Still Waters, Moving Bobbers

by Louis Bignami

Ever watched the aluminum chair brigade on popular trout lakes and impoundments? Human cloning seems real. Identical chairs sprout like tombstones in an urban cemetery. Folks with "gimmie" hats advertising tackle and tractors rig drug store tackle with, in most cases cookie cutter rigs baited with Shasta sandwiches. Only results vary. One or two lucky fishermen get limits. Everyone else gets windburn and, perhaps a "truck trout" or two. Did you ever wonder why? I did.

I spent part of a summer years ago on an osprey survey that meant long hours with binoculars watching bird behavior from a tower on California's Eagle Lake. When no birds flew, I watched fishermen. Years later I applied these, and other observations, to my immodestly named Biggie Bobber methods that improve lake and slack tide saltwater fishing results with bait by several times. You can too! Best of all you don't need fancy gear. A dash of logic and minimal tackle does the job.

The Biggie Bobber works so well with bait because it offers you absolute and variable depth control on one cast. You know exactly how deep you fish and, if you like, how far you are from either the surface or the bottom. This exact depth control lets you fish in the oxygen-rich thermocline during slow summer months. It lets you return to the exact depth which produced a fish on that last cast. Better than that, the system tells you if your bait on the bottom is too shallow, or too deep.

In addition, you can present a rising bait like a dobson fly larvae, or a slowly falling bait like a worm and, more important, exactly control its sink or rise rate. Finally, on the same cast you can start fishing a bait on the bottom and, with pauses at appropriate levels you set, fish it all the way to the top and back. You no longer need to waste casting and retrieving time that, according to my stopwatch figures at a couple of local lakes, run about 25 percent for most bank anglers.

There's another bonus too. If you use two rod rests and submerge your rod tip, you eliminate all problems of wind blowing line, false bite indicators from wind or collecting floating surface crud on lines.

Rigging The Biggie Bobber --- Theory

The Biggie Bobber, like most methods, was developed in response to a specific problem -- How could shore fishermen control their depth on California's steep oligotropic lakes to consistently reach kokanee at fifty, seventy-five or even 100 feet? Casting blindly from shore didn't make it; a ten foot horizontal difference in casting distance might make a forty foot difference in depth. Besides, you couldn't tell how deep you were and blind casting wastes time.

Slip bobbers wouldn't work well. It just took too long for them to drop baits to a given depth and you were stuck at that depth until you reeled in and reset your slip knot. Slip bobbers aren't, it must be added, a bad solution for depths under fifteen feet where you want a direct drop from bobber to bottom.

The Biggie bobber works the other way round and, in the solution to the kokanee problem, developed into a complete system for still fishing bait in still water. It started with the traditional Shasta sandwich, the combination of a mini marshmallow and salmon egg on a size eight or ten hook rigged with a sliding sinker. It's important to realize that the main reason the Shasta Sandwich works as well as it does -- aside from the easy availability of marshmallows and salmon eggs -- relates to its "SPHERE OF DISCOVERY," an important concept not well-understood by most anglers. Broadly speaking, the sphere of discovery is the sphere, or with bottom or surface baits, hemisphere into which fish must swim to sight, scent or otherwise discover your bait or lure. In moving water this isn't really spherical, but that's a subject for moving water bait methods. 

Stop for a moment. How many tennis balls can you fit into a basketball, a beachball or a six foot diameter weather balloon? If your bait is on the bottom or in a crack in the rocks and no current spreads its scent, its sphere of discovery might be the same size as a tennis ball. Float the bait into view with a mini marshmallow, and you get a spherical section -- see illustration -- with a radius limited only by underwater visibility that can run 10 feet or more. Of course, the sinker to the Shasta Sandwich slices off a bit of the bottom of the spherical section, but you still increase your chances by the same 100, 500, 1000 or greater percentage! Math types can write the editor on this!

It's also worth noting, as deer hunters know , that moving objects can be seen farther away. That's another reason why live baits produce more bites more places more times, and why the slow rise, or slow sink methods permitted with the Biggie Bobber Rig work so well.

