Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Time for the Float & Fly by Mark Bilbrey


Time for the Float & Fly

Posted by Mark Bilbrey

 IMG_9219.JPG  Winter is here and for some it can be the most challenging season for many bass anglers with lethargic bass and cold water many fishermen hang up their gear as they wait for spring to return. However many Tennessee bass anglers have continued to fish all year facing the cold with some rewarding results with a cold water finesse technique that was developed in the 90’s simply called the Float and Fly. Many skeptical anglers doubted the effectiveness of the technique until it was proven that bass could be caught all winter long in the cold clear water of the mid-south reservoirs. This innovative technique has become a staple for the cold water anglers and guides on Tennessee’s Dale Hollow, Douglass and Cherokee Lakes. The technique has quickly spread all through the south and the eventually to the Midwest to areas that have open winter seasons and lakes that do not freeze. The bass that are suspended in the deep cold water are following the bait to conserve their only resource of stored energy. Feeding on opportunity as bait fish are suspended and are dying in the cold water gives the bass the nutrition to survive and maintain size all winter. The Smallmouth Guru, Stephen Headrick of Punisher Lures explained to me in detail why the Float and Fly is so effective along with some other valuable information contained in this post.

What you will need to fish the float & fly.


  This cold water finesse presentation targets suspended smallmouth, spotted and largemouth bass but this technique was discovered almost completely by accident, by fishermen who were trying to catch crappie. Its name “Float & Fly” was given as many anglers referred to the small hair and duck feather jigs as flies.  The rig consists of a small bobber rigged with a 3-Way swivel and a 1/32-, 1/16- or 1/8-ounce lead-head jig fished on a long leader from 11 -13 feet below the small bobber. The reluctance of anglers to try the technique is understood, it is difficult for many spring and summer time anglers to believe the small rig is able to consistently catch large bass on the small jig. However after a few minutes on a cold morning the anglers that give it a go soon understand what all of the rave is about. It does not take long to realize that this technique can produce bass in any lake or river in the correct conditions of clear water and water temperatures that are below 50 degrees is present.IMG_9225.JPG


Why the float & fly works so well. 

  The most productive time to fish the float & fly is during a weather front with some wind, which disturbs the surface and provides wind current and the most difficult time to fish it is on calm, bluebird, clear days. However fishing the shady banks will produce quality bass, but anglers are advised not to expect quantities under these conditions. This local technique is the most popular on Tennessee’s Dale Hollow and Douglass Lakes and has spread to several nearby reservoirs. Dale Hollow’s legendary smallmouth are part of the attraction for this winter sport. With several bass being caught in the six – eight pound range, and the lake home to the world record smallmouth caught by D.L Hayes more than fifty years ago, the lake has an allure for trophy hunters. The lake also host many largemouth and spotted bass in its deep, clear water along the deep 45 degree edges. The float & fly is very well suited for fishing cold clear water.


How to cast the float & fly rig.

  To fish the rig, cast the bobber and jig toward the bank and allow the jig to settle, watching the bobber for strikes. Most strikes are subtle and other the bobber is pulled straight down under the surface. But watch the bobber diligently, it may spin, fall to one side, move, or slowly be pulled beneath the surface. A long soft spinning rod with light to medium action is best suited to cast the long leader of the float & fly rig. To cast, simply sweep the rod back sideways and wait to hear the jig hit the water behind you, then sweep the rod forward toward your target. The long rod and long leader require “loading up” much like casting a fly rod.  Once the bobber has settled, raise the rod tip and start jiggling or vibrating the rod, which makes the bobber dance in one place. This give an action to the jig, suspended below the bobber, it will vibrate and quiver like a dying bait fish. While continuing to twitch the rod tip, keep the slack out of the line and slowly reel the bobber back to the boat. Wind is your friend when using this presentation, as the “bobbing” motion of the waters movement will help to trigger strikes.

Setting the depth

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  Water temperature has the greatest impact on the fishing depth.  The water temperatures must be below 50 degrees, and a confusing fact to many anglers it the cooler the water, the shallower the fish will be. In early December, as the water is cooling the guru and I fished between 11 and 14 feet deep, but most of the time through the winter months, jigs are fished eight to ten feet below the float.

Understanding cold fronts

 This technique can catch bass all winter long in much of the southern states. The effectiveness of the float & fly is in no way hampered by snow, severe cold fronts or even low water temperatures. Bass are routinely caught in water temperatures as low as 36 degrees. Cold fronts play an important part in this scenario, because the colder water will suspend the bass making them even more predictable. The Guru explained the effect of a cold front on winter bass. This information has been a guarded secret of pros and guides, but it must be understood for anglers to be successful for fishing after the turn over on through the pre spawn era.

 Float & fly anglers look for fish suspended in creek channels and target their cast from ten to fifteen feet from the rocky banks and bluffs. Fishing the bluffs, points and steeper banks near channels keeping the boat over an average of forty-five feet of water and cast to banks where the water averages twenty feet deep. On bluebird days, target downed timber with the top of the tree in the deeper water over channels. The bass that have suspended around the tree tops will move out on overcast days from the laydown as the bass will move out away from the cover.

A recap of why this technique is so effective.


 Float ’N Fly jigs are simply a lead-head jig tied with brightly colored craft hair and or turkey feathers enhanced with strips of synthetic materials that shine and glimmer that give the illusion of the jig to imitate bait fish. Dale Hollow like many reservoirs across North America contain forage of gizzard and threadfin shad and alewives, Color is what seems to be an individual preference among the anglers. The most common jigs are those with combinations of gray, white, silver and chartreuse to resemble the cold water forage.

 Once you give the Float & Fly a try you will be amazed at how quickly you can learn the cast, how affordable the gear is and how effective this approach is for catching cold water bass. As with any time on the water, play it safe. Wear a PFD and dress in warm layers. Always fish with a partner in the winter do this for safety as well as for support. It is an added bonus to have someone there to get the net, and to share your day with. I cannot begin to tell you how much I learned in one day fishing with Stephen Headrick. When Donna first attempted the technique she quickly mastered it and was soon teaching it to others. It is experiences on the water and the time getting to know others that makes this sport so rewarding.

Happy Fishing!

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