Float Fishing

Float fishing

Many young anglers learn how to float fish at an early age, many then move on to other tactics. Ledgering for carp for example has become the fashion with heavy bolt rigs, multiple rods and bite alarms being the order of the day. This is shame because I think that there is nothing better than spending hour upon hour watching the tip of a float bobbing in the surface film, followed by the excitement as the float slips beneath the surface. Rivers have 3 types of river flow: fast, medium and slow.


The rivers flow speed will have a big impact on our float fishing, it will dictate the speed with which the float travels and we will need to counter that by adding shot at different positions down the line as well as using a suitable type of float to create a natural presentation to fool fish into thinking the bait is natural food items traveling down with the current. One of these float rigs (lift method|) was design especially to catch carp and to overcome the problems associated with float fishing for them.

Fishing floats

1.The Avon

The Avon Float is very buoyant and has a large bulbous body. The buoyancy negates the need for allot of shot which aids control in fast flowing rough water. The shot should be placed approximately 10 to 18 inches from the hook and in bulk fashion i.e. in a tight line. This shot pattern will help to sink the bait fast and keep it down. Float rubbers are used to attach the float to the line, one at the top just under the coloured tip and 2 at the bottom with an inch between them.

Two are used at the bottom as a precaution; if one splits you will have another which saves re tackling. Cast the Avon float rig using an underarm flick and let the float move along at the same pace as the flow, with this set-up its possible to hold the float back at the end of a glide or run. This holding back will cause the bait to rise and flutter enticingly and often produces a last minute bite.

2.The Balsa Trotter

The Balsa Trotter float is similar to the Avon float. It is slightly more suited to deeper water. The Balsa Trotter has a tapered body and as its name suggests its made from balsa wood, making it very buoyant. As with the Avon float it is fixed to the line by float rubbers, one at the top just under the coloured tip and 2 at the bottom with an inch between them. Again the shot should be placed approximately 10 to 18 inches from the hook and in bulk fashion i.e. in a tight line with the addition of a smaller dropper shot around 2-4 inches from the hook. Particularly suited to winter trotting through deep runs it can also be help back at the end of the run as with the Avon.

3.The Chubber Float

As its name suggests this is a chubby float which is again suited to fast pace flows. The bright tip is very visible which help the angler to see it while long trotting. As with the previous two fast water floats the Chupper has bulk shot placement 10 to 18 inches from the hook and a small dropper shot. Attached using the same float rubber attachments and can also be held back.

4.The Stick Float

A sensitive and delicate presentation on river with a slow to moderate flow, the Stick Float is a great option. Popular amongst match fishermen the Stick Float requires a shirt button shot arrangement beginning with the heaviest shot at the top then decreasing in weight towards the hook end. The body of the Waggler tends to be made from balsa wood while the bottom has a heavier material such as wire. Minimal shot is required to balance the float which aids sensitivity. As with the other floats which we have covered, the Stick Float can be held bag for a last chance bite. Stick floats are generally fished at short range or even in the margins due to their weight and design.

5.The Waggler

The waggler is a tricky float to use on rivers. It is attached to the main line bottom end only with no rubbers, the line being passed through an eyelet at the bottom and fixed in place by attaching a shot either side this give a more streamlined presentation when casting, hence the waggler can be cast further than most other floats. Silicon tubing can be used instead of split shot or even better a float adaptor. There are loads of different types, and they’re relatively cheap. This allows you to instantly change to a lighter or -heavier waggler if wind and tow conditions change.

The float adaptor has the added advantage that should a large fish like a carp become snagged in weed or snags, the float will usually be pulled off leading to less obstruction and more chance of pulling a fish free. Surface tow can be an issue and the line should be sunk after the casting by “tightening up” to the float. Often a large bow will appear as the line is pulled by surface tow, trying to straighten the line will only lead to the float and bait being pulled out of position, not ideal. This is why the Waggler is used mainly on still waters, ponds and lakes were surface tow is at a minimum. In the right conditions however and the right situation it can be a devastating float rig. Split shot placement is down to personal choice but start with the majority at half depth and a small dropper shot close to the hook.


Laying on rig

Laying on float rig

Here we have a very basic float rig which can be used to catch carp but you can also use it to catch many other species. The weight needs to be heavier than the float and rests on the bottom this can be a lead free shot or one of the new pin down weights available from Fox or Solar tackle. You will need to set the depth so that the float is half visible above the water surface.

Lift method

Lift float rig

Specifically design to catch big carp, the lift method has a proven pedigree when it comes to catching big fish. A small waggler should be used, preferably an unobtrusive crystal clear design. This float rig has been developed to over come the problems associated with float fishing for large fish such as carp. The main problem when float fishing for carp is foul-hooking, as the carp or other large fish swim about in your baited swim their flanks, fins and belly will often catch your main line leading to false bites and foul-hooking.

Nobody likes to foul hook fish, so this rig has arisen from the need for an alternative to the usual laying on type float rigs. With other float set-ups you are normally looking for the float to dip beneath the surface layer as the fish takes your bait and moves away. This is what causes the foul hooking as you strike, not into the fishes mouth but some other part of the body (foul hooking). With the lift method you strike when the float lifts from beneath the surface film as the fish actually picks up the bait in its lips, a much more sensitive rig altogether.

