Centerpin fishing is an unbelievable fishing technique that enables you to consistently land double-digit steelhead and other migratory fish species.
Here’s the overview on centerpin fishing:
- The casting is unique when compared to other fishing methods
- The gear is expensive
- The presentation of your bait is unique
- The results are amazing
Are you interested?
I’m going to tell you everything you need to know to get started on the riverbank this season.
Whether it’s your first time looking into centerpin fishing, or you’ve spent some time already in the water with a pin rig. I took the liberty of making a curated a list of distinguished centerpin tactics.
The goal is to make your next adventure to the stream the trip of a lifetime.
Here’s the rundown on what I’m bringing to you in this article:
- Centerpin Fishing 101
- Centerpin Rod Selection
- Centerpin Reel Selection
- Centerpin E
So just like the floats themselves, let’s drop in.
What Is Centerpin Fishing?
“Centerpin fishing” is fishing with a centerpin reel.
However, most people are looking for the definition of Centerpin “Float” Fishing which can be broken down in two ways;
The theory and the technical application.
Theory: A fishing technique that enables an
No other form of fishing can offer bait to a fish as natural as float fishing
No faster, and no slower.
While swimming upstream, fish will consistently scan the water for bugs, eggs, and other debris
All of these floating artifacts cruise past the fish at the same speed as the current.
Anything but the same rate as the current will seem unnatural or out of place.
Believe it or not, that’s enough to deter a fish from making a strike
Sure, you can try “float fishing” with a fly or spin fishing set up.
But you won’t be nearly as effective. Your drifts won’t be as natural, and you won’t cover as much water.
You would also miss out on the precision control that comes with float fishing.
Controlling where your float is in the stream is another tremendous advantage that pin fishing has over any other fishing techniques.
Technical Application: Now you have four main parts to a centerpin setup
- Cenerpin/float rod
- Centerpin Reel
- and the presentation(the stuff at the end of your line).
I’ll get into the precise details later on in this article about each one of these parts.
But for now, just know, you’re using a float, also known as a bobber, and vertically suspending a lure, drag free, while the current takes it.
Ideally, the bait hangs down from the float in a vertical fashion.
Centerpin fishing is a “
I mean this in two ways:
When compared to spinning, baitcasting, fly, and many other reels, there is no drag system built into a center pin reel to aid you with landing a fish.
Drag in a reel, is a gear mechanism built to manage tension put on the fishing line. Drag makes landing a fish quicker, easier, and consistent.
This way when you hook into a fish, the line isn’t pulled so tight that it will break, and at the same time, not so loose that fish can swim away and spit the hook after dragging all your line out.
In centerpin fishing, it’s a 1:1 ratio and you use your hand as the drag system to control how much, and how quickly line is let out.
Landing fish on a centerpin outfit presents an angler with a more significant challenge. Not only do you have to focus on preventing the fish from going behind rocks, jumping, and getting into position for the net.
But now you have to control the tension you put on the line, and it’s not as simple as turning a knob on the reel.
Anybody who’s been centerpin fishing for a while now will admit to losing their first couple fish on the pin.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it.
There is a learning curve when trying to learn centerpin fishing.
But when you have it down, it’s just like riding a bike; you’ll never forget it.
The second way I mean “
These bearings serve a low-friction release of line to enable effective coverage of water at just the right speed.
It would be ill-advised of me to say that “float fishing” is the only application for a centerpin outfit.
In fact, you can do a whole lot more with this fishing technique.
Fishing for Carp and Catfish on a centerpin rig is quite popular.
Centerpins gives you the advantage of making the baits undetectable as a fish picks it up
Nevertheless, the most famous use of the centerpin method is trout and salmon fishing, and that’s what we’ll focus on throughout this post.
If you can catch a steelhead, then you’re in an excellent position to be able to land a salmon and other types of fish.
I say this because steelhead is a notoriously hard fish to catch, especially in pressured fishing situations. Each species has its nuances, but the fundamentals for float fishing are universal.
Now that you know what centerpin fishing is, how do you do it?
How to fish with a Centerpin
Centerpin fishing can look and sound pretty complex at first.
Honestly, it’s not complex at all.
It’s pretty easy to get the hang of when compared to other fishing techniques such as
Sure, there’s a lot to know.
