Fishing Floats – Types & How to Set Them Up
In case you’ve no idea what a fishing float actually is, it is essentially a floating object which attaches to your line and acts as a visual indicator for when you have a bite. The float will move erratically or go beneath the surface when a fish becomes interested in the bait.
You can find a range of different floats designed for different fishing situations. Waggler floats are intended for still water fishing, stick floats for river fishing and then there are bubble floats, pole floats and many more, in this article we will cover the most popular float types. The cost of a float depends on the type of float and can range from a few pence to a few pounds.
The majority of floats will have a weight marking on them, this acts as a guide to what weight the float carries, or more specifically what weight will be needed for the float to sit correctly on the surface (what shot is required to cock the float). For most floats this is not 100% accurate and so should only be used as a rough guide.
Regardless of where you are fishing or what bait you are using, try to keep the line as light as possible. This means using a float which requires the lowest amount of shot, however if weather conditions make it difficult to cast or utilise your float properly, use a heavier, correctly shot float.
Select the type of float that you are interested in to learn more
Despite its silly sounding name, the waggler is one of the most popular fishing floats available. It is primarily used for still water fishing but can also be used in slow running river waters.
There are two forms of the waggler float – either 'straight' or 'bodied'. A straight waggler is tube shaped and most often made from clear plastic. A bodied waggler float is similar to the straight waggler, but it has a globular section near the base, this increases its stability and makes it the preferred choice in windy conditions.
A straight waggler (left) next to a bodied waggler (right)
Waggler Float Shotting Patterns
If you’ve read a few of our guides before, you will know that fishing is a trial and error sport, and this is certainly the case when shotting a waggler float.
A diagram of the recommended waggler shotting techniques
The waggler attaches to the line via the eye which is found on the bottom of the float and split shot sinkers are used to keep it in position. For most fishing situations, the general shotting pattern should work well. Aim to keep 80% of the weight around the float, with the remaining 20% being positioned two thirds of the way down the line towards the hook.
A situation can arise where you find yourself fishing close in, with the large fishing feeding at the bottom but your bait being snatched by the small fish on or close to the top of the water. If you find yourself in this situation, put your shots closer to the bottom of the line, see diagram above. This is known as bulk shotting and gives your bait enough weight to drop towards the bottom faster, skipping past those pesky small fish at the top. If you are bulk shotting, cast with a gentle under arm motion.
Shirt Button Style
When bulk shotting, the bait will fall quickly to the bottom which appears quite unnatural to the fish and can put them off. If this is the case, try the ‘shirt button style’ which involves spreading the shot out evenly down the line between float and hook.
The Stick Float
Stick floats are most commonly used when fishing rivers or flowing waters, they usually have elongated bodies and join to the line via float rubbers, meaning you can adjust where the float sits on the line quickly and easily.
Stick floats are fished in a downstream direction. The water at surface moves faster than that at the bottom, therefore once you have cast your line, hold the float back for a couple of seconds to allow the line and hook to drop through the water ahead of the float. To ensure that the hook remains in front of the float, you will need to hold the float back every now and again, the strength of the current will dictate how often you need to do this.
The stick float also enables you to fish at the same speed as the flowing water, a technique known as trotting, this technique involves letting line off your reel whilst keeping the line behind the float and as straight as possible towards the tip. Your rig must also be set up with the majority of shot about a foot away from the hook, with the hook hovering just above the river bed. A large float is recommended if you want to use this technique, allow the rig to flow with the current and shorten your line if you need to, this will cause the baited hook to rise towards the surface but continue to run through the water.
A range of stick floats
Stick Float Shotting Patterns
The anatomy of a stick float can be broken down into the tip, body and stem and each section can be made from separate materials. As mentioned earlier, stick floats have float rubbers which are used to attach the float to the line, some stick floats have two float rubbers and some have three. Generally, go for the ones with three float rubbers, if one breaks the addition one will act as a replacement and therefore save you from the pain of having to slide another rubber over the hook and shot to replace it. The shotting patterns for stick floats differ depending on the conditions in which you are fishing.
A diagram of the recommended stick float shotting techniques
The most common setup for shotting a stick float is to space the shot evenly down the line, in a similar fashion to the “shirt button style”, but put the heaviest shot closest to the float and gradually decrease the weight of the shot as you go down the line and approach the hook. The benefit of this style is that when you cast, the line will drop through the water in a natural, arcing motion, increasing the likelihood of a bite whilst also positioning the bait in front of the float in the process.
Shirt Button Style
As described for the waggler float, if you find that small fish are stealing your bait around the top layers of the water, use the “shirt button style” of shotting your line, this will cause the line to drop faster through the water and not give time to those pesky small fish which are taking your bait. This style is only suitable for slow moving waters and involves spreading your shot out evenly between the float and hook – you do not need to use different weighted shot for this like you do for the general setup.
Bulk shotting involves positioning the majority of the shot close to the hook (see diagram). This technique is primarily used when fishing in fast running waters, as it keeps the hook closer to the bottom compared to the general or “shirt button style” of shotting. The speed of the water dictates how closely to the hook you have to position the shot.
