Friday 8 June 2012

Float Making - What Floats My Boat

In the old days, anglers spent the best part of the close season repairing tackle and making floats for the next season to come. Every float for every fishing purpose was no doubt invented in the close season by anglers playing about with materials and paint. Now we buy everything off the peg and put up with it. The old days eh?

The Good Old Days...

When anglers were inventive and resourceful. When they had to be! 

I've been hard at it, learning the craft of float making. What a joy it is to break free of the market and just make what you want or desire in the way of a pretty little bit of stick to chuck in a pond, and not what they say you should have in the way of a bit of rather uninspiring plastic for the same job.

I'm not knocking commercially produced floats, they are alright. Some are great, and I wouldn't be without them, but others, well, I buy them, abuse them, and don't much care if I lose them. They are all a bit soulless and efficient, what with their exact shotting and measured lengths. I suppose match anglers require exactitude, but I find I like a little wooliness, variation and heart in my floats, because float fishing is an art, not merely a skill.

All the floats above were produced either for a pressing need, or for the sheer joy of it. There's wagglers straight and insert, big fat balsa wagglers for some upcoming barbel fishing I'm anticipating in a certain weirpool, rudd floats for fishing six inches under the surface, wire stemmed avons for the trotting I want to do this coming river season, a big goose quill for tench fishing, cane-stemmed pole style floats I think might work well in the margins of commercial for perch, three basic white-bodied peacock quills (easy to see on pitch black nights) with red chemical lights on top to be lost in the far bank brambles up the canal after dark, a big chubber for all kinds of uses, and some odd things that are experiments waiting to find a use for themselves. Each one was a joy to make and all the projects in mind for the near future, stick floats, pike floats, antennae floats and whatnot, will be just as much fun to tussle with.

In no time I will own no commercially produced floats. Why would I need them if I can make as good myself? 

The other day I went out with Keith and the weather was atrocious. I'd made a couple of straight wagglers for the job in hand the previous day. and tried them both out. The red tip version was a squint at twenty yards, but the green tip version seemed to glow in the dark! Seriously, it was as if the float had a luminous betalight inserted into it, not just a lick of paint up top. 

These are the little things that make fishing a pleasure, discovering that if you take a length of peacock quill and turn it into a float with a green top, that it not only works as a float should but that it glows like a beacon on a very dull afternoon. That means that you can then go ahead and produce a whole load of different float types with the same green top and happily fish under such conditions wherever and whenever you find yourself in them.

It also means freedom! Because you can have any float you want off a shelf, but not any float you actually require, because that favourite pattern won't be available any other way but how it is offered up. If it comes with a red top, but you need a green top, white top, black top or whatever top you require, then you'll have to strip it back, and paint it yourself. But you won't, you'll just put up with squinting.

If you have an eye and fingers that can be trained to follow it, make your own floats. You won't regret it, I promise you. The first attempts will be rubbish, the second attempts just as bad, but after ten failures you will have one come out perfectly. Then you will be convinced, and never have to pick an unsuitable float from a pot on a shelf and put up with it ever again. You'll just make what you really need from then on...

And, you'll save a little cash too. The entire collection of 30 floats pictured above cost a sum total of five pounds in materials, but would have cost near forty off a shelf. All they are is bits of quill, short lengths of balsa, brass rods, cocktail sticks, kebab skewers and a few licks of paint. Muck one up? Strip it back and start over. Break one? Then chop it back and make another from the wreck, and don't bin it till it's so short it's useless. 

If you can imagine it, you can have it. If you can see it in your minds eye, then you'll make it next morning. No more having what you must take, but actually having what you really want, and fast. 

Well, I say fast, but only when you get good at it. The getting good takes some considerable time though...

The process of making floats is technically, easy. In practice, it's not nearly so easy as it looks to be. All the processes that make a float happen have to be proceeded with logically, and in the right order. Finding out what is logical and which is the right order can be a sticky learning curve though! After a time you get accustomed to taking your time with them, allowing them to dry off hard and bringing them up to a finish. Mistakes happen though, and they can't be avoided! Paint is wet and sticky stuff and would prefer to be left in the tin rather than be spread all over something. It's happy in the tin, but grumpy out of it. 

Nevertheless, painting floats is perhaps the nicest part of the process. It's great 'fun' to dip a well finished blank into the tin, but then have the paint misbehave so badly that you must start over and strip it all back. Great fun...

But, persist and you will have your reward. 

In the end! 


  1. Those floats look super, I bet it took a fair few attempts before you got the finish that you wanted.

    They look really good though and it must be a real joy to catch on something you have put so much time and heart into creating.

  2. It is a good feeling to catch on your own floats, Mark, especially when they work as they should.

    Getting the finish is getting easier now that I've made a fair few but it's still a revelation when one comes out well, I've got so used to making mistakes!

  3. I have to admit Jeff, I also much prefer the idea of making your own floats instead of paying out excessive prices for similar.

  4. Awesome.i love your views on the subject! I've made one float so far, a long tench waggler for my dear old dad, but it is so addictive and such a personal touch to ones tackle box! Great thread Sir!

    1. Keep on at it Paul and they get better and better as you learn the ropes. And of course they work just as well as any other float will. The only float I've not attempted to beat is the Drennan glow tip antennae because I just don't think it's possible to. Everything else though, can be made easily!