Balsa floats

Light, buoyant and an easy medium for modelling, balsa is an excellent choice of float material if you are tackling this aspect of do-it-yourself for the first time.

A typical bodied float has three main sections, the upper and lower stems, and the barrel. In a balsa and cane float, the stems are made of cane and the barrel of balsa. The balsa barrel gives buoyancy to the float, supporting the shot on the line, shot which both cocks the float and aids casting.

This article tells you how to make four floats: a general-purpose float for still and moving water, a sensitive Stillwater float, a zoomer for casting light tackle when ‘drop’ fishing in moving water, and a very sensitive antenna float suitable for fishing in Stillwater.

For all four floats, the barrel is made out of a piece of balsa about l£x£x|in. After shaping, these dimensions will reduce to about lg-xf xfin, but it is important not to vary them at all and to keep the barrel some three times longer than it is broad. If it is too stocky, the float will not be sufficiently buoyant.

Hole in the barrel

After cutting the barrei roughly to size (but before shaping it), you must make an |in-diameter hole through the barrel, into which the stems will be inserted later. Do not attempt to drill the hole. Most drills will simply tear the balsa without cutting a small, clean hole.

The best way to make the hole is with a simple home-made tool. This is easily constructed from 6in of small-bore drawn brass tube |in diameter. This can be bought from most model shops for about 10p or 15p per foot. Cut a 6in length of tube, then take a 3in piece of £in hard-wood dowel, drill a hole slightly larger than the brass tube down the middle of this, and then glue the tube into the dowel with epoxy resin glue. Make sure that the brass tube does not become full of glue or otherwise blocked. It needs to be hollow at both ends so that you can insert a piece of cane or wire and push out any balsa that gets trapped inside the tube after you have finished drilling a hole.

To make the holes, simply draw guide-lines on the barrel, then, holding the barrel on a firm surface, gently push the tool into the end grain. It should be easy to make a clean hole straight through. Do not attempt the impossible and try to punch a hole from each end in the hope that they meet in the middle. They will not!

The barrel is now ready for shaping. It supports four BB shot.

General-purpose float

For the general-purpose float, the upper stem is made from a length of sarkandas reed 6in longxin thick. This will carry three BB shot. The lower stem is made from a lxin cane, which will carry about one BB shot. Cane is used for the lower stem because it is stronger than sarkandas reed, and the strength is needed to support the casting eye, which will be added later.

Making the float is simple. First be sure that the holes in the barrel are a loose fit for the stems. If the fit is too tight, excess air and glue will have little chance to escape and fitting the second of the two stems will prove to be very difficult.

Start with the upper stem. Mark it fin from one end with a felttip pen. Dip the stem in glue—I use thinneddown Polybond—and insert it into its hole in the barrel, up to the mark. Wipe away any excess glue immediately.

After about 10 minutes, the balsa will have absorbed most of the moisture in the glue, and the upper stem will be firm enough for the lower stem to be inserted without dislodging it. Before gluing, insert the lower stem in the hole without glue, as it is possible that the wood will have swollen to cause too tight a fit. If this has happened, trim a fraction off the width of the stem. When you have the fit right, coat the bottom fin of the stem with Polybond and insert it slowly, allowing air trapped in the hole to escape. If you push it in too fast, you may risk splitting the barrel.

Do not be tempted to taper the stem to produce a handsome effect. Keep it parallel, because then it will be much stronger.

The next step is to fix the casting eye. This is simply a piece of copper or stainless steel wire twisted into a circle iiin, or slightly more, in diameter, and then again into a ‘U’ shape about -J-in long, with the circle at the bottom of the ‘U’. The ends of the ‘V are then whipped to the lower stem.

Securing the eye

It is important that the eye is fixed on securely or it will come away during casting. Epoxy resin glue should be used and then the two ends are firmly whipped onto the stem with strong nylon thread.

A fairly recent development that is rapidly gaining support amongst both DIY enthusiasts and commercial float makers is the use of shrink tubing for attaching the eye to the float. The tubing comes in a variety of colours and diameters, and is guaranteed to produce a thoroughly professional job with the minimum of cost and effort.

Initially the eye is glued into place with either Araldite or a similar epoxy resin glue, and shrink tubing of a slightly larger diameter than the cane is slipped over the eye. The float is then revolved slowly over a small flame—a candle or even a match—and the tubing immediately shrinks to produce a skin tight grip on the eye. Nothing could be simpler, yet it’s effectiveness is unsurpassed, the finished product being firm, neat, professional-looking and completely waterproof.