Section One: Rigging The Biggie Bobber -- Mechanics

Experienced fishermen know that a lot of small points add up to improved results. So it's no surprise that a host of variables -- each important -- must be considered to rig the Biggie Bobber correctly. The only constant is a sinker heavy enough to completely sink the bobber. Broadly speaking, your line runs through the sinker or its leader to a snap or snap swivel that acts like a stop when you reel in. This snap knots to a leader (three feet seems a decent standard length) about 25 percent lighter than your line. The end of the leader ties to the bobber. One foot below the bobber, and two feet below, if you want to add a dual bait rig to see what works best fastest, you tie in two loops and attach hooks on snells shorter than the loop-to-loop distance. Sounds simple? You bet, but you need to closely examine each component for maximum results. 

Lines, Leaders & Knots

All lines aren't created equal. Flexible lines tend to be less abrasion resistant than stiff lines which might suit snaggy water. In line tests, consider a line test the maximum weight of the fish you expect, not pray, to catch. Lighter lines, other things equal, offer improved bait presentation.

Soft, flexible leaders offer a natural drop, but can snag more on the cast, sink or rise than stiffer leaders when used with minnows or other lively baits. Try stiff and flexible snells on the same-size hook with the same-size bait and note any differences.

If you plan to fish from top to bottom, the standard three foot long leader offers a good combination of hook separation and snag prevention. However, if you plan to fish off the bottom, you might want to move to a longer leader. Remember that fish can more easily see bait above than below them and that, by fishing too close to the bottom with, for example, minnows, you cut a considerable percentage off the bottom of your bait's sphere of discovery. This point doesn't, of course, usually apply with strictly bottom baits such as hellgrammites or crayfish tails.

Sinker Selection

The sinker you use depends on the bottom. Its weight, plus that of the rest of your terminal tackle, relates to your rod of choice. As a rule, I try for the lightest total weight that lets me cast where I must. Note: I maximize casting range with steelhead and other rods in the nine to fifteen foot range rather than the usual seven foot trout rod. Long rods also shine when playing fish from shore as they help you ease fish around shoreline hazards and, because of the angle of the fully upright rod, pull fish away from bottom snags.

Note: rods that literally "shine" can spook trout in clear water, so go with matte finish if possible.

However, you can enjoy most of the benefits of the system with whatever rod you have. Graphites do offer a bit more sensitivity to bites, but you can maximize sensitivity with various "bite indicators." See illustration.

Standard wire-stem dipsey sinkers work well. Where bottom hazards abound, consider a planing sinker that will rise on the retrieve. As an alternative, attach a three or four inch long leader 50 percent of line test to your sinker and tie the other end to a swivel through which your main line runs. This lets you breakaway your sinker. Various steelhead sinkers help here too.

TIP: Rig sinkers and snell hooks at home so you don't waste time at the water. I tote a back up outfit rigged and ready to go so that, when I snag up and break off, I can fish with my second outfit until my first is ready. It's also useful to, for example, rig one outfit for worms, another for deadbaits or minnows and use them alternately to maximize in-the-water time.

Snaps & Swivels

Use the smallest ball-bearing black swivels and snaps you can find. In tiny sizes the usual barrel swivels don't swivel well; black swivels also avoid the snapping teeth of sharp toothed fish, like pike. Cheap swivels don't!

Bobbers & Floats

The longer and thinner the float, the less resistance fish feel; you get this at the price of a slower rise on the cast. British floats work nicely. Conical clear, or where you're casting considerable distances in rough water, colored plastic floats do a good job. I prefer those with screw eyes in each end fastened at the "pointy" end. Old, or new, steelhead lure bodies, such as Corkies, or even wine corks work too. Size goes up with bait size -- you need a bigger bobber with a threadfin shad than with a hellgrammite for example. When you fish deeper than 20 feet you may find a heavier sinker, and a larger bobber, helpful to position your bait more rapidly. However, as always, lighter seems most productive.

Big, lively minnows can cause depth control problems if you use light floats. To reduce their speed and pull and, I suspect, make them look like an easier dinner, simply trim off the outer half of their fins and tails. Oddly enough, you can control a minnow's depth by judicious fin trimming. Cutting off pectorals will, in most cases, send minnows deeper. Cutting a fin off one side produces a circling effect and so on.

