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By Jeff Vaughan

Canadian Carp ClubI have had quite a few people asking me about float fishing for carp ( as opposed to FLOATER fishing which will be a separate heading) It is difficult keeping these posts short as each and every one of them could be, and have been subjects for entire books. Float fishing is no exception.

Using the float for carp is one of the most sensitive and exciting forms of carp fishing and a big personal love of mine. I actually gave up “proper” carp fishing in the mid 80`s until the Canadian carp lured me back behind the buzzers again in the late 90`s. Between times 99% of my carp fishing was with the float.

In England we have all types of crazy adaptations of the standard float rig, like Splashers, Bagging Wagglers etc. These basically work on the fact that carp become used to the “splash” of bait hitting the water and come to the sound and can be “fed into a frenzy” I have never tried these in Canada and feel they would probably not work well as the fish are too wild and easily spooked rather than attracted by splashes.

So I am going back to basics, There are only three floats you need to own in Canada ( although you may want several sizes in each) The Waggler, a heavy stick or Avon and something for a float leger rig i.e. a bodied waggler or a Polaris type float. I will explain the secrets of using these as they all have their place.

THE WAGGLER: Probably the greatest of all carp floats. The waggler is basically a straight stick of reed, plastic or peacock quill with a painted tip at one end and a ring at the other. Wagglers are fished by attaching “bottom only” either with the line through the bottom ring or if you want to be able to change the float size or colour more easily with a piece of silicon rubber at the bottom end only. If using the ring the float is locked in place with split shot either side of the hole. You can also have “bodied” wagglers which have additional balsa wood or plastic bodies at the bottom. These are designed to carry more weight for longer range casting and to be more stable in high winds. The secret of using the waggler is to sink the line properly. Almost always the carp want the bait still on the bottom; if your line is not sunk properly any tiny amount of wind will cause a big bow in the line and start dragging the bait along the bottom. This slows down bites and also makes hooking fish more difficult as the bow in the line stops you striking directly into the fish. To sink the line the float must be cast at least 10 to 20 feet beyond where you plan to fish, the rod tip put under the water and the float wound back into position. You will see the line on the surface between your float and rod, keep winding until the surface line from the float and the rod meets, and it is fully submerged. A short sharp twitch of the rod tip also helps

sink the line, as this helps break the surface tension. I would say sinking the line properly is the most important part of waggler fishing so take the time to master it. The heavier the line the harder it is to sink. The heavier the float the easier it is to sink and many people make the mistake of selecting floats that are too light for the job. A 9 inch waggler properly shotted is just as sensitive as a 4 inch waggler and a bloody sight easier to use. When using the waggler you almost always need to sink the line, the only exception being when you are stalking carp close in and are effectively lowering baits down on top of them. In this case only, if the wind is light or directly behind you it is sometimes better to fish with the float fixed top and bottom and the line floating. I personally almost never do this LEARN TO SINK THE LINE. A Good tip to help you is good old washing up liquid. If you put this on your line it will make it sink very easily. You can put this directly on the spool and let it soak in. Or what I do is have an absorbent cloth taped to my front rod rest, I can then wind the line over this cloth containing the washing up liquid and cover the line easily. I of course do not coat the “business” end below the float

The second most important part of waggler fishing is the shotting patterns. The position and size of the lead shot on the line (I know we do not use lead in the UK anymore) It takes years of experience to know when and why to change shotting patterns to get the best results. These changes determine how the bait sits on the bottom, how it moves through the water and how the float reacts to a fish. There are however some basic rules to help you.

1; The more weight you put close to (or inside) the float the easier it will cast. For this reason many carp floats are “loaded” i.e. have some weights built into the base of the float

2; The lighter the wind, the less weight you need on the bottom to hold the bait still.

3; The more shot you “spread out” on the line, the more tangles you will get and the harder it is to untangle them.

4; It almost ALWAYS pays to have the heaviest weight closest to the float and progressively smaller weights as you move towards the hook. This means when casting, the hook end will be “pulled” in a straight line and land tangle free in the water.

5; If you want the bait to fall slowly through the water spread your shot out. If you do not need to fish “on the drop” bulk your shot together to avoid tangles.

6; The shallower the water the less weight you need down by the hook.

So arriving at your chosen area, as always you must decide exactly where you want to fish. The distance you need to fish plus the wind strength and direction determines the size of float you need. As I said don’t make the mistake of going too light!!

