Centerpin and Float Fishing

Centerpin and Float Fishing

Centerpin And Float Fishing Great Lakes Rivers

Get Centerpin and float fishing tips and advice from the top centerpin guide in the Great Lakes area. These tips will help you get started and will help you catch more steelhead and salmon.

What is centerpin and float fishing?

Around the great lake and in Ontario float fishing is sometimes also called “Centerpin Fishing” which is often what I call it when we use a Centerpin rod and reel.

But, float fishing can also be done with a spinning reel which makes float fishing and centerpin fishing slightly different.

Long rods and a large round reel with no drag is what centerpin float fishing is all about. It’s you the float and the fish, and it’s likely the most productive way to catch steelhead and salmon on most of our rivers.

Float fishing in Ontario
Float Fishing and Centerpin Fishing In Ontario

All around the great lakes, there are lots of good steelhead rivers suitable for centerpin and float fishing.

The Rivers flowing into lake Ontario, Lake Huron and Lake Erie have a lot of great rivers and creeks that are perfect for float fishing for many species like steelhead, salmon and trout.

Some anglers are even using centerpin reels and float fishing for river Bass and Carp.

There are a lot of advantages to using a centerpin reel for steelhead and salmon and the guys using centerpin reels will often out fish everyone else using other methods or using spinning reels to float fish.

With long precise drifts, no mending, and being able to keep your bait in the strike zone for a long time, it’s no-wonder centerpin fishing is so productive.

Graham Centerpin Fishing
Head Guide Graham Centerpin Fishing


The Beginning Of Centerpining- When I started using a centerpin reel about 30 years ago, I had to wait about 5 days on the water before I finally saw another angler using one just so I could see how they cast it.

 Trying to cast a centerpin reel without ever seeing another angler do it seamed impossible. Kudo’s to the first guys to do this well.

Back then anglers like me didn’t have the internet, or books or videos to learn how to centerpin fish or how to cast a centerpin reel. Back then, centerpin fishing was almost unheard of. 

Even trying to buy one was tough because most tackle shops didn’t even know what they were. 

Everything was new and it was a lot of trial and error learning how to centerpin float fish.

Today, because it’s so much fun and is so effective at catching lots of steelhead and salmon, I’d bet the over 70% of Ontario river anglers use them now.

In fact, it’s hard not to find a centerpin guy on a steelhead or salmon river now.

Some anglers still prefer to float fish using a spinning reel and as a guide, I do this occasionally with some clients but I know it’s much more productive to float fish using a centerpin reel.


Where did it start? Many anglers will tell you that centerpin fishing originated in BC or in the USA, but the truth is it started right here in Ontario. 

I’m sure many will disagree but it was years after Ontario anglers were perfecting this style of fishing and catching tons of fish did it finally catch on in the USA and out west in BC.

Although centerpin fishing for steelhead started here in Ontario, centerpin reels were actually originated in the UK where they were used for Carp fishing. Carp anglers would lob out chucks of carp bait on a float into the lake or Locke, they’d set the rod down in a rod holder and wait and while they waited for fish to bite and the centerpin reel would allow the wind or any lake current to pull the line out at a super slow pace to cover the water better.

One day someone from Ontario who saw this got the brilliant idea that this might work in Ontario on our rivers for steelhead, and so began centerpin fishing.

So what is centerpin fishing anyway? This is a question I get asked a lot especially from my USA clients since centerpin fishing is still just starting to catch on there.

A steehead caught on a centerpin reel
Learn to Centerpin fish and you will see more fish like this.

New To Centerpin Fishing?

If you are new to centerpin float fishing and you want to start getting set up but you are like many anglers and you’re not sure what’s good to buy and what’s not, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

As a guide in Ontario and who has fished all the states around the great lakes region, I’ve tried and tested so much gear and I know exactly what works and what doesn’t and will give you my honest opinion.

If it’s good enough for me and my clients it’s perfect for you.

I’ll make it simple for you and tell you everything you need, and where to get it. plus more.

