Flyfishing with a float
Published Aug 28th 2011
It's possible to fish a fly without a flyrod. You just need a bobber, a bubble, a float, a bombarda, a sbirolino, a buldo or whatever you want to call it... and a spinning rod.
The method is generally considered the most efficient method for fishing for coastal sea trout. A bubble float fisher will generally outfish both fly and spin fishers.
The method is also useful for many other kinds of fishing, and even dry flies can be fished in a stream using a bobber, and may even be easier to control than a fly on a fly line because of the lack of drag in the line.
The stream fishing with floats isn't that uncommon, and in the southern part of Europe, especially in Spain, the use of a float and a team of Gallo de Leon flies has a long history as it can be seen in Tomás Gil's book La mosca ahogada.
I have at times dived into the discussion whether this is flyfishing or not. I won't do that here. It's fishing with a fly, and that's what matters, because the fly can be the only effective way to catch fish sometimes, and for coastal fishing as it's performed here in the Baltic, it's a very useful fishing method - flyfishing or not.
I use the bubble float from time to time myself, and I tend to agree with its most avid proselytes: it is a very efficient way to fish. Definitely more efficient than fishing with a lure, and actually more efficient than flyfishing with a fly rod. But not nearly as much fun...
Types of floats
The ones of us who fished bobbers or floats as kids will remember the typical white and red Styrofoam contraptions that was used together with a bit of lead.
Today's floats for fly fishing are very far from these ancient constructions.
Most are designed as casting floats needing no extra casting weight, but actually casting very well by themselves.
There are two basic types:
1) The hollow egg-formed bubble- or buldo-type.
2) The solid elongated bombarda- or sbirolino-type.
The bubble (AKA buldo or bubble float) is available in many shapes and sizes, but the Bonnand type, which is usually egg-shaped and has tube going through it is generally preferred by coastal anglers. There are ball-shaped ones too, floats with eyes in each end and other types, but the egg-shaped one that can be filled with water is a commonly used type.
You fill the float with to get the right casting weight and can have a light and floating float or a heavier and almost neutral or even slowly sinking one by adjusting the amount of water. The size of the float decides the maximum casting weight.
In the last decade or so, the egg-shaped floats have been replaced by more modern, elongated floats in different densities with long guiding pins added for better direction control in the cast. These are also known as Sbirolinas in some countries or just referred to as casting floats.
You buy these floats in the density and casting weight you want. You can get them from floating to sinking and in many different weights.
Both types are available in many colors as well as translucent. My experience tells me that the color matters little, and I have fished with bright yellow floats as well as translucent ones, and sensed no difference.
The float has to be of the type where the line runs through a tube in the center. This allows it to slide up the line when the fish takes the fly. The fish won't feel the weight of the float, and the float won't keep the fish from running.
The only problem with this rig, is in the landing phase, where the bubble above the leader will mean, that the fish will be landed with all the leader out of the top eye. This is only a really big problem when your leaders get longer than your rod or some 3 meters or 9-10 feet.
Many Danish fishers use leaders up to 5 meters when fishing bubble floats and a friend of mine used to use a complicated construction with monofilament line, a piece of intermediate fly line and a thin leader with split shot in front of the bubble. He caught a lot of fish by the way. Personally I have always limited my leader length to a rod length.
An advantage of the bubble method is that you can fish large and heavy flies on long and thin leaders. Flies as the Fair Fly and the Full Metal Jacket can be a pest to cast on a light fly rod. They work very well with a casting float.
You will need some loose line for the leader. Many anglers fish with braided lines on their spinning rods, but the leader should be normal nylon or floucarbon.
Thread the float onto the casting line. Bomardas go on with the pin towards the rod, while egg-shaped bubbles go on with the thin end of the center tube upwards. You need no plugs or other things to keep the float from moving, because we want it to be able to slide on the line.
Thread a plastic pearl on the line after the float, and tie a small ring or a swivel to the end too keep both from falling off the end. Tie the leader to this ring or swivel. Keep the leader a rod length or a bit longer and tie the fly to this. I use leader material in the 0.20-0.26 millimeter or 1X-2X range.
Casting the float with the long leader can be quite tricky. When casting you don't want to hook yourself with a stray fly and when the bubble lands you want the long leader to stretch in front of the bubble.
Both things can be accomplished with the following method: When you retrieve the bubble and lift it off the water in preparation for the next cast, you leave the fly in the water in front of you or to the side where you cast.
Have approx. 0.5-1 meters (2-3 feet) of line out of the top eye to the float. Take the rod slowly the the right (if you're a right hand caster) leaving the fly in or on the water, but increase the speed in order to load the rod. Cast the bubble forwards and upwards with a firm but smooth motion.
The fly will follow the bubble and the leader will lay parallel to the casting line. In order to stretch the leader you brake the casting line by gently pressing your finger against the edge of the spool just before the bubble lands.
Some traditions bid you to retrieve the bubble extremely slowly. Don't necessarily follow that tradition!
Retrieve as with any other kind of active fly fishing: varied and according to the circumstances - and sometimes with great speed. That's one of the advantages of a spinning rod compared to a fly rod.
Some argue that the bubble will scare the fish. My experience is the opposite: the commotion of the bubble is more likely to attract fish, that will then see the fly trailing it.
If you fish a dry fly, a wet fly or nymph in a stream, don't retreive, but make sure that you have contact with the float, but allow the fly to move freely.
Flyfishing for non-flyfishers
Fishing the fly on a float can be a great way of engaging a non-flyfishing spouse or kids in your fishing. It requires less skills than using a fly rod, and can be used by even very green anglers.
So you might want to try bringing a suitable spinning rod and reel, and equipping less skilled anglers with a bubble rig.
You may be in for a surprise!