Two Killer Float Fishing Tactics – Floater Fishing Setups & More

by | Advanced, Carp |

It’s cheating, they don’t count… I would rather catch them on the bottom. It never ceases to amaze me when anglers discount surface fishing either based on its merits or because it’s something they don’t understand. Surface fishing provides an opportunity to turn some of the worst angling conditions (for bottom fishing) into some of the best conditions of the year. Conditions that I wait for anxiously each year hoping they coincide with an opportunity for me to get to a venue which favours the approach.

Floater fishing usually refers to targeting carp with any kind of surface bait. Generally this involves using bread which is deadly when lowered on their noses amongst weed, or using floating dog biscuits or mixers, which can generate an immediate feeding response and carp absolutely love!

It’s a deadly technique, not to be ignored!

A weakness for many anglers

I learned very early in my angling career that carp are vulnerable on the surface and this makes perfect sense when you think about it. They only harvest the lake bed occasionally, usually grazing as they swim in the upper layers of the water. It is also an area they rarely get caught in, they probably go over a year between each surface capture at least, and I bet often longer.

Finally, it is a weakness for many anglers, they simply don’t try, which presents an opening for anyone who is keen to do so. I regularly visit very busy day ticket waters on hot days specifically to target them on the top; and there are lines of swims occupied by anglers sat behind three static rods over bait while the entire stock cruises on the surface begging to be angled for.

Now please don’t misunderstand me, this is fine by me but it does leave me scratching my head a little as to why anglers wouldn’t have a go when they’re right there.

My early surface fishing attempts were crude, crust in the pads or heavy controller arrangements. These both worked on small and hungry fish but as I travelled further it became clear I needed to tailor my approach to better suit the situation. Larger carp were harder to catch but the thrill of seeing a huge fish taking mixers was (and still is) unbeatable, they were clearly cute, but could be caught with the right approach.

A large gravel pit floater caught common


The Beachcaster

I remember watching a Des Taylor video (it was VHS) which must have dated back to the 90s, he used a number of approaches but one which struck me was the beach caster. This was unlike anything I had seen before; by using a vertical rod and suspended bait he could completely conceal the line from the fish, making an opportune bite far more probable than with a controller float. I knew for the cagey fish I was targeting in Oxford at the time that this approach could be effective,  so I set about learning to use it.

The first arrangement was not what you would class as safe and I would not recommend it these days but it was something like the diagram below. It was made up of a long section of line, roughly 1.5 times the depth  targeted, at the bottom was a lead, at the top a swivel and running between was a large buoyant inline float. Then another section of line and a second swivel to which the mainline and also the rig was attached.

The rig consisted of a 6” piece of my mainline and a large hook, then a single chum mixer would be attached to the hair. The risk here is if you snapped your line you could leave the fish attached to 15’ plus of line, a float and lead which is not ok; so like I said I would not advocate using this.

It was crude but worked just fine.

To hold the rod I would use a spod that had been gaffer taped to a storm pole and a butt rest on the top, this would take the stem of the reel and the butt would go in the spod. It was crude but worked just fine. Later, I managed to find purpose made rests which allowed the butt to sit directly on the top of the pole, getting the rod tip higher and thus allowing us to fish the rig further out.

The beach caster in action

As time passed, I learned more about safe rigs and started to use weak links between the swivels, this helped to counter weed when fishing weedy areas. The risk was that it would build up around the lead and could easily cost you a fish – which it did, including a 40+ for me in ‘99! We also learned to use float stops instead of a second swivel to hold the rig and separate the rig and float.

The obvious downside to this rig is that trying to cast 15-20 feet of line with a rig hanging close to the tip is a real challenge. The Oxford lakes I was targeting had open grassy banks which allowed the rig to be laid out behind you. This made it much easier but still risky as the rig would often catch on the tip rig. We also experimented using a catapult to fire the lead out, this came about through necessity when we moved over to Yateley where the swims were far smaller and often enclosed. It sounds risky but you could send a 3oz lead a fair way with a boilie pult and if your mate is holding the rod (bale arm open), much of the line would be kept off the surface. We would regularly hit 30-40 yards using this technique.

My Beach caster arrangement

These early attempts proved very successful, the real benefit of a beach caster is the complete invisibility of it and I quickly realised that it was possible to catch the cagiest fish on a single mixer. I used it as an ambush rig; I would set it in an area I knew they would arrive in later in the day and tension the line so the bait was off the surface. When the fish showed up or started showing an interest in feeding, I would let a little line off the spool and the bait would sit gently on the surface, ready for action. It would also keep the seagulls at bay, they can see the line and will not come near it, allowing you to feed around the hook bait freely.

As time passed, evolutions of the rig were publicised by others but it wasn’t until a good while later that I started playing with a sliding variant a friend and I discussed.

We made something which utilized the principal of a self-adjusting pike float we had seen which would grip the line when under tension, allowing us to manage how far back the shuttle flew from the float. By taking the end of an equine syringe (no needles.. this can be easily found on ebay) and doctoring with a lighter to create a slight kink it would fly back up the line during the cast, stopping when under tension as I feather the cast to create the desired separation. This takes practice but can be achieved and makes greater range achievable along with a far safer set up. You could also use a Korda helisafe to drop the lead in the event of a take.

