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Tips and hints on Float Fishing.

Lets get you fishing successfully, the right way by setting your float?

This page is under development

Choosing and using a Float.

Floats come in all shapes and sizes, from very small delicate ones right up to big and cumbersome ones. Each float has been developed for a specific purpose - to help you present your bait and to help you identify when a fish is interested in it, and what we’re interested in - when he’s taken it!

What is a Float’s prime purpose?

It is to allow you to present your bait, where ever you want it, within the water column (surface, middle, bottom or somewhere in between) and as a bite indicator? Which with experience you will be able to tell what the fish is doing with your bait - consumed it (hooray!), or playing with it, swum past it, and ignored it.
Remember, fish in their own way will tell you whether they like your offering or not. If you’re not catching then something is wrong with your presentation. In which case either your bait is wrong or there’s something is wrong with your presentation of it. Either way, make a small change, move your float up or down an inch (1"), or change how you’ve hooked it, or perhaps move a shot. Whatever you choose to do make it a small change

However, rule number one is, before you start fishing “always spend at least 10 minutes plumbing around your chosen swim or fishing spot.”

That way you will know the depths of water in front of you, and hopefully with patience you should have a mental picture of where the ups and downs on the bottom are? So, why do this? Because food always rolls down-hill and never up-hill, so it is beneficial to know where the dips are, as these are the places where you should start lightly feeding before fishing them. Because, that's where the fish will be gathering - where the food is!

Also, be aware that a fish is immensely energy efficient, and it won't swim for food or a bait, if it takes more effort or energy than that provided by the food its after. So they are always seeking out places where food will come to them!

Unsure about plumbing, read here how to plumb your swim for further information on “plumbing-up”, or how to work out “how deep the water is in front of you”.

When a float is in the water, what do you see? What part of it is or should be sticking out of the water?

So, some questions to ask yourself:-

First, #1, What is a float used for?

Secondly, #2. What type of float to use and why?

Hopefully, we can increase your knowledge and understanding of floats?

There are four basic types of floats and various ways to set the to work correctly, but which one to use and why? Hopefully, these and many other questions can be answered?

How to make the Float work and the Importance of a Float's Presentation!

There are four basic types of float and various of ways to set them correctly, but which one to use and why? So, lets find out about them and their uses:-

Waggler Floats
A Waggler FloatA Bodied Waggler

The waggler is primarily a float to use when there is a breeze of wind across the water. If you fished with a stick or bodied float the line would be on the water’s surface; where the breeze moves the surface water and hence your line. If left your line would be blown in to a large arc from your rod-tip to the float. Your bait under water would move in an unexpected direction and consequently would be ignored by the fish. Why move unexpectedly? When a breeze moves the surface water in a direction, what happens to the water at the bottom? Does it move in the same direction?

Think of it like this, when a wind blows across the lake does all the water gather at one end? Of course not, so where does it go? The water rolls from the surface down to the bottom and then continues moving underneath in the opposite direction to the surface movement. So when a breeze moves your surface float your bait moves with the surface water and in the opposite direction to the movement of the sub-surface water. So the fish will avoid it.

This is where the waggler comes it. It is designed to be fished in breezy and windy conditions. Cast out beyond where you intend to feed and fish. Put you rod-tip under the water’s surface and wind in. Your line will sink. Stop winding in when your float is where you want it to be.

Place your rod on your stand or bank sticks with the tip under or near the water’s surface. With the line sunken under water it is not subject to the surface drift or breeze and hence your float remains in place. However, as you wind in your line, after a cast, the float moves or waggles from side to side as you wind in, hence the float being christened “the Waggler

These floats are usually used in still or slow moving waters such as lakes, ponds and canals. The smaller, lighter ones are perfect for fishing “close-in” and the longer ones, that take more weight to cock properly, are for distance fishing. However, remember the further away from you that your float is, the more line you have to lift out or off the water in order to strike and connect with your fish. Fish are not stupid and when distance fishing expect to catch fewer fish as the act of lifting and striking at a distance will send little vibrations down the line and warn your fish!

