Float Fishing 101

Float Fishing 101

Float Fishing

by Rod Toth - Bent Rods Guiding


Although float fishing has been used for hundreds of years and throughout the world, the type I will speak of is used in Freshwater Rivers throughout North America for catching Salmon, Steelhead, Trout and Char. Sometimes known as drift fishing, I prefer to use the term Float fishing as drift fishing really involves no float. At it's simplest; float fishing can be a very cheap and easy way to catch fish with little experience. On the other hand, a very accomplished float fisherman can spend a lifetime mastering the many different subtle techniques.

The first thing you will need to get going is a proper rod and reel. I suggest a rod of at least 9' with a maximum of 12' for bigger rivers and fish. I prefer lighter rods with a strong butt section, this way you can feel light bites and still horse a bit to get the fish in quickly for a quick release. Try to match your rod to the species you are fishing ,for most salmon a 9ft to 10.5 ft rod of light action will suffice ,for spring salmon or big river steelhead you may want to move up to a 9 ft to 12 ft med-heavy action rod. There are many types of good quality fishing rods on the market ,all the top name brands are quite good, but be concerned with the warranty .For a few extra dollars you can often get a lifetime warranty ,in my experience ,this is priceless ,as graphite rods are certainly prone to breakage. Make sure the rod and reel combo you choose feels right in your hands and there should be a nice balance between two.

Float Fishing for Salmon and Steelhead

When it comes to reels, there are only two types I would consider choosing, first would be a level wind reel and the second would be a single action reel (centre pin).

The level wind reel is by far the most versatile; it can be used for casting lures without a float and other applications such as trolling, bar fishing and drift fishing. Choosing a level wind reel is not difficult, I suggest spending as much as you can afford, as you really get what you pay for. Again ask about warranty and also consider the amount of line it will hold, to match the fish you are after.

The Single action reel (centre pin), is probably the best reel to have if you are float fishing all the time, it will feed out line very smoothly and is great fun when landing a fish, not to mention line capacity is excellent. There are hundreds of different centre pin reels on the market and a whole story could be written on choosing one. I would suggest nothing less than $200 and anything over $500 is a personal luxury. Again be very careful to match your rod and reel to the fish you are after, often times people fish with oversized set ups and really take away from the overall enjoyment .

When choosing line, many factors come into play. For smaller reels and smaller fish 10-15lb mainline will be fine, on the bigger reels with larger fish in mind, 15 -25 lb is a better choice as losing a huge fish does not make for a happy day. Stick to the top name brands, line is of most importance and should be quality stuff. When using a centre pin look for a line that is slightly stiffer than what you would use on a level wind, this makes for better casting performance.

Choosing your terminal gear is very important when Float fishing, there are many ways of rigging your float set up, so I will stick to a few of my favorites.


Choosing a float is as much a personal choice as a correct choice. The three most popular floats are the foam float, balsa float and Drennan style floats. Foam floats are by far the cheapest and that is what I most often use. They come in various styles such as wrap around straight thru and also come in all manner of sizes. You will need to experiment with different ones to find what you like but your float should ride above the surface at all times and still be sensitive to a light bite.

The balsa float is by far the prettiest and when using the right one can be very sensitive to light bites, choosing one is a matter of experimenting. As you will not be losing your float often, spending a little more will not hurt. I have started using balsa floats more and more and find top quality balsa floats an important device for detecting light biters.

Drennan style floats are clear plastic floats that come in all shapes and sizes, quite expensive and very sensitive these floats also have the added attraction that they are clear and some think less likely to spook fish.


When trying to decide what to use for weight many factors must be considered. When fishing clear smaller rivers, small weights such as split shot can make the difference, on the bigger flows pencil lead and slinkies are more popular. I have provided some drawings and pictures to give you some ideas of terminal set-ups, try experimenting and see what you like.

Swivels, when choosing swivels remember to match the swivel to the rest of your gear. One of my personal favorite set-ups requires a piece of pencil lead, pushed into a piece of rubber tubing that is running on your mainline. Having the correct swivel with this set-up is essential as your weight and tube must not be able to slide past your swivel on to your leader or you may lose a fish because of this .I normally stick with #8 swivels.

Leaders, when choosing leaders I suggest going 2 to 5 lbs lighter than your mainline and keeping them short ,I find 2 feet to be the maximum and often I run as short as 10 inches to avoid my bait or lure from floating up. Check your leader often, losing fish to a nicked leader is a terrible feeling and totally avoidable.


I consider hooks the single most important piece of the puzzle, you could have all the top quality gear money can buy, but if you scrimp on hooks many fish will be lost .I always use top quality razor sharpened hooks, the sizes I use range from #2 to 3/0, and are determined by various things such as water clarity and species you are after. Typically you will use smaller hooks for clearer water unless you are after large fish, then you may want to stick with larger hooks.

