A Guide to Fishing Floats

What is a fishing float?
I think everyone knows what a fishing float is but just in case I’m wrong a very basic description is; a fishing float is attached to the fishing line and used as a visual indicator. When the float moves about or goes under the water this tells the angler the fish is ‘interested’ in the baited hook.

There are many different types of floats available for different fishing situations. Waggler floats for stillwater fishing, stick floats for river / running water fishing, leger floats, loafers, bubble floats, pole floats, sliders etc. The price of a float, depending on the type, is generally around 50p to a couple of quid.


Most floats have a weight marking on them and this is a guide to what weight the float will carry (what shot it needs to cock the float). I have yet to come across a float that has the exact correct weight marking printed on it so use this as a general guide.

Whenever you are float fishing you should always try to fish as light as you can.

Fishing light means using a float that needs the least amount of shot but don’t fish too light if conditions, such as the weather, make it awkward and difficult to cast or control your float. In this situation it is better to have a heavier, properly shot float.

The Waggler

The waggler is one of the most used fishing floats anglers use. This float is mainly used for stillwater fishing but can also be used for fishing running waters.

About the Waggler
The waggler can be either, ‘straight’ or ‘bodied’.

The straight waggler is tube like and usually made from clear plastic (sometimes called a crystal waggler).

 The bodied waggler is similar to the straight waggler with a bulbous body that aids its stability in windy conditions.

Waggler Float

 Waggler Float Shotting Patterns

Remember: Fishing is always trial and error. This applies also to shotting a float.

General Shotting

The waggler is attached to the line through the eye at the bottom of the float and split shot is used to lock it in place. Shotting patterns can differ but for general fishing with wagglers the rule is 80% of the weight around the float and the rest placed from 2 thirds of the way down the line towards the hook. see diagram below.

Bulk Shotting.

On some occasions you may be fishing close in and the bigger fish are on the bottom but you are being pestered with small fish taking your bait on or near the top of the water.  In this situation I bulk the shot nearer the bottom of the line with a tell tale dropper near the hook – second image in diagram. Bulk shotting enables the bait to drop through the water faster and hopefully gets your bait past the small fish at the top. Casting is done with a gentle under arm motion.

Shirt Button Style

If fish are taking the bait on the drop then another shotting pattern to try is the ‘shirt button’ style.

In the shirt button style the shot is spread evenly down the line from the float to the hook (with a smaller dropper shot near the hook)

The Stick Float    used for river fishing or flowing waters.

 About the Stick Float

Stick floats generally have a tapered body and are attached to the line using float rubbers which makes it easy to adjust the float position on the line.

The stick float is fished in a down stream direction. The current at the top of the water will be faster than that nearer the river bed so after casting, hold the float back a second or two to let the line and hook fall through the water ahead of the float. To keep the hook in front of the float, depending on the speed of the current, hold the float back every now and then. You can also fish at the same speed as the flowing water. This is called TROTTING. The rig for trotting must be set up with the bulk of the shot around a foot from the hook and the hook just trailing the bottom. Use a largish float such as a loafer for trotting. Let the rig flow with the current and if it starts to go under in a certain are, before shortening your set up try holding it back a second or two. The baited hook should rise up and continue to run through the water.

 Stick Float

Stick Float Shotting Patterns

Generally stick floats are made up of a tip, body and stem and these can be made from different materials. Stick floats rarely have an eye for attaching it to the line and two float rubbers are used to hold the float in place One float rubber is placed at the top of the float and one at the bottom but I recommend using three with one in the middle (if one breaks this third can be used in its place, saving the hassle of having to slide another rubber over the hook and shot, up the line to the float).  Shotting patterns vary a great deal depending upon the water conditions in which you are fishing.

General setup

The general setup for shotting a stick float is to space it equally down the line with the heaviest shot nearer the float and progressively smaller shot going down the line to the hook. With this style, when casting, the line will fall through the water more naturally in a smooth arc with the bait drifting in front of the float.

Shirt Button Style

If fish are feeding in the upper layers of water and taking the bait on the drop, the ‘shirt button’ style is a good tactic. Described above under the Waggler, the shot is spaced out on the line evenly between float and hook. This shotting style is only really for slow moving waters and allows the bait to fall slowly through the water and is ideal for catching fish feeding in the top layers of water.

Bulk Shotting.

Bulk shotting is placing most of the shot lower down the line nearer to the hook. see diagram. This pattern of shotting is mainly used on faster running waters. If using the general style or shirt button style of shotting on a fast moving water the current could keep the line and bait up in the water. Bulk shotting your float will help get round this and get the bait down to the bottom. The faster the water the nearer to your hook you will have to place the shot.

Pole Floats

As with all types of fishing floats the pole float comes in different shapes and sizes. Here is a description of three regularly used.

Shotting patterns for pole floats are the same as for wagglers and stick floats with the exception that an ollivete is sometimes used in place off bulked shot.

Please bear in mind that shotting examples mentioned are not set in stone! As with all types of float fishing, it is trial and error on what is the best way at the time of fishing for shotting your float. This will depend on where and how you are fishing and if you are getting bites or not. Despite what the textbooks say, never be afraid to try something different.

Pole Floats

Starting with the dibber, this is the smallest of pole floats and is ideal when used fishing a bait in shallow waters. They are also a good choice for fishing the margins or tight up against a reed bed, island or the far bank of a canal.
Although a small float, the dibber is buoyant enough to let you fish big baits off the bottom. Another advantage is, the big tip of the dibber makes it a lot easier to see than a fine-tipped float. Shotting a dibber is similar to a waggler and depends on if you are fishing up in the water, on the drop or on the bottom. See previous chapters and images on shotting a float.

Dibber Float

Body up
This is probably one of the most used pole floats of all. A very buoyant float that can be used with all baits and is an ideal float for using on running waters. Generally the shotting is an olivette or bulked shot two thirds of the way from float to hook.

Body up Float

Pear shaped
The two floats shown on the left in the diagram are similar in shape with the difference being one is a thicker version and used on commercial fisheries and can carry a heavier bait.

The shotting for this is bulked two thirds of the way down the line from float to hook. see bulk shotting diagram above. The thinner pear shaped can also be bulked shot or shirt button style. When shot correctly the thinner version can be quite a sensitive float, especially ideal for fishing canals for roach and skimmer bream using maggots, casters, punched bread etc for hook baits

Pellet Waggler

Another popular float is the Pellet Waggler

Pellet Waggler