Pictures of Different Waggler shotting patterns A variation of the basic waggler float is “the humble quill” and “the bodied waggler” (shown right). The bodied waggler has a fat egg-shaped ball or body towards the bottom of the float. However, any float can include a widened body. Sometimes they are towards the top of the float, sometimes in the middle or as shown in this image towards the bottom. Floats with a body are designed to carry or suspend more weight than a float without one. This means you could fish with a heavier or larger bait, or use more weight to hold the float steady when fishing in a current. A bodied waggler is still fished waggler style - that is with the line submerged and connected to the float at the bottom.

The quill floatA Float made from Quills by using the stiff center of bird feathers
These floats are made from the quills of birds, usually a crow, or from porcupine quills but not always. Find any feather and peel off the feather fronds either side of the semi-clear centre piece. You have just made a quill. An effective float and one that occurs naturally. Often, little eyelets of fine brass wire are whipped to the thin end for fishing waggler style or fished with the line held in place by a float rubber, again waggler style. They are light floats and are usually used for fishing close in. They can be fished with two or more float rubbers holding the line against the quill for canal or pond fishing with the line lying on the surface.

Picture of A Crow Quill Stick Float Picture of A Wire Stemmed Stick Float A Bolo Stick Float Picture of A Domed Stick Float the Stick Float - generally a slim, streamlined float!

A stick float is designed to present the bait in a very natural way in moving or running water. With small baits like maggots and casters, the lignum stick float is perfect. But when conditions are not quite right, the wire stem stick float comes into it’s own.

However, stick floats are made of two pieces, a streamlined buoyant top and a wood or wire stem running through the middle. The bouyant top supports the float and the bottom helps stabilise it in running water.

Historically these floats were made of Lignum, which is a dense wood that does not float. This makes it an ideal natural material to use that helps stabilise and control the buoyant top. Such floats are good in a steady, even flow. Whereas, many modern ones are made with a wire stem, which is better at cutting through a stronger flow and where the water has a more turbulent nature. The weight and thinness of the wire is less effected by such water activity.

Your line is attached to the float “top and bottom” style normally using two silicone float rubbers, although if required three could be used. To cut down on tangles, where the line gets trapped between the end of the float and the bottom rubber, it is a good ideal that the bottom rubber extends beyond the float end and a little down the line.

Roughly find the water depth and as you fish the float rubbers conveniently and easily allow changes to be made to the fishing depth if necessary.

Picture of Stick Float Shotting stylesGenerally stick float fishing uses fine lines, to cut through the water under the float. Initially set your weights “shirt-button” style (evenly spaced down the line from beneath the float to within inches of the hook) within the weight capacity of the float. Weight capacity is usually described in number four weights, such as 4 x 6’s. Meaning 4 weights of size number 6. This is a guide only, for example you could use 8 x 8’s which are small soft shot and less likely to damage fine lines. They are also the largest shot still being made of lead! Or a mixture of number 6 and 8 weight shot. With the larger shot (in this case number 6) under the float and the smaller shot (number 8) down towards the hook.

A useful rule is “the float size required equates to 1 x No6 shot for each foot of depth in the swim” – so choose a 6 x No6 float for a 6ft deep swim and an 8 x No6 float for an 8ft deep swim.

Using an underarm cast, to lay the shot out in a line and avoiding tangling, cast in and hold the float back. If it sits at an acute angle, where the water flow is lifting your weights and so the float is not sitting correctly, add more weight or use a heavier float.

When the target fish are on the bottom in deep water, instead of spreading your shot down the line “shirt button style” bulk the heavier shot (from No6 to BB) three quarters of the way down the line, and the smaller ‘dropper’ shot below them towards the hook. The bulk shot helps to bomb the bait down through the water faster and becomes less susceptible to the “lifting effect” of moving water.

If you intend to do a lot of stick fishing it is a good idea to prepare a number of rigs and wind them on to disused pole-float winders in preparation.