Note: these are relatively new, inexpensive and very effective floats that work with the Biggie bobber system in both fresh and moving water. A snap swivel through one line hole and stop knots let these work as sliders as well. Their only drawback is the now-and-then attack of a pike or whatever in freshwater and, of course, barracuda in saltwater. But the excitement seems worth the modest cost of a lost float.

Tip: I don't tie loops on snells, as snell length can help more hookups. As a rule, if you miss hits, try a shorter snell. If that doesn't work use a smaller hook or lighter bobber. If all else fails go to a smaller bait. If you still can't get a hook up consider a mayonnaise jar and a blasting cap!

Hooks: Size And Selection

That fishermen spend hundreds of dollars on gear and then fish with nickel hooks remains a puzzlement. So does buying snelled hooks with cheap nylon leaders to use with premium lines. Very light wire dry fly hooks are my prime choice with live baits. I buy these loose to match the bait of choice so, for example, if I use red worms, I might have size 12, 10 and 8 hooks available pretied on home-made snells so I can switch hooks to match the variation of my baits.

Other baits (more on this another time) might work best on curved nymph hooks, Tru-turns, 3X or 6X hooks, hooks designed to hold dead minnows horizontally etc. The new Eagle Claw double barb hooks set nicely. So do various Japanese and good English hooks like my favorite Partridges that come in special types to suit bait fishing -- some are even barbless. Barbless hooks do seem to offer more hookups, and livelier baits, without any real penalty in lost fish. I'm particularly fond of barbless Siwash hooks for lip hooking baits for salmon and such.

Tip: if you use a long rod, set the hook with a sweep to the side, not a vertical snap. The latter offers the fish slack before it snaps the hook home!

With live baits there's an easy test to determine the proper hook size and shape. Drop your bait into the water. Note its position, action and size. Does it sink? Or float? Bet you won't find any worm that balls up with a tail hanging down! Consider temperatures too. Worms below 50 degrees and leeches at warmer water temperatures seems a good rule. Matching baitfish avoidance and preferred temperature ranges to, if possible, the type of trout you seek, makes sense too. For now, take a few moments and hook baits carefully, change baits often.

Casting's Other Considerations

Never cast blind. Always cast toward a point on the other shore or some other feature that you can return to as needed. Then, on future casts move a few feet right or left until you've covered your entire arc. Start with casts to shallow water if the surface temperature is near or below the upper avoidance level of the species you seek. Lots of fish come into shallows to feed as most of the food in any lake or impoundment is in the littoral zone near shore. Most fishermen scare these shallow feeding fish off by casting as far as possible the first time out and then mucking about on the bank. Wiser fishermen even make a first cast or two from well up the bank, then move to the water.

Once you're set up it's better to change baits, depths and casting direction than to randomly move along the bank. Trout do cruise in lakes; stay put in a good spot at an inlet or outlet, or constricting point, and you may find one. Stay quiet, wear dull colored clothing and sit as low as possible -- those nice short legged chairs work well -- and you'll catch more fish. Low rod positions, minimal casting and keeping baits in the most productive areas for the maximum time mean more fish too. Common sense? Yes! Common practice? Unfortunately, American bank fishermen, as a group, are an ocean behind Europeans.

For example, Europeans use two, or with rods longer than 12 feet, even three rod rests to hold the rod still with, usually, its tip submerged. This makes bites easy to see. Bite indicators -- see illustration -- make bites even easier to see. Everything is aimed at setting a small, sharp hook at the slightest indication. Among other things this almost guarantees a set in the corner of the lip for an easy release.

Section II: Basic Biggie

Your basic Biggie overarm or, with delicate baits such as ghost shrimp, sidearm cast feathers the line on the reel with a forefinger. Thumb it if you use what we used to call a knuckle-duster level wind. Slack controls reduces terminal tackle snags and insures the bait will land with minimum slack just in case a fish might hit "on the drop" so to speak. Let the sinker go to the bottom. Depending on the ratio of bobber size to sinker, your bobber may disappear. Don't worry, it should reappear shortly.

