by Daniel kiazyk

We've all seen that TV piece where In Fisherman's Doug Stange is duking it out toe-to-toe with some big channels. His approach was somewhat unique: waders, his pole, float and a chunk of cut bait hung beneath the float. One of fishing TV's great segments, no doubt about it. Cats on a float are not only feasible, but in some instances a practical and an interesting solution to discovering what ol' whiskers is doing in a river near you. I didn't really put much credence into the approach myself until one day I caught numerous fish by surprise using the technique while fishing for another species!

As a River Guide on the Red, I have a set regimen that I like to follow the day before greeting guests the morning of an outing. If I'm not booked the day before, I'll usually spend the day out on the river prior to a guest's arrival trying to get a feel for what's going on the fishery. It was one early summer day that I was converted to float fishing for cats in a dramatic fashion. Part of my pre-fishing regimen involves going out to catch Goldeye – a preferred bait by many once they show up in the river. The technique normally used to catch them will be to suspend bait beneath a slip float. Well, you've probably put the puzzle together by surmising that I was catching fish other than Goldeye on my slip rigs (usually cats) when I realized that there was a definite opportunity to target cats in this very same manner.

"How to float for cats" was worked out in short order… The set up is no real mystery, but there are a few subtle adjustments made to my Goldeye slip float rigs. The rig has to be made more fishable for cats. Initially float size and shape has to be adjusted. Floats have to have the ability to hold up enough bait (when required). They also need to be offset with "shotting" so there is not too much resistance for the fish when pulling down the float. The length of the leader down to the business end will depend upon the water being fished. Hanging bait just below the surface will often work when cats were bustin' goldeye near the surface. But, as a rule of thumb, I'll hang a bait in that region where my sonar marks an abundance of fish (I'm supposing that many of the fish I'm marking are forage for the cats I'm after). A swivel in-line is almost mandatory when hanging bait at deeper/shallow levels in faster water (it may not be necessary in slower water). Float stops for this system can be either neoprene or waxed cotton thread. My own preference is neoprene. I'll place (2) two of them on line because of the weight of baits and the force placed on them by a large float and heavier shotting and continual casting. I prefer two stops as they tend to bind against one another and give longer service. I'll also place a bead between the stops and float as the holes through the float are usually larger to allow for heavier line to pass through with ease.

Location for Floats

Floats will work well when angling for cats in water with a little less current. On the lower Red I'll look for back water eddies, or I'll look for cups along the shore and where water will either slow or spin back up stream. I'll also look for areas where either the shore is deeper and holds goldeye (and has a lesser current) allowing me to cast up stream to get a good drift. Finally, I'll fish protected back sides of points (not really a back water area) where current has been slowed. Trying out all of these locations will allow the cats to indicate where you'll have to put in your efforts (although there are those days when you'll take a few fish from each of them!)


Floats work throughout the season. There also seems to be a "mini" season within the larger summer season where they are very effective for taking big cats. Weather patterns, photo period, run off, heat, and the presence of forage all impact this type of fishing and where you'll do it. Float rigs and their use will peak at different times throughout the summer. I'll also go to floats for a change of pace or if I'm not doing well with bottom oriented rigs. To say there is a particular date and time where floats work better than other approaches is folly. You'll have to just get out there and try it as one of your options. Perhaps the best advice I can give with regards to the "timing" is that I'll use them when there is an abundance of forage upon which the cats are feeding ( and there will be visual signs such as cats busting through the surface)

Do float rigs offer an effective platform from which you can effectively take big cats; You bet! Would you use them on every occasion out; Not really. Floats do have a place in the cat man's arsenal and they are more than the accidental approach I discovered to be effective. They do offer another trick to pull out of your bag of tricks when either a change is necessary or desired. Are they fun… without a doubt!