When attached to a fishing line, a bobber or float helps to maintain the bait at a given depth, carry a hook into less accessible areas, and provide a visual indicator of activity below the surface. The earliest written mention of a fishing float is in the 1496 book "Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle" by Juliana Berners. This technique relied on a bobber made from cork, though other examples have since been constructed from balsa wood, reeds, porcupine quills, feathers, or plastic.
Modern bobbers are typically painted a bright color above the waterline and a neutral color below so fishermen can locate them quickly while remaining less visible to fish. For floats that aren’t self-cocking, small weights are often attached to the fishing line between the float and hook to ensure the float sits vertically in the water.
Floats come in many different shapes designed for distinct fishing conditions, including styles like the Avon, Dink, Bubble, Popper, Stick, and Waggler. In the 1940s, the Pasch Brothers tackle company in Milwaukee invented a bobber for night-fishing called the Bob-Er-Lite, made from a clear plastic capsule with a small battery and electric light inside.
In contrast to these small bobbers, hollow glass fishing floats were used by commercial fisherman to keep large fishing nets, longlines, and droplines afloat and accessible from the surface. Norwegian fishermen first adopted the technique as early as the mid-19th century, but the Japanese popularized the form in the early 1900s. While the Norwegians are known for egg-shape and rounded floats, the Japanese produced tubular floats known as sausages, as well as rollers, which are like sausages that have been crimped at each end. Other types of Japanese floats include torpedo rollers, Tohoku rollers, and pumpkins, which are shaped like the famous fall gourds.
Sometimes floats are found and sold with netting still attached to them, but most are collected just as pieces of smooth glass, which can be identified by their embossed markings. Most glass floats are clear or green in color. Blue floats are less common and red ones are the rarest.