Apart from painting, the float is now complete. It will carry about seven BB and one No 1 shot. Shot it down so that about fin shows in Stillwater, fin in moving’water.

The second float is the same, except that a 6×1 in piece of cane is substituted for the sarkandas reed. Because it is less buoyant, the cane should support one BB shot (about three No 1 shot) as opposed to the three BB shot (nine No 1 shot) of the reed. This makes the float more sen-sitive. If a fish lifts a No 1 shot it will raise the cane float about 2in but the reed float only about fin. More sensitively, a lifted dust shot will raise the cane float I-fin, the reed hardly at all.

The cane float is shotted so that its tip is just above the surface. This is done by ‘dotting’ with dust shot, so that the float is carrying just under its total capacity. Obviously, shotted like this, it can only be used in moderately still water.

The third float, a loaded casting float or ‘zoomer’, is again a variation on the basic sarkandas reed float. The difference is that the lower cane stem is replaced by lfxin piece of brass rod. Brass rod of this size can be purchased from a model shop. It has a weight of four BB shot, so most of the bulk that the float will carry is in the stem rather than added as shot on the line.

The problem with fitting a brass, rather than a cane, lower stem is that the rod has a finer diameter and does not make for a tight fit on the barrel. To overcome this, it is necessary to add a sleeve of balsa to the last fin of the rod. Take a piece of scrap balsa, push the brass rod in-to it for fin, withdraw it, coat it with epoxy resin glue, and push it back into the wood.

Go out fishing for several hours while the glue sets. When it has set, trim the balsa down, using a knife and sandpaper, so that the overall diameter of rod and balsa is £in. The stem can now be glued in place with Polybond, following the same procedure as with the previous floats.

The final variation is an antenna float for very sensitive Stillwater fishing. It is made by adding a less-buoyant cane tip to the upper stem of the sarkandas reed float. The float can then be ‘trimmed’-(by adding small shot on the line) so that the whole of the main upper stem is below the surface and only the thin antenna shows above water. As the tip is not very buoyant, just a lifted dust shot gives a marked bite. The antenna is made of a piece of cane about in in diameter and about 2in long. After cutting it to the right length, sharpen the last fin into a four-sided point—rather like a miniature fence stake. Then take a half-dozen turns of thread around the end of the sarkandas reed and secure them with a quick-drying cellulose varnish.

When the varnish is dry, place the point of the antenna in the centre of the reed and rotate it while applying a slight forward pressure. Do not be in too much of a hurry, as this will tend to make the point wander off course. Remove it, coat it with Poly-bond, add a few blobs to the hole, then re-insert the antenna so that it will ‘bed-in’ slightly deeper than the drilled hole.

Peacock quill and straw stems

You can make a similar float by using a peacock quill main stem rather than one of sarkandas reed. But leave the glue to set for 24 hours as the pith of peacock quill is less dense than that of sarkandas reed.

Where sarkandas or peacock quills are difficult to obtain, an equally effective float can be made by using a plastic drinking straw for the stem. These are obtainable in a variety of colours and require no waterproofing or painting other than the tip, which of course needs to be painted in accordance with the various light conditions under which it will be required to perform.

Being completely hollow, it is essential that the tip of the straw is effectively plugged so as to prevent the float becoming waterlogged. Perhaps the most effective plug is a simple piece of balsa, shaped to produce a tight fit into the straw, and well glued to ensure complete sealing. The air then trapped within the straw increases the overall shot carrying capacity of the float and also, because of its extreme lightness, improves the range at which the float may be fished. 1

Ling fishing Guide

A novice fisherman’s first deep sea boat trip to a chartered wreck or reef is an almost guaranteed pleasure thanks to the shoals of suicidal ling which infest these deepwater marks.

Most newcomers to deep water wreck and reef fishing, probably began by catching ling. It is a prolific species with a wide distribution, but the greatest numbers are found at deep-water marks at the western end of the English Channel and Southern Ireland. A very powerful fish, the ling reaches a maximum length of 6|ft, and weight in excess of 100lb. Anglers seldom come into contact with ling of more than 45 lb, and so far only five have broken the 50lb barrier. The British Record stands at 57lb 2oz—a fish caught from a wreck lying south west of Cornwall’s Dodman Point.