But that’s the way it goes with any style of fishing; you have to stay informed to stay in the game.
Your biggest hurdle when it comes to getting started will probably be two things:
- The Price
- and the Casting
Allow me to begin by first addressing the price problem.
Centerpin fishing, as well as any other specialty fishing techniques, isn’t cheap. A decent rod-reel combo for a spin fishing setup may set you back about $100 – $200.
But, an adequate rod-reel set up for centerpin fishing can cost between $500 and $1,500+. Yup, $500 to $1,500+
If this isn’t in your budget, don’t fret I’ll cover different ways to save money and still enjoy the sport.
But, before we get there, let’s talk about the second hurdle.
Casting a Centerpin
Perhaps the easiest part of float fishing is detecting a bite.
Because you’re using a float and that’s pretty self-explanatory.
Is my float above water?
Or is it under water?
If it is above water, continue drifting. But if it is submerged, set the hook and hang on. Chances are the salmonoid you just hooked into isn’t too happy, and you’re in for a great battle.
Or you snagged the riverbed.
Reasonably the hardest part of float fishing is figuring out how to toss the damn line in the water.
When I got started in float fishing, I went to the creek, I attempted to cast, I lost half a spool of line in a birds nest.
I then tried again; got hung up in a tree, and lost the rest of my line and my favorite jig.
Now out $20 in gear, and wondering what went wrong, I wasn’t very happy, to say the least.
When I got home, I went straight to looking up youtube videos on “how to cast a centerpin.”
Should’ve done that first
Now, there’s a lot of excellent resources out there to help you get the casting motion down
Save yourself the frustration, and practice before getting to your fishing turf
The best way to clear this obstacle is to watch tutorials. After you watch the videos, I’d start with tying on a 1oz sinker and practice casting in your yard or an open field
As the old saying goes “practice makes perfect.” It couldn’t be any more accurate for learning how to cast with a centerpin.
You won’t be perfect on your first trip out. But if you practiced you’ll be in a much better position than I was.
Quick hooksets are vital to landing fish. If your line is tight the entire time while drifting, your hookup percentage will increase drastically.
Also, if your line is touching the water, it will defeat the purpose of centerpin fishing.
Your goal is to make your bait look as natural as possible, when the mainline(the line used on the spool) is dragging behind in the water, it slows down and changes the direction of your bait making it look unnatural.
The best way to control your line is to start off at the top of a potential fish holding area and work your way downstream.
Positioning yourself upstream of your fishing hole allows you to do two things.
One, you’re going to be able to cover as much creek as possible.
Two, you’ll have precise line tension and control the entire time.
If you start in the middle or end of a pool or run, you are forced to cast upstream to compensate for the part of the drift your missing.
Making upstream casts can cause your presentation to speed up through the water, thus making your presentation unnatural and spooking the fish.
Another issue with casting upstream is if you get a hit, you’ll have slack in your line, and you won’t be able to connect on your hook-set.
With float fishing, you’re letting the current do the “casting” for you. Unlike the traditional spin or fly fishing, the fishing action takes place as the line is going out, not coming in.
It’s critical that from the tip of your rod to the float, you should have little to no slack in your line.
The only line in the water should be what’s beneath the float. Holding your rod upright(not horizontal) will help prevent the line from touching the water.
A good monofilament mainline is also a great way to ensure proper line control.
Monofilament line, or mono for short, has all the qualities you’ll need in a mainline. It has low memory, it’s soft and supple, abrasion resistant, and has excellent knot strength.
The most important feature of mono is that it floats.
It all goes back to the natural presentation. With a line that floats it’s less likely to get bogged down in the current and slow your bait down. There is
Many centerpin anglers often choose to fish with bright or fluorescent colored mono.
A line with improved visibility can help you see how much slack is in your line and where your rig is heading.
Check out our best fishing line for trout post to get started with picking out the right line.
Bright lines are also great for high pressured fishing areas so other people can notice your line and are less likely to get tangled with you.
*Pro tip: If you find that the line keeps getting caught around the handles/pegs on the reel, turn the reel, so that’s perpendicular to the ground. This help with keeping the line tight on the reel and avoiding tangles and bird nests later on.
