Float fishing techniques

To many the epitome of angling happiness is watching any old float bobbing up and down in the water. There is, however, a lot more to modern float fishing than this.

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 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 wag-gler—seems to be the float most abused by lazy anglers. Certainly, in the past few years, it has been reponsible for winning a lot of mat-ches. 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 double-rubbered 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 bet-ween 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 double-rubber, can be held in the stream so that the bait just trickles along.

This is not to say that the waggler cannot be a very useful float in certain circumstances. In difficult con-ditions, 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.

The Avon balsa

The size of the balsa is important. It must be big enough to carry suffi-cient 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 tell-tale shot is to regulate the presentation of the bait. The tell-tale’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 swing it upstream if it threatens to put drag on the float and bait—until the float settles. Then lift the rod tip high in the air so that the line goes directly to the float tip without touching the water.

If you choose a float with plenty of bulk and weight-carrying 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.

Big stick floats

Big stick floats are another useful tool ignored by many anglers nowadays. When the wind is blowing upstream and out from the bank, the big stick is probably easier to handle than a waggler. This is m because the effect of the wind on the line when the float is being fished double-rubber slows down the bait without any effort from the angler. Again, underarm casting is essential.

Another ‘old-fashioned’ method of fishing which receives too little attention nowadays is stret-pegging. It has largely been abandoned in favour of swing tip rods and there is little doubt that when bait is wanted hard on the bottom in the middle of the river the swingtip is by far the best solution. Nevertheless, if the fish are closer in, then stret-pegging is deadly, particularly if the river is carrying a lot of water.

When stret-pegging, the float—a peacock is ideal—is fished double-rubber, overdepth and overshotted. Basically, this means that line between float and hook should be about twice as long as the water is deep and should carry roughly double the amount of shot the float can support. For example, if you have a 6in length of peacock quill capable of carrying half a dozen BB shot, load it up with 12 BB, concentrated around 6in from the hook and if the water is 4ft deep, set the float at 8ft. The bait then bobs around in the current just off the bottom, while the line stretches at an angle of 45 from the float to the weight.

The technique is basically simple. Just cast out and allow the tip to pull round. But although this sounds simple, it is not that easy. The line must be held tight between float and rod tip and the float literally held up—otherwise, being heavily overshotted, it just dives to the bottom. However, if used properly, you’ll be surprised at just how positive the bites are.

If the fish are not biting, try varying the presentation of the bait by slightly lifting the rod and ‘inching’ the business end of the rig across the bottom.

A Stillwater alternative to ledgering is the lift method of float fishing for which, conveniently, you can use the same piece of peacock as for stret-pegging. But instead of a bunch of small shot, use one big one, say a swan, although once again the rig is fished overshotted, and over depth as with stret-pegging. The difference is that the float is fished pegleg—that is attached by its bottom end only. Furthermore, unlike stret-pegging, the hook should be very near to the shot, say, only two or three inches away.

With the lift method, cast out to your swim, and allow the shot to hit bottom. The float will, of course, lie flat. Then gently tighten up the line until the float cocks and is dotted down—that is, it only has the smallest amount possible showing. When a fish picks the bait off the bottom—this method is particularly effective for tench—the result is the most dramatic bite in fishing. To swallow the bait, the fish must also pick up the shot and the float pops up like a Jack-in-the-box!

Curiously enough, the big shot does not seem to put off the fish—although obviously the method can be scaled down using, say, a reversed crowquill or an even more sensitive pheasanttail quill.