Float Fishing For Trout – An Expert Guides Best Tips

Float fishing for trout is a very effective way of catching trout in rivers when most of the spots are 3 feet or deeper. Float fishing for trout often requires stealthy methods and gear, and these are my guide tips and advice when float fishing for trout.

Float fishing for trout is a great way of presenting a bait below a float and if it’s done well you can sometimes drift for hundreds of feet which puts your bait in front of a lot of trout. The right float fishing setup will make float fishing for trout even more effective.

Rivers Suitable For Float Fishing For Trout

Float fishing for trout in long runs like this is good
Float fishing works well in longer deeper spots like this.

Not every river or every section of the river is suitable for float fishing for trout. The best water to float fish is the bigger deeper pools and not the fast shallow pocket water.

This is not good float fishing water.
There are no long runs and it’s all very shallow so this is not good float fishing water. Spots like this hold a lot of trout but it would be best to fish this using bottom bouncing methods.

In water under 2.5 feet deep and in spots less than 8 feet long it’s much more effective to use my advanced bottom bouncing method which you can see at Bottom Bouncing – 5 Proven Guide Tips For More Fish. Mastering this method will allow you to catch fish anywhere in the river.

5 Fundamentals Of Good Float Fishing For Trout.

There are 5 fundamentals to good float fishing for trout. If you can master these you will catch a lot more trout.

  1. Control your speed
  2. Find the bottom
  3. Cover the water effectively
  4. Use the right float fishing setup
  5. Use The Right Baits

The Best Baits When Float Fishing For Trout

A trout caught float fishing with a small fly
A trout caught while float fishing with a small fly.

The number 5 fundamental to good float fishing for trout is to use the right bait. The reason I put this at number 5 is that it’s the least important factor when float fishing for trout.

There is a saying that I believe is 100% true, “A bad bait fished good, is better than a good bait fished bad”.

What this means is that if you have the best bait on your line but you fish it poorly, or you use the wrong hook or the wrong sized leader you won’t be able to get the most out of that bait. It simply won’t work very well.

I have seen it over and over and over again when 1 client catches 90% of the fish simply because he presents his bait better, even when they are both using the exact same bait, with the same hooks, and the same leader, and the same set-up. I will cover the presentation more below.

Smaller Baits Are Better When Float Fishing For Trout

Small baits for trout like this one
Small baits catch large and small trout. Most of the biggest trout over 20 inches that I catch every year are on small baits like flies and beads.

Going with smaller baits is often a better choice than using bigger baits unless the water is dirty or off-colored. Even big fish will eat a well-presented small bait.

Most of a trout’s food source is small. Small insects, single eggs, small baitfish. 3-inch worms will almost always work as well as an 8-inch dew worm, even on large trout and steelhead.

It’s also important to use baits that look natural and are already part of the trout’s diet. This can greatly improve your chances of catching more trout.

The best baits for float fishing for trout are:

  • Worms – Plastic worms and live worms
  • Spawn – Spawn sacs are a good choice
  • Beads – Beads are a great imitation of a single salmon egg
  • Imitation Eggs – There are lots of egg imitations
  • Flies – You can use nymphs under a float for trout.
  • Jigs – Small jigs are goo under a float

These are not in order of the best to worst because there are times when one bait will work much better than another.

If I was to hit the river right now I would have 100% confidence that I would catch a trout on any of my top 5 baits. You can see my top 5 baits on my page Best Trout Bait – The Only 5 Baits You Will Ever Need

Use The Right Gear When Float Fishing For Trout

An angler using the right gear for float fishing for trout
An angler using the right gear for float fishing for trout

The next thing you need to be sure of doing if you want to maximize your success when float fishing for trout is to use the right gear.

When I see guys standing on the side of the river with the wrong gear I don’t even need to ask them if they caught many fish. Simply put, the guys with the wrong gear catch 10% of the fish, while the guys with the right gear catch the other 90%.

And it’s not really just the fact that you have the right gear that is going to make you all of a sudden catch more trout, it’s about knowledge. You see, the guys with the right gear know how to fish, and they know that the right gear makes a big difference.

The guys with the wrong gear don’t have a clue how to fish well, and their gear makes it even worse. Knowing how to float fish for trout effectively is something I will talk about soon.

The right gear includes using all the right gear in combination.

You could have the nicest reel on the planet, but if you use the wrong hook you still aren’t going to catch any fish. Think of it as the link in a chain, the entire chain is only as good as the weakest link. That also means all your gear is only as good as your worst piece of gear.

You could have a great bait and the perfect hook, but if your leader is too thick and the trout see it that won’t matter. Maybe you have a great reel, but the wrong line could prevent you from presenting your bait well and you could be that one guy catching 10% will the other guy catches 90%.

Make sure you get these all correct:

The Spinning Reel

River Fishing Rods For Trout And Steelhead

Float fishing for trout can be done with a spinning reel or with a Centerpin reel. For more on the best reels and rods for Centerpin fishing check out my pages on Centerpin Fishing

When it comes to spinning reels, get one that is proven to work well for float fishing. You want one that lets the line come off the reel smoothly so your float drifts naturally without getting hung up giving a jerky presentation.

