Controlling Your Speed For More Fish When Float Fishing

Controlling your speed when float fishing for more fish

Controlling your speed when float fishing is the number one most critical thing that I teach clients when I’m guiding or during my Centerpin Classes. I will discuss my methods for controlling your speed when float fishing for trout, steelhead, and salmon.

Controlling your speed means controlling the speed of your bait so that it drifts through the spot that you are fishing at the most natural speed possible. The same speed that all the other food that the fish are already feeding on. A slower bait also gives the fish more time to see and grab the bait.

The trick is to not let your bait go to fast or too slow.

Over 20 years of guiding I have seen hundreds of times when 1 angler will catch more fish than the angler beside them even if they are both using identical setups and identical bait.

90% of the time the reason for this is speed control, however most guys would think this is just luck.

It doesn’t matter if you are float fishing a roe bag or if you are fly fishing with a fly, if your bait moves too fast or too slow it looks unnatural to the fish, and most of them won’t eat it.

How Much Of A Difference Does Speed Really Make?

I have probably watched thousands of floats drop down due to a fish biting by now, and I’ve seen thousands of floats drifting down the river both the right way and the wrong way.

Some years I have netted over 300 adult-sized steelhead for my clients just in the month of November which works out to an average of about 15 steelhead per day. Even during the best days of fishing, I have watched some guys catch fish when their buddies don’t.

There are times when I can look at a float and know that it’s very unlikely that it will go down, but there have been times when I see that the float is running perfect and have even said to my clients that will catch you a fish and then the float goes down.

I’ve seen guys fish so poorly that I watched 2 of my clients catch 2 steelhead with me on a guide trip when 3 other guys which were friends of mine hook and land about 75 steelhead just downriver from us. The truth is that these 3 guys simply fished well and my clients fished poorly despite my best efforts to try and get them to slow their baits down.

I have seen guys fish so well that I told them that if they fish exactly how I show them they will catch 5 to 10 times more fish than all the other anglers on the river and then they proceeded to fish a big steelhead pool with 3 other anglers in it and my clients hooked over 10 fish in the first hour while the other 3 guys guy only caught one between all of them.

I’ve had clients fish a spot for over 30 minutes and catch nothing and when they sit down to have their lunch I’ll grab their rod to fish myself and I have hooked up to 7 trout or steelhead in a row and I do this just to emphasize to them how important it is to control their drifts and their speed or they will keep catching nothing.

Every time I watch someone catch much more fish than someone else it was mostly because of speed control and partially about covering the water and bait choices.

For information about covering the water effectively check out my page Effectively Covering The Water When Float Fishing.

Does The Bait Make A Difference

Most guys think that the key to catching more fish when float fishing is having the right bait, but I strongly disagree.

Controlling your speed when float fishing will make your bait work even better. Not controlling your speed when float fishing will make your bait no work very well.

The reason I say this is that when I am guiding two clients and one guy catches all the fish, even though they both have the same bait on, it’s clear that it’s not the bait, it’s something that they are doing.

After careful observations I often see one angler’s float moving slower than the other angler float and the slower float always catches more fish, sometimes 10 to 1. I have seen this hundreds of times.

I also know that a great bait fished poorly will catch few if any fish because I see that happen over and over again with my clients. I’d even bet a lot of money on that one.

However, fishing a great bait, and controlling your speed, and getting your bait down, and having the right setup, and then covering the water well will ensure you are that one guy in the pool catching 10 fish when everyone else around you is catching only one or two.

My 4 fundamentals of great float fishing are covering the water, depth control, speed control, and using the right setup.

The bait is not one of those 4 fundamentals because if you get one or two of the other fundamentals wrong even the best bait in the world won’t work very well. You can see more about these 4 fundamentals of float fishing on my page Centerpin Fishing For Beginners: 20 Steps From A Top Guide.

What Is Trotting Your Float?

Now that you know that speed control is so important and that the bait is not really that important, let’s talk about how to do it.

The key to controlling your speed well is learning how to do trotting.

You might be asking yourself what is trotting? The simple answer is that trotting is the action of slightly holding your float back just enough to let your bait go ahead of your float. I will explain more about that below.

Some guys might also call holding your float back “checking your float”.

What Is Checking Your Float?

Checking your float is also when you hold your float back to allow your bait to go down the river first, it’s really just another term for trotting your float. Checking your float could also be pulling your float back to make sure that you don’t have slack in the line and that the line goes straight and directly to your float with now S-bends.

Keeping your line straight does a few things including giving you better float control and a better hook set.

I have asked hundreds of anglers why they trot their floats, or why they hold their float back, and about 95 out of 100 will tell me they need to hold the float back because they think that it presents the bait first to the fish before the leader, before the split shots, and before the float can spook the fish.

In fact, some guys trot so much that the bait is sometimes 5 to 10 feet ahead of the bait so they can be sure the bait goes first and the fish see’s nothing but the bait. If they only knew how bad that type of presentation was and how many fish they were missing they would stop immediately! DO NOT DO THIS!

