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 in mid-water underneath a float, meaning that anglers are constantly watching the float waiting for it to dip under the surface when a fish takes the bait. Since no terminal tackle is in contact with the seabed, float fishing allows rocky and snaggy marks to be fished with little risk of becoming snagged.
A surprisingly high number of species can be caught by float fishing. The majority of fish that 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. 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
Float fishing can only take place in relatively 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.
From some deep-water rock marks it can be advantageous to fish very close in, as many species will swim right alongside the rock face as they look for shellfish, small fish and other sources of food.
Float Fishing Rods and Reels
Float fishing works best with light tackle. Many anglers used a light spinning rod of 8 – 10ft which is designed to cast weights of around 1 – 2oz, while cheap telescopic fishing rods and freshwater carp rods can also be used. Bass rods which cast weights of 2 – 4oz can also be used for float fishing, although these are generally the heaviest type of rods used with floats. With reels it makes the most sense to keep things simple and use a fixed spool, although a small spinning or baitcasting multipliers can also work. Since float fishing is a light form of fishing most anglers use monofilament line of approximately 12 – 18lb breaking strain and a shockleader is not necessary.
Floats and Float Fishing Rigs
The cigar float is by far the most commonly used in UK sea fishing. This consists of a tubular float, usually between four and eight inches in length, which can have line passed through it. They are usually made out of plastic or polystyrene, although older traditional floats can be made out of wood. The float needs to be trapped at the required point on the line (see diagram below). This can be done by simply tying a swivel onto the line which the float cannot pass, but this will mean that the float cannot be repositioned on the line and the depth at which the bait is presented therefore cannot be changed. Using a moveable stopknot (which can be tied with neoprene, elastic or with monofilament line) will allow the float to be moved and allow the angler to present baits at different depths.
Bubble floats are a type of float that consists of a spherical (or ovoid) plastic float which can be partially filled with water to provide weight for casting, although these are more often used for livebating and most anglers use a cigar float for general float fishing. Some of the larger and heavier floats designed for freshwater fishing can also be successfully used for sea fishing.
Floats can be bought individually, but many anglers prefer to purchase float kits as these provide all of the terminal tackle needed for float fishing. Typically a float kit will include the float along with a hook, swivels, beads and an elastic float stop – view and purchase a selection of floats and float kits by clicking here. Generally, a size 1 or 1/0 hook is a good choice for floaty fishing as smaller fish can be taken on this size of float but it is also large enough to handle any larger fish which may take the bait.
Float rigs are relatively simple to set up, as the diagram below shows.
For more information on creating this rig, click here.
Choosing the Correct Weight to use with Floats
All floats are designed to be used with a specific weight. In sea fishing this will generally be between ½ oz (16 grams) for smaller floats and up to 2oz (56 grams) for larger floats. Using a weight that is too heavy will simply drag the float under the water, and using one which is too light will not cock the float properly, meaning that the float will lie on its side on the surface of the water and bites will not register properly. The correct weight to use with a float should be provided by the seller, and many floats have the weights they are designed to be used with printed on them or included on the packaging.
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 seabed. 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 an adjustable float fishing rig is that the depth the bait is being presented at can be easily changed by simply moving the stop knot up or down the line. Anglers can start off by setting the float a few feet below the surface and if no fish are caught the float can be set progressively deeper until the feeding fish are located.
Generally speaking, garfish feed fairly close to the surface, while large pollock and coalfish will be found deeper down. Mackerel, smaller pollock and coalfish can be found at any depth as they move around looking for small fish to feed on.
Tides and Float Fishing
The stage of the tide is also an important factor to take into account when float fishing. A rock mark that provides five or six metres of water to cast into at high tide will give substantially less depth than this when the tide is out, and some marks can be high tide only for float fishing as there is simply not enough water present at low tide. The stage of the tide can also dictate the depth at which the float is set.
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 a 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. Other baits which can be used include sandeel, sprats and strips of squid. When float fishing for wrasse in rocky areas shellfish baits such as mussel, cockles and limpets (or a combination of all three) can outfish other baits as these provide the food source which wrasse will naturally feed on.
Groundbaiting with oily fish such as mackerel or herring can be a useful tactic when float fishing. Small pieces of mackerel or other oily fish such as herring can be thrown into the sea, or anglers can use the guts and entrails of fish which they are using as bait. This will attract fish to the area where the float will be cast but anglers should be careful not to use too much groundbait otherwise it will lead to their bait becoming one source of food amongst many and reduce their chances of catching.