If you want full details on the best reels and best sizes, and sizing charts, go to my page 4 Best Spinning Reels For Float Fishing.

Or just use any of these:

The Best Line For Float Fishing

You may not realize this but using the right line will improve your presentation. Some line sink, some float, some are stiff and some are supple. Heavy lines are not good for float fishing. I have seen firsthand how bad lines can affect your presentation.

Check out my page 5 Best Float Fishing Lines For 2021 if you want details on the best lines, or just use one of these:

Spinning Rods For Float Fishing For Trout

When float fishing for trout you want to use a lightweight rod with a sensitive tip and one with good flex in the midsection. Longer rods are preferred when float fishing and the bigger the river the longer the rod.

The long rod allows you to keep the fishing line up and off the water longer for a better drift and the longer rod is a good shock absorber that protects light leaders on the hookset and when fighting the fish.

These are the best float fishing rods for trout: Prices may change

  • Best Under $110.00 – 8 foot Okuma Guide Select Pro Trout Spinning Rod – Approx. $104.99 – Get it At FishUSA – Here
  • Guides Choice – 8’6″ Light St. Croix Premier Spinning Rod – Approx. $199.99 – See it at FishUSA – HERE
  • Best Economy Rod – 8′ Ultralight Berkley Lightning Spinning Rod – See it at FishUSA – HERE
  • Best Big River Rod – 10’6″ light, or 12’6 Ultralight Fenwick HMX Steelhead Spinning Rod – See At Bass Pro Shops – HERE or at FishUSA – HERE

Best Floats For Float Fishing For Trout

Drennan Crystal Loafer Float

When float fishing for trout, the best floats that I have found are the Drennan Crystal Loafer Float.

If you use the wrong floats you limit your success on the river. Trust me, despite what some other websites say, red and white bobbers are NOT good for trout and neither are many other floats.

These are the best clear floats and are used by many trout and steelhead anglers around the great lakes. Because they are clear and thin they are less intrusive and won’t spook wary trout.

They are also very sensitive floats for subtle bites and they come in a variety of sizes. They are my go-to float when trout fishing and guiding for trout.

I mostly use the size #2 and 3 floats for trout fishing on most normal trout sizes rivers but for bigger rivers, I will go up to the #4 and #5. Get Drennan Loafer floats at FishUSA -HERE

Don’t forget to get yourself the Drennan float caps to secure these floats to the line.

For more information on the best floats and why and how to improve the use of them check out my page 5 Best Floats For 2021

Best Leader For Float Fishing For Trout

Rio Tippet is one of the best

I have written a few articles about leaders simply because I know this is where guys mess up and that means less fish. I have been experimenting with leaders of all sizes and brands for over 30 years.

Trout are line shy most of the time and good leaders catch more fish, so use a good 3 or 4 pound fluorocarbon leader as a general-purpose trout leader.

You should know that not all leader brands rate their leaders properly. I catch all kinds of steelhead on 3-pound and 4-pound Drennan leader, not because it’s just a super-strong leader, but because 4-pound Drennan is actually closer to true 8-pound test. 8-pound leader is usually too thick for trout and they will see the line and not bite.

Other 4-pound leaders might be closer to a 3-pound test and that means they might break too much, especially if it’s a cheap brand.

I will use different leader sizes in different types of situations to make sure I am being as effective as possible. That’s is why you should read What Pound Test Leader For Trout and see what I recommend.

If you just want me to tell you which one to get, I like to use 3-pound and 4-pound Rio FluoroFlex + Tippet for most of my trout fishing. Check the prices at Bass Pro Shop, or FishUSA.com, or at Amazon at these links.

Best Weight For Float Fishing For Trout

You will need weights when float fishing for trout and you will need to know how to set them up properly. I will show my float fishing leader setup below.

Putting your weights on properly and using the right weights are both important. Some weight just don’t work well. Remember, I’m trying to teach you how to do float fishing for trout like and pro, not like a hack. I see hacks all the time along the river and they rarely catch any fish.

For the best lead split shots that I use check out the Sure Shot brand from FishUSA.com or from Amazon, These are a softer weight, and they go on easily and they won’t damage your thin leaders.

Some states and some rivers have banned lead so when fishing in those states it’s best to use tin split shots. I use the Orvis Non-Toxic Oval Split Shot

Also, for the reasons why I use these and why some weight work and some don’t be sure to check out my page Weights For Fly Fishing: Everything You Need To Know. Yes, I know it says fly fishing but I use the same weights for everything because they are the best.

Best Hooks For Float Fishing For Trout

These are good hook for your Float Fishing Leader

Hooks are one of the most important pieces of equipment and they can be a big difference in hooking fish or not.

You want a hook that is the right size and the right shape for the fish and the bait that you are using.

Some hooks just work better than others.

