The float – its design, function and finicky feeding fish

Words by:
Barry Grantham
Featured in:
October 2022

Ever since I first started angling, I have always had a fascination with floats. My first memories are of when my father used to set me up with a garden cane. Tied to the end of this would be a length of line – with this would be a float, hook and weights to balance the float.

The float would be one made by himself from a goose or swan primary feather. These feathers could easily be found on the bankside. This was a simple setup for a five-year-old and I suppose was an early version of what we now use today, a whip made from carbon fibre.

I am not sure when the float made its first appearance, but it would certainly have been a long time ago. Since that day, a lot has happened to the float and its design. The angler of today is confronted with a multiplicity of designs. For the novice angler this can be baffling, but whatever the float design, it has four basic uses:

It acts as a bite indicator.

It supports the bait at a given depth, or allows the baited hook to lie on the bottom.

It allows wind or current to take the baited hook to the fishing area.

It adds to the total casting weight and allows unweighted tackle to be cast.

Float patterns are many and it is up to the angler as to the method of angling that the angler intends to do. Also a big decider as to which float is to be used will be the light conditions, the weather and still or moving water. If the angler wants to make a longer cast to reach the fish, he will add more weight to his terminal tackle. This extra weight means the angler will need a buoyant float. If fishing close in, the angler chooses a slimmer, smaller float, needing less weight to balance it.

If you are fishing in normal conditions and you have a selection of floats of different shapes and buoyancy, choose the float that would be most sensitive. A fish picking up a bait from underneath a large float would be very suspicious, feeling resistance, and most definitely drop the bait. This puts slim, sensitive floats top of the list. Water conditions also dictate the style of float to be used. If fishing in clear shallow water, a long large float would frighten the fish, so a float as slim and as short as possible would be preferred. If fishing in fast swirling water, a more bulbous float is used.

The slim float would be sucked under the water from time to time.

Often anglers that are new to the sport make the mistake of having too much float showing above the water. By doing this, bites can easily be missed, especially if the float was only to dip a fraction. By having the float with its tip just out of the water, a bite is easily spotted as the float dips out of sight.

The colour of the float is important. The best colour for the lower half of the float that sits under the water would be green or a yellowish brown. This blends with the colour of underwater flotsam.

Some suggest that a float should be painted white or blue to match the sky, but I believe that the fish will just see the float as a darkish silhouette as it passes overhead.

There is no best colour for the visible part of a float. The colour depends on the prevailing light. A good combination when the float is correctly weighted is orange at the tip, white and then black.

For sensitive floats, the porcupine float cannot be beaten, it can be obtained in a number of lengths with varying buoyancy to suit a wide variety of fishing conditions. The quill is very strong and has good waterproof qualities so it carries its shotting capacity all day. Another float that is just as good as the porcupine quill is a float made from crow, goose or swan feathers. These floats are in a class of their own for sensitivity and have only been matched today with precision factory manufactured floats.

I love my float fishing, especially for tench. The tench can be finicky feeders at times. I use a style of float fishing known as the lift method. This method was developed by a good friend, Fred J Taylor, in the late ’50s. A float is attached to the line by its bottom ring only. It is weighted by a single swan shot. The float is set over depth then after casting the line is drawn taut to the rod tip until the float stands upright in the water, with just the tip of the float showing.

When the tench mouths the bait, it lifts the swan shot taking the weight away that balances the float. The float lifts out of the water and lies flat. As soon as this happens the angler strikes and the fish is hooked. It is essential with this method that the rod is placed in a rod rest after the line has been tightened, then the rod is not touched until the float lifts, lies flat and a bite is registered.

oday you can buy many floats of different design, precision made, but I still prefer to use floats that were developed when I first started angling in the ’50s – a simple feather or porcupine quill.

May I remind you that the use of lead weights is now illegal, and a substitute must be used.

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