As wagglers are designed to handle fishing when there is a breeze across the water’s surface, stick floats are designed to handle fishing in flowing waters. Unlike a waggler, line from your rod to the float should be on the surface. To make it float and as an aid to help controlling the float, grease the line with floatant or vaseline.

Unlike a lake where the waters at the bottom move in a different direction to the surface waters. In the case of streams and rivers the water moves the same direction but at slower speeds. This means that your bait if not presented properly can move in an unexpected way to the fish, who will avoid it.

The faster flow at the water’s surface makes the float race along pulling the rig and bait behind it, causing the bait to be pulled along much quicker than the lower, slower water layer that it’s in. Which is not what the fish expects.

Photo showing the Holding Back a stick floatBut stick floats are designed to be slowed down, without being pulled under by the current or misbehaving in some other way. With the intention that the bait’s speed should match that of the speed of flow in the layer in which you are fishing and making the bait look like it’s being carried by the current in a natural inviting way. To achieve this you have to hold the float back without stopping the float.

This is done by controlling the speed at which line is released. When using a centre-pin reel, hold the rod pointing slightly down stream and directly control the rate the line is let out from the spool or reel. You achieve this by using slight finger pressure on the spool’s rim and the angler allows the float to pull line off the reel in a controlled manner. With varying amounts of pressure on the rim the angler slows or speeds the reel as and when required.

A second method is when stick fishing with a fixed spool reel. Open the bail arm and trap the line against the spool with your forefinger and use the rod to control the floats progress as you follow the float with your rod. ie. pointing at it. Slowly move the rod to guide the float’s progress downstream. Periodically release the line and move the rod back letting more line out, then re-trap the line and continue easing the float downstream.

It works like this, as you hold the float back (without lifting or sinking it), the current pushes against the line, the float and the shot of the rig, causing the float to be at an angle with the line beneath it also pushed out causing the bait to move in front of the float. Which is correct and is how the rig is supposed to be fished so that it travels downstream in a straight line, and your bait travels downstream naturally too. You will have to take into account the line being at an angle, by increasing the length of the line between float and hook to ensure your bait gets down near the bottom. But remember there is nothing wrong with fishing mid-water if that’s where the fish are. As the hook is being fished in-line with the float the slightest bite will show immediately and your strike should connect as there should be very little slack between rod tip, float and hook.

It is imperative that you keep in control of the line always, keep the line in-line with the rod tip down to the float. You may need to “mend the line” that is done with a gentle flick of the rod-tip to lift the line off the surface and place it back down behind the float parallel to the flow. The breezier the conditions the more often you will need to “mend” the line.

Use a wire stemmed stick float, with it’s greater stability, when fishing in awkward positions for greater control. Sometimes with a down stream wind you may find it beneficial to add a small shot behind the float to sink the line to get away from the wind accelerated surface. A little like waggler fishing where you sink the line out of the way of the wind.

How to fish one
First, start by holding the float back so that it trots through the swim at half the speed of the water. If after a few trots you have nothing then start experimenting, allow it to run through quicker a few times and then try a few allowing it through slower. This is not an exact science but will require patience and experimentation, including varying the depth or the amount of weight and its placement.

How to feed your swim
As in all forms of freshwater fishing, feed little and often. When stream or river fishing the flow of the water will carry your free offerings quite a way from your intended fishing area. Which is good as it will attract fish into your swim. However, concentrate on feeding the same two spots, one near and one near the middle. Always feed upstream from where your bait is, adjusting where you feed upstream so that your freebies (maggots etc.) float past and along with your hook bait. Alternatively, throw your feed in where you intend to fish, then cast upstream and allow your rig to drift through or just off the baited area. If necessary, use a bait dropper to get bait down when fishing in a strong flow.

Tip Choice
Stick floats have 6 different tip types, they are:- What float tip to use when stick float fishing?