The bait going ahead of the float is a good side effect of holding the float back but it’s not the important reason you should do it. The real benefit of controlling your speed when float fishing or trotting is to match the speed of the bottom current.

What most anglers don’t realize is that the bottom current is almost always slower than the surface current, sometimes over 90% slower. This is a proven fact!

The rocks along the bottom create friction and that slows the current down near the bottom where the fish hold and feed. This means that the surface current might be flowing at 6 to 8 miles per hour on the surface, but down near the bottom, the current might be flowing at 2 or 3mph.

Why Does That Matter When Float Fishing?

It matters because if all the food that the fish have been feeding on down at the bottom and all the small chunks of debris is all moving at 3 miles per hour in the slower current, but your float is being pulled along by the upper current at 8mph that means your bait is also moving at 8mph and your bait will stand out like a sore thumb, in a bad way!

If you don’t hold your float back just a little your bait is likely going to be moving at an unusually fast speed and many trout and steelhead will pick up on the fact that something is wrong with that bait and they will ignore it.

I tell guys all the time that trout and steelhead are not smart, they’re just cautious about things that are unusual in their environment.

The bait might also be moving so fast that it zips by them before they can even react to it because they are not used to stuff moving at double the speed. Only the really aggressive fish will hit a bait moving 2 or 3 times faster than all the debris and food that they feed on every single day.

If you hold your float back properly you can match the speed at the bottom which will greatly improve your catch rate, sometimes by 10 times or more.

How To Control Your Speed When Float Fishing

Float Angles
The right angle of your leader and float makes all the difference.

To trott your float properly you need to hold your float back on a slight angle so the point of your float is pointing more upriver than it is vertically straight up and down or pointing downriver.

In moving current, 95% of the time, if you do not hold your float back it will point downriver. This is because the faster surface current is dragging your bait down the river and your bait acts like a little parachute and that tilts your float so it points downriver.

If you hold your float back at the right angle you can match the speed of the lower current better.

If the bottom speed gets faster you will see your float wanting to tilt upriver towards you as the bottom current is pulling the bait faster and out from under your float. If this happens you simply take some of the pressure of the float and get it back to the correct angle.

If your float keeps getting tilted downriver you are either dragging the bottom or you are not holding your float back enough to match the bottom current speed, both of these are a problem that will prevent you from catching fish.

On a Centerpin reel, we use the rim of the reel with feather-light touches to slow the float down as it drifts down the river. With a spinning reel, I will feed the line between two fingers to try to get a steady float speed.

The Centerpin reel is superior when it comes to line control and speed control which is why it is common for the Centerpin anglers to catch far more fish than everyone else. If you are unfamiliar with Centerpin fishing I suggest you check out my page Centerpin Fishing For Steelhead: 13 Tips From An Expert Guide.

When controlling your speed, do not hold the float back with your rod tip, use your Centerpin reel or your fingers on the line instead.

Every time your float starts to stand up straight or vertical, touch the spool of the Centerpin reel or hold the line on the spinning reel to slow or stop the float until it tilts to the correct angle again.

Anglers that do this well will never let their float tilt downriver and will correct the angle of their float before it tilts downriver.

The caveat to this is that if you fish in slow flat water the surface current is much slower and matches the bottom current better so you don’t need to slow your float down, you simply just let it go. You can see the angle I recommend above.

Got A Question About Controlling Your Speed For More Fish When Float Fishing?

If you have a question, comment, or tip for me or other readers regarding controlling your speed when float fishing let me know in the comment section below.

If you do this well and do it all the time the results are amazing.


  1. Just a comment for other anglers who want to catch more fish . You want to retreive your float at the end of a drift as fast as possible as it’s time wasted not fishing . If you retrieve your float with quick palm strikes to the bottom of the centerpin reel it will be faster than using the handles. Also don’t hold your rod tip close to the water at it will submerge your float, further slowing down your retrieve . It also makes it impossible for other anglers to see your float coming back up river . In my mind, we only have a small window of opportunity to catch fish so don’t waste it.

    1. Hi Andrew, I agree with getting your float in fast, however, I have found that many anglers are not good with with palming method of retrieve and that it hurts some guy’s hands after a while. I show 3 types of retrieves, which includes the palming style that you mention which I call batting the reel. What I recommend is to find a retrieve that works best for you and then get good and fast at it. I don’t prefer to use the handles or the palm method to retrieve. I’ve found a faster way to do it. I’m hoping to do a video to show you how.

      As far as pulling in the line high, I would add that you should pull the float up the side of the river instead of up the middle of the pool which could spook some fish.

      Lastly, when I guide with 2 anglers or fish with buddies or even other anglers, I recommend that the guy at the top of the pool actually reel in with a low rod tip so the guy below him can easily cast over the low line and he won’t need to wait. This might mean you will need to use your reel handles to retrieve it instead of palming the reel in. If the guy at the top reels in with a high rod tip the guy below can’t cast over the high line easily until the line is all the way in. Lowering your tip allows the guy below to cast first and the guy above can cast next and that allows both anglers to fish more with less waiting and downtime.

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