Centerpin Fishing Locations
Centerpin fishing is most effective in running water such as a river, creek, or stream.
Unless you’re playing the sit-and-wait game as you might for carp or catfish, centerpin fishing is not a valid way of covering stagnant water.
Water that’s a brisk walking pace is the best speed for this method of fishing. It’s also an optimal speed for trout to inhabit.
Ideal trout/salmon drifts are in water that is around 4-8 ft deep and not in direct sunlight.
At this point in the creek, the fish can rest comfortably with protection from natural predators and all while still having an opportunity to feed on the smaller fish that swim out of the riffle or rapids. Things like large rocks, boulders, and fallen trees are also good things look for.
When you identified a spot that you think is holding fish, remember to get about 15 yards ahead of that spot upstream and work your way downstream.
Be tactical about your fishing method.
Divide your fishing hole in 1ft increments by making several drifts through one spot working from the bank outwards. If you didn’t catch a fish either change your lure or move to a new spot and consider that area covered.
One thing to remember is that a trout, as well as its prey, will usually be a few inches off the bottom.
So you’ll need to present your bait as close to the bottom as you can without hooking the bottom and losing your gear, we’ll get more into setting up your rig later on.
Centerpin Fishing Equipment
As I alluded to earlier, steelhead and other trout are extremely finicky fish.They are smart and have exceptional senses. Most trout are predatory fish and their keen eyesight is one of the most their effective tools used for survival.
With that being said, taking a minimalist approach to your steelhead rig is wise.
Use the cliche K.I.S.S. practice with centerpin fishing.
Keep It Simple Stupid.
Let’s start with the equipment in your hand and work our way down to the end of the line.
Selecting the right Centerpin/Float Rods
A good float rod makes a tremendous difference in your fishing practice.
There’s plenty of places to cut cost in centerpin fishing but rod selection is not the place to skimp on.
When you walk into a tackle shop or outdoor store there’s an overwhelming selection of rods to look at.
Not to mention, every single rod has a bunch of jargon and abbreviations listed on them that don’t really help with your buying decision unless you know what you’re looking at.
If you ever bought a fishing rod based on name or budget then you need to stick with me through this one.You want to make sure that you have the right tools for the job.
Having a confident and informed decision in rod selection will help provide a lot of clarity to problems and situations you might experience on the water.
Let me also establish something upfront.
There are rods out there that are cheap, durable, and will last forever.
But, show me one pro angler who uses that rod.
You won’t find one.
In this game, you need sensitivity, light-weight, and power.
Rods can be broken down into three parts:
Now let’s get into some details:
Rod Material for Float Rods
Fishing rods are made from several different materials and each material has its pros and cons.
For simplicity sake,
I’m only going to cover the ones that apply to the application of float fishing.
Especially when targeting a fishing like a steelhead sensitivity is key.
Use a graphite or graphite blended rod.
Plain and simple.
No other rod material on the market today provides the sensitive feedback you need like graphite does.
With rods, you get what you pay for.
Brands like G-Loomis, Okuma, and St. Croix are noteworthy brands for using superior graphite materials that offer strength and sensitivity.
If you look at a graphite fishing rod you’ll find modulus count,(i.e. IM6, IM7, IM8) it’s an indication of how stiff the rod is. The higher the number the more stiff, brittle, and sensitive it should be.
This number shouldn’t be used to compare one brand of rods to another, as the rating for one brand can be completely different in another.
Some brands will have ratings like IMX or SCIII and it’s usually an indication of using blended materials, carbon graphite blends are not uncommon.
Blended graphite is often ideal as it provides the sensitivity needed while not compromising strength.
It really comes down to the craftsmanship, manufacturing, and design process one company uses over another.
When float fishing for fish like steelhead a more sensitive rod is ideal.
So in conclusion, higher modulus rating from a reputable company.
So we talked a little about the material, but what about where it should be flexing?
Action for Float/Centerpin Rods
Another thing you’ll see when looking at the information on a rod is words like fast, moderate, or slow.
This is referencing the action of the rod. The action is the speed at which the power is transferred into the line. Or the breaking/bending point of the rod.
A fast action rod would bend near the top of the rod and get into the backbone of the rod blank to provide power.
Action plays a role in hook sets and keeping the fish on the line.