  • #1 A fine sight tip is for spotting delicate bites from roach and dace at close range.
  • #2 This pronounced bullet-shape tip and large ‘shoulder’ is for holding back in fast water.
  • #3 This is a combination of tips 1 and 2 with wide shoulders and large body. The long sight tip makes it ideal to use on fast water while still retaining delicate bite indication.
  • #4 The big Bolo style is for very deep, fast rivers where you need lots of weight to get the bait down and to support their weight.
  • #5 The Dome top stick is suitable for most jobs on normal flowing rivers. #1 and #5 good general purpose stick floats.
  • #6 With a large bulbous tip easy to spot when trotting a long way down the swim.
Sometimes, the fish will only take your bait when it is travelling at the same speed as the current flow. Other times, they’ll prefer it when it moves slightly slower than the natural flow. Slowing the bait is achieved by “holding back” the float, by controlling the speed at which line comes off the reel spool, by the use of your forefinger.

a Float with a bulbous body - the bodied float
An example of a Bodied Float An example of a Loafer Float Different Shotting patterns As described under Waggler Floats, any float with a bulbous body is designed to carry more weight and come in a tremendous variety of shapes and styles. The weight could support lots of lead-shot, to cut through the lifting effect of flowing water and hold the float in-place, or it could be used to carry a larger and heavier bait such as a large piece of luncheon meat, or a large bulbous float, like a Pike bung (center picture), could be used to fish a dead fish (a dead bait) if you’re after Pike, zander etc.

An example of a Pike FloatThe clear float on the right is called a chubber and can be fished “top and bottom” or waggler style connected only at the bottom. Ideal for Good sized baits in flowing water and is also perfect for fishing for bass with a drilled bullet as weight on the bottom and fished stick-float style in a rising tide in flowing water.

a Weighted Float with a bulbous body fished sub-surface.
An example of a Controller Float

These floats are designed specifically for surface fishing. That is fishing with a floating bait, such as bread or perhaps a dog or cat biscuit floating on the top of the water. In this method of fishing the whole of the float actually sits underwater with the line going through an eyelet on the top of the float. The float is usually held in-place with ledger stoppers, float-stops or a couple of lead-shot. Ideally the float should be a couple of feet away from the bait.

The float enables casting of a very light bait which would otherwise be nearly impossible to do without the floats’ weight assisting the cast. As with all surface fishing ensure that the line between the hook and the float is greased (vaseline, butter, Mucilin, fat of luncheon meat etc.) so that it floats right on the top of the water. Failure to grease it or allowing the line to sink will spook away any fish interested in your bait - guaranteed!

Use a gentle underarm or sidecast to “flick” your bait out. Maintain control of the bait by keeping the line between the rod-tip and float taut but not tight to avoid any unnecessary loose line lying on the surface.

Useful Tip:

Commercial Surface Floats can be expensive, but it is not difficult to make your own. Instead of going to the tackle shop to buy one, go to your local supermarket or corner shop and buy a packet of red or white stick candles. Cut one into 1" or 1½" pieces. With a fine drill of hot needle make a hole through the centre. A candle is made of wax, does wax sink or float in water? .......It floats, it also naturally weighty.

To use one slide a ledger stop on to your line, followed by a piece of candle and another ledger stop. As above fix your “float” two to three feet away from your baited hook and start fishing. Out of a box of 6 for a couple of pounds you should have plenty of really effective floats that cost almost nothing.

Better Shotting of your Floats

How best to set-up your floats for maximum sport and effectiveness?

