Round Floats for Fast Water
Round style floats ride smoothly above turbulent water, making them easier for the fish to see and follow downstream during the drift. The advantage to this type of float is they can hold a fair amount of weight, which is critical as you'll want to place 3 or 4 split shot above your leader. This is often referred to as "bulk shot" since the majority of the weight is in one place, usually on the mainline above the swivel and leader. Use a leader length of 24 to 36 inches. The longer leader allows for the separation needed from the terminal tackle to offer the most natural presentation to your bait, but it will stay down in the water column and in the strike zone thanks to the bulk shot pattern.
Be sure to cast above current from where you feel the fish are. Too often, new anglers will often cast on top of holding fish. Not only will this spook the fish, they won't even have a chance to see your offering.
Pencil Style Floats
At some point on a fishing trip, you will run across low water conditions that make the fish wary of anything drifting at them. Delicate presentations is key to drawing strikes from negative fish holding in ultra-clear water. Using a lighter, pencil style rig will present the bait to the fish in a natural manner, and then it's a matter of fine-tuning your rig to get in the strike zone without causing widespread fish panic on the stream.
Look for pencil floats that can handle 2 to 5 grams of weight. Be sure to match the float size for the size of the stream as you might only need a 2-gram float on small creeks while a 5-gram float will do the trick on medium and larger streams. Small split shot spaced at even increments above the lead, along with a small hook, will be just the ticket to get bites consistently in clear water.
Big watersheds present a special set of circumstances to float fishing. It takes a fair amount of weight to get the float down, stay down and hold steady in the stronger flows of these rivers so that the bait gets bitten consistently.
Start with a cigar-shaped float as these are able to penetrate the faster surface flows of bigger rivers and slow down slightly in order to give the fish a better look at your presentation. When rigging these floats for big water, start by placing 2 or 3 AAA- or AB-sized shot directly under the float as this will act as a keel of sorts that will help the float track during the drift. Then begin adding split shot above your swivel going up the mainline. For most situations, use #1 or #3 sized shot spaced at 1- or 2-inch intervals at the low end of the rig above the leader, and then add a few larger sized BB shot at the top of the row. The goal is to end off with a row of split shot evenly spaced that will enable your bait to not only get down to the fish but do so in a manner that is natural and will not impede the drift. Be sure to keep adding split shot until you are getting down to the desired depth. You'll know you're there when the float begins dancing as the shot bounces off the bottom. Depending on how deep the water is, the rig could end up with as many as 12 to 15 split shot.
Match the Float Size to the Bait
Whether you're drifting red worms for trout or using cut bait for catfish, make sure your float can handle the bait you'll be using. For example, you'll want a large, cigar-shaped float when using chunks of sucker fillets on a catfish stream. Size matters when it comes to suspending these heavy baits, so make sure to carry several sizes of floats. On the other end of the spectrum, small floats that enter the water gently are the way to go on a trout stream. Since trout can take a bait very lightly, a slender float that will dip under the water with the slightest resistance is the proper choice.