Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Whatever Floats Your Float...and Why Your Scales Always Lie.

I wasn't sure today, whether to write about the increasingly ridiculous new "record" 70 pound carp situation or about float fishing. Both offer the opportunity to indulge in a bit of prolixity, but although dealing with the carp might have been fun, I'll leave that to others for the moment, and instead I'll add a sunrise photo I took last week just as I reached the lake.   The photo has absolutely no relevance to the blog content that follows, but I rather like it, and it is straight as it came out of the camera, not tweaked in any way. I just stopped, enthralled,  and watched the scene develop and fade.

Regular readers may remember that I once, as a teenager, took Billy Lane, world match angling champion to task, about a statement he had made about floats in "Fishing" magazine.  The only significant advance he could envisage in float design would be a float the size of a matchstick that could carry two or three swan shot. I forget his exact words but that was the gist of it  More recently another angler I have a lot of respect for was fishing in a match, using a sliding float in about twenty five feet of water. I was watching him fish, picking up tips, and he was using a large sliding float, one carrying 3 or 4 SSG shot set some distance from the bait, in order to make casting easy. The float had a long thin antenna at the top, and he said that the single number 8 shot, placed near to the hook would provide a tell-tale and the float would rise several inches when the fish lifted the tell tale.  Which was indeed completely true....BUT... well,  I'll deal with that "BUT" later.    I invoked good old Archimedes when rebuffing the Billy Lane statement.  Billy was a truly great match angler but certainly no scientist.   Archimedes's principle has much to impact on float design and their use, and it will feature in what follows.  Now there will, of course, be some of you who will say "Screw Archimedes, I have been float fishing for years."  And so you have.  What follows is not mandatory reading, but I hope some of it  may make you think, or actually be of use.   However if you are reading this in the bath I ask you to stop now.  I will not be held responsible should you be caught running damp and naked down the street, a laptop in one hand, a slippery bar of soap in the other, shrieking "Eureka" at all and sundry.     

I'll try not to get TOO technical, but will, as I have said, invoke Archimedian principles, together with a bit of Newton, in order to try and explain how floats really work.  There should be nothing that should overtax anyone who has studied GCSE science or physics, regardless of whether they passed or failed the subject. But I will be going into some detail.   I shall try to be precise about word usage, but may occasionally slip up, at times intentionally.

Why Your Scales Always Lie

The words mass and weight are easily confused, but the difference between them is important. Consider a carp with a mass of exactly 20 pounds.  Your scales will record a weight of 20 pounds...or will they?  No!   They will actually record a weight of fractionally less than 20 pounds.  Things can float in air. Balloons can float and actually rise up in air.  This is because the air is pushing them upwards.  Balloons filled with helium are lighter than air, and so the air can push them skywards. If you made a balloon the same size and shape as your carp, then the air would push up on your carp with the same force as on your carp shaped balloon.   So the air is pushing upwards on that carp, causing the scales to record a weight ever so slightly less than that 20 pounds.    If whilst dangling that carp from your scales, you were to lower the carp into the lake, then the scales will record a smaller weight, a weight that will become zero once the carp is fully submerged.  The carp still has a mass of twenty pounds, but its weight has been precisely balanced by the force with which water is pushing upwards on the carp.      Does it therefore weigh zero?  No. It still weighs 20 pounds, because weight is defined as the force acting on the carp due to gravity.  Gravity is pulling down on that carp, with a force of twenty pounds, if its mass is twenty pounds.  Your scales are recorded the force of gravity on the carp, minus the force pushing upwards due to whatever the carp is submerged in...be it submerged in water...or in air.

The weight recorded by your scales can never be completely accurate, unless you are weighing the carp in a vacuum, which will be rather less healthy for the carp than your  average pond.   But there is an upside:   In air the weight recorded will always be a teensy bit too low.   So if you catch that special fish and the scales show  49 pounds 15 ounces and 15 drams, then it probably actually tops 50.   To get an accurate value, you really need to account for the force exerted by the air on your fish, and add that on.  You can calculate this extra amount quite easily, but I am not going to tell you how.  Work it out for yourself the next time you catch a carp of 49-15-15.

I do not intend to make much comment about river fishing, the odd line or two, but most of this analysis is directed at stillwater fishing with a float.  Such can be conveniently divided into four distinct categories:
1) Surface fishing
2) Midwater fishing
3) Bottom fishing
4) Fishing on the drop.

In surface fishing, although the float may be used to spot the bites, its main use is as a weight to aid casting, in order to achieve the distance and improve accuracy.  There is little more I would wish to add, save that a float made of very light materials might be appropriate, because it will tend to land quite gently on the surface with far less of a splash than a much heavier one.

Like wise I will not mumble much about 'on the drop' fishing or midwater techniques.   