When float fishing for steelhead moderate to moderate-fast action is ideal.
It’s also important to note that “fast action” in a float rod is not the same as “fast action” in a bass rod.
Float rods are oftentimes parabolic, meaning that the action is transferred throughout the entire rod. But the principle of action in a float rod is still the same.
Steelhead and other salmonoid species are a bit more skeptical and don’t “crush” lures like a bass would. Having a slightly slower action will give the trout an extra second to really get a hold of the bait before they feel the full hook set.
Another great reason for a slower action is for helping with notorious fight that these fish put up.
You’re going to be using really light tackle for stealthiness but after that fish is hooked and pissed light tackle won’t help bring it to the bank. With lighter tackle, bigger fish will take longer to bring to shore. When trying to land a larger fish on a light line, having a slower action is a necessity to keep constant pressure on the fish as its jumping and darting up and downstream.
With a fast action rod that has heavy power(a strong backbone) your line will either break or fish will be able to jump off the hook.
Slack-line is something to be avoided at all cost when trying to fight a fish. If there isn’t pressure on the hook then that means it’s loose in the fishes mouth and the fish will probably get off.
Power for Float/Centerpin Rods
Power is the lifting strength of a rod.
Like I mentioned before with action, it’s the “backbone” of the rod. When you look at the description of the rod, power is referred to as a weight (ie. Heavy, Medium, Light).
The power is what will answer the action after you catch a fish.
The more power, the less give the rod will have.
The less power, the more the rod will bend.
When pin fishing for steelies, picking out the power of your rod is a fairly simple task.
Start with looking at what line you’re using.
Unless your fishing in the Niagara River, you’re not going to be using fishing line rate for 10lbs test or more.
A medium power rod is often rated for lines 8-10lbs and that’s usually more than enough.
Line weight may also be written right on the rod next to the power and action.
If your rod power is too heavy and you use light line, you’ll snap the line.
Vice-versa, if your line is to heavy and your rod is to light in power, you run the risk of snapping your rod.
and that’s not very fun.
Ideal length of Centerpin/Float Rod
Float rods are longer than most fishing rods.
Starting at around 9ft in length and going all the way up to 16ft!
I’m not going to lie, the first time I saw someone with a 15.5ft rod I thought they were trying to compensate for something.
In most circumstances, even for float fishing, a 16ft rod is a little over-kill. These rods are lightweight, but their length provides leverage and power.
Choosing the length of your float rod is rather simple.
The biggest factor to consider is the size of the stream you’ll be fishing.
What do I mean by this?
The larger the body of water the longer the rod.
Likewise, the smaller the body of water the shorter the rod.
As mentioned earlier, your line should never touch the water when float fishing.
When fishing in open water you’ll most likely be making longer drifts. Having a longer rod 13ft+ will allow you to make more effective drifts.
More effective drifts = more hookups = more fish.
When it comes to smaller streams, creeks, and tributaries shorter rods 9-11ft in length will be easier to manage.
If your fishing in a smaller creek you’ll most likely be on foot and walking in and out of trees. Using a shorter rod will be better for staying out of the trees and keeping your gear.
In more narrow bodies of water, you’ll be making shorter drifts, so the extra length won’t be necessary and just cause you a headache when trying to navigate or land a fish.
If you fish in big and small bodies of water and you don’t want to buy two rods, then go with a rod that’s 11-13ft.
At this length, you can effectively cover any body of water.
Pro tip* If you’re fishing a stream that has an output of 300cfs(Cubic Feet per Second) or more, go with a heavier/longer rod. A rod like this will be more forgiving as far as line control and give you the necessary power to turn big fish in heavier current.
Choosing the right Centerpin Reel
When you hear someone mention a float reel, they are likely talking about a centerpin.
Centerpin reels are basically a spool of line with bearings inside of it, that sits on a precision machined shaft. They spin freely and don’t have any type of drag mechanism built in to aid with landing a fish.
These reels allow you to make a drag-free drift, using your fingers to slow the reel and have zero slack in the line for increased hookups.
As mentioned earlier, centerpin reels are pretty basic, this makes selecting centerpin reels a fairly simple process.
A couple of factors to consider when picking out a centerpin are size, weight, and bearings.