Next you need to decide the depth you will fish at. Normally the simple answer will be “on the bottom” but how much on the bottom depends a lot on the wind and any undertow (currents at the bottom of the lake/river bed caused by wind action creating a form of current under the surface) Normally 6 to 9 inches of line on the bottom is best. If the wind or undertow is strong you may need more. In order to find the depth of the swim you need to use a plummet. This is a lead weight of say ¾ oz which goes onto your hook end. This weight will obviously pull under the float so by sliding the float up and down you can find the exact depth very accurately and quickly. After finding the depth, I generally measure with the hook in the butt of the rod and mark with some tape to the top of the float so I know the depth if I get broken up, or if I fish “up in the water” but want to return to the bottom.

Also at the “plumbing the depth “stage it is a good time to “plumb around” and find any ledges or holes in your swim. Carp love these.

The next decision is how do you want to fish? This is about shotting. In England we learn our shotting tables faster than our maths tables we all know that 2 x No4`s = 1 No1. 2 x No.1 = a BB ….2 swans = a SSG etc etc etc. For these purposes I will talk about large shot, medium shot and small shot, and assume that 2 small = one medium and 2x med = a large. Let us also assume the Float needs 3 x large shot to load it correctly.

If the swim is fairly shallow (below 9 feet) and the wind not bad you can normally fish fairly light at the bottom. In this case you would “lock” the float with 2 of the large shot one either side of the hole, and split the remaining weights needed into one medium shot around 12 inches from the hook and the two small shot, one 4 inches up from the hook and the other 4 inches above that. This is a fairly traditional “rig” the heavy weight at the float gives good casting ability, the medium shot at the bottom helps straighten the line on the case and holds the line vertical in the water. The two small shot on the bottom, help hold the bait still and will give you advance warning when the fish is mouthing the bait. As the fish sucks in the bait it will move the small shot and cause the float to lift or bob a little. With highly pressurized fish this is sometimes all you get, but in Canada, it is just giving you a little warning before the float disappears and your rod starts moving with it

If it was windier, you would use the same two locking shot, but move the float up 6 inches so more line is on the bottom, and fish two medium shot on the bottom to hold the bait still. In this case after you have sunk the line you should position the rod so the tip is slightly under the water. You can then tighten down very slowly until the float dips down into position. In very windy conditions you can “overshot” the float. This means you put say 3 or 4 medium shot on the bottom. As these are sitting on the bottom they will not pull the float under. (in practice, you will need to ensure the line is fully sunk, when over shotting, otherwise the wind on the line WILL pull the float under)

If you wanted to fish a more natural slowly sinking bait, you would use the 2 locking shot with 4 small shot evenly spread between the float and hook. There are also times when you may want to fish with no weights between the float and hook, but I find the “strung out” small shot give you much better control and bite indication. In more than 3 feet of water I would never use zero shot, as the fish can take the bait without you getting any indication until it is too late. THE STICK OR AVON; these floats have a body at the top of the stick and are made to be fished “top and bottom” with a floating line. Most of the US and Canadian floats or bobbers I see are made this way. THE ONLY time I find it advantageous to fish with floating lines and therefore floats fixed top and bottom is in flowing water. By fishing the floats top and bottom and holding the rod high you can feed line from the reel either at the same speed as the water or slightly slower (called holding back) When doing this you keep “mending the line” as you would do when fly fishing to keep the line between the float and the rod tip as straight as possible. This style of fishing is called trotting in the UK.

When trotting, it usually pays to use a number of smaller shot rather than few larger ones. To use the same example as above If I had a stick or avon taking 3 large shot, I would break this down onto 4 medium and 4 small shot. I would then space these roughly equally between the float and the hook, the heaviest towards the float the lighter towards the hook. What this does is to hold the line roughly straight in the water. If you “bulk” the shot together you will get a bow in the line under the water. The only time you need to bulk the shot is if you are using small baits and picking up nuisance fish near the surface. The bulk shot will take the bait down fast and keep it there.