Everything you’ll need to be successful for fishing Ontario and all the great lakes rivers and streams is on this website. See below.

My Guide Centerpin Rods


A centerpin reel looks a lot like a fly reel or a mooching reel and is basically a spool that sits on a center post or center pin and free spools both forward and backward with no drag and very little, if any resistance at all.

Centerpin reels have extremely high-quality bearings that allow the spool to spin freely as the current pulls the float down the river. Many reels have such good bearings that even with just a slight breeze the reel can start pinning.

Many of these reels are ported, meaning they’ve got holes or sections removed and are machined so the can be very lightweight.

The centerpin reels in the picture are an example of what they look like on the rod and with the line on.

As you can see all reels have colored lines, Chartreuse and Pink, which I will discuss later.

On these reels, you can see right through them and this space is why some centerpin reels are so light. You’ll enjoy that lightweight reel more after a long day on the water.

The main reason for these reels having such great bearings and to be able to free spool so easily is so you can drift a float and a bait like a plastic worm, a roe bag, or fly below the float down the river at a nice natural pace with-out needing to pull line off the reel manually like you would with some other types of reels that guys use when float fishing.

Fighting a steelhead on a centerpin rod
Centerpin rods and reels are great for bigger slower water


One of the advantages of the centerpin reel is the ability to fish very long, long, long drifts, did I say long?

Sometimes while guiding clients on the bigger rivers I’ll have them run their float so far down the river that they eventually lose sight of their floats, and on occasion, I’ll yell “SET” and they’ve got a fish on over 200 feet down the river.

Making long precision drifts like this with other types of reels is nearly impossible and if it is possible to do this with another type of reel it would take a lot more effort. Spinning reels and baitcasters usually can not compete with a centerpin reel in my opinions.

Because there is no drag on most centerpin reels it’s a lot of fun and a challenge fishing for big steelhead and salmon on these reels.

I tell clients new to centerpin fishing that in most cases I would say 90% of anglers will lose the first big fish they hook using a centerpin reel so it does take some time getting used to.

I have methods I use to teach guys how to set the hook, play the fish and land it and in many cases, 75% of new anglers leaning from me will land their first fish.

The Best Centerpin Float Reels

Best Reels – What is the best Centerpin Reel? This is a question I get from a lot of anglers. 

There are many out there from really cheap to very expensive. 

When I owned my tackle store I sold reels from $149 to just over $1000.00 and I have confidence in all of them. 

Also, as a guide, I’ve had the opportunity to test out dozens of reels and I can honestly say that a good angler with a $200.00 reel could catch the same amount of fish as a good angler using a $1000.00 reel, so don’t think a more expensive reel will mean more fish in your net.

My advice is simply this. As a beginner, look for a reel in the $180 to $300.00 range and as you get more advanced and more into it then upgrade and either sell the old reel or keep it as a backup. Or, just keep using the cheaper reel because honestly, chances are you won’t catch any more fish with a more expensive reel anyways.

Unless you’ve got deep pockets, just go straight to more expensive reels. Most of my reels that I fish with and guide with have been between $200 and $400 dollars and they work great. 

My warning for beginners is DO NOT go too cheap. I’ve had many clients show up on a guide trip to learn from me and they end up having all kinds of problems and become frustrated with their newly purchased very cheap reel. When they use mine it’s easy to see how much of a difference a reel only $100 more makes.

Some reels are just CRAP!!

And be careful of knock-off reels selling for dirt cheap online. Often the reviews are fake or paid for in some way. I get all kinds of these companies offering me free reels or rods in exchange for a great review so be cautious of the super cheap ones. 



These are some tips to help prevent potential and possibly costly problems.

  • If you are using the sliding rings, once you have your reel set in a place where it feels most comfortable and it lines up perfectly with your guides, make sure the sliding rings are as snug as possible on both sides of the reel foot and then add a piece of electrical tape no longer than 6 inches, at the top and bottom of the reel foot. 

Make sure half the tape is on the rings and the other half is on the cork handle of the rod and try to apply it as flat and smooth as possible (not bulky). 