No: instead I intend to concentrate on bottom fishing, although some of what is said may well apply to others of the four categories listed above.   Further, to enable me to discuss in the most detail, I choose to concentrate on the lift method, a method that is probably the hardest to set up and use properly. I have seen it written that Fred J Taylor was the person who first described lift method fishing. I cannot verify that, but have no reason to doubt it, Fred was, after all, a damned good angler.  But even before his time anglers would have seen lifted or flat float bites at times.   What Fred did was to intentionally set up a rig designed to produce such bites more often.    


Why did I spout all that garbage about scales that lie?  Well, it all comes down to buoyancy.  What is a float?   Merely a device to provide some buoyancy in water.  Floats have weight, drop one and it falls to the ground. Drop one in water and it rises to the surface, because it has buoyancy.  The reason it rises is because the water is pushing the float upwards with a force greater than the weight of the float.   Water pushes upwards onto anything  placed into it, even onto objects that sink, like say the Titanic.  And the force that pushes upwards can be easily calculated.   If an object occupies 10 cubic centimetres and is fully submerged, then there will be a force exerted by the water which is equal to the weight of 10 ccs of water.   Water, rather conveniently weighs one gram per cc.  ( or millilitre).  So the upward force would be 10 grams.   Incidentally, you probably know that one cubic centimeter is the same volume as one millilitre.  The only difference is that millilitres are  suitable to measuring the volumes of liquids, whereas ccs are more useful for solids.

Why did the Titanic sink?  It sank because the weight of the ship and its contents overcame the ships buoyancy.  Its mass increased as water replaced the air inside it, and eventually the sea was not able to push the ship up with sufficient force to keep it afloat. Even though, as it sank deeper, the sea tried its level best to keep pushing up with more and more force.  So it sank.  Nothing to do with icebergs at all.

So lets say that your float has a volume of 10ccs  but weighs 5 grams.   It will float, because it weighs less than 10 grams, i.e. less than the weight of 10 ccs of water.  But also when floating, it is stationary, neither rising nor falling. So the forces on it must cancel out. The water therefore must be giving an upthrust of 5 grams.  And the float will be half submerged. The float therefore has 5 grams of unused "spare buoyancy". So it will carry 5 grams of lead shot, which will sink it to its tip. ( It will actually be able to carry very slightly more, because the water will also be exerting a small upward force on the lead shot you have added.  This effect is small, and the volume of the shot and the upthrust on it can, and will be, largely ignored in what follows. The weight of the shot is what is important.)

What can we do with buoyancy, how can we use it to our advantage?
We can move it, we can reposition the main source of buoyancy within the float.   We can have a float with most of its volume at the top end.    We could have the most buoyant part in the middle of the float, or low down.  I cannot think of a good reason to have most of the buoyancy in the middle of a float.

We can also vary its magnitude and have floats with more  buoyancy, or with less. This can be achieved by simply changing the size of the float. Changing the materials of which the float is made does not affect its buoyancy, but does alter how much shot it can carry.  The heavier the materials used, the less shot a float of a specific size and shape will be able to carry.  Simples.

The Lift Method

So what is the lift method? and when might it be best used? Its primary use is to detect bites that might otherwise not be seen with a more conventional float set up. Shy bites.    But it can also be used just for fun, for there is no doubt that to see a float lift two or three inches, or to lay completely flat is quite dramatic. Fishing for early season tench, where bites are usually very positive is perhaps better suited to a laying on approach.

I looked up a couple of articles, to see how others described the lift method, and was surprised to see wide variations in the descriptions given, with some descriptions being plain wrong, and others restricted, or far from complete. One wrote about there needing to be two SSGs, and a swivel with three to twelve inches of hooklength.  Twelve inches between the hook and shot is an excellent way of avoiding lift bites!  An Angling Times article said it was essential to shot the float down to within a midge's of disappearing completely.  I shall comment on that later.  Elsewhere it is claimed to be a method for the margins alone.  Once again: wrong!

Whilst all of these methods can give rise to lift bites, none are an accurate description of how I would define the lift method, and how it used to appear in articles many years ago. the simplest implementation is probably a single SSG set a couple of inches from the hook, below a length of peacock quill with the depth set very accurately. I have caught early season tench like this, a short float usually laying flat when the bites came.  Fish over depth and you are laying on, and with lift method there is no need to use large shot, and no need for ALL the shot to be down near the hook. Using more shot higher up allows you to fish at greater distances, whilst retaining full sensitivity to lift bites.