As with all float fishing the depth you set the float is all important. Carp will come “up off the bottom” but it normally pays to start off on the bottom. They come up when you are continually feeding and they start competing, i.e. they move “up in the water” to get the food before their mates. It is not always possible to trot along the bottom, If the river bed is very “snaggy” you will keep getting false bites or loosing hooks. So get as close to the bottom as you can. If the bottom is clear fish 6 inches over depth and drag the bait along the river bed. If it is snaggy get as close to the bottom as you are able. Whatever depth you fish, try first trotting through at the same speed as the flow, and then start to “hold back.” Holding back is nothing to do with pleasing your wife and is far easier. Simply slow the rate of the line leaving the reel so the float moves slower than the flow. This will cause the line beneath to overtake the float, and the bait will start to float up a little off the bottom. Trial and error will soon teach you to alternate the rates at which you let the float move and to find what the fish want..

Now comes my favourite for Canadian carp. THE FLOAT LEDGER There are times when a conventional waggler is useless. The deeper the water the harder it is to fish a waggler for two reasons. Firstly, as you want the bait on the bottom the longer the fixed distance between the float and the hook the harder it is to cast (you can’t set the float at 20 feet with a 12 foot rod) You will find with say, a normal 12ft float rod once you get beyond 10 feet deep it becomes very difficult to cast. Also the deeper the water the harder it is to get a nice straight line between the float and the hook, wind action and undertow will keep trying to move your bait around. Carp like it fixed on the bottom most of the time. (in England this is different, but that is another story)

Next comes the wind problem. For float fishing the wind coming from behind you is very easy to deal with, for catching carp the wind blowing in your face is best. The harder the wind is blowing the more the carp like it and the harder it is to fish a float. With a Sliding Waggler I can fish into the teeth of a force 10 in 30 feet of water!!!!!!

Basically a sliding Waggler is a large bodied waggler that you fish heavily “over shotted” and “over depth” so the there is no weight near the float and all of it is hard on the bottom. The float itself is not fixed to the line as normal but free to slide up until it hits some kind of “stop” this can either be a stop knot or a rubber stop ( we have these in the shop). The basic idea is that the “stop “ is big enough not to go through the ring on the float bit small enough to go through the rod rings on the rod for easy casting. The weight on the bottom depends upon the conditions, but for Canadian carp I do not mess around. I use ¾ or 1 oz leads. Personally I fish these normal carp style with a little twist.

I tie my hook to a swivel using a 6 to 9 inch hook length. I have the lead running on the main line with a bead between the lead and the swivel and a “stopper” around 12 inches back from the lead. This gives the carp some freedom to mouth the bait a little but once it takes it there is only 12innches of slack before it hits the lead and the hook hopefully has pricked it, so is a semi bolt rig

Using the “slider” takes a bit of practice but as all things in fishing there is a gadget to make it easy. The “Polaris” floats. Being a lazy sod, I use these all the time. These are a very clever invention with a widget at the bottom. The line passes through it in such a way that the float will set itself at the correct depth AFTER hitting the water. They are very easy to use once you learn how the work. There are two rules to use them. One is to use a fairly heavy weight (as above ¾ to 1 oz) and with these you MUST cast where you want to fish. If you over cast and pull back as with a conventional waggler you will have problems. Sinking the line is not an issue because with the heavy weight the line will sink easily.

The principle with both types of slider is the same. With the conventional slider you need to work out the depth by plumbing and set the stops at around 2 feet over depth. The Polaris will do this for you. You set the rod rests so the tip of the rod is just under the water. Cast into position put the rod tip under the water and wind slowly. Both types of float will be lying flat on top of the water. As you wind down the float will cock and the line will sink as it straightens against the lead weight. You are now “float Ledgering” Kind of like your normal carp fishing but as the float as an indicator. This method is more sensitive than normal carp fishing and many more “knocks” will develop into bites you can hit.


The fun of float fishing is in both the visual side of watching a float disappear and the fact that you normally fish lighter tackle in the float so it is a great challenge and great fun. The advantage of it is the sensitivity it gives you and the way you can present the bait to the carp. All things being equal ( unless the fish are beyond comfortable float range) it is far easier to fool a carp into taking a bait with a properly balanced and presented float set up, but PROPERLY is the key here. Once hooked it is normally many times harder to land the fish on conventional float tackle as it is far lighter. To qualify this point, of course if you are stalking fish in fairly shallow water at close range you can use a float with your standard 12 ft 3 lb T/C rods and 65 lb braid, it is still a very sensitive and great rig and once hooked is the same as normal. But I would call this Stalking with a float rather than float fishing for carp. As you are effectively lowering baits to fish you can see and using the float to keep the line out of the way and as a bite indicator only.

