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updated: 2/13/2013 5:14 PM

Your most important piece of fishing tackle? The slip-float

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  • The slip-float provides a great way to easily cast and present live bait at a variety of depths, even for shore anglers.

    The slip-float provides a great way to easily cast and present live bait at a variety of depths, even for shore anglers.
    Illustration courtesy of Spence Petros


Every year just prior to the start of the soft-water fishing season, I receive several e-mails about what my choice is for my favorite lure.

I used to wrestle with that issue until I dug my heels into the sand and stood my ground.

In other words, I decided that there isn't one catch-all lure that will work all the time.

On the other hand, my angling education was extremely broadened when I was shown the early versions of a live-bait rig simply called a slip-float.

I realize I've written about slip-floats several times in this column, but believe me when I tell you in my very humble opinion, the slip-float can be the most important tackle accessory -- and will help you catch lots of fish to boot.

I know there is an element among our angling fraternity that would not touch live bait even if Ken Darga himself were handing out checks to anyone who would try it.

There is something about the use of live bait that drives the jig-and-pig crowd nuts. It's also a no-no for the boys with three first names, big ears and short, stubby fingers. To many bass fishermen, just thinking about live bait could result in losing their membership in the local snuff-spitting contests.

And yet when they are alone in a boat, or on shore with no one looking, some will lug a coffee can full of redworms or nightcrawlers down to the water to help even the odds.

But it's not just worms and 'crawlers that are on the bait menu.

There are leeches and minnows, as well as wax worms and maggots -- all viable live bait that can turn a slow day into a spectacular session.

But the slip-float does all the heavy lifting to get these baits to produce.

There are a number of fishing accessory companies turning out balsa wood and plastic floats, and most of them are decent.

Here is what's so special about this small tool, and how it works.

Your fishing line slides through a hole in a float (inserted from the top down) until an obstacle such as a knot and/or bead stops its progress. The knot/bead is placed at a predetermined distance from your bait or lure to allow you to fish at a precise level, regardless of how deep it is. If I were to hold the hook or jig in my right hand and slide the slip knot (bobber stop) to the tip of my nose, I measure off a distance of precisely 2 feet. Setting a slip bobber's depth at 10 feet would be four similar measurements or pulls. Fractions of a complete pull can easily be "eyeballed" to give you a little less depth.

The knot or float stop is put on your line first and is always above the float (closer to the reel). There are numerous float stops on the market, from small rubber football-shaped stops to Dacron line tied into a nail knot around a hollow, thin tube. Some hold tightly and effortlessly slide on and off your line -- others don't. Enterprising anglers can make their own float stops. A good trick is to tie several nail knots with dental floss on a thin hollow tube such as a coffee or drink-stirring straw.

If the slip knot slides through or hangs up in the hole in the float, then a small bead is needed between the knot and float. If the hole through the float is large, which is often a benefit because line (especially thicker diameter line) can more easily pass through it, then a bead larger than the hole in the float must be used as a buffer between the knot and float.

Use your slip float to fish for suspended fish, or fish right on the bottom as well as slightly above it. I use slip-floats for bass, crappie, walleyes and most other panfish.

•Contact Mike Jackson at, and catch his radio show 6-7 a.m. Sundays on WSBC 1240-AM and live-streamed at

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