Float fishing is probably the most popular form of coarse fishing. There are a great number of different types of float and different methods of float fishing, but too many anglers, having found that one tactic and one float work reasonably well, stick to this method without considering other methods. Rather than just settling for the most convenient method, the angler should try to achieve the best possible presentation of the bait in each situation. He should go for the most effective method. This might not be the easiest, but it is the angler with the techniques and ability to do this who will more often than not catch the most fish.

The waggler

The large antenna float—the waggler— seems to be the float most abused by lazy anglers. Certainly in the past few years, it has been responsible for winning a lot of matches. Yet is this because this is the most effective float, or because it is being used when it shouldn’t be?

This is not as contradictory as it sounds. People are winning matches with the waggler, but it is possible that with other floats, such as a stick, they would have won with even more fish. And while a waggler is comparatively easy to fish, it will not allow the angler to get the best out of every swim.

The reason for this is simple. The waggler does not allow the same degree of control over the presentation of the bait as a doublerubbered float. When the waggler is being properly used it is fished attached by its bottom end only and has a lot of tip showing above the water. This is because it is fished with a shot dragging the bottom and the float must not be sensitive enough to be dragged under.

Even so, despite its size, try to hold it back against the water flow, so that the bait is presented in a slow, attractive manner, and what happens? It merely goes under because of the drag of the line between rod tip and float—unless you have achieved a degree of expertise and control of the float possessed by very few anglers. In contrast, a stick or balsa, fished doublerubber, can be held in the stream so that the bait just trickles along.

This is not to say that the waggjer cannot be a very useful float in certain circumstances. In difficult conditions, rough water and fierce downstream wind, for example, or when the fish are biting freely three or four rodlengths out—when it has the edge in speed—it can be ideal. In other circumstances, on rivers such as the Ribble, which has an uneven flow, other floats, such as the Avon balsa, are more successful. When fishing within easy sight of the float and in good light all one needs in normal float fishing is just enough float visible to be detected at the first twitch indicating an interested fish. But the angler’s reactions must be fast on the strike.

The Avon balsa

The size of the balsa is important. It must be big enough to carry sufficient weight to allow you to pull back on the rod without it dragging into the bank too quickly. A float which can carry about two or three swan shot serves the purpose. Shotting is simple: all you need is a small shot, say a No 4 (directly under the float to stop it sliding down the line under the pressure of striking), the bulk shot roughly halfway between the float and the hook, and the telltale which goes 1ft to 18in from the hook. The purpose of the telltale shot is to regulate the presentation of the bait. The telltale’s size will depend on the strength of the flow.

The method with this rig is to cast out to the area you wish to fish—with this rig the underarm cast is a must if tangles are to be avoided—and then to mend the line, that is to lift the line and swinging it upstream if it threatens to put drag on the float and bait, until the float settles. Then lift the rod tip high so that the line goes directly to the float tip without touching the water.

If you choose a float with plenty of Bulk and weightcarrying capacity, it will strip line from the reel at the pace you dictate and carry on the current far more smoothly than a waggler. Furthermore, if you check the line on the rim of the spool with your fingertip, you can slow the float right down or even momentarily stop it—something you can’t do with a waggler.

There’s no doubt that this pays off. If you have studied the swim, you should know what part of it may produce a fish; you can then slow up the float when it is approaching the area, relaxing again when it has passed downstream.

Advantages of float fishing

Float fishing is also widely practised in gravel pits and has some advantages. A sliding float, an antenna, or in windy conditions, a long, widebodied float, can be used to search deep water under the bank for tench, bream and roach during the summer months. A float is also helpful when fishing deep water beyond a shelf on which a ledger rig would snag and so reduce bite indications.