Imagine a world without bobbers. Ecuadorian balsa forests would flourish, but it would mean certain extinction of tackle seen hanging from power-lines. Worst of all, children from coast to coast would lose that initial exposure to fishing marked by an innocent and iconic bob, then a plunge, and an awkward but triumphant hookset.
Fear not, your bobbers aren’t being confiscated. I am here to say, however, that in the universe of ice fishing, bobbers should move from shotgun to the backseat. They perform splendidly as a secondary offering, but shame on the so-called cosmopolitan ice angler who fishes floats first. Time to grow up.
Insert an asterisk here, though, because there are a couple of bobber-esque tactics that lead and never follow. The bobber’s chief role is that of a strike indicator; if it even twitches something’s amiss, save the panicky minnow. At first tremble the bobber’s job is done. Regrettably, too many of us wait for it to vanish beneath ice. Sometimes it plunges. But more commonly it sashays, twists and twirls. Yea, the fish is there, but you’re in no position to give it the haymaker.
Tournament tested Tony Boshold (city/state) would have iced that fish at first flicker. He is guided by a bobber of another stripe. Boshold’s bobber doesn’t float but flexes and tells all sorts of secrets. It’s a spring bobber. Admittedly, rod-tip-treatments aren’t on the bleeding edge of technology. But the manner in which Boshold brandishes the blank is a modern marvel.
“It’s about bite detection,” says the man who has earned cash and prizes managing a spring bobber. And Boshold is talking about a level of detection whereby a crappie or bluegill even passes gas the gig is up. Suppose that smells underwater?
Spring bobbers fall into two core categories: metal coil (spring) and those with a single bendable arm. Both styles are available as an aftermarket add-on and pre-rigged with a jigging rod. In Boshold’s mind a spring bobber should have an actual spring – more on that in a minute.
The presence of a panfish is telegraphed by deviations in the spring’s manmade action. The stationary spring suddenly tremors; figure the bait’s been groped. A rhythmic pump is interrupted by an arching coil; your jig isn’t alone. Unexpectedly, the spring goes straight during a jigging sequence; it’s been eaten and the fish is finning toward you.
Ah yes…the “up-bite” – the Achilles heel of conventional jigging. A fish rises to gobble the bait. The rod doesn’t tic or ping. The spring bobber, however, whispers the truth. “Crappies usually rise to feed,” says Boshold. “And when they take they keep on going. The weight from the jig is gone and the spring goes flat. Set the hook. That’s a fish.”
“Load” is the term Boshold uses to describe the stress of the lure on the actual coil. He shoots for 50/50 load, which means the spring can bend or straighten depending on if the fish is pulling or feeding up. The spring straightens and a fish has removed the weight. It bends, and there are happenings down below.
To that end, Boshold trusts only one spring bobber/rod combo: the St. Croix Legend. Designed by ice fishing architect Greg “The Prowler” Wilczynski, the Legend series features a patented, adjustable coil strike detector. “You can get that perfect 30-degree angle with any lure weight,” adds Boshold. That means a 30-dgree upwards pitch from being fully horizontal.
Ice fishing guru Brian “Bro” Brosdahl opts for a Frabill Panfish Popper Plus. Each of the micro spring bobber combos – 4 lengths and actions – plays nicely with 1 to 4 lb. test. The actual Panfish Popper spring is also sold as an aftermarket accessory, fitting most rods.
Thorne Bros. (Fridley, MN) makes fantastic coil spring bobber that fits most of their custom rod assortment.
Strike detection is one thing, jigging performance another. Boshold first dials in the stroke and tempo of the day. And he’s partial to an environmentally accurate presentation. “Watch a scud (freshwater shrimp) some time. They swim, flutter and stop. There are no sharp motions, no jerks.”
The spring smoothes out Boshold’s game. Cadence adjustments are silky. Swimming speed increases or decreases with great fluidity. Even the finest crafted rods cannot proffer such lifelike action.
Boshold’s stockpile of jigging motions runs deep; too deep in fact to recite. But there are a couple of central motions that anchor all mutations. The first is what’s commonly called a “pound,” but with the softness only a spring can supply.
He employs hard, one inch lifts. (“Hard” in this case is like saying a “hard pillow,” which is soft by any other comparison.) So he pounds three or four times and pauses, all the while studying the spring. A handful of those sequences and he moves up or down in the water column and duplicates the effort. Again, there are a zillion adaptations.
Trick two is more of a quiver, which Boshold says elicits “vibrations.” He might jam 20 or more vibrations inside a vertical inch. The caffeine shakes are all you really need. As before, he slides the presentation up and down through the water column.
But before Boshold concedes the stage to tight-lining, he felt compelled to talk about resistance. “A spring bobber offers very little resistance to a biting fish. They don’t drop it.”
Even the virtually undetectable panfish suck-and-blow is revealed. A conventional bobber wouldn’t flinch. A jigging rod freezes in place. But even the delicate kiss of a bluegill changes the tempo of the spring.
Boshold has a fishing partner. And he’s equally as skilled at managing a spring-bobber. But for this discussion, Lombard, IL ice-man Mike McNett takes the position of a tight-liner. “Both techniques are effective for detecting bites,” says Tournament Director of the new North American Ice Fishing Circuit (NAIFC).
He’s stood over the shoulders of the best, Ice Belt legends like Michigan’s Bud Faynor, Dave Young, the Martins and Wrights. It’s sufficed to say that tight-lining originated in the Wolverine State.
So what is it? McNett says that tight-lining is the art of strike detection, requiring even more adroitness than operating with a spring-bobber. Where with a spring-bobber the focus is on movements of the coil, in tight-lining, the line itself is ground zero.
Picture the widening circumferences from a dime, to a nickel and then a quarter. Those increases are noticeable to a pop machine, but they sure are subtle on the ice.
“Basically, you draw little circles with your rod tip,” explains McNett. Pointed at the physical hole, the circular action of the rod tip forms loops in the line that swirl around in the shape of a half-moon. Any permutations are greeted with a thwack, a hookset.
“If the size of the loop changes, set the hook,” says McNett with great respect for the tested technique. “If the loop widens, it’s an up-bite. Set the hook.” To make the line apparent against a white background, tight-liners use bold colored but slender lines. Stren Ice in Hi-Vis Gold is a favorite.
In conjunction with drawing circles tight-liners keep the jig constantly hopping in micro motions. And to McNett, that’s one area spring bobbers trump tight-lines. “I can stop a jig dead in its tracks and see if it’s getting bit. A paused tight-line doesn’t give up that information as easily.”
Both Boshold and McNett favor jigs that fish heavy for their size. As well, they’re partial to plastics over things that creep and crawl. The tungsten based Wolfram jigs by Fiskas answer the call. To it, they add a Little Atom soft plastic. Combinations of colors and configurations are only limited by your imagination.
New for this winter, Bro’s Bug Collection from Northland Fishing Tackle meets the same size and weight requirements. The soft plastic tipped Bro’s Bloodworm and Slug Bug carry superior mass yet fish small. Bro’s Scud Bug is a dead ringer for a freshwater shrimp.
The spring is a bobber. The line is a bobber. The bobber is barely a bobber anymore.