Bobber fishing, or float fishing, is usually a person's first fishing experience as a child. For this reason, many people abandon it in later life as childish. True anglers know that there are species of fish or fishing situations where there is no better fishing method. You can fish a bobber in any body of water, shallow, deep or on the bottom, if you keep a few simple guidelines in mind.
Bobber Fishing From the Shore
You will normally want to keep your bait a foot or less above the bottom or above the weed line. Finding the proper depth to fish is a matter of trial and error. If you are using a fixed bobber, set it about a foot deeper than the length of your fishing rod. If you are using a slip bobber, take a guess at how deep you think the water is as far out as you can cast. Cast as far as you can and then slowly reel the line until you can see that the bobber is on the bottom or has become fouled in the weeds. At that point, you then know for sure how deep it is in that spot. Adjust the depth of your bobber to fish closer or further out.
Bobber Fishing From a Boat
If you are fishing in water deeper than the length of your rod, always use a slip bobber. Keep in mind the "fishing triangle." One side is the line from your rod tip to your bobber. The second line is straight down from your bobber to your hook. The third line is created from your rod tip to the fish when you try to set the hook. If your bobber is too far from the boat or if you allow slack line between your rod tip and your bobber, no matter how hard you pull, that third line is not going to be tight enough to set the hook into a fish.
Bobber Fishing in a River
Rivers and streams require more work and more attention from the angler than lake fishing. The bobber is constantly on the move over varying depths and subject to more snags. Basically, you will cast your bait upstream, allow it to float downstream, retrieve it and repeat. To keep a taut line which will allow you to set the hook when you get a bite, reel the line in as the bobber floats toward you, then either let line out as it floats away, or just reel it in a cast upstream again. If you want to fish near the bank, cast the bobber out into the river a little ways, then allow the current to swing it back into the shore.
When to Set the Hook
One of the first things you learn about bobber fishing is "when it goes under, set the hook." A better rule is "when a fish has the bait in its mouth, set the hook." If you are fishing on or very near the bottom, a fish would have to dig a tunnel in order to pull down on the bobber. As likely as not, the bobber will go sideways when a fish takes your bait and swims away with it. Any time you see movement that indicates the hook is in a fish's mouth, set the hook.