When you get really deep into ice fishing, it doesn’t take long to realize that 10 percent of anglers pull out 90 percent of the fish.
That’s exactly how I felt one day on the ice when all around me folks were yanking up fat perch and there I sat like a lame duck. With a little investigation, it became obvious what the difference was.
No, it’s not that I’m a terrible fisherman (although sometimes it feels that way). The big difference was sensitivity. If you can’t detect the subtle nibbles on finicky, jumbo perch or the soft, upward strike from a crappie, you may assume you’re not in the zone.
Some ice rods are more sensitive than others but we can all level the playing field with spring bobbers.
Don’t know what that is? No problem. The rest of this article is dedicated to showing you how to improve your ice fishing prowess with the use of spring bobbers.
What is a spring bobber and why you need one
Anglers, at some point, realized that an inability to feel or “visualize” a bite was costing them more fish than all other variables combined. Not all fish under the ice slam your bait like mini linebackers. Most, in fact, gently nip tentatively at small ice jigs and baits. Especially, crappie, bluegill and perch in heavily pressured waters.
Lately, there has been a huge shift in creating ultra sensitive rods. Some of which incorporate soft fiberglass tips like the Frabill Bro Series ice rods that register light strikes better than full graphite blanks.
One key misconception is that superior quality graphite or carbon results in better “feel and sensitivity.” While that is true in certain situations, it just doesn’t cut it when fish aren’t feeding voraciously and you have gloves on. Which happens to be more often than not while ice fishing.
Enter, the spring bobber. It’s the secret weapon of successful panfish anglers on the ice.
A spring bobber is a thin wire or coiled spring made of titanium or steel that attaches to the end of your ice rod. The line is fed through the spring bobber so that even the slightest nibble on your bait is easily visible as movement on the sensitive spring.
So, why do you need one? Because even with today’s sophisticated ice rod materials, manufacturers just can’t make rod tips sensitive enough.
Other techniques, such as “tightlining,” try to compensate for the failings of rod sensitivity. The idea is that you’ll see a bite as a subtle kink or change in your line. High-vis lines are sold for just this purpose.
Versatility with tightlining is problematic though. Detecting light bites or upward strikes this way yields poor results in high winds that blow your line around. It also won’t work with all baits and limits your ability to hole hop.
The truth is, spring bobbers are an elegant solution that anyone can easily use to increase their bite detection.
Do you use a spring bobber for all fish
I am sure there is a situation for all fish species in which a spring bobber gives anglers an advantage. It may be that the walleye are especially finicky today or the trout seem sluggish on the strike. If that is the case, by all means use a spring bobber and finesse tactics.
In reality, there are only a handful of species where a spring bobber is the best default tool when ice fishing.
Use spring bobbers for:
- Yellow Perch
- Lake Whitefish
Sometimes use spring bobbers for:
Again, using spring bobbers is entirely a personal choice. It also depends a great deal on your ice fishing technique. Don’t be afraid to experiment when it seems like you aren’t getting any bites.
How do you use a spring bobber
Okay, maybe you are convinced now that a spring bobber is worth a try. The next question is, how do you use it effectively?
Like anything, there is a wrong way to use it. Luckily, spring bobbers are relatively fool proof. By understanding a couple key concepts you can use spring bobbers like a pro and go from pulling up only a few fish during prime hours to catching lots of fish all day long.
The first concept to master is finding the right sensitivity on the spring bobber. Straight wire spring bobbers, designed to attach to any rod, have a simple way to adjust for sensitivity. Just pull the wire out past the tip further for more sensitive strikes. Some coil spring bobbers may not be adjustable.
You might need to play with the adjustment to dial it in for the bite on a particular day. However, I generally set my spring bobbers just shy of the most sensitive adjustment to start. With spring bobbers that don’t have a way to adjust them, don’t worry. Most are sensitive enough to work perfect for even the lightest of bites.
Next, remember that a spring bobber is not a universal “cure all” to be used in every situation. Spring bobbers excel at detecting quick sucking strikes from perch and “negative bites” caused by the upward feeding tendency of crappie.
In these situations, you’ll already most likely be using finesse style techniques such as tiny ice jigs or small wax worms, so the spring bobber will only enhance the natural presentation of your bait.
When it comes to active jigging though, spring bobbers have limited benefit and may actually hinder the action you want. Just as they absorb and translate minute movements from fish, spring bobbers also act as dampeners that impede erratic jigging when it’s desired. Instead, jigs do more swimming than bouncing when paired with a spring bobber.
What do bites look like on a spring bobber
For those of you new to using a spring bobber, learning how bites appear on the spring is crucial to detecting every hit. The images below show you what to expect on different types of bites so you won’t miss one.
The weight alone from your bait will put tension on the spring bobber giving it a slight bend. That being said, avoid using heavy baits with a spring bobber. If your bait rig involves a heavy lead weight, I’m afraid a spring bobber won’t be of much use.
