The dibber is a simple float but one that no self-respecting pole angler can afford to ignore. Garbolino and England star Mark Downes explores its uses.
A dibber is a small, semi self-cocking float with a flat or domed top and no bristle. When shotted so that its top is almost flush with the surface it is remarkably stable – any wind simply blows over it, rather than pushes it along. This makes it ideal for presenting a dead still bait on the bottom for better quality fish.
Indeed, the dibber was developed for fishing casters on the bottom of canals for stamp roach. In recent years, however, match anglers have found a range of other uses for this float, including fishing up in the water for Stillwater carp.
Various dibbers are commercially available, or you can make your own . The original dibber comprised a piece of peacock quill and a needle. Nowadays stiff pole float wire is more often used for the stem, and balsa is frequently used instead of peacock for the body. Peacock has the great advantage of being as light as fluff, while balsa allows for a more streamlined body shape — in the end it comes down to personal preference. (Some dibbers have cane or cocktail stick stems, but Mark doesn’t recommend these because they aren’t semi self-cocking.)
A range of dibbers 2-10cm long and 5-7mm thick at the top, taking from two no. 12 to four no.6 shot, covers all eventualities.
Dib, dib, dib…
In winter, when boat traffic is light, the biggest roach in a canal tend to be just past the middle, in the deep water at the bottom of the far shelf. For fishing with casters here, ‘down the track’, where the water is usually 0.75-1.5m (2!/2-5ft) deep, a top and bottom dibber taking five or six no. 10s is ideal. Fish it with the shot spread when there is little or no tow, or with a small bulk if the tow picks up.
In summer, when boat traffic is heavier, the biggest roach tend to be in the shallow water over the far shelf. Here you need a much smaller float, at times barely 2cm (%in) long and taking only two no.12 shot evenly spaced down the line. Only use a top and bottom dibber, however, if the water is more than 30cm (12in) deep, otherwise the float tends to flip over the line and tangle with the droppers.
For water less than 30cm (12in) deep it pays to fish with a dibber without a wire stem, and fixed bottom only. Replace the wire stem with a flexible link — the end of the nylon link from a Drennan swimfeeder is ideal because it has a hole in the end to thread your line through. To make the float semi self-cocking, lock it on the line with a couple of slightly larger shot – no.8s, say.
Whichever the season and whatever the dibber, your tackle must be perfectly balanced. Because you are using elastic, which provides plenty of shock absorbing stretch, take advantage of the lower diameters offered by the new, pre-stretched high-tech brands of line.
A 0.1mm diameter main line and 0.08mm diameter hooklength are ideal, with a fine wire hook to penetrate the caster cleanly, and medium strength elastic (No. or 4, through one section) to enable you to pull the hook through the shell of the caster into the fish (though sometimes you can get away with hanging the caster on like a maggot, which aids hooking no end). Use the largest hook you can get away with – a 16 is ideal, though you might need to go down to an 18 or 20 to get bites.
As ever, correct feeding and good bait presentation are essential. Feeding Roach are fickle fish requiring a softly, softly approach. As a guide, feed half a dozen casters every three or four drops in until the fish respond, then step up the feed accordingly.
Presentation Plumb carefully to establish the exact depth on your chosen line. In calm conditions you usually catch best by fishing at the exact depth or 5-10cm (2-4in) over. But the windier it is, the more line you need to lay on the bottom (up to 15-20cm/6-8in), and the more line you need between the float and pole tip (about 0.75-1.2m/2½-4ft), to present an absolutely still bait. Otherwise the movement of the line above the water and even of the pole itself can be transferred to the hookbait. It can also pay to put the pole in a rest, to prevent the float constantly moving to and fro.
Finally, dibbing with casters for canal roach is very much a waiting game. When the bites do start coming, never be in a hurry to strike, as one bumped fish could spook the whole shoal. The beauty of the dibber – and this is how it got its name – is that it gives you ample warning that a bite is developing. Small rings first appear around the float as it ‘dibs’ up and down, before it finally disappears from view. Wait until it goes right under before striking.
In recent years many Stillwater fisheries have been developed to cater for anglers who simply want a good day’s sport. Such waters are usually heavily stocked with roach and small carp.
In summer the best way to catch these fish is often fishing shallow with the pole, loosefeeding constantly to draw and hold the fish up in the water. Here the same bottom-only dibber you use in very shallow water on canals, with the bait set to fish no more than a couple of feet deep, can really score, with many of the bites coming near the surface on the drop.
Here a small piece of peacock quill works better than a more streamlined balsa dibber — offering more resistance, it helps set the hook into a fast-taking fish. Of course, elastic, main line and hooklength all have to be stepped up, and a forged rather than a fine wire hook used. Use No. 6 or 7 elastic through two or even three sections, a 0.12mm diameter main line and a 0.1mm diameter hooklength.
A dibber can also be used to great effect in summer on still waters where you have a feature such as a weedbed close in. Carp and tench both patrol close to the bank in this type of swim, and a good way to catch them is to fish on the bottom alongside the feature with just a few sections of pole and a little top and bottom dibber. But be sure to have the other sections of your pole at hand so you can quickly add them when the fish makes its first powerful run.
As summer moves into winter the pole and the dibber still have their part to play on these still waters. Now you are looking to catch on the bottom in the deeper water. As long as it’s no more than about 2.5m (8ft) deep, a top and bottom dibber can be just the job for presenting a still bait for the roach and small carp. Obviously, the deeper the water, the larger the float – up to four no.6s for a 2.5m (8ft) deep swim.