Crow quill floats

There can be hardly a coarse angler unfamiliar with the crow quill float. But how many have collected the raw materials and made their own—not just crow, but goose and pheasant floats?

The angler setting out to make his own floats faces a bewildering choice of materials. He can use simple, easily obtainable ones like elder pith or bulrush stems, which cost nothing except the effort of collecting them. Balsa, peacock quill, cork and even plastic, including expanded poly-styrene, can also be obtained easily and comparatively cheaply, or the angler may choose cane, or even greenheart. Then, just to add to the difficulties, he will find someone to swear by every one as the perfect float-making material.

The choice lies very much with the individual angler, but there are certain criteria which I feel should be looked at. One, is the material easy to work with? Two,.will it do the job you want it to—that is, support enough lead to carry a large bait a long way, or indicate lift bites effi-ciently? Three, is it durable? Four, is it readily available?


In the case of ‘natural’ materials such as elder pith or certain types of reed stems, the answer to the last question might well depend on where you live or fish. In any case, I feel that the newcomer to float-making would do well to concentrate on materials such as peacock quill, sarkandas reed, or balsa, which can be purchased pre-drilled, and cork, which can also be bought pre-formed at a modest price.

Master the basics of float-making with these and you will be able to produce a wide variety of practical floats and go on to other materials. In section 30 we described some of the floats you can make with them. At present, let us examine the uses to which simple crow quills can be put.

First, a look at the items a float-maker requires. You will need a sharp knife or, possibly the best cutter of all, one of those old-fashioned razor blades with a single-cutting edge and a rounded side for holding. These have the advantage of being very rigid so that they cut clearly and straight, without twisting, but they are extremely sharp, and care must be taken.

You will need some glue, waterproof, of course, and preferably quick-setting. Whipping silk some-times comes in handy, and you will need some fine wire and some thin welding rod or a few fine nails for when you are making loaded or self-cocking floats. I also find that discarded ballpoint pen refills are useful and can make a very effective bottom ring—something enlarged on later, although some heavy line does the same job.


For finishing off the floats you will need sandpaper and fine grade ‘wet and dry’ emery paper, undercoat, fluorescent paint for the tips, and some matt black paint, also for the tips and possibly for the bodies. Some years back, varnish would have been obligatory, but the trend towards ‘non-flash’ finishes has largely ruled out its use.

Most anglers have used a crow quill—still one of the most sensitive of all floats, and virtually unbeatable in some circumstances, such as fishing close in Stillwater, or trotting a gentle stream under the rod end.

Scrape up the qui with a sharp blade

Top rubber easily damage the ‘skin’ of the quill. Use the blade to scrape the quill in the direction in which the feathers lie; that is, from the thick end to the thin. Afterwards a quick rub with the ‘wet and dry’ will remove any roughness, giving a smooth finish but one to which, if you are going to paint the float, the undercoat will adhere well.

Fishing techniques

As it stands, the quill can be fished either single or double-rubber, but I regard it as essentially a float to be fished reversed—with the thin end upwards—in Stillwater, where depending on the shotting, it can effectively be fished ‘on the drop’ or ‘laid on. The float is simply attached to the line by a piece of rubber tubing at the bottom end only. Ob-viously, the amount of shot it will take before submerging depends on the float’s size.

To fish a falling bait the shotting should basically be ‘poker line’ —with plenty of small shot, say No 8, spaced out equally between float and hook. This is a particularly effective shotting in water of up to 6ft deep, when fishing with small baits for small fish.

Any hesitation in the fall of shot, possibly caused by a fish holding up the bait, is immediately registered, as are ‘lift’ bites, while a bolder bite will cause the sensitive crow quill to sail away, offering minimal resist-ance to the fish.

For ‘laying on’ in Stillwater—and anything other than the smallest of flows makes the crow quill in this form useless because it will be con-tinually pulled under—the bulk of the shot must be concentrated at the business end of the rig. The purpose of this is to accentuate the reaction of the float when a fish picks up the bait off the bottom, giving the maximum ‘lift’ effect.

If you want to fish a crow quill some distance out, then the shotting is entirely reversed, with its bulk right under the float and the least amount near the hook. This will dramatically increase casting dis-tance, but will give a slower fall and possibly lead to missed bites from fish taking ‘on the drop’, as these will not be registered on the float, unlike when fishing ‘poker line’.


Any significant flow will force a change to double-rubbering—a form in which the crow quill can be equally effective. This is achieved either by turning the crow quill the other way up and passing the line through a piece of rubber at each end of the float, or by creating a float especially for the job by forming a loop at the thin end of the quill. The quill has a hard and a soft side, the hard being usually the dark one. Simply scrape away the soft pith, to leave the dark spine, and then fold this over to form a loop, which is glued and whipped in place.

While this arrangement means that the float cannot be changed so easily, it is much neater and avoids the line sawing through the valve rubber at the bottom end at least. Attached like this, the crow quill can tackle a canal with a fair pull, or a slow-moving river swim.

The cork quill’s versatility as a river float can be increased by fitting a cork body and using it double-rubber. The cork body will help hold out the float in fairly turbulent water, reducing its tendency to swing towards the bank under the pressure of line from the rod end.

The crow quill is a great float, but another quill beats it outright when it comes to sensitive ‘lift’ fishing in Stillwater: the pheasant tail. This is a much longer float, but fished reversed, as with the crow quill, the fine tip of the pheasant will rise from the water half an inch with the lifting of just a No 6 shot—and you cannot achieve much greater sen-sitivity than that!

Prepare this kind of float in precisely the same way as the crow quill, remembering to trim the thin end of its finest section. Cut it back to a practical thickness.

Finally, the goose quill. Prepared like the double-rubbered crow quill, with a loop formed at the bottom, the goose quill is a real heavyweight that will carry a lot of lead. This makes it a superb float for fishing the Severn and Wye, where it just about matches the performance of the big balsa floats.