The static weight from your suspended bait will look something like this.
Perch or trout may have a bit of momentum behind their strike. Don’t misinterpret this statement. The bite may still be super subtle but generally, they slowly start swimming down or away once they take your bait.
Look for the slightest increase in the bend of your spring bobber as shown.
Upward swimming or inhaling strike
Crappie and bluegill are notorious for undetectable bites. Their tendency to swim up as they imperceptibly suck in your bait leads to missed opportunity more than I care to admit.
This is where a spring bobber excels. Remember that the bait alone causes a slight bend in the spring bobber. When a crappie or bluegill go for the upward take, watch for a visible straightening of the spring.
How to attach a spring bobber to any rod
Companies like Frabill and HT Enterprise sell spring bobbers that attach to virtually any ice rod.
HT titanium straight wire spring bobbers have a plastic or rubber piece that holds the wire and clips to most ice rods. Simply snap the clip on between the last and second to last guide of your rod. Place it as close to the rod tip as possible while still remaining snug. You can then slide the wire in or out from the clip to adjust sensitivity.
The Frabill Panfish Popper on the other hand is inserted directly into the last guide of your rod. The plastic stopper firmly presses into a wide range of eyelet sizes. Your ice line is then fed through the coiled spring and bright tip using a line threader.
Frabill and St. Croix have also begun marketing rods with built-in spring bobbers as well.
Regardless, spring bobbers are easily adapted to fit any ice rod you have and there are plenty to choose from. All of which take only seconds to attach and begin using.
Can you make your own spring bobber
Generally speaking, spring bobbers are a cheap addition to your arsenal of gear. Yet I appreciate the frugal anglers among us who would rather save a few bucks and make their own.
DIY spring bobbers are a cinch to make and nearly free to boot. Even if you already bought a top-of-the-line spring bobber, it may be worth making a few more as back up.
It takes only a few minutes to make your own spring bobber following these five simple steps.
Find yourself a ball point click pen. Brand does not matter as long as it has a spring. Use a pen with a longer spring if you can.
Unscrew the cap and remove the spring.
From one end of the spring, grasp 3 or 4 coils with your fingers and pull the wire straight. Keep the rest of the spring as a coil.
Now, fasten the straightened end of the wire to your rod tip with sewing or fly tying thread. Secure it with epoxy resin. For a less permanent attachment, use hockey tape or even a tiny rubber band if you have it.
Make sure the spring is in line with the last guide and feed the line through. Adjust sensitivity by straightening more of the spring until you reach the desired flexibility.
That’s it! You now have a super sensitive spring bobber from an old pen. You can even paint the tip a bright color with florescent paint or nail polish for better visibility.
Best spring bobbers for ice fishing
Now days, choices are limitless and it just seems to cause confusion among shoppers. Instead of showing you every option for ice fishing spring bobbers, I’ll show you only the very best.
Among the best and most popular spring bobbers on the market today are Frabill, HT Enterprise and Clam.
Frabill Panfish Popper Spring Bobber
If you want the best in bite detection, check them out on Amazon.
These little gems fit snuggly on just about any ice rod. It is a coil style spring bobber which offers the best in sensitivity. Even a peck on your bait from a curious perch bends the spring like a blade of grass in a wind storm. In addition, a bright bead is incorporated on the tip of the spring bobber allowing for better visibility.
Threading line through the Panfish Poppers can be tricky if you loose the supplied line threader. The small spring also has a tendency to freeze up in extreme conditions. It’s not a problem if you’re in a shelter though.
The Frabill Panfish Popper is still our favorite spring bobber when fishing with ultra finesse baits.
HT Enterprise Snap-on Spring Bobber
Check it out on Amazon or Bass Pro Shops.
For the ultimate in simplicity, look no further than the budget friendly HT Snap-on spring bobber.
The flat, steel spring has plenty of sensitivity for the lightest bites. And with a soft rubber snap, it clips onto any rod tip securely. There is a fairly large plastic guide on the end which is easy to thread your line through and doubles as a high-vis indicator.
Ice up is not usually a problem with the HT spring bobbers like it is with the Panfish Poppers. However, hard use can cause kinks or permanent bends in the steel.
If you are looking to try out a spring bobber for the first time, the HT Enterprise Snap-on is a great option. It’s plenty sensitive and readily available.
Clam Dave Genze Nitinol Spring Bobber
These won’t disappoint, so get yours from BassPro Shops this season.
A step up from the HT, the Dave Genze Nitinol Spring Bobber uses a nickel-titanium alloy instead of steel. The alloy inflates the price a bit but it also amps up the sensitivity to 11. Unlike steel, the titanium alloy also resists kinks and bends so it retains its shape for many years.
