Article - Coarse
Float Fishing The Easy Way
By Graeme, added on 06/01/2007
Walk into any tackle shop and you will find such a variety of floats as to confuse even the expert; in fact, the more you know about float fishing the more confusing it can become, with different designs seeming to contradict one another. The beginner is merely baffled by all the different styles and has no preconceived notions about what sort of float he needs.
But does it have to be so? Floats are essentially very simple devices which serve three main functions; to indicate bites, to support to the bait at the correct depth, and to counter the effect of any weight necessary, either for casting or to get the bait down in flowing water. Each demands different properties and in some cases these can be mutually exclusive. I'll look at flowing water in a future article; what follows applies to still water, although it can be applied to some canals and slow flowing rivers such as the Nene or the rivers of the Broads, as well as slacker parts of faster rivers.
If you take a stroll around any popular lake and look at the floats being used you will find the majority of anglers have a waggler of one sort or another on their line. Now, a waggler is not so much a style of float as a way of fishing with one. The floats themselves can be simple straight lengths of peacock quill, reed or plastic, or they can be complicated arrangements of sections of different thickness, perhaps with a body for extra buoyancy. Some even incorporate weight at the lower end to make them partially or wholly self-cocking.
The main principle behind the waggler is the way in which the weight is fixed to the line; usually about 75% of the total shot loading being used to lock the float in place, with the balance positioned between float and hook. This allows easy casting, as most of the weight is concentrated in one place. The few small shot down the line allow the bait to sink slowly, as far as the bottom or to any point between bottom and surface depending on where the angler thinks the fish are feeding.
Unfortunately this is not always the best way to present the bait. It is highly effective for still or slow flowing water where roach, rudd, chub and dace are the target species - fish which feed at all depths. For bream, tench and carp, or roach in cold water, it is usually better to present the bait hard on the bottom, with anything from an inch to a few feet of line lying on the lake bed. As there is no point presenting a slow-sinking bait in such situations why waste time waiting for it to sink? Worse, in windy conditions where there is any sort of surface drift - much more common than one would suppose - the conventional waggler is counter-productive, as the float and locking shot are carried along in the moving surface water and the few small shot lower down are not enough to anchor the bait in one place.
One answer is to move more shot down the line. Unfortunately this makes the tackle difficult to cast, owing to having two or more roughly equal groups of weight on the line; this tends to rotate in flight, reducing distance and causing tangles. The usual solution to this is to put a bigger float on and restore the 75%/25% weight distribution. Whilst this does to some extent overcome the problem of drift, it results in a float far bigger than is necessary - and a big float offers more resistance to a taking fish, regardless of how much is actually sticking out of the water.
A far better proposition is to use a simple float - a straight peacock 'waggler' float, a goose quill, porcupine quill or even a modern straight clear plastic float - fixed to the line with no weight at all near it. There are a few ways to do this; top and bottom via two float rubbers is easy enough, but most times you'll need to sink the reel line out of the way of drift, so use either a piece of float rubber threaded on the line with the lower end of the float pushed into it, or push a loop of the line through the eye and back over the float, or thread one of those neat little rubber float stops up the line and allow the float to slide freely between stop and weight. What size float to use depends on two things; the distance to be cast and the strength of the wind. In any case this should be as little as possible, consistent with the above two factors. This weight - in the form of shot or a knob of plasticene - is placed anything from an inch to three feet from the hook.
This sort of set-up is just as easy to cast, but doesn't tend to create anything like as much splash or disturbance. Furthermore the weight sinks straight down, drawing the float after it; this allows the bait to be kept much closer to weedbeds or overhanging vegetation, as with the waggler the float stays put and the bait sinks in an arc to finish up beneath it. OK if you can get the float close to those weeds, but it's not easy without getting the hook caught up in them.
Secondly, the distribution of weight and float allows more efficient striking; you don't have to shift a combined mass of float and weight to straighten the line before the hook begins to move. Thirdly, almost any amount of surface drift can be overcome merely by increasing the distance between float and weight. If the float is set to the exact depth, with the weight just on the bottom, it is easily pulled to one side by the wind, but if you increase the depth the weight hits bottom and the float initially lies flat before drifting to one side and eventually cocking against the weight lying on the bottom. Bites can cause the float to disappear or lift up suddenly as the weight is shifted by a fish, not unlike the sort of drop back bites you get when upstream legering.
This is obviously not a particularly sensitive arrangement, but it works well for carp and tench and occasionally roach. If more delicacy is required, for crucians, roach or shy tench, simply position the weight necessary to cock the float somewhere between mid-depth and a few inches off bottom, and put a small shot anything from an inch to a foot from the hook. This shot would just sink the float if it wasn't resting on the bottom; as it is you cast out and gently tighten up until the float tip is just drawn down by the tension in the line. The best sort of float for this is a proper antenna type - Drennan Stillwater Blues are excellent - with a slim body for up to half its total length, and a thin cane antenna. The bulk shot should cock the float so it stands upright with just the antenna showing, and the last small shot should just sink the whole float.
The distance between float and bulk is dependant on conditions; in a flat calm the bulk can go at mid depth with the tell-tale shot just resting on the bottom a few inches from the hook, but as drift increases the bulk should move towards the lake bed (never actually on it with this sensitive rig) and the distance between bulk and tell-tale should also increase - up to three feet overdepth if necessary. As long as everything is tightened up after casting to draw the float tip down so half an inch or so is showing you will still have extremely delicate bite detection. Incidentally a centrepin is the ideal reel for this type of fishing as it allows minute adjustment to the 'show' of the float; usually the rod should be placed in rests, but it is just possible to hold the rod still enough without them.
I don't wish to suggest this method should replace conventional waggler set-ups; one should always choose the method to suit the conditions. If circumstances dictate that the bait should be presented to the fish sinking slowly through the water, use a waggler. But don't fall into the trap of thinking it is the perfect method for all conditions. To make a waggler work where other methods would be a better choice has caused anglers to fashion ever more complex floats to overcome the various difficulties encountered.
And we know where that leads us; tackle shops full of over complicated floats that are neither necessary nor desirable.