Stillwater Pike Floats Explained
Posted at Dec 23, 2010
Top predator angler Mick Brown takes a look at the styles of floats to use when fishing with deadbaits on stillwaters...
When fishing stillwaters with deadbaits, I have a great preference to float fish my baits whenever possible. I’m convinced that a float-fished bait offers less resistance to pike than leger set-ups. Especially when it’s extremely cold and pike are inspecting baits very carefully and dealing with them very slowly. In these instances, in particular, I believe that pike feel the resistance of leger weights and line clips and can drop baits without us even knowing about it. Watch leger set-ups very closely and, at times, you will see that the line tightens, the tip just pulls round slightly and the clip tightens. If nothing further happens, you have just missed an opportunity to catch a pike!
In my opinion, a carefully set up float rig offers minimal resistance and I have outfished other anglers who are legering their deadbaits on enough occasions to feel that I am correct in this theory. There are several quite different floats available though, so how do you choose which one is right for where you are fishing? I could talk on this subject for hours so I will restrict this article to floats for stillwater deadbaiting.
The Pencil Float
If there’s one type of float that I use more than any other, it’s the slim pencil type of float. In particular, the unloaded version. I first made these for personal use back in the 1970s and have since passed on the design to Fox who produce an excellent blow-moulded-plastic copy of my original balsa-wood version.
They are designed for maximum sensitivity. This is essential for indicating to the angler that a ‘pick-up’ has occurred in the shortest possible time, thus permitting him to judge when to strike without delay and minimising the chances of a deep-hooked fish. They are my favourite stillwater pike floats and this is how I set them up.
My main line is either 15lb mono or 30lb braid. Strong lines are essential for reliability and durability when pike fishing. I prefer braid nowadays for its reliable knot strength and the benefits of the higher breaking strain for such a low diameter. At the moment I am using Fox Horizon.
Onto the line I apply a Fox Rig-Stop followed by a small bead and then the pencil float, which has a bottom-end swivel fixing.
I then slide on a Fox Stubby Sinker or Kwik Change Egg Sinkers and then tie on a size 7 Kwik Change Trace Link. The rubber sleeve on the sinker fits snugly over the swivel on the link. I like to keep the weight of the sinker to a minimum. Normally I can use a 12g weight, but if I have a strong undertow on the lake to contend with, I might need to go to 18g or even 25g. If you are using a popped-up deadbait, you often need a heavier sinker to hold it down.
All that needs to be added now to the rig is the trace. I prefer traces with a large tapered sleeve, which slides over and covers the connection between the trace swivel and the Kwik Change Trace Link on the main line. This makes for a neat presentation, which is less likely to tangle or allow weed to clog up the joint.
The type and size of trace needs to match your chosen bait size, but there are many variations ou there and there is bound to be one to suit your preference.
Hi Vis Dart
The pencil float is a very simple and effective method and one that I use most of the time. There are other useful floats available, which have their uses and cater for the preferences of other anglers.
One very popular float is the bottom-end fixed-dart style of float, like the Fox Hi Vis Dart with its chubby body and dart-style vanes. It can be used exactly as the pencil float I have just described and the advantage of using it is that it’s more visible in rough weather conditions, in low light or at long range.
If you are a carp angler, you might have some of the Fox marker floats. They can be pressed into service as pike floats and set up exactly as the pencil float. They work best at close range, but I really do like the colour range and the yellow-and-black versions have been very useful against contrasting backgrounds. They are extremely durable too.
The last float that I would like to mention is the loaded pencil. When cast out, it sits upright in the water. It can
be used as an everyday deadbait float, but it’s really designed for setting up where extreme sensitivity is called for. When fishing close to snags, for example, or where pike have been fished for a lot and drop baits very quickly, this f
loat will alert you of a pick-up instantly and allow you to make the quickest strike possible without any delay.
It’s set up exactly as the pencil float and you tighten down while the rod is set on two rests in the same way as for the pencil float. This time, however, you do not cock the float as it’s already standing upright. You pull it lower in the water until the white band of paint disappears and just the red tip is showing.
When a pick-up occurs, the float lifts instantly and this exposes the white paint band, which alerts you that it’s time to strike. Because you are set up for sensitivity, naturally you will be watching the float closely.
