Allatoona Spotted Bass Secret Revealed: The Float-N-Fly

This innovative technique developed by Tennessee smallmouth anglers is a great way to catch suspended spotted bass.

Don Baldwin | December 4, 2009

Charles Healand (left) and Craig Miller with two Allatoona spots that were caught using the float-n-fly method last month.

Over the years, Craig Miller, of Canton, has taken an annual trip to fish Dale Hollow Reservoir in Tennessee. Craig and his family meet there to go after the big smallmouth bass. Most years he’d head up in early spring, but about eight years ago, he made the trip in the dead of winter. On that trip he took along his long-time fishing partner Charles Healand, of Holly Springs.

Craig and Charles spent a tough day trying to tempt the smallies to bite in the frigid weather without much luck. When they got to the ramp, several of the locals had good strings of big fish. After a few questions, Craig and Charles discovered what’s being called the float-n-fly method.

This unusual technique for coaxing bass to bite is growing in popularity, but it was the anglers on Dale Hollow who were some of the first to add the float-n-fly method to their fishing arsenals. The technique is most effective in frigid water temperatures, and it can produce bass when not much else can.

When Craig and Charles were talking with the locals, they heard the Dale Hollow anglers say they could have caught more smallmouths if they could just keep the “Kentuckys” (spotted bass) from grabbing the bait.

Craig and Charles are regular fishing partners on Lake Allatoona and other Georgia lakes, so they thought if the spots would bite the float-n-fly on Dale Hollow, they probably would on Allatoona as well.

It didn’t take long to find out they were right, and the float-n-fly began having an impact on the local tournament scene.

“This is a great way to catch spots on Allatoona during the coldest time of the year,” said Craig. “The method targets suspended fish, and it will catch spots when most other techniques won’t.”

Craig gets ready for a cast with his float-n-fly rig. “We target steep rock bluffs,” said Craig. “These walls have deep water right off the bank, and they hold a lot of bait in the winter.”

The rig and concept are pretty simple, and once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t take a great deal of skill to be successful.

The float-n-fly rig is just what the name implies. It consists of a small, 1-inch clip-on float and a hand-tied jig or “fly” on a 1/16-oz. jig head.

The rig is completed with a three-way swivel that holds it all together.

One arm of the swivel is tied to the main line, one is tied to a long leader, and the last arm is where the float is clipped. The length of the leader depends on how deep the bass are suspended but is usually in the 8- to 10-foot range. Of course the fly is tied to the other end of the leader, so it will hang beneath the float at the required depth.

The rig is fished on long flexible rods of 8 to 12 feet that are custom-made for the technique. St. Croix, G-Loomis and All Pro all make light, fly-action rods. If you are just starting out, however, a long crappie-trolling rod has a similar action and will work pretty well.

The rod is combined with a light, open-faced spinning reel to help with the cast, and the reel is spooled with 10-lb. test Spiderwire or other similar small-diameter braided line. The leader of choice is 6-lb. test fluorocarbon. It’s a simple rig but one that can make the cast and hookset a little challenging until you get used to it.

A small tackle box is what it’ll take to employ the float-n-fly method from your boat. You’ll need an assortment of 1/16-oz. flies, a clip on bobber that’s top heavy and a good quality three-way swivel.


You’ll also need to put some fish dope on the jig. The thick wax gives the fly a long, thin baitfish appearance.

I had the opportunity to try out the float-n-fly rig on Allatoona early in November. Craig and Charles both said the water temperature was still a little warm for the rig to work effectively, but they thought we should be able to land a few fish.

“We target steep rock bluffs,” said Craig. “These walls have deep water right off the bank, and they hold a lot of bait in the winter.”

And where there is bait, there are bass. Charles motored us right up next to a steep bluff and turned on the electronics.

“I always move in close and look for bait before starting to fish,” said Charles. “If we don’t see any bait or fish on the graph, we move on.”

In this case, we saw a reasonable-sized school of bait suspended about 8 feet below the surface, so we moved out to try the float-n-fly.

“We like to get the fly to hang just below the bottom of the bait school, so a leader of 9 to 10 feet should be just about right here,” said Charles.

