Float Fishing Methods

Float fishing is an exciting and active method which can be used to catch a wide variety of fish from rock marks, harbours and piers around the British coastline. This method of fishing involves suspending a bait underneath a float in mid-water, meaning that anglers are constantly watching the float waiting for it to dip under the surface and register a bite. Float fishing utilises light tackle and simple terminal tackle set-ups and provides great summer sport fishing for the mid-water species found around the UK. Since no terminal tackle is in contact with the seabed, float fishing allows rocky and snaggy marks to be fished with relatively little loss of fishing equipment compared to presenting baits on the seabed.

Species Targeted

As garfish live and feed in mid-water they are a species which is often targeted by anglers using float fishing methods.

A surprisingly high number of species can be caught by float fishing. The majority of fish which are caught either live in mid-water, or will live at a variety of different depths and swim into midwater to feed. This includes smaller species such as mackerel and garfish but pollock, coalfish, wrasse, black bream, and even mullet and bass can all be caught by float fishing as well. Some anglers have even perfected methods that allow a bait to be fished underneath a float but trail just above the seabed, allowing bottom-dwelling species, such as flounder, plaice and other flatfish to be caught by float fishing.

Float Fishing Locations

One thing float fishing needs is deep water. For this reason it is popular to floatfish from rock marks that give way to a good depth of water, while piers, breakwaters and jetties which provide sufficiently deep water are also good locations to float fish from. Rock marks are popular for float fishing as they often provide a good depth of water to cast into and also hold many of the most popular species that float fishing anglers target such as wrasse, coalfish and especially pollock.

Cast Out Float Rig

A float cast very close to the rock face can produce good results.

From some deep-water rock marks it can be advantageous to fish very close in as many species will swim right alongside the rocks as they look for shellfish, small fish and other sources of food.

Float Fishing Rods, Reels and Equipment

Float fishing works best with light tackle. Many anglers used a light spinning rod of 8 – 10ft which is designed to cast 1 – 2oz. While bass rods which cast up to 4oz can also be used, although they are the heaviest type of rod generally used in float fishing, while freshwater carp rods can also be used, as can simple and cheap telescopic rods. With reels it makes most sense to keep things simple and use a fixed spool reel, although a small spinning or baitcasting multiplier would also work. Since float fishing is a light form of fishing it makes sense to use monofilament line of approximately 10 – 15lb breaking strain and a shockleader is not necessary.

Terminal Tackle and Float Fishing Rigs

Sea fishing float

A  cigar float made out of polystyrene.

There are a number of different floats available to UK anglers with some using bubble floats and others successfully using some of the heavier floats designed for freshwater fishing. However, the cigar float is by far the most commonly used in UK sea fishing. This consists of a cylindrical float between four and eight inches in length, which is usually made out of plastic or polystyrene. Floats can be purchased in kits (which contain a float plus a hook, line, swivels, beads and an elastic float stop) or as a single float – view and purchase a selection of floats and float kits by clicking here. Size 1 – 1/0 hooks are a good choice when float fishing as they will be small enough to successful hook smaller fish which may come along such as mackerel, smaller coalfish, garfish and wrasse, but should still be strong enough to handle the larger fish which will hopefully be around as well.

The rigs used in float fishing are relatively simple. A float is trapped between two beads with power gum, rubber bands or neoprene stop knots being used to allow the position of the float to be adjusted.The weight and hook are located below this so that they trail underneath the float in the water.

Baited Float Rig

A float rig ready to cast out baited with ragworm.

Click here to see how to see how to set up an adjustable float fishing rig.

Float Fishing Techniques

As the adjustable float fishing rig shows a float fishing rig consists of simply a float at the surface of the water, a weight and a hook. The weight, usually a drilled bullet, is very important as it provides weight to cast with and ensures that the hook is presented under the float, which keeps the float cocked – sitting the right way in the water – and ready to register a bite.

Float Cocked

‘Cocking’ a sea fishing float: Float 1 is correctly cocked, ready to register a bite and presenting the hook at the correct depth. Float 2 is not cocked as there is insufficient weigh, leading to the float lying on the surface of the water. Float 3 is also not cocked correctly as the length of line is far too long leading to the float again lying on the surface of the water and making bites extremely difficult to detect.