The floats I’ve focused on are ideal for most static deadbaiting situations on stillwaters. However, there will be times when static deadbaiting won’t work especially well and you will need a moving bait to attract the pike’s attention. One rig that I always have with me is the drifter float rig, which is useful for roaming bait around the swim whether it is a livebait or deadbait. In many instances livebaits work best, but deadbaits drifted in this way can be very effective too. You do, of course, need a wind and it must be in a favourable direction and strong enough to push the float along.
The drifter float looks quite complicated, but it isn’t. All the technical features it needs are built into its design and all you have to do is thread it to your line like any other sliding float, stopping it at the required depth with a rig stop and bead. The Fox Drifter float, accepted as the best on the market, has an extension arm attached to it, through which you thread your main line. This, in effect, if you look closely, makes it similar to a bottom-end fixing on the other floats we have looked at in this feature. It’s done this way to minimise tangles and thus prevent potential 'bite-offs’ and by bottom-only style fixing, it can be held back against a heavy wind and so permit a slow drift when required.
The trace is similar to any other deadbait trace and the only other real difference to a bottom-deadbait rig is that a heavier weight is used to keep the bait down better on the drift and another wire trace fixed above the main trace is used to minimise tangling during the drift. This feature is mainly for livebait fishing, but it is my universal drifter method, so that I can chop and change when necessary.
The uptrace needs to be about 10 inches longer than the main trace to be effective. The weight is normally around 35g and I use a Fox inline carp weight with the centre tube removed.
It sits at the bottom of the uptrace, and because the uptrace has a small size 10 swivel at the top, should the mainline break, a pike would not drag the weight around as it would soon slip over this swivel.
My main line is still Horizon 30lb braid, which floats well, an essential requirement for a drifter-rig main line. You could use a mono line but it would be ineffective to strike at long range due to its inherent stretchy characteristics and would also require constant greasing to make it float. For these reasons, braid is the choice of most anglers nowadays for drifter fishing.
Tackle For Drifting
Striking at long range used to call for a long and powerful rod when mono main lines were used, but when using braid, your normal 12ft pike rod will pick up the line very effectively. Even shorter (10ft) boat rods will pick up a braid line effectively when drifter fishing. This means that you can chop and change from static deadbaiting to drifter fishing during a session using the same rods. Fox have dropped drifter rods from their range for this very reason.
The uptrace is made from 40lb Carboflex wire and it’s simple to make with a size 10 swivel at the top and at the bottom, a size 7 Kwik Change Trace Link for connecting to the main hook trace and a buffer bead for the weight. The float can only slide down as far as the top of the uptrace. This is a bonus advantage because, in this position, it cannot tangle with the baited trace when casting.
With a favourable wind, the float can cover huge expanses of water. Start with a depth setting that you will have to guess is around mid water. Gradually add a little extra depth on each consecutive drift until; you have gone as far as you can and start catching weed or the bottom.
Today I am out on a stillwater gravel pit complex at Tallington in South Lincolnshire, which is typical of many stillwaters up and down the country. My starting point is normally a deadbait of about six to seven inches long mounted on two size 6 trebles. In cold weather, like it is at the moment, I like to use barbed hooks, as the pike are often just nipping onto the baits and are generally hooked quite lightly. The barbed hook gives me more confidence when playing them. In milder conditions, pike will swallow baits much more rapidly and in this instance, a semi-barbed treble offers a better chance of removing a more deeply seated hook should this happen. This is another reason why I like a float set-up, because early striking can prevent this.
Baits are fished on the bottom or popped-up if the bottom weed is dense. The swim I have chosen is quite weedy and I have used a Fox Pop-Up link and a balsa Floater Stick to achieve this. I’ll cover the details of popped-up baits in the coming months.
Well that should offer enough information for you to tackle your local stillwater with deadbaits and float rigs. Don’t worry about hooking baits in the conventional way, with the head hanging down. The pike never seem to mind, to them a fish is a fish and they are rarely fussy.
There are other specialised rigs, but I wouldn’t consider using them until I was fully conversant with the basic set-ups that I’ve detailed. Pike fishing with baits continues through the spring in most areas until the water becomes too warm. There’s plenty of time to catch a few more pike before putting the bait rods away till next winter. Good luck, but if you follow my advice, you won’t need it!
Oh! I almost forgot. The weather as you will be well aware, has been cold to the extreme and the fishing has been hard, even for pike, as the water temperature has been so low. However, while on this feature, I did manage one small fish on the Pencil Float rig during the afternoon and decent double as the light faded.