Everybody’s first-ever reaction to seeing a “sploosh ball” is pretty much the same. Something like…
What the $#&% is that?? Or perhaps: You’re frigging kidding me…this is a joke, right?
It’s easy to understand, too, considering these black sinker balls that have taken the side-drifting world by storm look like they’re better suited for back-bouncing at first glance. Because they’re made of plastic, the balls are much larger than other drift weights and a ½ ouncer looks like it should weigh about 4 or 6 ounces. And the big ‘ol 1-ounce jobbies wouldn’t look too out of place being loaded into a cannon. When rigged up on typical side-drifting gear, these jumbo plastic weights look downright ridiculous. And the “splooosh” sound they make when they hit the river is just plain goofy. The whole thing seems so stinkin’ silly…
That is until fish them. Pretty quickly you’ll begin to see the light. Sploosh balls have several key attributes that make them very attractive to side-drifters. Here’s a look…
At first look, that a fat plastic sphere is less prone to snags than the slim form of a Slinky seems laughable. You’d think the wide profile of the ball would be able to get wedged in all sorts of spots, but it’s actually quite the opposite. Sploosh balls don’t fit into a lot of the spaces between rocks that more conventional sinkers can squeeze into.
The wide profile, combined with the fact that plastic is obviously less dense than lead, allows the balls to be pushed along by the current – which makes them less prone to sink down into snags. What you end up with is a sinker that bounces and glides along the bottom, rather than pounds it. An added benefit of that, of course, is you get a more natural-looking presentation.
I can’t say that sploosh balls are snag-proof, but they are as close to that as any sinker I’ve ever seen. I’ve spent entire winter guiding seasons on my home river, the American, without losing a dozen balls from January through April. Granted, that river is mostly mellow cobble but that’s still an amazing statistic. I’ve actually had balls wear out before I lost them. But they perform nearly as well on super craggy creeks as well. Let’s face it: less time spent re-tying after break offs means more time fishing.
There’s no question that sploosh balls are superior to all other forms of side-drifting weights when it comes to casting. With minimal effort, you can chuck these things into the next county. While long-bomb casts are rarely necessary in this style of fishing, it’s nice (especially when you’ve got inexperienced anglers on board) that pretty much anybody can chunk these things where they need to be without too much trouble.
While side-drifting is where the balls really shine, they also boonedogg amazingly well in water with moderate depth. Get ‘em down and they track great and drift perfectly! You just have to adjust your approach so that you start a bit higher in the drift to allow them to sink into the zone.
You can also use them off the bank when employing the “poor man’s driftboat” style of side-drifting (in which you cast out and then walk downstream with your bait). The extra profile and lack of density, however, makes conventional (stationary) drift fishing with splooshies a tough proposition…though guys are now making modifications to the balls by adding long sections of pencil lead to them and getting pretty good drifts.
Better Drifts & Easily Detected Bites
Earlier, I mentioned that you get a better presentation of your bait while drifting balls. Instead of pounding the bottom, sploosh balls glide more and tap intermittently. Not only does that make your offering look more like real food to the fish, it also helps you determine when one picks it up. When trying out black balls for the first time, most folks comment on how much easier it is to feel bites. Because bottom contact is more of a slow bounce, rather than a rapid tap-tap-taping, grabs are more obvious.
But perhaps the coolest feature of sploosh balls is the fact that they will fish through all types of water. Cast them at the head of a run as you drop into it and then just keep on fishing, if you like, through the middle section and on out through the tailout…and you can even sometimes keep going down into the next run without reeling up.
The wide profile allows you to roll these balls through slow flats and shallow tailouts – spots you wouldn’t be able to fish because a slinky will stall out and end up anchored to the bottom.
I’ve also found that they’re more forgiving and changing weights a million times a day to match each spot becomes a thing of the past. I used to carry a box loaded with .210 shot Slinkies in lengths from 5-shot to 10-shot and now just a few basic sizes of balls will do the trick. In fact, there are some streams I drift where you can get away with fishing the same size sploosh ball all day long.
Getting used to the Ball
Kinda like your first beer, using sploosh balls takes a little getting used to. At first, I wanted to throw them all over the side and never use anything but a Slinky or pencil lead again. The main problem was I tried using the balls just like Slinkies, casting them straight out or slightly upstream and I just couldn’t get the drift I was looking for. I’d get my drift going and then kinda flounder around and eventually, I’d get frustrated that the splooshers seemed to really fish best when almost dragged downstream at a 45-degree angle – kinda like modified boonedoggin’ (only off to the side).
Then, I started having my guys intentionally toss the balls at that same 45-degree angle (or better) upstream and things just fell into place. The drift was then easier to control and I think the presentation was better in that without the bow in the line (like you would casting straight out), you can keep unnecessary tension off the line – and thus the bait floats higher.
There are guys who fish them in completely different ways than me, so you just have to get out and practice with sploosh balls and figure out what works for you. When you get the hang of them, however, you’re going to be hard-pressed to switch back.
While I fish sploosh balls on a slider rig, there are some folks who have a little trouble with them rolling up the line towards the rod tip when they first start out. If that’s the case, you can fish them hard-tied initially, but once you get the feel for things, you’re better in the long run with a slider setup.
Weighted or unweighted?
The first thing that we early sploosh ball aficionados discovered was you could make them even more effective by adding a little extra weight. That way, you got the best of both worlds: a sinker that glided over the bottom but that was also heavy enough to get down quickly in fast water. Initially, we did what a buddy of mine coined the “frank and bean” method – we ran a ball and a Slinky in the same snap. Goofy looking, but it worked. Eventually, we cleaned things up by drilling a hole in the bottom and plugging it with a few buckshot or a length of pencil lead. Now days, you can buy them like that if you’d rather not go through the hassle.
One other thing that takes a little getting used to is that the actual weight of the ball is kind of misleading. For example, a ½-ounce unweighted ball will actually sink quicker than a 1 ouncer because of its narrower profile. It’s probably a better idea to think of them in sizes like small, medium and large rather than in weight.
Where to get ’em
One of the biggest issues with splash balls has been that they weren’t easily obtained. A couple obscure makers with no internet presence built them and they were hard to get ahold of. That all changed, however, when Mad River Manufacturing entered the game with their “Mad River Drifters,” which come in more sizes than the originals and are available in both weighted and unweighted models. And best of all, they have an online store!