The crux of lift method, its central feature, is that you use tell-tale shot or shots, just touching the bottom, and close to the hook. But as much of the weight of that shot as possible should still be supported by the float. This means that the line between float and shot will be completely vertical.  The original descriptions of lift method depicted a fish swimming along, seeing the bait, and dipping down to take it.  It then returned to an even keel, and as it did so, it lifted the shot off the bottom. You will see some explanations that say the fish lifted the float...incorrect. The float lifted because it was no longer supporting as much shot. It lifts until it once more is in equilibrium with the remaining shot ( if any).  This makes it ideal for catching crucian carp, whose deep body necessitates then "bending down" to take the bait, thus lifting the shot as they return to the horizontal.  I don't think crucians are shy biters, just lazy fish, that usually  cannot be bothered to swim off with a bait.

At this point we might discuss suitable floats.  Whilst self cocking floats could be used, they are far
Irwell Stick Float and a Grayling
from ideal, and would never lie flat.  A float with most of its buoyancy near the top, one that is quite wide bodied at the water surface is ideal for rivers and trotting. The river has swirling currents, is a very dynamic environment, changing yard by yard, and the effect is that the "pull" of the line on the float is variable.  A wide topped float is able to override these effects, not dipping or rising very much, and also remain visible at long distances. Adding an extra small shot would make little difference to how such a float sits in the stream. On the other hand a thin tip to a float in a river would be constantly misbehaving, dipping, going under, dipping and rising, and would prevent  easy detection of a true bite. The photo shows one of "Purple Peanut"'s hand made stick floats which I used to catch some grayling last week. It has a metal stem, which helps stability and a broad top, ideal for river fishing.
A fine tipped float is, however, perfect for a lift method float.
Kitchen Sink Experiment

I have added a table below, which can be used to show how much shot a float might carry. The table shows the weights of some common shot sizes, and by how much the addition of such shot will sink or lift an antenna float ( the main body of the float remaining sub surface ). The values in bold were measured using a simple kitchen sink experiment. Values are therefore approximate.  The non-bold values were interpolated from the  measured results, but some I couldn't be bothered with doing at all and remain blank.  You can see though that a No 4 shot, which weighs 0.2 grams could sink a float having a 2mm wide antenna by 8cms (or rather more than three inches). The last column shows shot added to a Peanut stick float, demonstrating that it sits very stable, and is not easily messed with by the current..

When in actual use for lift method, these values should be considered as the maximums... reason: some of the shot's weight will be resting on the bottom of the lake.   But it can be seen that a fish lifting even a single shot of these sizes, with a suitable float,  can give quite a significant bite "length".

A long fine antenna float has a number of other advantages.  Its main body will be some distance below the surface, well away from being significantly disturbed by waves, and being thin, the wind will not have too great an effect on it either.  The other advantage is far more subtle.  One problem you may envisage is that it can be difficult to establish the depth very accurately, mainly because the bottom of most waters will vary somewhat in depth. Make your next cast 6 inches away and the depth could be an inch or so deeper, or shallower.  The long thin antenna float can compensate significantly for this depth variation, in that the shot will pull it down until it just hits bottom.  This could leave you with either a half inch of float protruding, or two inches, perhaps even more.  But because that shot, let's say the BB on a 2 mm antenna, will pull the float down up to 16 centimetres, you will still have an effective lift set up, just one with a little more float sticking above the water. Still plenty to play with.   And if you don't want it so high, just reel in a fraction.   A point to note is that the material from which the antenna is made, has no effect on the values in this table.  It is only the volume (or cross section area) that matters. Steel or balsa, it will make no difference if the dimensions are the same.

An important point that you may have missed is that, using a lift method, you can use quite a large float, with a fair shot load, enabling you to cast and fish at distance, yet, because the fish only feels the tell-tale, you can still fish very sensitively.

Shot             Weight             1  mm wide antenna      2 mm wide antenna    Peanut Stick Float

SSG             1.6 grams                      -                                   -                                  4 cm
AAA            0.8 grams                      -                               32 cm                             2 cm
BB               0.4 grams                    64 cm                        16 cm                              1 cm
No 4            0.2 grams                    32 cm                         8 cm                               5 mm
No 6            0.1 grams                    16 cm                         4 cm                               2.5 mm 
No 8            0.06 grams                   9 cm                          2.3 cm                               -

That "BUT".

We have to not only consider Archimedes, and we have, but also Newton. So let's go back to that slider float, carrying 4 SSG and a single tell-tale number 8 shot. If we assume the float had a one millimetre antenna, then a fish lifting that shot would cause the float to lift by as much as 9 centimetres, a bit over three inches. We don't only have to consider how much the float will lift, but how fast it will rise, how long it will take for the bite to be seen.  Once that shot has been lifted, the float, shot and line are acted upon by the "spare buoyancy" that the float now has.  That is in effect a force of 0.06 grams, not very much at all. If we assume the float weighs a couple of grams, then once we add in the weight of those SSGs, that small force has to act on a total of 8.4 grams.  Newton's equation states that force = mass x acceleration.  I am not going to go into the calculations now, but the float is going to accelerate upwards very slowly.  It will also be hindered by the drag caused by the water on the line, shot and float, slowing its rise yet more.  In the first second or so it will have lifted far less than one centimetre, let alone nine.  The tell-tale shot size needs to be matched to the total size if the tackle ( in practice matched to the total volume of the float, which defines how big the total weight of float and shot will be).  So Phil, ditch that number 8 shot and replace it with a BB!   ;-) Only if I fish a very small antenna float would I personally use a shot smaller than a BB.

