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Float Fishing from a Boat

It’s likely that numerous sea anglers will have tried coarse fishing at some time or other indeed, many would have started float fishing in our local pond or river as kids. As we get older, large numbers of us often deviate to more technical and complicated fishing methods, discarding those basic skills learnt all those years ago. It’s such a shame because, with an open mind, there is certainly a place for this method on the sea and some innovative charter skippers have mastered fishing for bass by float fishing livebaits.


The method is straightforward: the fl oats are mounted on the main line, sliding up the line to a stop knot, which is set at the desired depth. Beneath the float is a weight, bead and swivel, followed by the hooklength and bait. This tackle is then lobbed away from the boat and allowed to drift towards the fish. That’s it, in simple terms, but we need to go into in a little more detail to get the best from it.


For this type of fishing I like to use a medium-sized fixed-spool reel loaded with 10lb mono mainline, which is ideal for small leads. Add this reel to a 9ft or 10ft spinning rod because this has larger eyes that allow the bulky stop knot to pull through easily, without catching.

In the following order, slide a small bead, fl oat, weight, another bead and then the small swivel or link onto the main line. If this rig is dropped into the water then the weight will sink to the bottom and the fl oat will slide all the way up the line without cocking, so a sliding stop knot is tied onto the main line to cock the fl oat and set the weight at the correct depth. There is a plethora of variations when it comes to stop knots, along with the materials with which to tie them, but, for me, the simple approach works best. Just wrap a slim elastic band around the main line where you want the knot, then tie a knot with the elastic band so that it bites into itself. This can be slid up and down to where you want it on your main line – but be sure to wet the band first to help it slide. So there you have the float all set; simply add a baited hooklength to the swivel and you’re ready to go – a great method that really works!

At Anchor

Float fishing at anchor can work really well, but it’s only really effective if you’re fishing at the back of the boat (the stern). If you’re fishing at the side of a charter boat then you will likely soon upset the others as your float passes their lines, comes round behind the boat and tangles up with theirs!


To make this method even more effective, a rubby dubby bag can be used. This is an onion sack containing mashed bait, fish oil and rice. Tied to the side of the boat and lowered down; it can be set at the same depth as your float just by adding some large stones into the bag. The rubby dubby leaks a scent trail and small morsels downtide, which attract the fish, particularly mackerel, garfish and bream!


In shallow water (less than 40 feet) this is one of my favourite methods for targeting bream. The depth is set by clipping a much larger weight to the swivel and then lowering it down at the side of the boat. You will feel the weight hit the bottom, which will give you a rough idea of where to tie your elastic band on the main line. If the ground isn’t too snaggy then I like the bait to be only just touching the bottom. If it is snaggy, then raise it up so that it just clears the rocks as it travels along. The bream find this really hard to resist as bait drifts by on the tide, and it’s especially good if the rubby dubby has set up a scent trail.


We need to change the approach a little when drifting. Here the wind will affect where the float goes. I like to use the wind by allowing it to carry the fl oat away from the boat. This can be a great method over slack tide, because a little breeze will add movement and life to the bait, which, very often, will make the difference. However, once again, if you are on a charter boat and the wind is blowing onto your side of the boat then it will create problems for you.

Float Selection

Although a sea fl oat is pretty basic compared to the myriad floats that coarse anglers use, we must still consider a few important factors about float choice. For example, the colour makes a difference – you will find that bright-yellow fl oats can be hard to see on a sunny day, but are much more visible when it’s grey and gloomy. Just experiment with a few colours to find out which you can see the easiest. The size of the fl oat needs to match the weight and bait used correctly. I have come to realise that small fish such as bream and garfish can definitely feel the heavy float and weight, which will put them off. Consequently, I like to use a long, slim fl oat; this offers far less resistance and feeling to the fish. However, livebaits will necessitate using a much larger, bulky, rounder fl oat to support the bait at the chosen depth. This is not such a concern to fish that go for livebait because the attack will be aggressive and the float won’t put them off – in fact, it will help to set the hook!

Weight Choice

The general principle is that too much weight will sink the float and too little won’t cock it (the fl oat will just lie flat on the surface). We can use this knowledge to our advantage. If it’s a windy day, for instance, we may want to use the wind to carry the float away from the boat. To do that we simply don’t add enough weight so that the float won’t cock and lies flat, which offers a greater target area for the wind to push against. Conversely, by adding more weight so that we can only see the tip, the wind pushes the fl oat less, but the tide will push more! The correct shape to use is a barrel or ball weight with a hole through the middle. These not only offer less resistence to the fish as the line slides through when a fish bites, but they are also much less prone to tangling and cast much easier.

Fun Options!

Here are a few other situations when it can be really effective, as well as great fun, to use a float. You can target tope with floated livebaits; fish for plaice and flounders with spoons and beads on sandbanks; target bass with live sandeels or even fish near a wreck; and use a float over slack tide to drift a ragworm for pollack.

There are so many occasions adaptable to fl oat fishing – it’s truly superb sport because we get to use really light tackle, and sometimes even for really big fish!

So next time you’re out and the weather is suitable, why don’t you give it a try – you’ll be very impressed!