Since centerpins are free spooling reals and natural presentation is the key to success, looking for a reel that can meet these goals is what you’re going to be looking for.
Let’s start with size.
We’re talking about the size of the outer diameter of the reel(spool size.)
I’ll be frank,
it really doesn’t matter considering the price difference. This is a place where you could save money if that’s your goal.
Most centerpins will range between 4 – 6 inches.
The are a few advantages to having a larger reel. A quicker reeling speed, more line capacity, and more momentum.
Your typical spinning or baitcaster reel has a set of gears built in to significantly increasing reeling speed(usually indicated as a gear ratio.)
Now with centerpins, That’s not the case. So out on the water you’ll spend a lot of time reeling. The larger reel will help slightly with process. Also the added momentum will help if you slap the reel handle to get it spinning.
With a larger reel it may be more of a challenge to cast with. This will inevitably lead to more line tangles and time spent out of the water.
With the smaller sized reels its just the opposite, easier casting and line management, but it takes longer to reel in. Line capacity is also something to consider when choosing what size reel you need.
Most folks out there aren’t getting spooled on the water. But if your fishing in water where you make big drifts or if you are always cutting off your rig and retying this may be something to consider.
Depending on the quality of your bearings, a larger spool may take more momentum to get moving. So in very slow water (< 100 cfs) you should be scaling down your reel and also your tackle.
However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use a larger reel for slow water.
It’s just not the optimal setup.
The larger reels are better fitted for the more experienced angler. If your just getting started, save your money for some extra floats. Otherwise, you’ll be just fine with 4″ to 5″ reel.
Try to avoid the cheap centerpins priced at under $100. Its best to save your money and get something reliable and will actually last more than a season.
What about the bearings?
Bearings are important and they will vary from model to model.
In short, they make or break the reel.
If the whole of point float fishing is to match the speed of the current and to have precise drifts, then it will come down to the bearings to make it happen.
Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you have to buy a super expensive reel to do that.
If you’re looking to save a little money in this endeavor, instead of purchasing a high-end reel, buy a base model reel and upgrade the bearings. It’s a good option if you’re looking to get a premium reel for lower end prices.
Depending on how much you fish its not a bad idea to replace these bearing every 2-3 seasons.
If your constantly dunking your reel in the water or getting it dirty, then you may want to consider replacing them sooner.
Weight ties in with the momentum and resistance.
A good way to test the quality of a centerpin is while the pin is off the rod, put a small weight on your line and drop the weight. The lighter the weight is and sooner it spins will show you how good the resistance or start up speed is, and the longer it spins will show you how good the momentum is. These two factors usually go hand in hand.
If you do this test with your line through the guides of your rod you will see more of a variance. If it struggles with getting started you should inspect the guide to make sure there are no chips, twist, or guides missed.
A lighter reel should do better than a heavier reel in most cases. This will make it a better option for a float reel.
As the price of the pin goes up, you’ll often find better made parts, a lighter reel, and a larger out diameter.
For the guys who like to add a bit of style to their gear, not to worry.
Custom pins have amazing designs with precision high-quality bearings and can set you back $500-$800 and more.
Line for centerpin fishing
If you think you should be using 8lb test instead of 10, you’re probably right.
And yes, something that simple can have a significant impact on your success.
Monofilament line is the best for float fishing because it has lower memory and it floats. You want your line to create minimal drag, which makes these features a key component making the best drift possible.
Fluorocarbon is also important to use, but it is better suited as a leader material since below the float is where you need to get into the strike zone.
Float fishing floats/bobbers
There’s a lot to know about floats (aka Bobbers.)
To make it simple and practical let me show you how to select the right one.
Things to consider when selecting the right float are current speed, depth, and weight.
Faster water will require a wider float. Keeps the float more upright and it will help eliminate false strikes.
Slower water you will want to have skinnier float. Less resistance when the fish pull itunder.
In deep water slip floats are ideal. They require a little more set up but they allow to you easily adjust the depth so you can still cast farther and reach deeper water.
I really recommend these Aerojig aero-floats. They are super durable, fairly cheap, and don’t freeze on your line in cold weather. Plus this pack comes with everything you need.