I still see many anglers using the old-school cheap bait hooks that you can get at the local tackle store, but let me tell you that expert rivers guides and all the top river anglers do not use these.

For more about my favorite hooks and why, and also which ones I use with different baits check out my page Best Hook Size For Trout: A Guides Advice On trout Hook Size.

The Float Fishing Leader Setup

The Float Fishing Leader Setup can be used in most river conditions.

Now that you have all the required stuff, with the exception of good micro swivels, you need to know how to set it up properly.

I set my float fishing leader up a certain way to be able to get the best presentation.

Check out my page 2 Float Fishing Leader Setups From A Pro River Guide

Presentation Is the Key

You might think the most important part of float fishing for trout is the bait but I have witness hundreds of guys fish with great baits and still catch very few fish. Presentation is the key to catching more trout and float fishing allows you to present your bait better.

When it comes to float fishing for trout you need to understand 3 things. These are 3 things I mentioned before and are part of the 5 fundamentals of good float fishing for trout and for steelhead and salmon.

Just like the gear, doing 1 wrong is your weak link and it will affect your ability to catch a lot of trout.

Cover The Water Effectively

An angler covering the water well
One of my clients fishing some faster water. If you cover the water well you will catch more trout.

I use a very systematic approach to cover the water. I believe, based on 35 years of experience fishing for trout that trout can be anywhere in the river and are often where you least expect.

Therefore, if I’m going to fish a spot, I’m going to fish all of it, and not just that nice seam, or that deep pocket or the most obvious spot that everyone else fish’s.

Many of the biggest trout that I and my clients catch is in water less than 2 feet deep when there is water closer by that is 4 feet or deeper. Why is that? Well, that’s a whole other story, but for now let me just say, start fishing everywhere.

The picture above shows the obvious spots that are circled in red. Most anglers will fish these spots and move on, but the lines indicate where I would fish, and as you can see I would run my bait through almost every foot or two of water on a spot like this and it often pays off with big trout from unsuspected places.

Find The Bottom

I tell all my clients the first thing you should do in every new spot is to find the bottom because that is where the trout usually are. The closer you bait is to those trout the more likely they are to bit it.

When float fishing you set the depth of the float and then cast. The depth of your float should be about the same length and the depth of the spot you are fishing. That’s easy to do if you can see the bottom and if you know exactly how deep the spot is.

What if you can’t see how deep it is?

I set my float and make a drift and if I start hitting bottom I will shorten up the leader, and if I don’t hit the bottom I will make the leader 12 inches deeper. A good river float will help you do this right.

The mistake most guys make is that they will keep adjusting and then when they hit the bottom they fish the whole spot with that length of leader. Unfortunately, many spots won’t be the same depth all the way through the spot.

Once I find the bottom, I will make a drift and when that drift is over I will make another drift about a foot further, and then again, and then again, and as I move my float further out towards the middle of the pool I will start to check my depth again by making it deeper once more.

I do this because sometimes you will set your depth perfectly at 4 feet deep for in close to you where you started fishing, but 6 feet out in the middle it might be 6 feet deep, and another 6 feet out it could be 9 feet deep. You need to find the bottom to find the fish. The further your bait is from the trout, the less likely they are to bite it.

Control You Speed – The Number 1 Fundamental Of Float Fishing

I mentioned before that I have seen hundreds of times when 1 client catches all the fish when his buddy beside him catches a few or none. Even though they are using the same bait, the same leader, the same hook, same everything, 1 guy still catches more fish.

The reason for this is presentation and a big part of that presentation is speed control. Speed control is something that if I ask 100 guys about only a few will be able to tell me why it’s so important. Without speed control, all that other stuff above won’t matter. Speed control is why 1 guy catches 10 fish and the other guy catches none.

Often I will be guiding 2 clients and I will use 2 different baits to try and determine what the trout want that day. I have even taken the good bait off the guy’s line that is catching all the fish and put it onto his buddy’s line, and then taken the bad bait off the guy’s line that was not catching anything just to see what happens.

The crazy thing is that almost always, the good bait stops working and the bad bait starts catching all the fish. This clearly shows me that the bait is not the issue, it’s the guy using the bait and how he is using it.

The sad thing is that I would bet 80 to 90% of river anglers are just like the guy that isn’t catching any fish.

Using the right float is extremely important to controlling your speed, that’s why I cringe when I read articles from those so called experts that say a red and white bobber is fine for trout fishing in a river, it’s not and it never will be!

To control your speed effectively you need to understand angles and you need to know how to hold your float back ( some call it trotting or checking the float) and you need to do it well and all the time.

For more in-depth details on why and how to do this effectively check out my page Float Fishing Tips From A Pro

How To Catch More Trout When Float Fishing?

The right gear, combined with covering the water well, combined with finding the bottom, combined with using the right bait, and then topped off with speed control equals a lot more trout.

If any of these are off, you will be like those other guys and you will struggle to catch fish.

Let Me Here It?

If you have a question or comment or idea about float fishing for trout let me know in the comments below.

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