Start Bottom Bouncing Better With Expert Advice
Bottom bouncing is a way of catching steelhead, salmon, and trout in a river without a float, and there are many river guides and anglers that use it in certain conditions. The old way of bottom bouncing can be greatly improved with these modern methods I and other river guides use.
Bottom bouncing is when you cast your bait in an out-and-across-river direction and allow the bait to sink, and drift freely with the current as it comes toward you and past you. Your bait should be periodically bumping and bouncing across the bottom of the river, hence the name bottom bouncing.
Bottom bouncing is a great way to get your bait down to the fish in a moving current and it works best on rocky bottom rivers, pocket water, and smaller riffles and runs.
I will show you the old method of bottom bouncing and a new more productive method that takes the advanced ideas from the world’s best tournament river anglers and incorporates them into modern bottom bouncing. If you really want to up your game with bottom bouncing, this is it.
This new method also means fewer snags and fewer lost baits which for me as a guide means less time wasted and more fish in the net.
How To Bottom Bounce
Bottom bouncing is simply casting your line out a short distance up the river at about a 45-degree angle out, and then allowing the weight and the bait to sink down to the bottom and drift freely down the river along the bottom.
The weight and the bait will bounce their way down the river, hence the term bottom bouncing.
As the weight and the bait bounce along the bottom, the angler should keep the mainline line between the weight and the rod tip fairly tight which will allow them to feel the weight ticking along the bottom.
The angler will maintain just enough tension on the line that they are not pulling the bait or the weights towards them.
With light tension on the mainline, if a fish grabs the bait the line will stop or tighten signaling a biting fish. This is the hardest part for most anglers to get good at but there are some bottom bouncing methods that are easier to detect strikes with.
This way of doing it is what is known as traditional bottom bouncing and it works well in medium to fast currents from 1 foot to 20 feet deep.
The ideal depth for bottom bouncing is 2 to 6 feet on small to medium-sized rivers, but with some adjustments to your setup and your drifts you can fish large deeper rivers like the Niagara River.
Bottom bouncing works great in fast, shallow, and small pockets where float fishing isn’t so good but it also works in larger pools too meaning that it is a very versatile method for fishing rivers.
Best Baits For Bottom Bouncing
I do have a page on The Best Baits For Steelhead which should check out but I will list a bunch of baits that I use when bottom bouncing.
My Favorite baits for bottom bouncing are:
- Plastic Steelhead Worms – 2″ to 4″ – Best colors are pink, red, brown, and purple.
- Spawn Sacks – Adjust the size to the conditions – See my Page on Roe Bags Tips and Tricks For More Steelhead and Trout
- Flies – I use different flies for different water conditions. See my page on My Best Flies For Steelhead and my page on Best Flies For Trout
- Beads – Plastic or glass beads are a great bait for trout, steelhead, and salmon. Check out my page on how to rig them and how to Fish With Beads
- Soft Plastic Baits – This includes fake eggs, grubs, plastic nymphs, plastic leeches, and plastic minnows.
- Jigs: I also use Jigs with very good success when bottom bouncing.
Best Rod For Bottom Bouncing
Although most anglers’ bottom bounce with a spinning rod and reel, you can also bottom bounce with a Centerpin rod and reel, or with a baitcasting reel. All of them will work.
If you are fishing bigger rivers a longer rod up to 13 feet will help you cast farther as well as keep your line under control throughout the drift.
On smaller rivers of 10 to 20 feet wide that don’t have a lot of deep pools over 6 feet, a rod in the 8 to 11-foot length is probably best.
If you are going to use a spinning reel for steelhead or salmon I strongly suggest getting a good reel with a great drag system like the ones that I recommend on my Best Spinning Reels For Steelhead page.
Best Line For Bottom Bouncing
For trout fishing, I will use a 6 to 8-pound mainline. For steelhead, I will use an 8 to 12-pound mainline, and for salmon, I will use a 12 to 14-pound mainline. In case you are not sure what the mainline is, the mainline is the line that is on your reel.