In shallow water the inline balsa float made by raven or sheffield are ideal. They are very easy to see and cast with. They are also very inconspicuous to the fish. Set up is pretty strait forward and switching between float sizes is even easier.
To set up these kind of floats requires the float and two pieces of small 1/4″ tubing to secure it to the line.
On the sides of the float you will see a weight. That weight indicates the maximum amount of weight the float can hold up.
You want to make sureyou have the right size float so you can clearly see what’s going on with your float at all times. To light and it wont float right and it will be harder for the fish to pull under. To heavy and your float will sink.
Split Shot and Shot Pattern
The most common size shot for steelhead fisherman is ‘BB’ which is about .18 inches in diameter.
However, you can use as large of split-shot as you feel necessary for varying currents and conditions.
Placement of your shot is important.
You want to weigh your line properly so you can achieve a natural, stealthy presentation.
Most anglers will go with what is known as a shirt button pattern. Simply space out your shot at similar intervals to that of a button-up shirt.
But again, this is dependent on many things like float size and current speed.
So bring a few different sizes of shot with you to the stream, make sure your bobber is drifting as vertically as possible, and adjust accordingly.
Three versatile sizes would be #BB, #5, and #2. One package of each of those sizes should be plenty to get your float balanced and your bait where it needs to be.
Remember, the goal is a vertical float that drifts through the strike zone as often as possible.
Baits and Rigs
Some of the most common baits to use are jigs, beads, egg sacs or roe bags, and live bait like shiners or herring.
A bead is a small egg imitation lure usually made from plastic or glass.
Glass can be effective because it’s heavier so it requires less shot. And most glass finishes are high gloss, so they appear realistic to the fish.
Beads can be effective year round. Beads tend to be the most effective while trout or salmon are spawning.
Here’s a good starter kit to get going. Try to match the hatch if you can.
Egg sacs are generally tied with spawn netting, a soft, cloth-like mesh that holds cured trout or salmon eggs in a small pouch.
You can buy pre-made egg sacs, or you can cure and tie the eggs yourself. There are a ton of different cures and brines out there to choose from.See our live bait and eggs post for more info.
Jigs are great option for float fishing.
In general, they do a great job mimicking different types of prey that trout might feed on.
Here’s a whole post on everything you need to know about steelhead jigs.
Other Centerpin Fishing Accessories
While not required, waders can greatly increase your opportunities and locations.
Salmon and Steelhead can be elusive. So if you can access twice as many spots as the next guy, you’ll catch more fish.
Bringing a net with you to the creek is never a bad idea.
If you’re going to get one though, get something that’s lightweight, floats, and has a basket large enough to accommodate larger fish.
There’s almost nothing worse than losing a fish due to a small net. Gearing up is just the beginning.
Bringing It All Together
So far, you’ve read about equipment, strategy, and tips that pertain to the art of float fishing.
But how can you put all of this together and start consistently putting fish in the net?
Simple GO FISHING!
Seriously, there is no substitute for time spent on the stream. This is where you can use the initial pieces of information you’ve learned, work on the details, and perfect them in a way that works for you.
This is how you are going to become a successful float fisherman.
Also, set goals for each trip and examine them closely before, during, and after fishing.
Here’s an example of a first-time float fisherman’s goals and milestones Prior to the first trip:
- become familiar with equipment by practicing casts in your yard or local park etc
- organize your equipment so that it’s easy to find while you’re on the water
- work on casting to avoid bird-nesting and tangling your reel
- work on line control and keeping your float vertical and level
- locate a few prime fish holding areas
- hook up with a fish
- continue work on casting and line control
- locate more fish holding areas
- hook up and land three fish
- work on getting your bait into the strike zone while also avoiding snags
- perfect casting and line control
- obtain a good idea of where fish are and where to cast
- land five or more fish
While this list will be different for everyone, it is a great starting point for most folks who are new to the sport.
But if you feel that these goals are not enough or too much, tailor them to fit your needs.
As long as you’re out there fishing, practicing catch and release and having fun, we’re cool with it.
To wrap things up, we’re glad you’ve taken an interest in this post and hope you take it to the next level each and every time you’re out fishing.
At this point you have all the knowledge you’ll need to get started. Thank you for reading. Now hit the water and catch some fish!
Tight lines – Burnsly