The most effective way to cast with the long leader is to flip the rig behind you and let the leader lie on the water. Then swing the long rod forward rapidly, pulling up the leader and flinging it toward the bank. It isn’t hard to master, and after a few tries even I could do it.

Once the cast is under control, there isn’t much to do but wait. The day we were out was pretty windy, so the natural wave action made the float bob up and down, which gives plenty of action to the jig below.

Pretty soon one of the floats went slowly out of sight, and Charles pulled in slack and swept the rod straight up to make the hookset. Following a short fight, he boated a 2-lb. spot.

“That is a typical strike,” said Craig. “The float usually doesn’t shoot down but just glides slowly under water when the fish hits.”

This is especially true during the winter when the fish are lethargic.

Other times the bass will pick the jig up from below, and the float will just lie over on its side to indicate the strike. That is why it is important to have a top-weighted bobber. Otherwise you’d never see those strikes.

Craig said a braided main line is essential for this rig.

“With all that leader below the float it is difficult to get a good hookset,” said Craig. “The braid helps because it doesn’t stretch, so you get solid power to the leader. And braid floats, so you can see where your slack is and take it up before you set the hook.”

After a few tries, I had the cast and hookset action pretty much under control and successfully landed a bass on the fly.

We tried several rock bluffs and landed a few fish throughout the afternoon. But the action was much slower than it will be in colder water temperatures beginning in December.

In clear-water conditions, white and bright color combinations work best; try white/pink, white/blue or white/chartreuse. Craig and Charles also substitute gray for the white in combination with the bright colors. In dingy water, use blacks and browns for best results.

Craig and Charles tie some of their own flies using 1/16-oz. jig heads equipped with a No. 2 hook. Commercially tied flies are available from several companies. Punisher Lures makes a large assortment as well as the properly weighted corks. Craig recommends SPRO swivels due to their smooth action and high-pound test rating.

Craig and Charles caught a few fish on the float-n-fly method last month, but December is when the technique really starts working as bass hold in their winter locations.

One other important thing to know about the flies. You need to dress them with fish dope.

“The dope makes all the difference in getting bit,” said Charles.

Not only does the dope come in a variety of scents, it has a stiff consistency almost like butch wax of the flat-top days. The thick wax allows the fly to be molded into a long thin baitfish look. Since you are trying to imitate a tiny threadfin shad, shaping the bait is a must, according to the team.

Also, when you clip the bobber to the swivel, don’t let the clip fully close. Turn it sideways a little so the clip is not all the way down in the hole in the bottom of the float. This will allow the float to move freely and provide a more natural action for the fly.

If there is a lot of wind and wave action, there is not much need to add any motion to the float. The wave action is usually sufficient to cause a strike. If it is a still day, however, jiggle the rod tip every few seconds to impart a little action to the fly. The bass are sluggish in the cold water, so not much action is required to cause a strike. In fact, too much action on the fly can be a negative factor in getting bit.

As far as locations on the lake are concerned, most anywhere in the lake where there is deep water near the bank is a place to look. Rock bluffs are usually a good place to start since they seem to always hold good populations of baitfish in the winter.

The bass could even be suspended in the middle of a pocket or mouth of a creek. The key is suspended shad and therefore suspended bass. Make use of your electronics, and find bait suspended in deep water.

When fishing the float-n-fly, Charles and Craig usually drift slowly with the breeze and only use their trolling motor to maintain the proper distance from the bank. It takes patience to fish this method, and people will look at you a little funny, but Charles and Craig say it’s worth it.

And remember, you are targeting fish that other anglers miss. Every bass angler knows that suspended fish are the toughest to catch. This method will definitely improve your odds.

The float-n-fly technique works best when the water temperature is below 55 degrees and will continue to produce throughout the winter months.

While this team spends a lot of time on Allatoona, they have tried the float-n-fly on other Georgia lakes and have had just as much success.

Punisher Lures carries all of the terminal tackle you will need to try the float-n-fly method. Visit their website at <> to see their full line of gear. You’ll also find additional information about the float-n-fly method posted on the site.

Craig Miller manages the Dugout Bait and Tackle store near Allatoona. The Dugout carries a full array of float-n-fly gear — from rods to flys — and he’ll be glad to outfit you and tell you where and how to make this unique method work for you.

Call Craig at (770) 428-7406 or go to the Dugout’s website at <>.

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