I mostly use mono or copolymer mainline lines but any type of mainline would work, even braid.
The key to the whole bottom bouncing rig is the bottom section so the mainline is less important.
One advantage to using a braided line for bottom bouncing is the no-stretch factor and the extra sensitivity of a no-stretch line for detecting strikes.
Braid also has the advantage of being very thin compared to mono or fluorocarbon lines of the same pound test.
The thin line cuts through the upper current better and does not get pushed so fast by the upper current which allows you to control your bait speed better and improves hook-ups. The downside to braid is it can freeze in below-freezing temperatures.
The Best Leader For Bottom Bouncing
For all my leaders I will use a good quality fluorocarbon leader. Fluorocarbon has the advantage of being less visible to the fish which can mean more bites, and it is more abrasion resistant so which means fewer break-offs.
Using the wrong size of a leader is a big mistake that a lot of new anglers make and just because some angler on the river says to use an 8-pound test, you should be aware that an 8-pound test from one brand can be so thick that the fish could see it and you won’t catch much fish, while another brands 8-pound test can be perfect.
In fact, I use a 4-pound test leader for great lakes steelhead all the time, but not just any 4-pound leader, I use Drennan’s 4-pound test leader because it’s as strong as most other brands’ 8-pound test.
I highly recommend going to my page Best Leaders and Sizes to make sure you get the right size leader.
How Much Weight To Add To Your Bottom Bouncing Setup?
With each of the Bottom Bouncing setups below you only want to add just enough weight to get the bait down fast but not so heavy that it anchors to the bottom and doesn’t bounce along naturally with the current. Too little weight and you won’t hit the bottom fast enough or you won’t hit the bottom at all.
The short and simple answer is that the amount of weight that you need to make the bottom bouncing rig work perfectly will depend on the velocity of the current and the depth of each spot.
Different spots could require different amounts of weight, this is not a one size fits all scenario.
Fishing a big deep river like the Niagara River might require triple the weight that you would need on a small trout stream. Slower water will also require less weight and in faster water, you may need to add more.
I always start with less weight and then add more if I feel like I’m not hitting the bottom enough or not getting down fast enough.
I also prefer to add less weight and cast further up the river so it has more time to sink down before reaching the prime holding area. Less weight usually allows the bait to move more naturally in the current and you won’t snag up as much.
As an example, on a smaller trout-sized river that is 3 to 5 feet deep, 2 or 3 BB-sized split shots will work perfectly.
The Bottom Bouncing Rig
The bottom bouncing rig that most anglers and guides use is pretty simple and you can see this traditional setup in this picture.
I do not normally recommend this rig without a simple adjustment which I will discuss below.
With the traditional bottom bouncing set up, you put a snap swivel on the mainline and then put a small micro bead on the mainline, and then attach a micro swivel to the bottom of your mainline.
See the Bottom Bouncing Setup on this YouTube video link.
The bead protects your knot because you are going to add some pencil lead to the snap swivel above the bead and this pencil lead will slide up and down the line.
Once the micro swivel is on you then attach a 12 to 36-inch piece of fluorocarbon leader to the other side of the swivel and then you add your bait to the bottom of that leader.
Make sure you use the right size of leader for the river conditions. Just because a leader says 8lb doesn’t mean it’s 8lbs and because of that it’s not uncommon for anglers to use leaders too light or too heavy and that results in fewer fish in the net.
If you are not sure about the right leader size and which ones are recommended check out my page on the Best Leaders and Sizes.
The length of the leader that you add to your swivel will depend on the water clarity. The clearer the water the longer your leader.
The leader should be long enough to keep the bait far enough from your mainline and your weights so that the fish don’t see them and get spooked. One of the downsides to this setup is the thicker non-fluorocarbon mainline can be right in the fish’s strike zone and the fish might see it and then refuse to bite your bait.
My simple adjustment is to add a 24″ to 36″ piece on mono between the bottom swivel and the mainline as seen in the below diagrams. This extra piece of fluorocarbon leader is a must-have if you’re mainline is a high visibility mono.