Best line for float fishing

For Waggler fishing a sinking line is absolutely crucial, if the line doesn't sink then the wind will push your float and bait in an unnatural way, this is not as important when using the other float methods but remember, there are lot's of inferior lines available. Two of the best brands to look out for are Daiwa and Drennan. For general fishing for Roach and other silverfish a breaking strain of 2lb will suffice. For larger fish, Barbel, Carp etc.. 6lb or heavier would be better. The trick with float fishing is to make your hook bait behave in exactly the same way as the free offerings you introduce.


The hook needs careful consideration. Too large and small fish will shy away, too small and you may lose hooked fish or miss bites. For general fishing for Roach, Rudd, Dace and other fish of up to 2lb a size 16 or 18 hook will be fine. For large carp a size 8 and for small silver fish a hook as small as 22 can be used. Hooks are available already attached to a length of line, these are called ready-tied hooks to nylon. Again the choice is vast but I would recommend using Drennan’s maggot pattern. Other excellent manufacturers include; Owner, Kamasan, and Ace.

Rods and Reels

It is important when choosing a float rod to remember that you will be holding the rod for long periods and so it needs to be light and comfortable to hold. It needs to have a through action with a fast tip action. Carbon rods of 12 to 14 feet in length are best for float fishing they should have at least as many eye’s as they do feet. So for example, a 14 foot rod should have at least 14 eye’s to ensure the smooth passage off line. For general fishing for small to specimen silver fish a float rod with a test curve of three quarters of a pound will do but for lager carp, tench and barbel a test curve of 1lb to 1.5lb would be best.

Prices of float rods vary widely from £10.00 to several hundreds. Cheaper rods are likely to be made of glass fibre which is both heavy and not very responsive. More expensive models will be far superior and made of carbon fibre and its variations. If I was to buy a good quality float rod then I would expect to pay between £100.00 - £150.00. As for the reel, I would opt for an open faced small but good quality reel, here’s a few to look at to get you started; Shimano Stradic 2500, Okuma Epix Pro, Drennan Series 7. As with a float rod the more you pay the better you will get.

Centerpin Reels

Centre pin reel

There is perhaps no more traditional and pleasurable way of float fishing than with a centerpin reel. They take a little bit of getting used to but once mastered they will provide a life time of pleasurable float fishing. Centrepin fishing is believed to have been created by the Chinese more than 1000 years ago.

Casting with a Centerpin Reel

When learning to cast you are best off casting using loops of line. To do this, use your fingers and pull loops of line from between the rings lower down on the rod. The more loops you make, the further you can cast. Using loops, you can either cast from the side, under arm or directly over head. All you need to do is release the loops when you feel the pull on your fingers as you cast the tackle out.  The great advantage of this is that you can cast fairly light weighs with it. Loading the line so that it comes off from the top of the reel (instead of the more traditional method from the bottom) will help control especially in windy conditions. Just remember reeling in will be done in reverse.



An essential requirement for the float fisherman is the Catapult. Catapults are used to introduce free offerings at close or medium range. You will need a catapult to feed maggots, hempseed, casters and any other light feed bait. The key to getting regular bites and catching constantly is to keep feeding even while playing a fish. A catapult is the best tool to achieve this. There are many different ones available but some of the best are the;

Float fishing baits

The bait you use will depend on the fish you are targetting. If carp fishing for instance you could use a large lobworm, boilie or anything else which you know carp like to eat. If roach fishing a couple of maggots on a size 16 or 198 hook would be better. Maggots are brilliant for float fishing. All fish love maggots but remember to keep the presentation looking natural for instance, you wouldn't use a size 10 hook with a single maggot. For float fishing with a single maggot a size 18 or even 20 hook would be best. If on the other hand you are trotting with a large piece of bread flake then a size 8 or 10 hook would suffice. Remember also that the bait should not mask the point or missed bites will occur.

Split shot weight guide

How to find the depth of water when float fishing

So, you have decided to do a little float fishing. You want to fish your bait on the bottom but you don’t know the depth, well this is an easy one! You simply attach the float to the mainline, then tie on a hook. Move the float up the line a few feet. Take the hook and pass it through the plummet loop, next push the point into the rubber (or with some cases cork) and swing the whole set-up out over your chosen spot. Most of the time the float will disappear under the water. This indicates that that the depth of the set-up is too shallow as the plummet pulls the float under. If the float lays flat on the surface the you need to reduce the depth of the float. Keep adjusting the float and testing until the tip is just visible above the water surface.

Once achieved you can remove the plummet safe in the knowledge that your bait will be on the bottom. So we have concluded that most of the time you will be fishing on the bottom, the only differentiation to this would be if you are surface fishing or fishing in the upper layers of water for rising Rudd or Roach. How then do we find the depth of water over which we are fishing? The answer lies in a small weighted object called a plummet. The plummet will always be heavier than your float rig so by attaching it to the hook and casting out you will know if your hook is on the bottom because the float will sink beneath the surface. Increasing the depth until the float is popped up or laying flat will indicate that you have reached the correct depth. The plummet has a small eye on top. The hook is passed through the eye then the hook point is pushed into a small strip of cork.