  • lesson #1 Basic Float set-upis think about how your shot will behave when sinking AND when casting. In the first instance, they should have the larger weights up near the float or placed either-side of the float to "lock" it in-place, then smaller and gradually smaller weights the nearer they get to the hook.Poor Float set-up
    In summary, largest at the top, gradually getting smaller the nearer to the hook they are. Do not have them placed higgeldy-piggeldy down the line - because that will cause them to tangle as they're cast and jangle as they sink. Jangling when sinking will definitely spook the fish away.
    Have them spread evenly along the line so that your set-up is "weight-forward" i.e. the bulk of the weight around the float gradually getting lighter towards the hook-end, ensuring that your float is in-front with the rest trailing behind. To ensure that this happens use the 2/3rds rule. If you're placing a shot between 2 other shots ensure that it is placed 2/3 distance between them both; measured from the top-down, as in the diagram. Always avoid higgeldy-piggeldy shotting.
  • Lesson #2 Is About the lead shot.
    Don't squeeze your shot on using pliers, forceps or your teeth, etc., unless the shot is particularly hard and stiff metal. These sort of shot are usually black in colour. Always, always squeeze the shot on using your finger and thumb. Do not squeeze them tight but just enough to secure the shot in place. The more you squeeze them tightly the more damage you do to your line, and damaged line breaks. Especially when you have the best fish of the day on! So, squeeze gently to secure them with the minimum damage to your line.
    Most, but not all, anglers have multi-shot containers. A container with 6 compartments usually has the following shot sizes:
    • SSG (the biggest) then
    • AAA, followed by
    • BB,
    • number 4,
    • number 6,
    • number 8.
    The important part about this, and that you need to remember is that each compartment goes up in two's.
    • That is, two number 8 equal a number 6 eg. 2No8 = a No6.
    • two number 6 equal a number 4 eg. 2No6 = a No4.
    • two number 4 equal a BB eg. 2No4 = a BB.
    • two BB equal a AAA eg. 2NoBB = a AAA
    • and two AAA equal an SSG eg. 2NoAAA = a SSG.
  • Lesson #3 Is the weather calm or breezy, if breezy use a waggler? If not, is the water still or slowly moving or flowing like a stream or river?
    If flowing (like a stream) and you wish to “trot fish” a swim then use some form of stick float, otherwise use a bodied float and the stronger the flow the bigger the float body.
  • Lesson #4 In most cases arrange for your shotting to start with bigger shot beneath the float and reducing in size down the line to the smallest a couple of inches away from your hook.
  • Lesson #5 When waggler fishing clip the larger shot either side of the float, to lock it in place. Other shot clipped ⅔’rds the distance between the bottom of the float and the hook and a small indicator weight a few inches away from the hook. When you cast in the larger weights set the float in the water, as the other shot sink the float sinks slightly with each additional of weight. As you watch it a couple of times you will sense the time it takes each weight or weight group to sink, if the float does something different - “strike” as you most likely will have had a bite “on the drop” that is as the float sinks a fish has taken a fancy to your bait and had it!
  • Lesson #6 When stick float fishing, that is the float attached with rubbers top and bottom of the float. Again larger weights beneath the float graduating down in size from larger to smaller. Arrange the weights to be spread evenly down the line. We call this ”Shirt Button style“ That way the shot counters the lifting effect of moving water and which also helps to hold the float in place. However, when there is a nice flow, sometimes you don’t want the float to stay in one place but to float down the with the current. We call this “Trotting” and if your float is weighted correctly it will float along at the exact pace of the current which can place your bait exactly where the fish would expect it and at the same speed as the flow - deadly!
  • Lesson #7 When your bait is being taken by smaller fish before it has reached the bottom. At times like this you need to get your bait quickly through the smaller fish down to where you’re fishing. In order to do this you will need to re-organise the arrangement of your weights. Move the bigger shot, the ones up near your float, down near the hook and also move the smaller weights up to where the bigger ones were moved from. In this way your float won’t be fully cocked until the bigger weights have settled, but your bait will drop through the water quicker and thus avoiding the ravages of the smaller fish. This is known as “bulk shotting” and gives your bait enough weight and speed to drop towards the bottom faster.
  • Better Casting

    Casting is not about brute strength but about gentleness and feeling the rod.
    The art of casting is accuracy and silence.
    When you cast now, or even walking along a canal bank when others are fishing, do you hear a “whoosh” or “swishing” noise during their casting? If you do then they’re not casting but forcing the rod through the air to do the work of getting their float-rig out.

    A good cast is a silent cast effortlessly. Why, when fishing a match would you want to let your opponents know what you’re doing? Learn to cast accurately and silently!

    The art of casting is summed up with this little saying “the flick of the tip does the trick”.

    Learn to “feel” the rod, how it behaves. Why is this important? When you can “feel” you know how to make it work for you, greater distances with less effort, greater accuracy, better distances with less weight.

