Going Old School – Natural Floats & Bobbers


Natural materials make better bite indicators than plastic bobbers – like these corn cob and wood stem floats.

Going old school with your fishing equipment means that you are going to go back in time with your rig, and probably catch more fish than you would with the plastic (dung) on today’s tackle shelves! Old school tackle was good. It was built out of the proper materials for the job and the physics of the tackle worked great. Modern tackle tends to be anything that can be molded, rolled and blasted off conveyors by the thousands. It might even be made in China or India where the quality can slip a bit on seams or consistency of finish.

Some fishing manufacturers set out to make a design based on a copy of something else. Not quite knowing what they are doing and not fishing that method – these tackle makers make errors that will kill your fishing in shape, weight, markings and design of their bobbers. There is so much junk and what I call fishing quackery that I am going to open up a museum just to show off all the bad fishing tackle that has existed. All the bad inventions of people with great intentions – that is the slogan. Build a better bobber – not likely, most of the time they built a hulking glob of plastic. Adding switches, springs, pulleys, wheels, ball bearings, compartments and even gluing another bobber to the top of the bobber.

When they set out to select their materials- their products were nearly doomed. Old school doesn’t mean “As Seen on TV”. Old School refers to probably before TV was invented. Before the invention of plastic and before mankind decided that natural materials didn’t make them enough profit – that is the Old School period. New school, is more like when mankind had to build bombs. During that period, metal parts made out of stainless or copper were rationed and in short supply – all of it being directed to the front lines. During that time, plastic took hold. To this day – it hasn’t let go, but this should change.

Based on sales at the recent Tinley Park Fishing show, Gapen Fishing Tackle’s floats have no plastic and no metal. They are made out of all natural materials except for one very useful nylon connector. The function of this piece is not so much to save money, but the small piece serves a purpose, protecting the line. Gapen’s floats are made out of very natural balsa wood. This wood is one of the last natural bobber materials used in production. The reason it is used is because it is very bouyant. The bouyancy makes the bobber perform better.

A Bobber Within a Bobber in a Bobber? Plastic!

A Bobber Within a Bobber in a Bobber? Plastic! Note the saying to the left – “You’ll Fish Like an Expert”?

Plastic is very heavy and dumb. It won’t tell you much as it sits heavy in the water. The light balsa wood is just the right amount of pop – upward jump that moves when the fish takes the bait. It is movement and reaction by the bobber (float) that lets the angler know what is happening below. Without this movement, like in a clunky, heavy plastic bobber, the angler can’t get a quick indication of when to strike. When does the fish have the bait?

While some of the angler’s problem is their setup and balancing of the float (bobber), mostly it is poor materials and design that doom the rig. I was told by a visitor to the fishing show how he sets up his float. He ads only enough weight to lay the float on its side. When the float stands up, the fish has the bait. The trouble with this is a perfect example of a bad rig. With the float laying on its side, if the fish takes the bait the angler won’t see the bobber move. If the fish picks the bait up and rises in the water column, the float will still be on its side in this setup. Never lay your float on its side!! Never!

With a float resting on its side, the surface tension of the water will fight that float standing up. Also with no weight beneath, the float is so much more difficult for the fish to pull under. With proper balance, only the tip of your float should show. With proper balance by adding enough split shot (or picking the right jig), the float will move left, right, down and most importantly UP! Floats on their side can not move up. This means that any fish either tacking the bait and standing still or any fish eating your bait and rising up a couple of inches to eat, won’t move your float! You just eliminated about 50% of your strikes. By laying a float on its side, you are giving away 50% of your fish or more.

The most sad news of all is the following. On some days, the only two types of takes I will see on my float are either, lift bite – float moves up, or twitch bite – fish moves float but float stays still. On these days when the fish are feeding like this – the lay-down bobber method might miss 90 – 100% of the takes. I think you should call this method the “Lay Down” method because you might as well grab a pillow and blanket when fishing this style. It can be a very slow day!

Old School materials and floats are just better, especially when balanced well. Old School floats are light and they pop up when the fish disturbs the tiny split shot at the bottom of the rig. Great Old School float materials would be some that you may have come across. Porcupine quill, bird quill (feather shaft) including goose quill, crow quill and even peacock quill floats. Cork was used as was a lot of natural reeds to make fantastic floats that really dance on the water. Old School meant using the materials you had to craft a small, light, sensitive float that would “talk” the most!

I am adding some old school floats to the store coming up. These will include reed floats, corn cob floats and even quill floats. You can fish these floats on your favorite lake and laugh when you out-catch your neighbor sporting the fanciest of gimmick bobber. Check out the store for exclusive Old School floats and get them while they are available. These are limited edition and I can’t promise to keep them in stock. Float anglers will want to have these for fishing or framing – they are really cool. The new natural bobbers are available now in a limited quantity.