid fishing.

Original Published in Midwest Outdoors August 2018

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