    Try a few casts with a stiff cane or broom handle. It’s almost impossible to do. Try casting again with a rod, feel how it flexes? Feeling the rod is as important as the actual cast, because then you’re learning to get the best from the rod.

    There are many types of cast, besides the over arm, under arm, sideways, helicopter, flick, catapult etc. or any of the many other types of casting whether for pleasure or distance and competition casting.

    Here, we’re going to talk about two types, the “over arm or over head” and the “under arm”.
    But, before we get stuck in to casting, however good you cast, you will get into all sorts of tangles and mess-ups if your float and weights are not set-up correctly. Get them right and your float etc. will cast more smoothly, effortlessly and what’s important silently out to where you want them to be, without any tangles too. So, check that your rigs are set-up right correctly. If you’re not sure read through the other sections on setting up your floats.

    Once your tackle is set up correctly and balanced, that means unlikely to tangle due to the correct arrangement and placement of weights in relation to the hook and float. When these are placed so that the float is “weight forward” the float flies and the remaining line down to the hook follows it in a straight line. Its behaviour in the water will be correct and you should spot bites more easily - balanced right through! Casting then becomes much easier and simpler and tangle free.

    For coarse fishing the two main casting styles are “over head” and “under arm” In both cases the cast is not about trying to throw the line out but about learning to use the rod to do the work of “flicking” the line out - silently.

    Fish are not stupid, if you think they are, then they’ve already won? They will always go where it is difficult for you to fish, such as under the bank or under your feet, under the branches of over hanging trees or right into a bed of lillies. Anywhere and everywhere it is difficult for you reach. So in order to get them your ability to cast is an important piece of your armoury, especially the ability to under arm cast.

    Almost most people can over arm cast to some degree, however, when there are trees over head, using an over head cast under them will probably result in spending valuable fishing time pulling your tangled and mangled gear out of them. There is one absolute guarantee “There are no fish in the branches, fish are found in the water!” So, do spend some time learning to under arm cast and fish where others can’t or dare not to. Doing that will catch you more fish - guaranteed!

    The underarm cast

    Release the bale arm. If you’re right handed, hold the float in your left hand and the rod in your right. Instead of pushing your rod away from you, let the float drop and at the same time slightly drop your rod and flick the rod and line away from you with your other hand. You may find this difficult at first as it is all a question of timing and simultaneous actions, dropping and flicking at the same time. The flick of the rod is achieved with a quick flick of the wrist, not with your shoulders or your body, but the wrist. If you don’t get it at first, keep practising until you can do it. It’s definitely worth the effort and time taken to learn to do it successfully. It’s the old adage, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” If you can’t do it by holding the float, try doing it by holding the line near the hook. This is not about brute force but about getting the tip of the rod to do the work for you.

    The overhead cast

    Release the bale arm and hold the line near the reel with a crooked forefinger. This is like the underarm but flicking the rod while holding it with the rod tip above your shoulder height (left or right side). Have about four feet of line from rod tip to float top. Again, this is not a brute force cast, but about getting the rod tip to do the work for you. Learn that and you’ll achieve greater distances with almost no effort.

    Like the underarm this is a flick of the wrist movement in the direction of your aim as you release the line from your crooked forefinger when the float has been flicked away by the rod tip. Do not release the line too soon but a ½ second or so after you have flicked the float out. You use the rod to flick the float away, if you release the line too soon, the line will go slack and you are unable to achieve the cast because the float drops. Like the underarm it will require practice but it will be worth the effort.

    Tip:About Casting Under Arm Make this your Minimum length for easier Casting Regardless of how you cast, when bringing in a fish for netting, do not wind the float up near your rod-tip. This will lead to tangles and make netting awkward. Learn to leave enough line from your rod-tip to your float, so that when you lift your rod (see picture left) upwards you want your float to be roughly in-line with your reel. Doing this ensures that your should have enough line that when you lift your rod towards vertical the fish should still be in the water and at your feet. Doing this makes netting the fish simpler and quicker and less likely to lead to accidental damage of your rod.


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