This will secure your reel so it won’t fall off unexpectedly. 

If you do not secure your reel with tape it could fall off and be dented or broken on the rocks. 

If you have any dent’s on the smooth rim that you use as the drag you will feel it with every revolution of the reel when fighting a fish and that sucks!

  • Do not lie the reel on the rocks, mud, sand or in the water unless you have no other choice.
  • I suggest leaning the rod and reel up against something when releasing a fish or at any other time.

Guys that lie the reel flat on the ground or in the river tend to have issues with dents or sand and grit in the bearings.

  • My reels last 5 to 10 years before I need to do any maintenance and I have never needed to replace or lube them because I never lie them down and rarely put them in the water.

Below are some centerpin reels that I have used, guided with, and would recommend if you need a good centerpin reel.

Okuma Aventa Centerpin Reel

I have used this reel many times myself and during guide trips and it’ never let me down. I used to sell this in my tackle store and is the cheapest reel that I would recommend. I have used cheaper reels and they were crap. This is a great entry level reel at a great price.  This 4.5” reel is built from solid aluminum bar stock and features two stainless steel ball bearings. Easy-turning handles and center-pin design make getting into the action effortless. Plus, an easily removable spool ensures that maintenance after a muddy run won’t turn into a headache. MORE . . . . .

Okuma RAW-1002 Centerpin reel

I have also used this reel many times and have friends and clients that use it and like it. For a reel under $200 US you can’t go wrong. Use it as an entry level reel or you main reel it’s good for both.  The Okuma RAW-1002 Center Pin Float Reel utilizes a fully ported design that reduces overall weight. Spool diameter is 4.5″. Includes a neoprene reel case. MORE . . . . .

MATRIX™ Fully Ported Centerpin Float Reel

I have guided with this reel for the last 4 years with no problems and consider it one of the best reels on the market in this price rage. This reel has a sleek, ergonomic design, with a large 5 1/8″ diameter and will spin when the wind blows. This is a reel I’d recommend to anyone and any skill level. MORE . . . . .

The Centerpin Float Rod

Centerpin Rod

The fishing rods used for centerpin fishing are specifically designed to hold a centerpin reel and in some cases are good for a spinning reel.

However a float rod designed specifically for a spinning reel might have a different reel seat that won’t fit a centerpin reel or be in a position not suitable for a centerpin reel.

Most centerpin float rods either have a fixed reel seat which is put in the most common spot for most reels or they have a sliding ring reel seat system which allows the angler to put the reel in a spot that suits the angler or is best for the reel.

The centerpin rod is long and whippy
Get very long drifts with a Centerpin Rod and Reel
Centerpin reel with sliding rings taped.

Whats better, fixed reel seat or sliding rings?

Well, for some anglers it’s just personal preference but in my opinion, I prefer the sliding rings for a few reasons.

The sliding rings allow you to move the reel up or down the long cork handle and for some, this is more of a comfort thing.

The reels are also different sizes and more importantly different weights so a heavy reel might feel better and balance out the rod better in one position on the rod and a lighter reel may feel better in a different position.

With the fixed reel seat, you can’t adjust it for different reels or for your comfort or style, you just put it on and you’ll just have to get used to it where it is.

Just make sure that if you do use the sliding rings style of rod that you add some electrical tape to the outsides of the rings to make sure they don’t loosen and drop your reel on the rocks or deep in the rivers.


I have tried so many rods that I have lost count and to be honest, most of them felt pretty good and I liked them, however, the right rod may make a difference in catching fish under different river conditions.

A rod that is too whippy, which I find are often the cheaper rods won’t give you as good of a hook set or enough backbone to handle bigger fish.

A stiffer and heavier rod may give you a better hook set but won’t provide the same shock protection for your tippet that you need on the hook set or when fighting big fish.

Also, some rods are designed for the bigger rivers that you might find out in BC or maybe rivers like the Niagara River, and may these types of rods may not be so good on an average great lakes river.