If you do get an early hit, snap your forefinger or thumb on the spool, sweep set the hook, close the bait or set the anti-reverse and play the fish. Otherwise, set the rod in its rest, or if you use two to submerge your rod tip, rests. Then close the bail and reel out all slack so the sinker is on the bottom, the float on top, and your bait about a foot below the float.

Want to fish six feet deep? Simply reel in six feet of line.

Note: you don't have to deal with feet. Figure out how much line one turn of your reel's handle hauls in and figure everything in turns. To do both, I know, for example, a turn on my favorite reel handle brings in 23 inches. So I figure a "half-turn a foot." The important point is being able to replicate your bait depth after you find the productive zone.

At this point you can add your bite indicator -- if you use one, and laze until you get a nibble. Spend at least five minutes at a given depth. Then, if you want to go to ten feet, for example, you just haul in five more feet. You can go back up too. This is without all that casting and retrieving that wastes time.

Do you realize that the system also tells you when you're too shallow? For example, if you discover browns lurk at 20 feet, but feel the swivel tick the sinker when you've only reeled in 15 feet you know you need to cast farther, or in another direction.

Tip: Once you get a feel for the topography of the bottom, try to place your baits where troughs from deeper water, particularly if you have cove head or bank springs or streams, cross the critical depth. Do this and you'll catch more fish.

Bottom Biggie

The "Bottom Biggie" works just in reverse. Cast out and let the sinker drop and, if you like, immediately reel the line down until the swivel ticks bottom. I prefer to wait for the bobber to rise, tighten up and reel down so I know my exact depth. In either case, once your swivel ticks the sinker you can let out given amounts of line to fish a fixed depth from bottom. This can be very productive in, for example, cases where you have weed beds of similar length growing toward the surface. It's also a worthwhile way to fish over sunken logs and the like. I'm also fond of the system in saltwater over eel grass and around clam beds where you could use surface bobbers, but find the Biggie Bobber better because it eliminates wind problems.

Biggie On The Rise

Either of the above systems offers two alternatives, well three, if you include lateral movement, which I don't because of the snag problem. Once your bait is on the bottom you can slowly, or speedily, let it rise. This can replicate the natural rise of all sorts of hatching aquatic insects, the move to the surface of frogs that might tempt big browns and whatever. As a rule, a very slow change, like a foot per second or two, is best.

While you could freeline line out, it's my experience that backreeling works better. You can take the Lawrence Welk approach and go "a-one and a-two and a-three" or mentally reel backwards as line peels out to the tempo of your favorite tune. Do realize that, as is the case with the following system, you tend to reel faster after the excitement of a hook up. So don't go too fast. Classical music buffs should consider the start, not the climax, of Bolero!

I'm particularly fond of this system along weed beds and around logs with baits like caddis, damsel and dragonfly nymphs or, for browns and bigger trout, frogs, sirens, worms and leeches. The last are a most underrated bait in the West! Dead baits, such as minnows and crayfish tails, seem to attract more bites when slowly moved too. This is probably because of the greater diameter of the sphere of discovery with movement.

Biggie On The Drop

Baits that work "on the drop" with a slow reeling sink include minnows and other live and dead baitfish, worms, most terrestrials including crickets, wasp and other larvae, salmon eggs, cheese, grasshoppers and even sirens and frogs. This system suits areas with overhanging trees or brush. It's also a natural at the edges of weed beds. Things fall in and, in most cases, slowly sink. In some cases you can combine sinking, rising and stationary methods. It's up to you. That's the beauty of the Biggie Bobber rig. You have more to say about your bait's action and placement. With more information about depth, and the fact you know your bait's directly under the spot where the bobber disappeared, you have more alternatives and will certainly catch more fish.

Tempered Tries

As is the case with rising baits, consider your quarry and the water temperature. Browns in particular, lurk under overhangs and shade; rainbows seem more likely to cruise in sun. When water temperatures are at or above upper avoidance levels -- these are lowest for lakers and kokanee, medium for rainbows and warmest for browns -- use the Biggie Bobber at dawn or where legal, consider a glow-in-the dark bobber before dawn when water temperatures are lowest and, especially on moonlit nights, trout most active. In spring and fall, when temperatures are below ideal, fish from later afternoon until dark, when water temperatures peak.

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