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Long Rod Theory & Application

The majestic qualities inherent of the steelhead are world renowned.  To have hooked and fought this fish is to have begun an uncontrollable journey that, for most anglers, will turn a favored hobby into an undying obsession.  Without a means to keep the new addiction in check, “hardcore steelheaders” find themselves ignoring the effects of sleep deprivation and frostbite for just one more chance at hooking into a screaming silver bullet.  In time and for some, an appreciation blossoms for strategy and conservation.  This in turn, initiates a quest that along the way evolves obsessed fisherman into encyclopedias of angling knowledge.  Is this the quest you find yourself on?  If so, let’s speak about an exciting and extremely strategic method to entice steelhead as well as all trout to battle called Centre-pin Float Fishing.


As with many endeavors, the use of the correct tools will increase the probability of a successful outcome.  It couldn’t be truer when the time arrives to assemble the components of a drift fishing rig.  Of course, governing considerations need to be made on tributary size, species and the appropriate gear chosen to match these variables.  Intentionally, to simplify the reading, these considerations will be averaged and represented by andromonous oncorhynchus mykiss or the Great Lake’s prized Steelhead Trout.  The water shed will be modeled after the Grand River of NE Ohio. 


Regardless of where your fishing roots are planted, three criteria are required to produce consistent success on the water. 


  • Knowing your quarry’s biological intent.  (What makes it tick, why is it exhibiting the behavior you are observing, and what are its instincts?  How can these behaviors be exploited?) 

  • A working knowledge of the benefits of hydraulics and structure and the ability to read water.

  • Knowing what effect temperature, flow, water clarity and sedimentation have on the first two criteria.


When the above criteria are met, the transition to a technique that involves natural paced drifts will reveal itself as the ultimate advantage it truly is.  So in theory, a good – great fisherman will transition to a great – fantastic fisherman with the use of a long rod and centre-pin arrangement.


     For simplicity’s sake, the examples referenced hence forth will involve a 13’ IM6 float rod coupled with a 4.5” centre-pin reel spooled with floating line, an inline, adjustable depth float, micro swivel, and the appropriate shot pattern.  All of these components for subject matter will be of “generic” origins.  The rod length, reel diameter, line, float, and split shot were all selected as an “average” of what is typically carried by float anglers upon steelhead waters. 


     With our generic setup, it is important to discuss the individual components and how as parts working together they benefit the system’s operational efficiency.  It should be recognized that natural drift speed and strike zone depth are the reasons behind the use of these specialized components.


Rod Length & the Centre-pin Reel;

Imitating Natural Drift Speed by Way of Manipulation


     From an upstream position of the intended target area, a cast is made into the tributary’s flowing water.  In mere seconds, with rod tip pointed high and a tight line from rod tip to float tip, an immediate manual restraint is exerted on the system.  By applying measured resistance against the spool’s rim, line expenditure is set to a pace that will most closely present the offering (at depth) at a speed interpreted by the angler. 


     A tight line from rod tip to float tip, free from the drag of the water’s surface, is achieved with the float rod length. Teamed with the intrinsic qualities of bearings and finely machined tolerances, the centre-pin reel employed rotates with the precision of a Swiss timepiece. Manual resistance provided by the drag of the finger against the spool’s edge reduces the speed exerted by the faster surface flows against the body of the float.  While “checking” the float, several events are taking place underwater. 


     Below the surface, split shot mass creates a hinge point within the leader to tippet arc.  In doing so, water flow places the offering ahead (downstream) of the terminal tackle.  Fish targeting the path way of food delivery naturally position themselves in an upstream orientation. Anatomically, having eyes set in separation of a midline and tilted in such a way that a view is provided up and toward each side, trout will feed by shifting their bodies up and to either the right or left and return back to their hold in a single, quick motion.  This action registers in float movement and is broadcast to the angler as a take.


The Advantage of Position


     Without question, the best angling position for a centre-pin float fisherman is at the very head of a run about 1/3 of the way out into the faster, shallow water.  This position offers the opportunity to fish the head, belly, and tail-out of an average sized run without having to move.  I would caution you though.  This position is best practiced when fishing with a group of friends.  It is not advisable, nor polite to fish an area from head to tail in the company of other anglers.  For a centre-pin float fisherman, following the rules of stream etiquette and politeness are paramount.   