I suggest rods that are considered Medium-Light and with a line weight rating in 4 to 12lb range.

A rod in this range should be perfect for most great lakes rivers.

I have friends that own $700 rods that prefer the feel and action of their cheaper $250 dollar rods so in many cases the rod may be a personal preference to, just the way a rod feels can be the perfect rod for you.

Most medium-light rods over $150 dollars should be fine for most rivers. See below for some rods that I recommend.


Along with the size comes the length question. What is the best length for a centerpin rod?

Centerpin rods are long and kind of whippy and can be found in the 10 to 16-foot range but the average rod length and the one I recommend for most Ontario rivers are in the 12 to 14-foot range with most of my guide rods at 13 feet long.

The reason for the extra long rod is that they allow you to make longer casts, keep the line off the water for an extended time which allows you to manage the float and the line longer for a better drift, it makes it easier to mend the line and the longer rod has lots of flex for great shock absorption for both hook sets and for fighting big fish on light line and light leaders which is often the case in Ontario rivers.

There are a lot of good rods available but and over the years I’ve guided with Raven rods, Loomis rods, and have been my first choice for many years and are ideal for great lakes steelhead and salmon rivers.

Entry level rod $130.00 in Canada

The Shimano Clarus Centerpin Rod – I have used this rod before and for a rod this cheap it wasn’t bad. It the best rod in this price range and it gets good reviews. This rod is great for beginners and intermediate anglers. It is also a suitable backup rod for the seasoned angler. I recommend the 13 footer for most rivers. MORE . . . . .

The Raven Helix Rod

$179.00 in Canada.

The Raven Helix HLX float rod 12’9

I have owned and used the Raven Helix HLX float rod and it’s a decent rod for beginner anglers. It offers great value for it’s easy handling and a punchy action. These rods deliver good line control and plenty of power when needed. I recommend the 12’9 rod with the sliding rings. MORE . . . . .

Raven IM8 Centerpin float rod

$259.00 in Canada.

Raven IM8 Float Rod

I have used this rod for guided trips for years with no problems and consider it one of the best and most durable rods on the market for steelhead. At one point owned 4 of them which I used for guiding. I highly recommend it. MORE . . . . .

$299.99 in Canada.

St. Croix Avid Salmon & Steelhead Centerpin Rod I have friends that own rods that cost twice as much as this and they tell me they still prefer this rod. It gets great reviews and I have sold a bunch of these in my tackle store. It fishes great with just the right firmness for hook-sets and playing the fish. The 13 foot model is perfect for most small to medium sized rivers around the great lakes. MORE . . . . .

$470.00 in Canada –

The 13 foot G. Loomis IMX Centerpin Rod

I used to own two of these before I got on the Raven pro staff. This are an excellent high end rod. This G. Loomis fishing rod is long, lightweight, well-balanced, responsive, and especially designed for the unique style of centerpin fishing. It has sliding rings that allow you to position the reel where you want it. MORE . . . . .


The Line – Anglers refer to the line on the reel as the mainline so as not to get confused with the leader line at the bottom of the rig.

The lines commonly used for Ontario rivers are monofilament or nylon or a copolymer line. In some cases some anglers will use a braided lines. 

For Mono I prefer lines in the 6 to 10-pound range. You may be thinking that 6-pound line is way to light for steelhead but most lines are not rated exactly to the actual breaking strength that the manufacturer claims. 

For example, I have lifted a 15lb dumbell with 8 to 10lb Trilene and Stren lines along with a few other ones. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, all I’m saying is that if you think that 12lb test line is good for steelhead, it may actually be more like 20lb test and might actually be too heavy and too thick for proper presentation and for good casting. 6-pound line than might be actually 10 or 12 pound-test. It’s usually only very advanced anglers that use the 6-pound test lines but these guys know how to fight a fish better than most guys and can apply maximum pressure when needed without breaking fish off.

A good all-around line size that I use and recommend for most rivers around the great lakes is 8lb test. I would not recommend 6lb test until you are a more advanced angler and even then, 8lb for steelhead in most Ontario rivers for steelhead should be perfect. 