Another downside to having your mainline running right to the bottom swivel is that most guys use mono as their mainline and mono is not very abrasion resistant and since that swivel and the weight are attached to the mainline there is a good chance the mainline will be dragging across the rocks.
This is another reason to always add a fluorocarbon section above the bottom swivel.
With this bottom bouncing set up, you only add enough weight to get your bait down to the bottom at a reasonable time.
If it takes 20 seconds for your bait to get to the bottom on a 15-foot drift you are too light. In 6 feet of water, you want your bait to be down in the strike zone in about 3 seconds.
Too much weight and you will get hung up too much and your bait won’t move as freely and natural-looking as you want. The weight will depend on the depth and the velocity of the current.
The major downside to the traditional method is that a lot of anglers struggle with detecting the strike from soft hitting fish and they will miss fish because of this.
The other downside is that they snag up and lose a lot of baits. This is why I use a few newer setups and methods for bottom bouncing that have greatly improved how many fish I catch.
Another downside to this method is that your bait may be dragging across the bottom and studies show that trout feed less than 13% off the river bottom.
The last downside to this traditional style of fishing is that your bait could be anywhere in the drift and could be in a position that is bad for detecting a strike.
If you use a 36-inch leader like some guides use and recommend, that could mean your weight may be on the bottom but your bait might be 3 feet over their heads and out of the strike zone. It could also mean that the bait may be dragging behind the float on the bottom or could be out 3 feet in front of your weight which is horrible for detecting strikes.
Underwater videos show a trout grabbing particles in the water and then spitting it out within a split second.
This means that when a trout grabs your bait that is 3 feet ahead of your weights the fish could easily spit it out without you ever knowing the fish was there, and this is one of the reasons I don’t bottom bounce using the traditional method anymore, and why I prefer a more modern approach.
Alternative Bottom Bouncing Rigs
These are 3 adjustments to the traditional bottom bouncing rig that can be better.
Dropper Bottom Bouncing Rig
This is very similar to the traditional rig but instead of having the weight in-line and on the mainline this rig allows you to have your weights on a separate tag.
The advantage of this rig is that you may lose fewer baits.
Sure you will still lose some weights but it’s easier to replace the weights than it is to replace the bait.
Another advantage to this is that it’s less likely to scratch and nick the mainline or the leader on rocks which could cause a break off of a big fish. For this setup, I use a fluorocarbon leader above and below the weights so the fish do not see it and to prevent abrasion from rocks.
To do this properly you simply want to run a 6-inch tag off the swivel or off of a triple surgeon’s knot. I use a tag line that is half the pound rating of the leader where my bait goes so that if the weights get hung up on a rock and you pull hard enough the tag or the weights will break off but not the bait.
With the traditional method above you will lose your entire bottom bouncing rig more often because the weights are on the mainline and can’t break away freely like they can with this bottom bouncing rig.
You can use split shots or pencil lead with this method. If I use split shots I will tie a single overhand knot at the very bottom of the tag before I put the weights on. This little knot acts as a stopper so the split shots do not slip off too easily.
If snags are a big issue then don’t use the knot, split shots are cheaper and easier to replace than your baits and hooks.
Drop Shot Bottom Bouncing Rig
This is a method I have been using for 20 years and it’s the closest thing I use to my advanced bottom bouncing method which I will discuss below.
This is the best method for controlling your bait positioning off the bottom and is superior to the traditional bottom bouncing rig.
With this bottom bouncing setup, you can keep your bait off the bottom and in the strike zone at all times.
With this bottom bouncing rig, the weight is hung off a tag that comes off a micro swivel or off of a triple surgeon’s knot and the bait is then hung off a separate side tag that is about 6 inches long. A longer tag may tangle more so 6 inches is usually perfect.
I use a second tag for my weights. If I want my bait closer to the bottom I make the tag with the weights shorter. With a 12-inch weight tag combined with a 6-inch bait tag, it should keep my bait about 4 to 6 inches off the bottom.
