Bobber Dogging Primer

by Jacob Munden, December 01, 2016
What is Bobber Dogging?

Over the last few years, we have seen the technique of bobber dogging grow in popularity across the Pacific Northwest for salmon and steelhead. However, anglers on the East side of the Cascades are just now starting to give this system a try. Dry siders can greatly benefit from adding this technique to their arsenals!

The first question a lot of anglers typically have is, “What is bobber dogging?” Bobber dogging is a special technique similar to drift fishing that utilizes a bobber as a flotation aid and strike indicator, while maintaining a drift fishing style of presentation. There are several advantages to bobber dogging that I will go through, but the main reason I feel it is so affective in my guide business is that it allows the anglers who are not as experienced at recognizing the bite while side drifting out of a boat, to see the float, know where their gear is, and recognize the bite as the float disappears upon a take. Essentially, bobber dogging is drift fishing or side drifting with a float. The technique works great from a boat or from the bank.

The float in the system is a key difference to traditional side drifting or bank drifting techniques. Any float can be used, but a flat bottomed float is ideal for this system. The angler wants the float to lie on its side with the top of the float pointing downstream, and the base of the float pointing upstream. The flat base of the float aids in catching water and “pushing” the float downstream. The float aids in maintaining the “line” downstream that your gear is on. In traditional drift fishing or side drifting, unless you free spool at the end of your drift, there is always a swing out of your gear and the gear rises off the bottom coming out of the strike zone.

The floatation and surface area of the float on the water keeps your gear on the path it’s on, allows you to free spool without losing your track downstream, and keeps your gear in the strike zone all the time. This technique also allows for the boat operator to have a little more forgiveness in boat position will drifting downstream. If the boat gets out of position, all the angler needs to do is open the bail and let out more line, and the gear doesn’t have to move off its course at all. The float keeps it on track. On the East side, wind is a big problem.

Bobber dogging lets you side drift in the wind, when other boats cannot. Due to the floatation of the bobber and the flat base, the current pushes the bobber downstream and helps your drifting weight tick along the bottom without dredging or getting hung up. I lose way less gear while bobber dogging versus traditional side drifting. Think of how you feel in the water with a life vest on. That additional buoyancy helps move your gear downstream without catching the rocks.

Bobber dogging floats come in different sizes. None of this has to do with the amount of weight you are using. It has more to do with the size of your presentation and current speed. If you are using a bigger presentation in slow water, you would want to use a bigger float with a wider base to catch more water and help push your float downstream. The reverse holds true with smaller presentations and faster current. Less push is needed so smaller floats can be used.

The Set-Up

For rods and reels, I use spinning gear in my program. Any typical side drifting set-up will work, but I tend to increase the power of my rods just a bit as compared to if I am using the traditional side drifting set-up. I run 9’6-10’, 6-12lb. rated spinning rods with 3000 series Shimano reels.

Cousins Tributary rods are my first choice and are by far, one of the nicest rods you can fish! I run 30 lb. hi-vis braid on my reels. I like the braid because it floats and makes mending the line much easier. You want to set up your terminal tackle with all the same parts as drift fishing, but add a bobber stop, bead, and sliding bobber. Try to remember this is a hybrid of bobber fishing and drift fishing. Under your bobber, add another bigger bead and tie on a swivel. Attach your weight to the swivel and tie your leader with hooks to the hole above the snap. The amount of weight you use depends on your drift, current speed, etc. Your weight is not there to balance the bobber. Again, the bobber will lay flat on the water. You want the weight to tick the bottom. If you’re doing it right, you can feel the weight ticking the rocks just like with side drifting, even with the bobber on your gear.

A very important aspect of this system is where or how deep to set your bobber stop. I like to set my stop 6-10 feet above the depth of the water I am fishing. The goal is to have your gear get to bottom, start ticking, and have a line angle of 45 degrees downstream to your float. The float will rest against the stop, but will stay flat on the water because the weight is ticking bottom. Setting your stopper 6-10 feet above the depth allows for variable bottom contour and keeps your gear in the zone. If your bobber stands up, you know you hit a drop off and you need to set your stop deeper. For weights, any drift weight will work. I know guys that use pencil lead, slinkies, lead balls, stick weights, etc. My personal favorites are Dave’s Tangle Free steel weights. These weights are hardened steel in a rubber sleeve. They have tremendous feel and bounce off the rocks better than lead. They rarely get stuck in the rocks and if they do, most often I can get them back. With regulations going the way they are, these are an eco-friendly alternative to lead.

For bait, any traditional steelhead or salmon drift rig works great. Eggs, shrimp, yarnies, beads, corkies, and puff balls all work the same, whether drifting traditionally or bobber dogging. I like running eggs and beads earlier in the fall and late in the spring when there are salmon and steelhead eggs in the river systems. When it gets cold mid-winter, I use a lot of shrimp. For me, Columbia Basin Bait is the only option.

Presentation and Bite

As I have fine-tuned my bobber dogging program, I have only found a few scenarios where bobber dogging wouldn’t work as well as traditional side drifting. One of the more obvious scenarios is in deep water. In deeper water, it takes a lot of line to get your gear down. The bow in the line in this deep water makes the presentation tougher to get right and usually is harder to get a firm hook-set on the bite. If the bottom changes depth more than 5-6 ft. very abruptly, it is also not a good scenario for bobber dogging. This technique works much better with a pretty constant depth and contour.

From the bank, bobber dogging allows the angler to work the river from “shore to shore”. At the end of the drift, instead of swinging your gear back to the bank, you just open your bail and the float will keep your gear on the line it is on, and you can fish much further downstream. The buoyancy of the float also allows you to fish the shoreline at your feet much easier with fewer hang-ups.

For the side drifters, your presentation doesn’t change at all. Anglers cast from the stern to the bow in order, at a 45 degree angle upstream and drift down through the slot. Mend your line so there is minimal bend or bow to your float and you will more than likely feel the weight ticking bottom just as you would with traditional techniques. You will be able to see your floats and everyone will feel and see the bite at the same time. By the time your float buries, you will already feel the throb on your rod and know to set the hook! Also, like traditional side drifting, it is important that everyone in the boat has the same line and weight so that each angler has an even drift through the slot. If everyone’s gear is different, you will fight all day long with tangles and line crossing each other, as the current will push your gear at different speeds.

Final Thoughts

Bobber dogging is a great technique that helps the angler cover more water and keep your gear in the strike zone longer. It also helps the boat operator while trying to get the boat positioned in the wind or different currents. The presentation is natural and the overall technique is a bit easier on new fishermen than traditional side drifting. I highly recommend giving this technique a try this winter!

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