Should you be fishing one of our very large or very fast rivers like the Niagara, Grand, Maitland, and Saugeen rivers, or should you decide to fish for salmon, then up-sizing to 10 or 12 lb line is probably a better option.

Braided Line for Centerpin Fishing

Some anglers are using braided lines for centerpin fishing with good success. The advantage to braided line with a centerpin reel is that that the lack of stretch of the line gives you more solid hook sets especially when your float is a long way down the river.

Another advantage to braided lines is that most of them float and a floating line is a good thing.

The downsides to braided lines are:

  • They are more expensive.
  • The can sometimes absorb water and can freeze like a block of ice around your reel if you get them wet in extreme cold.
  • They are almost too strong and you’re more likely to be above the rods line pound recommendation and therfore you are more likely to break a rod with braided line.


As a river guide, I know that the line is a very important part of the set-up that is why I prefer lines designed specifically for centerpin fishing that are thin, lightweight durable, and float or are at least more buoyant.

The thinner the line the less likely it will be as heavy and sink and the thinner lines often come off the reel better and make casting easier.
I’ve used many different lines on many different reels and I know that not all brands of lines work well on a centerpin reels or on spinning reels.

In fact, it’s not uncommon to have anglers show up to a guide trip or a guided lesson with me with some line that they bought from a tackle shop that is designed for spinning reels and then they end up having trouble with it all day or they just can’t get it to do what I and they want it to do.

I’m sure there is going to be guys that will disagree and think, “I use Trilene or Stren or I use 12 lb test line, and it works fine for me”, and that’s perfectly OK because if it works for you, then great, because the line that guys use, just like the reels and rods they use is often just personal preference.

I have used hundreds of clients reels with many different lines and have seen the difference that the right line can make.

I’ve encountered many anglers struggling with their drift and casting because some guy in the shop or some guy online recommended a bad line or the wrong size of line. That’s why I recommend using the lines and sizes that I have used for years and have tested over and over again to make sure they are perfect for a centerpin.

Another good popular line for centerpin reels.


For about 10 years I have been using 8lb Raven high vis yellow mainline, but there are a few other lines that I like to.

The Raven line seams to float better than some other lines and when you’re running 100 foot drifts the line will eventually hit the water requiring you to mend and reposition the line and the higher floating lines make mending the line much easier done than a line that has sunk a few inches below the surface. 

A line floating on the surface will lift off the water easily when mended which doesn’t move or pull the float out of position and allows it to keep tracking nicely through the pool.

A line that has sunk below the surface grabs a lot of water as it’s being mended which pulls the float too much out of position and any pull on the float may even lift the bait up and out of the strike zone. 

Also, can you imagine trying to set the hook from 100 feet away when the line has sunk a few feet down? Doing so often means your line grabs all that water and has to come up and out first before you get a solid connection on the hook set. This why I also believe a floating line will allow for better hook sets.

The lines that I use are all bright colored and easy for anglers to see, as illustrated in the picture of my four rods above. 

I know some anglers shy away from these brightly colored lines because they heard from some guy on some forum or from a store employee saying they aren’t good because the fish might see the line and they will catch less fish. This might be true sometimes (rarely) but only if you don’t know how to properly set up your line ( see my line set-up below ).


Unfortunately, there are diagrams on the internet from reputable brands that sell centerpin products that have poor leader set-up diagrams and anglers are using these set-ups and not doing so well with them. 

That’s why it’s important to use information from someone that specializes in catching fish, and not someone specialized in making products. 

It’s clear that anyone recommending to not use colored lines clearly doesn’t know how to set them up properly, but as I said before, line color is also a personal preference and I’m not against clear lines, I just see more value in a brightly colored line in almost all situations on a river.

99 percent of the time I use high viz lines on all my reels with beginner and advanced anglers and I do so for very good reasons, and I never worry about catching less fish than some guy at the river with clear line.