Let me do the easy bits first. Line and reels. Those who know me know I am a braid fanatic. But braid is not great for float fishing. It is difficult to sink and in the lower breaking strains too thin for the Polaris floats to work well. So nylon is the rule when float fishing. The heavier the nylon the harder it is to cast and to sink. But the lighter it is the more chance you have of loosing the fish. Between 10 lb and 15 lb is the best (I use 12 lb most of the time).

I may surprise you with my comments on reels; certainly what I use in the UK is NOT what I use in Canada. Apart from Trotting when the rod is in your hand I still use Bait runners and still set the bait runner when I float fish. Too many times I have seen a small lift on the float and even though I am sitting over the top of my rod, before I can even get ready the rod is following the float to America. So now I fish with small to medium size bait runners. I set the free spool after casting, when the float goes under I wait for the line to start coming off of the reel before winding down and striking UNLESS of course the fish is coming towards me , and you will quickly learn to recognise this.

The big debate comes with the rods. As I started off by saying float fishing for carp is my favourite method. I am also a tackle tart and have probably 6 carp float rods in England. I brought out my favourite to Canada which is a 13 ft 1. 5 lb T/C SAP power float. After the first year I upped this to a 1.75 12 ft SAP power float and this year I am bringing a 12 ft 2.75 T/C barbel road over. It depends what you are looking for. I have found the conventional carp power float rods fantastic fun to fish up to 25 lb, after that it is difficult to control the fish, and I have had several very big fish that I believe did not really know they were hooked, they just kept swimming.

You need 12 or 13 feet to cast light floats any distance, plus of course to cope with the distance between float and hook if more than say 6 -8 feet. ( you will fins that a 12 feet rod will cast up to 10 feet of depth comfortably, you can cast deeper set ups but you will struggle) The rod must be light enough to get some “compression” in the cast otherwise the float will not go very far. The blank must be thin enough to “cut the air” when casting light weights. All of the above equates to a long, light and not very powerful rod. That deals with the presentation side of it, but what about playing a plus 30 lb Canadian powerhouse…………..That’s why I love float fishing !!!

Hooks and baits are largely the same as regular carp fishing, but scaled down a little. Most often you will see me fishing a standard hair rig but on a size 6 or 8 with a cut down boilie or plastic corn. These baits are great for the normal style of float fishing, whereby you have chosen your swim, put out your float in the chosen area and then started to feed around your float to bring in the fish. I.e. very much the same tactics as your normal carp fishing.

There is another very exciting form of float fishing if circumstances allow. If you have access to carp waters that have reasonable depths close into the bank, especially good depths with ledges, over hanging bushes or structures cutting down on light, or weed beds with holes you can get a bait into. Try a form of stalking with a float. Walk the banks looking for the features close in you feel are carpy. Each time you find one put in some free bait. The best free bait to use is sweet corn, directly out of the tin. Feed 3, 4 or even more of these carpy spots, leave them for 30 minutes to an hour and then approach them very quietly with your float rig. Such soft baits as sweet corn, bread and worms are fantastic for carp, but the downside is they do not stay on the hook well. As you are not casting any distance, but gently “flicking” the bait into position this is not a problem.

If the water is clear, with good Polaroid’s you can often see the fish you are targeting. If the bottom is muddy they will often give themselves away by bubbles coming up (fizzing) or by clouds of mud coming up (mudding.) When you see such signs the float is the very best way to fool the fish, and as I said earlier if the fish are close in you can use your conventional carp rods.

When fishing this way I will tend to fish each spot for only 30 minutes or so (unless there are obvious signs like fizzing or mudding) if no joy I will put in another two handfuls of sweet corn and move on to the next one. If I catch a fish from a spot, I will again put in two handfuls move onto the next spot, but come back after 20 minutes or so when it has settled down.

Remember, fish will often hold in an area without showing signs, particularly if the bottom is very hard or rocky, just because there are no signs does not mean there are no fish. But watching a patch of bubbles moving towards your float is one of the most heart stopping moments in fishing. You know there are feeding carp down there, you know one is going to take your bait, is it a 20 or a 50 that is the question ????

Here are some great articles to get you started!

Casting   |   Feeding   |   Fish Location   |   Fishing the Method

Fishing With Corn   |   Flavouring Baits   |   Float Fishing for Carp

Float News   |   Getting an Edge   |   Hook Baits

Quiver Tipping for Carp   |   Spodding   |   Marker Floats and Feature Finding