It installs easily on any rod using a soft rubber snap. You can then adjust the spring sensitivity by sliding it through the snap. The Dave Genze Spring Bobbers can handle slightly heavier baits depending on how you adjust them too.
For any angler serious about ice fishing, a spring bobber is a must. Learn to use them right and I can all but guarantee that you will catch more fish. I am amazed at how many bites I’ve missed before using a spring bobber but my improved catch rates speak for themselves.
Tournament grade tackle for icing big panfish
“I competed in my first ice fishing tournament in 2008 at Lake Osakis in west-central Minnesota,” Luoma said. “My family owned a cabin on the lake for decades and I was confident that I could find and catch enough fish to finish high on the leaderboard.”
He caught fish but also lost many others, including, he suspected, some of the largest fish he hooked. The tournament weigh-in proved to be an eye-opening experience as out-of-state teams that only spent a few hours pre-fishing the lake finished in the money.
After experiencing similar results at another event, Luoma noticed that the same group of Michigan anglers consistently brought big bags of bluegills and crappies to the weigh-in. Chuck Mason, of Ida, Mich., and Dave Young, of Lansing, Mich., were the ringleaders.
“I told them that I was losing fish and they asked to see my gear,” Luoma said. “I showed them my custom graphite rods and high-end spinning reels and immediately saw that they weren’t impressed. Then they showed me what they were using.”
Tools for tight lining
The rods were 24-inch ultra-light Ice Blue models manufactured by HT Enterprises in Campbellsport, Wis. The suggested retail price is $15 but they can often be found on sale for half that price — especially toward the end of the ice season.
The Michigan anglers also used a De-Ma reel made by Schooley and Sons in their home state. The reels are molded from durable nylon, weigh almost nothing and cost less than $5 direct from the manufacturer. They, too, are often discounted by retailers during late winter.
“I was shocked,” Luoma admitted. “I could buy 10 of their combos for the price of one of mine, but their gear was producing better results. I pushed for details and they were like an open book. I’ve never met a group so willing to share what they knew.”
Mason and Young theorized that the stiff graphite rod Luoma used was responsible for many lost fish. They added that the fiberglass blank on the Ice Blue rod loaded easily, creating a bend that kept the fish hooked while the 1:1 gear ratio on the Schooley reel retrieved the line.
“If I were fishing in a shelter with bare hands, I might still prefer a graphite rod paired with a spinning or inline reel,” Luoma said. “But that’s not feasible in today’s fishing tournaments. It takes too long to move. Your clothing is your shelter and you have to be able to cover water quickly.”
Mason and Young also explained the reason they employed a high-visibility monofilament line. They used a technique called tight-lining. Watching the line as far down the hole as they could see for any movement. Any twitch they didn’t intentionally impart to the line was answered with a hookset.
“Monofilament line floats, which makes it an important part of this system,” Luoma said. “If I barely move the rod tip up then drop back to the starting position and the slack line floats on the surface, a fish has engulfed my jig.”
Tight-lining tournament anglers can fish with a glove on their rod hand and keep their other hand in a pocket with a handwarmer. Because they’re watching the line they don’t need to feel the often subtle bite of a sunfish or crappie.
Customizing rods and reels
The Michigan anglers also told Luoma that neither the HT rod or Schooley reel were suitable to use out of the package. The rod tip is too light to control a 3-mm or 4-mm tungsten jig, and the reel was designed to be used with a Schooley spring-bobber rod with a unique reel seat.
“I modify the reel by cutting off the two nylon wings off the back of the reel foot with a sheetrock saw,” Luoma said. “I also reduce the overall length of the foot by removing an inch or so from each side. This allows the foot to be securely attached to the rod handle with electrical tape.”
The first step to improving the rod is to snip off the orange tip with a pair of side-cutters, just above the first guide below the tip-top. Luoma then uses a knife to scrape the epoxy, thread and guide from the blank.
“Use the blue flame from a lighter to warm the tip of a hot-melt glue stick,” he added, “and put a small glob on the rod tip. Next, hold a 3-mm fly rod tip-top with a pair of pliers and warm it with the lighter before pushing it on the end of the rod. You will have several seconds to make sure it’s properly aligned.”
The final step is to insert a 16-mm spinning rod stripper guide into the space between the rod blank and the foam handle. This will guide the line onto the spool when retrieving the line and prevent tangles.
“I align the guide with the center of the reel spool then insert the guide foot behind the handle,” Luoma said. “Work it in and out a few times to create a small cavity then coat the tip of the guide foot with a bit of melted hot glue. Re-insert the guide and let the glue cure.”
Balancing lines and lures
When Young and Mason explained their system to Luoma, they recommended two- or four-pound-test Stren Ice line in the gold color. That’s no longer made but Stren Crappie line is available and works fine, despite not being formulated for ice fishing.