The advantage of the brightly colored line allows me as a guide and my clients to see where the line is on the water or in the air and this aids in the learning process, it also helps maintain straight lines to the float, and helps see and prevent slack in the line. It even helps locate the float faster should I or they look away for a second. 

The brightly colored line also allows other anglers on the river that might be fishing the same pool to easily see where my or my client’s line and float is located so they’re less likely to accidentally catch the line or cast over it. 

If you’re set up is done right there is no advantage to having a clear or green line, except maybe in super clear slow flat, shallow water when the fish might be suspended high in the water column where they may be high enough to see the line. But should this be the case, my experience is the float or the splits shots or you standing there are likely to spook those fish just as much as the line will, and often fish in that type situation rarely feed anyways.

Another popular line is the Siglon F line but I’ve tried it and although it is good it is way more expensive than the Raven line considering ho much you get on a spool. Raven line 985 yards for $12.49 versus Siglon Line 330 yards for $14.95. You can get Siglon F HERE

New to all this? That’s OK, all the reels I use for guiding are filled with 8lb Fluorescent Yellow Mainline from Raven and it works great so just go with it. You can get it HERE


The Floats –

There are tons of mass-market and custom floats on the market. My two favorites are the Raven floats and the Drennan floats.

The Raven floats are great for visibility and come in a variety of shapes and sizes and the Drennan floats are great for clear water and in situations where a stealthy presentation is required.

Most of the time, the floats that anglers use are using is just their personal preference, it’s what they tried and liked so they stick with it and chances are they are probably good enough.

However, there are a lot of really crappy floats out there and I see guys using floats that do nothing but make it tougher to catch fish and they don’t even realize it.

The one thing I tell all my beginner clients is that whatever float you choose make sure it has a pointed top which will greatly aid in determining your bait placement during the presentation and to make sure that the size of the float fits the type of water you’re fishing.

A float for the Niagara river might be 15 to 20 grams, but a float for a smaller river like the Ganaraska might be a 4 or 5 gram float.

I also think that an orange top float stands out better in all light conditions so most of the time there is no need for any other color.

I mostly use the Drennan Loafer floats when the water is gin clear and the fish can be spooked by bigger solid bottom colored floats.


The best floats for float fishing in Ontario
An order of float fishing products


RAVEN FM FLOATS – My personal preference for an all-around float that works well on most of the small to medium-sized rivers that I guide on are the Raven FM floats in size 6.2 gram, but for smaller rivers, the 5 gram or the 4.2 gram floats are best.

FLOAT CAPS – You are going to need float caps to secure the line to the float. You put the line through the caps and then put the float on. Use the smallest tube size (Green and Brown) for the bottom and a slightly bigger one (black) on the top of the float. This assorted pack will fit most Raven and Drennan floats. You want them snug so the line doesn’t slip.

DRENNAN LOAFER FLOATS – Under very clear river conditions or flatter water, I like to use the Drennan Loafer floats. I also use these for brown trout and brook trout in the smaller 2.4gm and 3.6gm sizes and for steelhead I prefer the #4 – 6.4gm float which is great on most small to medium-sized rivers.


The Hooks – I’m always asked what my favorite hook is and what size is best. That answer usually depends on the river or the fish that I’m targeting. As a general rule, my favorite hooks are the Raven Sedge hook and the Raven Specialist Hook, and both usually in the size #8 or #10 for most steelhead and for most river conditions. 

If I’m fishing super clear water where I need smaller baits I’ll maybe drop down to a size 12. If there is a lot of heavier wood in the area and I need to use a heavier leader to control the fish and prevent them from getting into the wood or when I’m fishing for salmon I use the Gamakatsu Octopus Hooks.

 I may also choose a wider gap hook like the raven specialist in dirtier water since I believe a wider hook grabs more flesh and is less likely to tear out. 

I and many experienced anglers also avoid the gold or, red or any colored hooks and stick with the bronze or black hooks.