The numbers of ling that inhabit wrecks is phenomenal; but some idea can be gained from the catch of 6,200lb made by eight anglers in a two-tide session about 24 miles south west of the Channel Islands. Fishing over a virgin wreck follows a very definite pattern. The first assault will remove several thousand pounds of fish in the 15-25lb class. Successive visits result in fewer fish, but the average weight will be much greater. Until the ling have been drastically thinned out, conger and other species that live on wrecks hardly show among th. Catches. The hulk may be alive with eels but only the odd one will be caught the first four times the wreck is fished. They are outnumbered.

The ling (Molva molua) is a member of the cod family, although at first sight one might think it more closely resembles the conger. It has a long, slimy, eel-like body but the head and back are broad and its coloration, spineless fins, barbules and very small scales are telling in-dications that it is a member of the great family of the Gadidae.

Habitat and size

It is essentially a deepwater species, and while small fish may be found close to the shore, adult ling are rarely found in depths of less than 15 fathoms and are taken commercially in depths up to 200 fathoms. They are most plentiful in depths of 20-60 fathoms. The ling has a great liking for rough and rocky ground, par-ticularly deep-fissured reefs rising steeply from deepwater. A demersal or bottom-dwelling species feeding almost entirely on other fishes, the ling spawns offshore in deepwater from April to June. It was once con-sidered a mid-summer and autumn fish but with the development of wreck fishing, the angling season is now all year round.

Tackle and bait

When fishing over rough ground from a drifting boat, an ordinary paternoster trace will suffice. The lead or sinker should be attached by some ‘rotten bottom’ in case it cat- £.. ,. ches in the bottom. Only the sinker will be lost if it is necessary to break out, and this can be quickly replaced. Hook sizes should be 60 or larger, depending on the size of the bait. If fishing specifically for ling, large baits are advisable because pollack and small conger living on the same type of ground will go for the smaller baits. For ling, a whole small herring or the whole side of a mackerel is very attractive bait.

The take is usually deliberate, so wait until you feel the weight of the fish before striking. Should you miss, drop the bait back down quickly to the fish. Ling are fierce predators that will snatch again at a bait that has been whipped from their jaws, if given the chance. They do not run when hooked but fight strongly and stubbornly. Like many species with swimbladders, when brought up quickly from deepwater on heavy tackle they come up more easily after the first few fathoms.

However, heavy tackle is not necessary and when taken on light tackle they fight vigorously all the way to the boat. They have a very impressive mouthful of teeth which will make short work of light nylon traces, so heavy gauges are advised for terminal rigs. Extreme care should be taken when you are unhooking the fish as the sharp teeth can inflict nasty wounds.

Seeking ling

When fishing from an anchored position for ling, a simple ledger rig is very effective. As conger are found on the same ground it is advisable to use a short 6-9in wire link to the hook, for conger are likely to sever an all-monofilament trace. When fishing on the drift there is a risk of conger taking the bait. Wire is also recommended when wreck fishing as ling will be found on the bottom together with conger. If you are seeking ling, another hazard when fishing wrecks are the banks of very large pollack. The difficulty here is trying to get a large bait down without it being taken.

A big fish bait is more easily got down when fishing from an anchored boat. Anchored uptide of the wreck, the bait can be worked downtide without encountering the pollack and coalfish. When fishing on the drift, however, artificials such as 20oz pirk will get down through the depths very quickly—usually too quickly for the marauding fish in midwater. Pirks are very good for taking ling and the addition of a lask of mackerel to the treble hook of the pirk can prove very productive.

Successful Red Gill

The Red Gill PVC sandeels are very successful lures for fishing wrecks. These can be fished as a single lure on a following trace, in tandem, or in threes in paternoster fashion. If a feather jig is used it is advisable not to have more than three feathers either baited or unbaited. When fishing with multiple lures one can hook two or three heavy fish at the same time, but unJess very strong traces are used, one lure is almost in-evitably broken. Single lure fishing enables the angler to use lighter gear and so derive far more enjoyment from his sport.

Cooked, they become too mushy to use at all. So do not just put them into a pot and leave them. They must, as in all cordon bleu culinary arts, have close attention.

Some anglers think that this method is too vigorous a way of preparing seed. There are three alternatives. One is simply to soak for a much longer period of time. Another is to casserole your bait instead of boiling and the other is to cook the seeds in a vacuum flask. With the flask method, however, beware of putting in too many seeds—two-thirds full is ample —before pouring boiling water over them. All seed baits swell con-