As the diagram above shows having the float lying sideways ‘uncocked’ on the surface of the water may mean that either there is not enough weight to cock the float, or the weight and hook are trailing on the sea floor. Either of these situations will lead to bites and fish being missed.

How Deep to Set the Float?

Different fish species feed at different depths and anglers can target them by setting their bait at the appropriate depth – an advantage of the adjustable float fishing rig is that the depth the bait is being presented at can be easily changed by simply moving the stop knot. Garfish are known to feed on small fish and any other food they can find just below the surface. Mackerel feed here as well, but will also go down to mid-water in their search for small fish to hunt. Pollock will hunt for food on the seabed, and come into mid-water to chase preyfish, but would be unlikely to feed right on the surface, with the same being true for bass and wrasse. It therefore makes sense to set the depth of the float depending on the species being targeted, with a short length of between 2 – 3ft between the float the hook being all that is needed to catch garfish, with the float set to present baits in mid-water for mackerel and usually slightly deeper for pollock, bass and wrasse. If anglers are unsure of the depth of water they are fishing into they should start with a 2 – 4ft drop between the float and hook and then cast lengthen this by 1 – 2ft after every cast getting progressively deeper until the feeding fish are located.

Sea Species Depths

Diagram showing the different depths at which different species feed.

As stated about some anglers successfully fish for bottom feeding fish with a float usually in estuaries or coves where conditions are calm. This requires accurate knowledge of how deep the water that is being fished, and setting the float to trip along the bottom of the seabed. It can be a great method of catching flounder and other flatfish which will be attracted by the moving bait, but it will be perfectly possibly to catch any species which feeds on the seabed.

Tides and Float Fishing

The stage of the tide is also an important factor to take into an account. A rock mark which provides five or six metres of water to cast into at high tide will give substantially less depth than this when the tide is low. In this situation it can be necessary to have a long drop between the float and hook to have the bait in mid-water at high tide, but this could be much reduced at low tide.

Float Sea DepthFloat Sea Depth

The diagrams above show the difference between the length of line between the float and hook that is used at high and low tide. At high tide a 10ft drop is needed to fish in mid-water, but at low tide this is halved to just 5ft. Again, experimentation or local knowledge will tell you the right way to set up tackle and rigs to catch fish at an given mark.


From a mark with little tidal flow the float will stay in one location and it is up to the angler to keep an eye on the float and react when a biting fish causes it to dip under the surface. It is usually best to wait until the float is fully submerged before reeling in to ensure that the fish has fully taken the hook and bait into its mouth. If the fish is not successfully hooked it is best to not reel in and leave the float and hook out as the fish may come back around for another go at the bait. In some locations tide and wind may cause the float to move along in the sea. It is a good idea to simply see where the tide takes the float as a slowly moving bait will prove tempting to many fish that see it passing, and if the angler lets out a little line from the reel the float can also be taken out into deeper water. However, anglers must be aware of the tide taking the float sideways into weed or rocky ground where the float could get snagged, and if fishing from a crowded pier or busy rock mark anglers letting floats drift in the tide will need to be careful that they do not allow their float to become tangled in the lines of other anglers.

Bait for Float Fishing

There are a wide variety of baits that can be used when floatfishing. A whole ragworm is a popular choice, as is a strip of silver mackerel belly, as this will have the added attraction of looking like a small fish. However, there is no need to stick to these two baits with squid, shellfish, sandeel and peeler crab baits all potentially being successful, so experiment to see what works.

Coalfish Caught on Mackerel

A small coalfish caught on a floatfished mackerel bait.

Small fresh sprats bought from a supermarket or fishmongers are another very good, and underrated, float fishing bait. Groundbaiting with small pieces of mackerel can be a useful tactic when float fishing, but restrict how much you thrown in and too much will lead to your bait simply being one potential meal amongst many, and be sure that you are getting your baited hook into the area that has been groundbaited.

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