 There are also some really crappy cheap hooks out there that may be dull and weak so they may bend or break more often than the good quality hooks. If you can’t get Raven Hooks I also like the Owner and Gamakatsu Hooks.

Raven Specialist Hook – A good all around hook for steelhead. I prefer size 8 and 10 for most river conditions. MORE . . . . .

Raven Sedge Hooks – These are my number 1 go-to-hook for most situations. A standard for steelhead anglers all over the Great Lakes region. I use them for beads, plastic worms, spawn sacs and single eggs. The smaller design makes the Sedge a great choice when chasing steelhead in cold, clear water, using finesse tactics. MORE . . . . .

Gamakatsu Octopus Hooks are my go-to-hook when I need a really strong hook. I use these for salmon. I like size 6, 8 and 10 and only in the black. known around the world for performance, durability and reliability. These hooks are made from high quality, high carbon steel specifically made for the demands that a fishing hook can endure. MORE . . . . .

Owner SSW Cutting Point Hooks Size 8 – Owner SSW Cutting Point Hooks are an excellent choice when using bait for a wide variety of fish species. The SSW Cutting Point Hooks are ideal when baiting up with roe for salmon and steelhead in the streams MORE . . . . .


The Leader – For steelhead and as a river guide I go through a lot of leader material. I’m always checking for nicks and scrapes on the leader and change it daily. Because I go through so much I prefer to buy my leaders in large spools which often works out to be much cheaper in the end. I’ve tried some really bad fluorocarbon lines that break easy so I’m picky about the ones that I use.

My favorite line for leaders is the Seaguar INVIZX in the 6lb test. The 6-pound line is 0.205mm diameter which is perfect for most steelhead rivers. At 200 yards it works out to be about $5.50 CAD for 50 yards compared to the normal smaller leader spools that guys use which can be over $15 for 50 yards. That’s a huge savings.

If I’m not using Seaguar I’ll use Drennan 3 pound which is 0.18mm and is my preferred leader size for slower and very clear water conditions. The 4lb test leader spools are 0.20mm and this line has never let me down. One thing I always stress when it comes to leader size is that steelhead can be line shy so you want the strongest leader possible but still being invisible to the fish. If your leader is to thick you won’t get as many bites and if the leader is to thin you may get way more fish on but you may break off a lot.

A word of caution is this, because not every company rates their lines the same, one companies 4lb leader line can be twice as thick or twice as thin as another companies 4lb test line. Therefore when I buy line I don’t care what pound the company claims it is, what I look for instead is the diameter size and quality.

Steelhead Leader

 I use 0.20mm (4lb) for most normal water clarity fishing for steelhead, but when I think the fish are being line shy I will drop down to 3lb (0.18mm) Drennan.

For larger rivers with big flows like on the Niagara river or very heavily wooded rivers or for Salmon, I go up to 5lb or even 6lb Drennan leader.

Split Shots – Splits shots are an important part of the setup but some split shots are just not good to use. I do not recommend using the cheap bright silver or any shiny split shot. I also do not recommend using the spit shots with the removable wings as this may cause excess spin in the line. Only use round dark colored split shots like the Sure Shot brand seen HERE.

Swivels – Raven Micro Swivels Size XXX-Small

It’s common to use one to 3 swivels on your line to help keep twist out of the line and to connect different diameters of line. I recommend the Raven XX and the XXX small swivels seen HERE.


Float fishing shot pattern
A typical Float fishing leader set-up

The Float and Leader Set Up – How and where you set your float up is very important. You need to be at the depth that puts your bait in the strike zone. There is also the set up below the float which is critical for catching fish. Even with the right set up, the right depth, and the best bait, if you don’t present it properly your chances of catching a fish are low. That’s were a very good centerpin river guide will help.

This is a basic set-up that will get you going in most river conditions and is one I use myself. This set up is also great for anglers that use high viability lines. I’ve probably seen 50 different variations of the float, leader, and shot set-up.

Float fishing shot pattern
A typical float fishing leader set-up
The best baits for Ontario Steelhead
Freshly tied roe bags tied on the boat

Best Baits

There are a lot of different baits that anglers use when float fishing. Different conditions and different times of year or even different fish can dictate what bait might be best to use.