Baits and lures

The baits and lures available to the float fisherman are endless, I will cover some of the more popular, but only through experimenting will you find what works for you. Confidence with what you are using is a big part of success; try to avoid constantly changing what you are using.

Natural baits

Included in these are worms, salmon roe, ghost shrimp and deli shrimp, prawns as well as krill. The key to using natural baits is presenting them in a natural manner. I always try to present my baits close to the bottom but slightly above the fish's window of vision.

Steelhead Fishing BC

Try and keep slack line to a minimum and be ready for very subtle takes as good fisherman know that fish can pick up a bait with very little registered at the float, often just a slight slowing or rising of the float, be ready and set the hook if you think something is amiss. Always check the regulations for a bait ban, as in these days of conservation concerns, bait fishing is being banned in many rivers.

Artificial baits

I would consider these, any lure that is meant to represent a natural bait. Some are made using scent and others are not, any using added scent is considered bait and you must keep this in mind where bait bans are in effect.

Salmon and Steelhead Baits

Some of the more popular artificial baits are Jensen eggs (rubber eggs), gooey bobs (roe cluster), rubber worms and wool, often the wool is shaped to represent an egg cluster, single egg or used in conjunction with rubber eggs. Wool comes in hundreds of colors; I prefer the peaches, pinks and whites and chartreuses or a combination of all. Where bait is allowed adding scent to your wool can be very effective.


I would consider lures any offering that uses movement to entice a fish to bite. In this category we have spinners, spoons and spin n glows. When we think of float fishing we often do not think of spinners and spoons, however I have caught many fish while fishing these under a float. The key to using spinners and spoons in this manner is to use lighter ones than you would use without a float. I prefer Colorado and french blades and with spoons I mostly use Oval style although narrow spoons such as crocodiles can be effective. Another very effective float fishing tool is the dick nite spoon, give them a try, you may be surprised.

Salmon and Steelhead Spoons and Spinners

The real beauty of fishing with these lures this way, is you can keep them off the bottom and slow down your presentation so they just barely flutter, often fish find this irresistible. Again experiment, as I have found many different lures work well under a float. Spin n glows are a very effective lure, I myself have not had huge success using them, and however I know many who have. The amount of sizes and colors is endless and a lifetime could be spent experimenting with them, they work well, that is for sure. Try holding back on your line a little while using spin n glows, this will get it spinning and entice fish to bite.


No float fishing story would be complete without mentioning jigs. Jigs come in many shapes and sizes and all have their time and place. I have had my most success using jigs made from adding a pin and bead to a jig hook. The jigs I make use many different fur and feathers and often some rather obscure materials. I find the key to fishing jigs is getting a drag free drift. While fishing, your float should be standing straight up and down and your jig should be traveling at least a foot off bottom.

Salmon and Steelhead jigs

I often find that keeping my jig well of the bottom is my key to success. Fish see the jig breathing in the flow, and come from a fair distance to hammer them. Trying to find jigs with strong hooks can be a tough go .This is what prompted me to tie up my own jigs. It also allows me to experiment with colors and sizes. Store jigs are usually on hooks for bass fishing, not worthy of Salmon or Steelhead, and really, are not made by fisherman with on the water knowledge. Some jigs are good at catching fish and others are good at catching fishermen. Choose the right ones for success.

If you are more interested in fishing jigs, Bent Rods Guiding and Fishing Co. is now making our jigs available to the public. These are jigs made and tested by professional guides, and hardcore Steelhead and Salmon fishermen. They are guaranteed to boost your success, and landing ratio.

For more information, go to Jigs Page.


A book could be written on techniques so I will try to keep it simple. I feel there is virtually no need to be bouncing bottom while float fishing, your bait or lure should be at least a foot off bottom. Although a fish will occasionally react to an offering that is being slightly dragged along bottom, too much gear is deposited on the bottom. Stick to fishing off bottom and you will lose almost no gear, be doing the environment a big favor and avoid foul hooking fish that are stacked in a pool.

BC Salmon and Steelhead fishing

Another factor to remember is to keep the presentation natural by keeping your line high and off the water and avoiding unwanted drag. I try to keep my bait or lure traveling the same speed as the water to make it as natural as possible, although when using attraction lures such as spinners spoons and spin n glows, holding back a little can get them moving and attract fish. Another technique I use is at the end of my drift I often let my offering sit in the current a bit before slowly reeling in, I have had many strikes while letting it hang or starting my retrieve. I have also had attacks right at my feet while reeling in slowly. These are just a few of the techniques used while float fishing, there are others and in time you will find your own.

I hope this article will get you started float fishing, it is a very enjoyable style of fishing and its rewards can be many.

Big BC Steelhead

Picture your float, gliding down a beautiful pool in the early morning light. In an instant, your float is violently ripped underwater, and in seconds, a massive silver steelhead explodes the water with a huge jump. It is scenes like this that live forever, in a float fisherman's mind.

Good luck and Bent Rods