Just like the other floats we have covered, pole floats come in different shapes and sizes, here we discuss the most popular three.
The dibber is the smallest type of pole float and is the perfect option when fishing in shallow waters, or the outer regions of a body of water. Despite being small, the dibber has a large tip and so can easily be seen by anglers, it is also particularly buoyant, allowing you to fish big baits off the bottom. A dibber float should use similar shotting patterns to the waggler and depends on if you are fishing up the water, on the drop or on the bottom.
A dibber float
This is the most popular pole floats in the UK and the first choice for many anglers when fishing on running waters. It is very buoyant and can be used with a wide range of baits. The shotting used is generally the same as that which is used with a waggler float.
A body up float
The pear shaped float is similar in shape to the dibber, but the shotting pattern used can be much more diverse, with pretty much any style discussed on this page being able to be used to great effect. The pear shaped float is a sensitive one and is a good choice when fishing canals and when using maggots or bread as bait.
A pear shaped float
Pole Float Shotting Patterns
The shotting patterns for pole floats are consistent with that for wagglers and stick floats, except that bulked shotting is not used as commonly. With that said, don’t forget that shotting a line is a trial and error process and the most important aspect is if it works or not. A shotting pattern that works in one instance, may not work in another but it is worth experimenting with it.
A diagram of the recommended pole float shotting techniques
The Pellet Waggler
The pellet waggler is mainly used by anglers who are after for carp or other species of fish which feed on or near the surface. It is particularly short, thick and buoyant; these characteristics arise from the material that it is made from, which is commonly balsa wood or high density foam. This enhanced buoyancy prevents the float from dropping far under the water when cast.
The primary reason a pellet waggler is used is to present the bait within the top 2-3 feet of water. If you are fishing deeper than this, go for a regular waggler float.
A range of pellet wagglers (unloaded left, loaded right)
In recent years pellet wagglers have increased in popularity and manufactures now offer a number of different variants. Some come with a flight in the stem, meaning that it will travel with a straight trajectory when cast. Other variants have a flat base, designed to further prevent the float from dropping below the surface and therefore not scaring the fish feeding at the surface. Pellet wagglers also come loaded or unloaded, there are very minor advantages to both, but for the most part the choice is down to the individual and doesn’t make a huge difference either way.
Despite being called “pellet wagglers”, they do not have to be used exclusively with pellets and can instead work well with almost any bait, from sweetcorn to maggots.
Setting up a pellet waggler rig
There are many different ways to set up a pellet waggler due to the different variants that are available and because they can come loaded or unloaded. Here we describe a simple setup for a non-loaded pellet waggler.
- Select the float you are going to use; in this example we are using a 2SSG.
- Push the main line through the eye on the float and position the float up the line around 30cm.
- Next, pinch one SSG shot onto the line below the float in its position and then pinch a second SSG shot above the eye, locking the float in place.
- Double the other end of the line over by around 5cm and tie a loop in it. Use this loop to tie your hooklength to.
- Use a suitable hook for the fish species you’re after, check out our hook guide if you’re unsure.
- Use a hook length of about 15cm and with the correct hook attached, tie this to the loop you created in step 4. Don’t forget that the hook length needs to have a breaking strain that is less than the main line.
- Attach your bait and you’re good to go.
A diagram of the simple pellet waggler setup
- Leaving a couple of centimetres between the shot and the float on your line is said to make a larger splash. Some anglers swear by this and claim that it attracts carp.
- Moving the float up or down the line will shorten or lengthen the depth of fishing, if you’re not getting any bites it is worth experimenting with.
Feeding is the key to using the pellet waggler correctly, 'Feed - Cast - Feed' is the pattern that should be employed, with the objective of getting the fish into your swim and feeding.
Firing in between six and twelve pellets (or whatever bait you are using) at regular intervals of about a minute is the best way to go. The noise that the bait makes when it impacts the surface and the constant stream of falling bait will attract fish into the area. If you start to see swirls on the surface, you’re doing it right, as it means that fish are competing for the bait. Cast over this area and get ready for a bite – but don’t forget to keep the bait firing in at regular intervals.
Other Uses for Floats
Including a float to your line not only lets you know when you have a bite, but also adds weight to it, a benefit when casting light bait. Some floats are known as bubbles and have a clip on each end, designed to attach your main line and leader. A very light bait or fly can be attached to the end of the leader and cast using spinning or even bait-casting equipment.
Some floats have a dipped face on one side with space to attach your main line and at the other side is a tapered area where the leader attaches. When the main line is pulled tight, the float pops and gurgles in the water, which attracts fish. The noise produced imitates the sound that a fish makes when chasing baitfish on the surface. These floats usually have a lead weight in them which makes them stand up and also helps when casting long distances.
Just like sinkers, you should try to use the smallest float that will do the job. Don’t try to suspend a cricket beneath a float the size of a tennis ball as it will make far too much noise when it hits the water and its size will put off potential fish. The size of the float should correspond with the job you want it to do.