There are times when flies are the best bait for trout, steelhead, or salmon fishing in rivers and as a guide, I know it’s these times that float fishing with flies will put more fish in the net for my clients.
Float fishing with flies is when you drift flies under a float or bobber on a specially constructed leader. If you have the right leader set up and you know how to get the best presentation with a fly under a float, it can be a deadly tactic for trout, steelhead, and even salmon in a river.
I will cover the types of floats, my four proven effective leaders, and the best flies to use.
When Should You Float Fish?
The best time to float fish is when you are in spots in the river that are three feet deep or deeper, which includes pools or runs.
When I get to a shallower spot that is less than three feet deep, I risk the fish seeing the float or the weights and then getting spooked. I also risk my flies getting stuck on the bottom too much so I don’t float fish in shallow water.
In spots that are less than three feet deep, I will often switch to a method known as Bottom Bouncing, and I will use my advanced bottom bouncing technique, which is exceptionally effective in shallow water and pocket water.
Float Fishing With Flies Using A Spinning Reel
You can float fish using spinning gear and the main advantage is spinning reels are easy to cast.
Some spinning reels allow the line to come off the reel easier, some will hold more line for those big long drifts and some have a better smoother drag system. To see which reels I use and recommend, go to my page 4 Best Spinning Reels For Float Fishing.
Float Fishing With Flies Using A Centerpin Reel
Centerpin reels were made to float fish! So, when it comes to float fishing with flies or any other bait, the honest truth is that there is no better reel for float fishing.
The float fishing reel allows anglers to get long, smooth, and controlled drifts which greatly improves your presentation, and that means more fish in the net.
If you are unsure what Centerpin fishing is check out my page Centerpin Fishing For Beginners – 20 Steps.
Rods For Float Fishing With Flies
When float fishing with flies on a river I always prefer longer rods of 8 to 12 feet long. Even when I’m fishing on smaller rivers that are only 10 feet wide I still like rods from 8 to 10 feet long.
The longer rods allow me and my clients to float fish better because the longer rod keeps the line up and off the water which provides more control of float and a better hook set.
The longer rods are great when float fishing for flies because they will protect light leaders which are often required when fishing trout and steelhead.
Best Line When Float Fishing With Flies
My favorite line to use when float fishing with flies or with any bait is a monofilament line that floats. Not all mono lines are buoyant, and not all are good for float fishing.
Sometimes I will make a long drift and the line will need to settle on the water. If the line sinks and gets pulled by the current it can cause problems like pulling the float sideways, or pulling excess line downriver below the float. A line that sinks is also harder to get a good hook set.
Floating lines can be mended or managed better and that means a better presentation and a better hook set.
I discuss the best lines for float fishing on my page 5 Best Float Fishing Lines For 2021.
Best Floats To Use When Float Fishing With Flies
When it comes to river fishing, we call them floats, not bobbers.
The floats we use are longer thinner and are sensitive. A good float will do more than just detect a bite.
You can use the float to help you detect the bottom and to help you control the speed of the bait which will improve your hookups. The right float will also tell you if you are dragging bottom, or tell you if your flies are upriver or downriver.
Flies that are upriver of the float are dragging, and that’s a bad thing. Flies that are slightly downriver are good, but flies that are too far down the river are also bad.
I teach my clients to use the right floats and how to use them effectively to get a better presentation, and I guarantee the result is more big fish in the net.
I discuss the best floats for float fishing on my page 5 Best Centerpin Floats For 2021
The 2 Best Leader Setups When Float Fishing With Flies
When float fishing with flies, I use three leader setups. Setting up your leader properly will help you catch more trout.
These three leader setups are all you will need for any type of water.
The Shallow Water Setup
When float fishing with flies in shallow water that is between 2.5 and 4 feet deep I use this leader setup.
You simply slide the float up and down the line as needed.
I also use the clear Drennan Loafer floats if the water is shallow and clear, so I’m less likely to spook the fish.
Medium to Deep Water Float Setup
These are two deepwater rigs that I use up to 12 feet deep.
I will use the first leader in water as shallow as 4 feet deep simply by sliding the two weights and the float down to the swivel. If it gets deeper, I slid the float and the two splits up to the desired depth that keep my fly 5 to 12 inches off the bottom.
This is the rig that I use the most for steelhead and in trout water that is not super clear.
The second setup is when i’m fishing river where most or all spots are 8 feet to 16 feet deep.
I can adjust the shot line length to accommodate shallow water too.
If the water is deeper than my rod is long, it’s very difficult to cast, so I will change to a slip float.
2 Fly Float Setup
In my area, we are allowed to run up to 3 flies, so most of the time, when I am float fishing nymphs I will run this two-fly setup.
Having 2 flies allows you to cover different depths, which helps you determine if the fish are all feeding low or if they are feeding high.
Running two flies also means you can experiment with flies and see which ones the fish want the most.
Bottom Bouncing Float Rig
This is a unique rig that works well in shallow to deep water when float fishing nymphs.
With this rig, all the weights are on the bottom and below the fly and the flies are always up and off the bottom and in the strike zone.
Recent studies indicate that trout only feed off the bottom 13% of the time so it’s much more effective to keep your fly off the bottom.
I tell my clients that it’s better to be 12 inches off the bottom than 1 inch under the trout’s head.
The weights are on what I call the tag line and you can run a short tag line and have the fly closer to the bottom or you can run a long tag line and have the fly further up the line.
Often times, I will also hang a second fly up the line off of the swivel.
With this rig you may lose a few more weights but I rarely lose any flies.
Best Flies When Float Fishing With Flies
I love to use flies known as nymphs as well as egg flies, and small streamer flies like Woolly Buggers and Clousers. Micro Woolly buggers can be fantastic.
Some of my favorite patterns are:
- SOS Fly
- Polish Pheasant Tail Nymph
- Pheasant tail and bead-head pheasant tail nymph
- Rainbow Warrior
Also, check out these great flies from The Fly Fiend:
- Glassy Peacock Nymph
- Sexy Walts Worm
- Hot Tag Hares Ear
- The Bio Biot
- Ice Dub Pheasant tail
- D-Rib Stonefly
- Polo Club Pheasant Tail
- The Last Tag Nymph
- Flash Back Quill Baetis
- Olive Wired Soft Hackle
- Diamond Braid Biot Emerger
- Surveyor Scud
- UVP Nymph
Got A Question About Float Fishing With Flies
I hope you learned something new, but if you have a question or comments, or a tip for me and the readers about float fishing with flies, let me know in the comments section below.