If I want my bait 12 to 16 inches off the bottom I simply use a weight tag that is 6 to 8 inches longer than the depth I want my bait to be off the bottom. That means that if I want my bait to be 12 inches off the bottom ( with a 6-inch bait tagline) my weight tag will be around 18 inches.
Remember that most of the time your mainline and leader will be on an angle (as seen in the picture above) so your bait tag will be lower than you think due to this angle.
With this method, you can use split shots or pencil lead on the weight tag. If I use split shots I tie a single knot at the very bottom of the weight tag so the shots do not slide off easily and if I use a pencil lead I use a snap swivel to attach the lead.
With this method, I use fluorocarbon for both the weight tag and the bait tag. I also use a 12 to 24-inch fluorocarbon leader above the bottom swivel to prevent the fish from seeing the mainline.
If I’m running a colored mainline I may extend the fluorocarbon leader between the mainline and bottom swivel to 36″ to 48″.
2-Bait Bottom Bouncing Rig
Almost identical to the drop shot rig above but with an added swivel or a triple surgeon’s knot where I add a second bait off a tag.
This is a great rig when the fish may be feeding near the bottom and higher in the water column.
You can keep the baits 12 inches apart or 3 to 5 feet apart.
This rig is also great for testing out baits to see what they want. I may run a bead on the top and a pink plastic worm on the bottom or many variations to find out what they want more.
If you use a triple surgeon’s knot I use about 6 inches of extra line to create an extra-long tag and hang the bait off the tag closest to the rod.
Advanced Bottom Bouncing – The Better Way
This new way of bottom bouncing actually improves the speed of your bait and your ability to detect a strike and also allows you to control the height of your bait which ultimately means far more fish in the net.
This way of bottom bouncing is the most effective way to bottom bounce in small to medium-sized spots under 7 feet deep and is great in faster rivers.
This new way of bottom bouncing takes concepts from top professional tournament fly anglers and bass anglers, but don’t worry, it’s still bottom bouncing and you won’t be fly fishing or need a fly rod to do this.
The best part is that it’s easy to set up and it’s easy to use. It’s also much more effective than the traditional method of bottom bouncing if you do it right.
The setup is the same as the 1 or 2-Bait bottom bouncing rigs above but with one addition to the setup. I use fluorocarbon for the entire section and leaders below the sighter.
This method requires what is called a Sighter. A Sighter is a colored piece of line inserted above your leader which is usually around 16 to 30 inches long and is around 10lb to 12lb.
The Sighter usually stays above the water’s surface so you can see it.
If my deepest pool is 6 feet deep, my Sighter will be around 6 to 7 feet up the line from the bottom of the leader.
The Sighter acts like a visual indicator that allows you to see subtle bites. You watch the sighter closely through the drift looking for any movements.
I set the hook if the sighter starts pulling downward, or if it’s twitching, or if the sighter straightens out quickly. Any of these things can indicate a bite.
The Sighter also allows you to see your speed and your depth better.
Speed is Critical! When you use traditional bottom bouncing you are basically dragging your weights and your baits down the river and across the bottom which can give you a jerky and unnatural drift.
With this method, you only add enough weights to get your bait down and gently ticking along the bottom. Once you feel or see the weights hitting the bottom the idea is to lift the weight a few inches up and off the bottom with a small lift of the rod tip.
When I say this method improves your bait speed I mean that it enables you to get your bait moving at a more natural speed which gives you a smoother drift that looks more enticing to the fish and this will greatly improve how many fish will grab your bait.
Because your bait is not dragging and getting stuck on the bottom you match the bottom speed better and your bait moves more naturally along the drift.
If you see your sighter moving down the river faster than the speed of the bubbles then you are going too fast and are probably pulling the line. If you are going way slower than the bubbles then your bait may be moving too slow. Use your sighter to compare the speed.
Controlling your depth is important too. You do not want your bait dragging and rolling across the bottom. It’s always best to suspend your bait 6″ to 12″ above the bottom.
