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Illinois hunting and fishing

Larry Pankey’s homemade bobber is constructed from ordinary materials.

Building a better bobber

February 23, 2009 at 09:48 AM

The State Journal-Register

Like the mousetrap, the fishing bobber is a study in simplicity that’s tough to improve upon.

That hasn’t stopped Larry Pankey from trying.

The retired shop teacher from Pleasant Plains spent part of the winter in his shop tinkering with routine household items, trying to create a bobber to help his family and friends catch more crappie.

Illinois hunting and fishing

For most occasional anglers, the bobber is a small, red-and-white plastic globe that clips onto the fishing line. It keeps the baited hook suspended at a prescribed depth. When fish show interest, those nibbles are translated into movement of the bobber on the surface.

Even the smallest child knows that when the bobber disappears beneath the surface, it’s time to set the hook.

But Pankey wanted to create an instrument that was even more sensitive and didn’t slip up and down on the line.

“I never was happy with any of them,” he says of conventional bobbers. “This one is so simple.”

Crappie fishing can be a rapid-fire affair. One minute the fish are biting furiously and the next they are gone, Pankey says. There’s no time to be struggling with equipment when the bite is on.

And sometimes the bite is subtle and hard to detect.

“There are a lot of times when you can’t tell if you’ve got a bite,” he says.

Pankey cobbled together an unlikely combination of items, including old drinking straws, colorful pencil erasers and added weight from the tiny, round steel balls used in his grandson’s BB gun.

There are blue straws from Culver’s, red ones from Sam’s Club and clear ones courtesy of Arby’s.

Six to 10 BBs add just enough weight to keep the bobber standing upright in the water.

The pencil erasers slide onto the ends of the straw, adding a touch of vivid color.

“And these don’t need any adhesive — no glue.” Pankey demonstrates the bobber’s stability in a piece of PVC pipe clamped to his workbench. A cap on the bottom of the pipe allows it to hold water and serve as a winter test lab.

The bobber wants to lie flat on the surface of the water for a moment or two before righting itself.

The angler can exert a slight tug on the line if the bobber doesn’t stand up right away.

To attach the bobber to the line, he uses a loop of braided fishing line threaded through the eraser with a pin.

The bobber’s extra weight — courtesy of the BBs — helps with casting.

“When you cast to a certain area, you can hit it because of the weight in the straw,” he says. “It’s exactly what I wanted.”

Pankey says he’s getting ready to go crappie fishing at Mark Twain Lake in Missouri next month.

“I think it’s good family involvement,” he says of fishing and getting kids involved in making things like his homemade bobber. “It’s another way to get people outdoors.”

And it’s another way to get people thinking about how they can reuse items around the house.

“When I was a shop teacher, I had a limited budget,” says Pankey, who retired in 2004 after 33 years at the workbench. “I enjoy taking things and not throwing them away, but making something useful.”
Pankey makes his bobbers for pennies each. Forty erasers of all colors come in a package for less than a dollar. BBs don’t cost much and Pankey saves soft-drink straws.

Pankey hasn’t tried out his creation officially yet. But he’s certain of success.

“I guarantee it’s going to work.”

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