“The gold color is easy for me to see but doesn’t seem to deter fish,” Luoma said. “I use two-pound most often with a 3-mm tungsten jig, but won’t hesitate to step up to four-pound if I’m on a spot with big crappies or bass, or when using heavier jigs.”
Luoma also noted that he and his tournament partner Tad Westermann, of Otsego, Minn., make a good team because they have different fishing styles. Luoma tends to fish smaller jigs more subtly, while Westermann prefers heavier baits and more aggressive presentations.
“We each tend to stick to our own fishing style unless one of us is clearly out producing the other,” Luoma said. “I always start with a 3-mm jig, while Tad usually starts with a 4 mm. I tend to hold the jig almost motionless — sometimes gently rocking it up and down by slowly rotating the spool back and forth with my thumb. Tad usually imparts more movement to trigger a reaction from aggressive fish.”
Two modified panfish sticks: one for tight lining and one with a titanium spring bobber. Luomo uses the tight-lining version most often but has a spring bobber rod on hand at most tournaments. Steve Hoffman / Forum News Service
A time for spring bobbers
Luoma usually prefers a tight lining presentation but said he’s also impressed by the success many tournament anglers have with spring bobbers, a lightweight titanium tip that’s attached to the end of the rod to reveal light bites.
“It’s important that the tip is balanced for the size of the jig,” he added. “I prefer the Ice Strong tips made by Michigan guide Matt Strong. They’re available in four sizes: pulse (for 2- to 3-mm jigs), ultra-light (3 to 4 mm), original (4 to 5 mm) and xl (5- to 6-mm jigs and small spoons). The ultra-light model is my most used size.”
When properly balanced the bobber should be at about a 45-degree angle under the weight of the jig. That allows anglers to see a bite when a fish pulls the spring down or when tension relaxes and the spring moves up.
“The Ice Strong bobbers come with a short section of shrink tubing,” Luoma said. “But I prefer to use about an inch of smaller diameter tubing that quickly shrinks to the size of the rod blank. I also put a small kink on the terminal end of the bobber and use a small dab of hot glue between the bobber and the blank to make sure it never moves.”
These combos might not be considered high-end fishing gear, but top tournament anglers across the ice belt have proven they consistently produce big panfish in a variety of fishing situations. Build a few yourself and try them out. It won’t cost you much time or money and you might find your new favorite rod and reel for winter panfish.
Clam 2 Pack Nitinol Spring Bobbers
| The Clam Nitinol Spring bobbers are not only highly sensitive, but also kink free and extremely durable, made with Titanium and Nickel. This same material is used in the Dental Industry leaving it strong, durable yet pliable. High Visibility orange wrap and glow bead for easy bight detection. Grab your favorite panfish rod, add Clams Nitinol spring bobber and you wont miss those finicky biting fish! |
Length 4-½ inches
Includes PVC rubber clamp to secure to rod blank
Adjustable, durable and highly sensitive
Hi-Vis orange wrap w/glow bead
Product weight 1lb
Please click on the box, under size/color above, to view your options.
Clam Nitinol Spring Bobbers
Clam Nitinol Spring Bobbers are constructed of titanium and nickel, making them highly sensitive, kink free, and extremely durable, yet pliable. The hi-vis orange wrap and glow bead is added for easy bite detection. These spring bobbers include a PVCrubber clamp to secure to the rod blank.Â Add Clam Nitinol Spring Bobbers to your favorite panfish ice rod, and never miss those finicky biting fish!
- Overall length: 4 1/2 in.
- Includes PVC rubber clamp
- Adjustable length
- Highly sensitive
- Hi-Vis orange wrap with glow bead
- Qty. per Pack: 2
Well made, Can't get "clamp" to stay clamped, need very small rod tip.
Not as good as a competitors, they do bend or keep a memory if you will. Just have to straighten out with fingers. For the price however a good buy and still have good sensitivity and work well for there intended use.
Clam Nitinol Spring Bobbers
use with the lighest of lures only
These spring bobbers look very durable hopefully it won't be to much longer and I can try them out.
Spring bobber clam
Clam Dave Genz Spring Bobber Ice Fishing Rod Combo
The Clam Dave Genz Spring Bobber Series offers four models to choose from. These super sensitive composite blanks are matched with a quality reel. The spring bobber is made of Nitinol, which is exceptionally durable, sensitive, has no memory, and will help anglers detect the slightest bites. These rod actions were developed to handle a variety of presentations. Even the “seasoned” spring bobber angler will thoroughly enjoy the Spring Bobber Series of combos!
- Fiberglass rod blank
- EVA Tennessee Handle
- Lightweight guide train with black Dynaflow stripper guide with chrome insert
- Composite reel rings
- Nitinol spring bobber on the tip of each combo
- Lightweight 2 + 1 ball-bearing reel
- Aluminum spool
- One touch folding handle
- Front drag adjustment
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