Shuttle using the end of an equine syringe

This final iteration of the rig is the current one in my tackle box, although in recent years I have found myself using a controller more due to the type of angling I am doing. The static beach caster has a place in my armoury for sure but the skill of using a controller introduces its own benefits which I’ll cover in the next section.

There are still some downsides which I should mention briefly:

  1. Hooking efficiency is poor, incredibly frustrating when you see a huge fish take the mixer two or three times and not hook itself. I found longer links more effective but it seems to depend on the way the fish fed, a bit of trial and error is needed here.
  2. Range as I said is a big downside, you cannot get the angle to lift the line off the surface beyond about 40 yards, this is quickly reduced by any wind also.
  3. Inflexibility is also an issue, you cannot reposition the rig quickly, so if the fish are in another area or following a drift, you will likely have to wait for them to come back.

Controller Fishing

I mentioned above that recently I have started to favour a controller approach again, this is more due to the type of surface fishing I am doing. For the past few years, I have managed to string together a few days on some busy day ticket gravel pit complexes during blistering conditions. During these sessions I’ve experienced some prime surface action, often catching multiple fish in a day, even from more than one lake!

In case you’re not familiar, the controller float is a float designed to suspend your line along the surface, allowing your hooklink to be presented flat on the surface tension. There are several kinds of controller floats, weighted versions sit vertically with a swivel at the top, bubble floats that can be filled with water for weight and inline ones which typically have a large weighted head and plastic tube at the rear. I tend to favour the latter these days, usually a heavy one which will aide with self-hooking.

One of five mid 20s in a couple of hours on a controller

My tackle is simple so I won’t focus on that too much, but my current set up is outlined below:

  • Rod – Diaflash 3lb through action, allows for long casts of 100+ yards to over cast the fish.
  • Reel – Shimano Aero GT baitrunner, lovely to use although the retrieve is slow for the longer-range use
  • Mainline – 12lb Berkeley big game
  • Controller and hooklink – Korda (size dependent on range), 10-12lb drennan double strength and a 10/12 korda widegape hook. I tend to use around 6’ and the bait is a trimmed pop-up attached via a hair and a simple knotless knot. This is usually on a slightly longer hair so there is slight separation which I have found gives excellent hookholds, probably 5-10mm between the bait and where it exits the shank of the hook.

A surface caught 29 from a very difficult surface water

Bird Life

I think the thing that puts most off trying on these venues are the birds, they can be a real problem but they can be managed. My answer is to use a lot of bait, gulls (which are usually small terns at the lakes I fish) cannot eat that much bait, I usually just spomb until they have had enough, often as they slow the fish are already taking amongst them.

You’ll know when the job is done

It doesn’t put the fish off at all, I think it’s like a hatch of flies, the birds will feed on this along with the fish. I don’t really have a figure for how much to give the birds, but 5kg for a large flock would be common. Once they have had enough, they tend to disappear; so you’ll know when the job is done!

Swans can be more of an issue, that’s a big animal and a family could easily feed all day from the spomb. The best solution is to get them close enough to throw bread for them, a couple of loafs should deal with a family of 4/5 swans for the morning. Watch for them to start drinking water as it swells inside them, a tell-tale sign they’re almost full. Carp and swans don’t mix well, especially with the cygnets in tow so keeping them in the edge is crucial.

Largest in the lake taken off the top

Once you have dealt with the birds it should be straightforward. I usually drop a spomb on top of them every 5-10 minutes, on these busy waters the carp really don’t seem to care and I have had many bites while retrieving the spomb.

On windy days I use the biggest controller I have (usually 90g), this will hook the fish so if you lose sight of the bait it will do the job for you. Last year during two days of hectic action a friend and I ended up losing count of the number we hooked like this, fishing at range just waiting for the line to pick up. If the wind conditions are calm or you can flatten the ripple by adding oil to the mix then sight fishing is more effective still and I will always try to strike if I can. I wait for the bait to be replaced with a mouth and hit it; the time delay should mean you catch it perfectly with a little practice.

Stealth mode

The above is okay for heavily stocked waters but bear in mind on big fish or low stock waters this is not going to work. Fish which live in relatively natural environments are acutely aware of angling activity and will not put up with baiting directly on top of them. This is where the beach caster may be advantageous. Alternatively, a more subtle approach with the controller can also prove effective but this is reliant on getting the fish taking confidently.

Upper 20 linear off the top

By angling up wind it is possible to create a stream of mixers drifting over the fish without disturbing them, best done by catapult but also possible with the spomb. The trick is then to position your hook bait amongst the bait so it is accepted without hesitation. The principals remain the same for most venues but you will find the fish’s tolerance for disturbance reduces on harder waters and the need for you to gain their trust before presenting a bait grows dramatically. The windows of opportunity are also shorter, so you are under pressure on both sides.

Conditions are the biggest issue in surface fishing, it has to be right for them to be up in numbers and willing to feed. I find the hotter and stiller, the better, especially if it’s early in the season. Later in the year if too many have tried it can become harder, although this is not always the case.

One of almost 20 surface bites over a couple of days last summer

If it has been very hot and you have a slight breeze this can also be great. As I said before a self-hooking approach, either a beach caster or use of a heavy controller will be effective, you just have to keep the bait drifting through and wait for the bite. I have even had this continue through into thunderstorms in the past.

The bottom line is to give it a try, it’s the best way to catch them and sometime the easiest or only way to save a blank.

I hope this has been useful and you found something you might put in to your own angling!