You can lift and lower the sighter as needed to control your depth. If you see the bottom go deeper you lower your rod tip and the Sighter to get the bait down and if you see the river getting shallower you simply raise your rod. Done right and your bait will hover just off the bottom where the fish are feeding.
If you are hitting too much bottom just lift the Sighter 12 inches and continue at that height. I hope to have a video of this coming soon.
What You Need For Bottom Bouncing
- Mainline 8 to 12lb – See best lines for Steelhead page
- Fluorocarbon leader 6 to 10b – Thinner leaders are best – See my Best Steelhead Leaders Page
- Micro swivel – I prefer the Raven XX swivels
- Bait – See the page on my Best Steelhead Baits
- Hooks – See the page on my Best Steelhead and Trout Hooks
- Spinning Reel – See the page on the Best Spinning Reels
- Centerpin Reel – See the page on the Best Centerpin Reels
- Rod 9 to 13 feet – See the page on the Best Steelhead Rods
- Sighter Line – I use the RIO 2-Tone Indicator Tippet
- Micro Bead – I get micro-beads at dollar stores or craft stores.
- Pencil lead – I use this 1/4 inch Pencil lead and 3-way snap swivel.
- Snap Swivel
Bottom Bouncing Throughout The The Steelhead Season
Many anglers will use the same methods, the same baits, and they fish the same spots all year. This is a mistake.
It’s important to understand how to adapt to the changing conditions because where the steelhead are and when they feed in October can be very different than in December.
I discuss the steelhead season and what you should know to maximize your success throughout the season on my page Steelhead Season: Catch More Steelhead All Season.
Is The Drop-Shot Bottom Bouncing Rig Legal?
In many areas bottom bouncing is legal, however, you should check the fishing regulations for your area to make sure. There are also alternative solutions to this rig that might make it legal for you, see below.
UPDATE: I was recently made aware that drop shot bottom bouncing rigs are illegal on Lake Ontario tributaries in NY – NYS DEC regulation text: “Any weight added to the line, leader, swivels, artificial fly, or lure shall not hang lower than the hook when the line or leader is held vertically”
This was provided by a reader so check the regulations in your area to confirm.
Alternate Drop-Shot Bottom Bouncing Rigs
If for some reason the drop-shot bottom bouncing rig is not permitted in your area or you want to try two alternative rigs that I have used with good success, see below.
Weighted Fly Rig
If you are allowed to run multiple baits on the line, you can add a heavily weighted nymph in place of the weights at the bottom of the Drop-Shot Bottom Bouncing Rig.
This is similar to how I and the Euro nymphing competition anglers set up their two-fly and three-fly rigs.
With this rig, you may have the opportunity to catch fish on that nymph and/or on your primary bait. I use lead-weighted flies combined with a tungsten bead head to make sure the fly is heavy enough.
To snag less often, I use Jig Fly hooks like the Region Fishing Bugger jig fly that you see in the image above. These flies drift with the hook point up so they are less likely to snag.
The Jig Rig
Very similar to the above way except that I will use a jig that is between 1/8 and 1 ounce, depending on the velocity and depth of the spot.
The jig is used in place of the weights at the bottom of the setup. With jigs, you can get pretty heavy so this will work even in the deepest and fastest rivers.
You can use all kinds of jigs for this rig. Jigs with a marabou tail like the Hawken Beau Mac Jig or a twister tail jig, or one of my favorites is the Nightmare Jig can be very effective. Check out these jigs and more of my favorites at Jigging For Steelhead.
Bottom Bouncing Conclusion
Bottom bouncing is something you don’t see done too often due to the float fishing craze going on right now but under the right conditions which are faster shallower water, bottom bouncing is the best method for catching trout, steelhead, and salmon.
If you add my advanced bottom bouncing methods you can improve on an already great method.
Got a Question About Bottom Bouncing
If you have a question, comment, or a tip about bottom bouncing, let us know in the comments section below.