For all the best baits to use when centerpin fishing for steelhead check out the Steelhead Page

Raven Elastic Bait Thread – This elastic thread is what I use to tie off the mesh on my roe bags without any knots, I just rap 5 to 10 times and snap it off and then trim the excess mesh. This is the best thread that I have tried. It may be a little more expensive than some other but the dispenser is better and you get way more than some other brands. MORE . . . . .

If you have been on a guide trip with me you have probably heard me say that Steelhead Worms are my favorite steelhead bait. I prefer pink, red and brown warms in the 3 inch to 3 1/2 inch sizes.

Blackbird Spawn Net – This is my favorite mesh for tying roe bags. It’s a soft, undetectable netting used for making egg sacs. MORE . . . . .

  • Chartrues for dirty stained water.
  • Hot pink for colored and stained water.
  • Peach, Salmon and Orange for slighty dirty or clearing water.
  • White and peach for low clear or cold water.

Blackbird Spawn Scarf an Alternative for tying roe bags that I use sometimes in the chartreuse color because it’s a tighter mesh and that makes the color stand out more in dirty water. I also have has good success with the lilac color in normal water conditions. It’s one piece at 27″ x 27″, it will yield approximately 81 pieces of material. MORE . . . . .

    • Chartrues for dirty stained water.
    • Hot pink for colored and stained water.
    • Peach, Salmon and Orange for slighty dirty or clearing water.
    • White and peach for low clear or cold water.

River Gear

Our river gear page covers all the other gear you might need for float fishing like, waders and boots, packs and vests, gloves, forceps, nippers, etc. Don’t forget to check it out.


Once you’ve got all the gear for centerpin fishing the next step is learning how to cast it and learning how to get a proper and the most effective drift. The Raven Website at this LINK has the best casting tutorials I’ve seen but for actually fishing and getting proper drifts along with fighting fish and more you can’t beat a good coach. A Perfect Drift Guide Company is Ontario’s premier Centerpin guide service and offers 1 on 1 instruction and Centerpin Fishing Classes.

But as easy as all this sounds and as many fish as some guys catch I still see some anglers out-fishing others by a huge margin. It takes a while to get good at casting and fishing with a centerpin when you learn on your own. Having a buddy that can teach you or even watching that one guy on the river that catches all the fish can really improve your success rate on the river. If Centerpin fishing sounds like something you’d be interested in one of the fastest ways to learn is also with a qualified guide. The guides at A Perfect Drift Guide Company have been Centerpin fishing in Ontario for over 25 years and occasionally offer free seminars on the river during the early spring. You can get updates on these events through their facebook page.

Bonus Tip

Trotting – Trotting your float is what they call it when you hold your float back slightly to allow your bait to go ahead of your float. If done right trotting can greatly increase your catch. The problem is most anglers have no idea why this works and most anglers do it poorly and it’s a big reason why most angler don’t catch many steelhead.

Proper trotting is one of the first things I teach my clients when I’m guiding them.

Graham – Head Guide and Owner at

If you want more detailed and updated information then you should check out my new updated website which also covers more on products and how to use them as well as even more fishing tips. Check out my pages on:

Plus get a whole lot more on Fly Fishing, Centerpin Fishing and Spin Fishing For Trout and Steelhead.

Approved Retailers

Check out these approved retailers for all your river fishing needs.

These approved retailers meet our high standards for great customer service, great selection and competitive prices.

Don’t forget to check out our Best Products page to help you figure our what you might be missing.

Bass Pro Shops is the leader in everything fishing gear related. There have a huge selection of river fishing gear and great prices.

FishUSA is one of the best places that I know of to get river fishing gear that is relevant to the great lakes area, and they often carry a larger selection of river fishing gear then any other online shop. If you haven’t seen what they have to offer you should check them out.

If you are local to Ontario then this is a great place to order your Centerpin and River fishing gear!