Call it a bobber or a float, there’s more to this humble piece of fishing tackle than those round red and white panfish bobbers.
Back in the good old days, every kid who ever wetted a line had a fishing bobber, or three, in his tackle box, and chances are they all looked the same. The iconic red and white plastic globe bobber is iconic for a reason. It was cheap, effective for panfishing, and pretty much all that was available in most tackle and bait shops at the time.
That’s somewhat puzzling, given that the float has been around for a very long time, in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs. But the last few decades have seen a resurgence in the diversity and selectivity of float designs for different applications.
Here are a few bits of trivia on the fishing bobber that you may not have known.
1. The first known mention of the use of a float appears in the book “Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle,” by Juliana Berners, published in 1496.
“All maner lynes that be not for the grounde must haue flotes, and the rennyng ground lyne must haue a flote, the lyeng ground lyne must haue a flote.”
2. The BOB-ER-LITE was a famous night fishing product of the Pasch Brothers fishing tackle company, formed in 1946 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was a 2¼-inch clear plastic bulb that housed a battery and light bulb.
The BOB-ER-LITE was such a popular gadget that Pasch Brothers later opened a division of the company called Bob-Er Lite Manufacturing in Racine, Wisconsin.
3. Porcupine quills were a standard material for floats after trade routes were established into Africa. African porcupine quills have the properties that make for good float construction. They are durable – more durable than plastic in many cases – have good buoyancy, and can take a lot of abuse.
African porcupine quills are still used in some commercial float production, and many individual float makers continue to rely on it.
4. The IDEAL SNAP-CAP BOBBER was a gadget bobber manufactured by the Ideal Co. in Richmond, Virginia. It was a globe bobber with a snap-off cap that allowed the angler to add water into either side chamber to adjust the buoyancy.
5. The JUMPING JACK FLOAT may have been the first gadget bobber float. It is detailed in a book titled “The Boys Book of Sports,” published in 1886, and utilizes a thin stick puppet figure who “dances” when a fish tugs on the line. The text reads:
This little figure is fastened to a stick, which is secured in an upright position on a float made of a piece of board. Through a hole in the float is passed the string attached to the figure, and tied securely to this the are the hook and line. After the hook is baited, the float is placed on the surface of the water and the little man, standing upright, is left to wait in patience. Presently a fish, attracted by the bait, comes nearer the surface, seizes the hook quickly, and darts downward, pulling the string and making the little figure throw up its arms and legs, as though dancing for joy at having performed its task so well.
6. Wagglers, Avons and Dinks. Different bobber or float designs have different, and sometimes colorful names, including the familiar red and white round “globe” or “bubble” bobber. Three popular designs are wagglers, avons and dinks. Wagglers are floats that attach to the fishing line at the bottom, and come in two basic types, straight or bodied.
Avons are a “straight float with a body at the top. It was designed to cope with the fast flow conditions of the English River Avon. Many early floats were Avon style having a cork body pushed onto a crow quill. It is fished attached to the line top and bottom.”
Dink Floats are line adjustable floats often used by salmon and steelhead fisherman. They are made of closed cell foam and cork, and the line wraps through and around the float to hold it in place.
7. Peacock quills are, like porcupine quills, a traditional float material that is still in use today by manufacturers of high quality fishing floats. Several companies, such as Preston Innovations and Drennan Tackle use peacock quills in their waggler designs.
8. Mick Thill. Of the handful of modern anglers who can be credited with significantly impacting the sport with tackle innovations for both the everyday fisherman and the competitive sport angler, Chicagoan Mick Thill must surely be near the top of the list. Thill, a champion angler, was at the forefront of introducing and popularizing modern float design to the American angling scene.
Nowadays, Thill floats are as common in any fishing tackle shop or store as those old red and white plastic bubble bobbers that anglers used to use just a few decades ago. Mick Thill helped change the notion that bobbers were mostly a cane pole and panfish piece of tackle.
Now you know more than your friends about the traditional fish bobber; invite them to a fishing trivia and answer all the bobber questions right!