Drifting Technique & Water Flow


     “Fish the bubble line; there are always fish holding in the zone of the bubble line!”  Have you ever wondered why?  Water flowing against subsurface obstructions causes hydraulic vacuums that fish will instinctively use to their advantage.  These seams, adjacent to the pipeline of food-rich flow, supply fish the perfect opportunity to feed and, because of the relative stillness of the water within their attack station, expend minimal amount of energy maintaining position.  Fish will naturally exploit a position that feeds their voracious appetite without requiring them to expend energy at the same rate of enrichment.  These areas can be found directly in front and behind boulders, behind and under down trees and islands of vegetation, dramatic underwater elevation changes (IE crevices, shale drop offs, ledges, and bellies of pools), the inside of river bends, and near the areas and to the sides of large boulders oriented at unique angles on river bends. Any area that can cover a majority of the fish’s body will grant fish relief from expending excessive energy.  In many ways fish want their cake and want to eat it too--they look for the laziest position to hang out that continues to deliver the greatest opportunity for energy replenishment. 


     With that said, drifting methods and shot patterns should be manipulated to exploit these holding tendencies.  The guiding premise is to perpetually deliver the offering (bait, fly, jig, etc.) before the attached tackle that facilitated delivery (float, shot, line, or other terminal tackle).


     The methods for stealth placement of an offering are slightly different in each situation.  Using a hypothetical river example, after a quick survey is drawn of the water’s surface, a noticeable hump and dip in the water identifies a submerged boulder or rock grouping.  Behind this obstruction, a dual pinstripe of bubbles is evident to the left and right forming a noticeable “V” downstream.  A depth determination is made and rigging set accordingly.  Your first inclination may be to target these seams and bubble lines, which is correct, but the way in which they are initially fished will determine whether one fish or many may be drawn to strike.  The first order of business would is to target well in front and upriver of the subsurface obstruction.  Make a mental note that the areas directly in front of large boulders have the ability to hold fish.  Placement is critical at this point.  The necessary steps need to be made to orient the terminal tackle offering first.  In a perfect world, feathering the resistance and trotting down river and into the area, the fish will take notice of only the offering.  Attempt to match the subsurface speeds and by doing so, give the trout an extra second or two to inspect your solicitation.  Hit this area a few times to be sure you’ve covered it well.  You may wish to try stalling the offering almost completely before allowing it to dip into this area.  Bring it up off the bottom or dropping it from the top of the water column down may be all the aggravation the trout can stand and thus result in a strike.


     The next phase will involve the bubble lines forming the “V” off the rear of the structure.  Remember that there are likely two general areas that may have fish concentrations in this example.  Two seams with bubbles streaming behind the submerged object permit two lanes of feeding.  Target the outside of the closest seam to your position.  Insert your terminal tackle within the flows well above the intended area and feather the spool to bring the float just outside (inside to your position) of the bubble line.  Attempt to “wash” or “slide” the offering into the bubble line.  Seek to expose the trout hidden within the slower eddies behind the boulder to only the offering.  The float may orient itself tip facing upstream and toward your position.  This is OK, just be aware that the strike may turn the float sideways into the rear of the rock.  After targeting the inside bubble line, focus your attention to the very outside of the far seam.  If the casting position is close enough, this will pose little problem.  You may wish to elevate the float rod tip as high as possible to gain a better advantage during these drifts.  If you find yourself too far away to get a drag free drift, a technique that uses line drag on the surface as an advantage may be used.  Cast the offering well above and slightly more distant that the zone you wish for it to trot down into.  Immediately make an upstream mend with additional line.  Attempt to get an upstream belly of line forming a gentle curve down to the float tip. Allow the float to drift to just short of the intended are and begin to feather the spool rim with resistance.  This method will cause the terminal tackle to drag toward you.  If done correctly, the result is almost boomerang path of the terminal tackle to the fish’s position.


     I've described only three effective feeding zones that trout may be targeting.  After reviewing the picture illustrations above, notice that the faster water and the extreme tail out of this "hypothetical" also held fish.  It is up to you to determine if a similar area on your home river or stream might be worth the extra time spent picking it apart.


     As mentioned previously, an upstream casting position is the best place to execute full “trotting” control on your float and terminal tackle.  Many times, the areas at the most extreme heads of pools are vacant. This gives a perfect opportunity to trot unhindered by another angler’s presence.


     I hope this article increases your enjoyment and appreciation of the wonderful natural resource we all share:  Earth!


I hope that you’re finding these articles informative.  If you feel there is something I’ve overlooked or you have a suggestion that will enrich the information provided, please feel free to email me at dj@floatfishingconnection.com















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