Whilst on the subject of split shot, isn't is completely disgraceful how much they cost these days? Buy one of those multi-compartmentalized circular dispensers and I get a lot of sizes I never use, and very few of the sizes I do use: SSG, AAA and BB.   The Chairman Mao little red boxes contain so few that it almost breaks the bank to buy one.  I had just 7 SSG in one box. The guy with 4 SSG suspended below his slider has to be one of the super rich.   I have been returning shot to the boxes after use, but they only last so long before they fail to grip, although I usually drop them into long grass well before they become useless. I have only found one source for bulk lead shot, in China. They were so hard that it took pliers to close the split, almost a vice. they were causing far too much damage to the line. But I think I have a solution, as to how I might reduce the costs of my most usual sizes, AAA and BB by a factor of about twenty.  I'll trial it this next week and see how it goes before mentioning it further in here. If it fails I shall keep quiet and go away and hide.
Taking it From the Theoretical to the Lakeside.

Last week I took all this theory to a practical extreme: the float in the photograph is fully 15 inches long, with a one millimetre wide tip, definitely an antenna float and then some.  It took five BBs to just sink it, so I attached the float by a JayZS rig, otherwise setting up the lift method exactly as described above, putting two BBs just a couple of inches from the hook (at times I go as close as an inch), the other three shot being a good foot higher up.  The float sat with great stability in the swim, 10 or 12 yards out, with either an inch or two of the antenna visible, reflecting the slight depth differences it encountered from one cast to the next.

Antenna nicely visible, as are a number of bubbles from feeding fish. A few seconds later the float lifted a good four inches as a fish lifted the two tell-tale shot. It was still lifting as I struck into the fish.

And a good crucian is drawn towards the net following a spirited fight. Note the two shot, set very close to the hook, no more than two inches away.

The result: a crucian of over two pounds, one of several, all over two pounds, to be taken during the session.  Note that the float is longer than any of the fish.

Another crucian is safely returned to the water.

Micro Dotting Your Float...Or Not?

One thing that has always intrigued me is why some anglers, and certainly most pole anglers, always shot their floats down, such that only the merest pin prick shows above the surface.  Sensitivity I hear you all shout, and indeed such a float, shotted down to within a millimetre of being drowned, will pick up the minutest touch, whether from a bite, or from the close passage of a fish, waving the odd fin as it slips past.   But is it necessary to seek such a delicate presentation?  My answer would be that it is neither necessary, nor desirable.   Such floats are invariably small, with a tiny diameter antenna at the top.   Those of you who have kept up with the above will see that, a small diameter antenna, has very little volume in its tip, and therefore very little buoyancy, and therefore it takes very little effort to sink it...even if it protrudes above the surface by a full inch or so.  If the reflections on the water surface are such ( and they usually are) that you cannot see the section of float underneath the water, then with a micro dotted float, you have no idea what is happening after the float has moved that first millimetre downwards. The float has simply vanished.   With an inch, or even half an inch sticking up, you are much better able to judge the progress of a bite and therefore whether to strike at it. And the fish will almost certainly not feel any difference.   All IMHO of course.

Sight Bobs.

Antennae floats have one significant problem.  Visibility. A very thin sliver of material can be very difficult to see at distance, regardless of how you might colour it.  One solution is to add a sight bob to the tip.  If the bob is made of light material, it will not significantly add to the total weight of the float.  It will add marginally to the total buoyancy, but when still above the water a small bob will have little effect upon how the float performs, although it will sit a mite lower for the same shot load, and will be somewhat more affected by the wind than would a pure antenna. If you have an inch of your antenna protruding above the surface, with the sight bob above that, then the performance of the float will be otherwise little changed.  A fish lifting that one tell-tale shot will cause the float to lift by exactly the same amount as if the bob were not there. The only difference will be that the float is ever so slightly heavier, and so will accelerate upwards a  teensy bit more slowly. So the lighter the bob material the better.  A simple bob can be made from a cotton bud at almost zero cost. It comes with a ready made tube attached, which can be cut to length and slid over the antenna, and it is lightweight.  It just needs colouring and/or a varnish spray to suit.  If the tube is a little too large in diameter it can be part filled with anything that comes to hand, a bit of line, grass stem, whatever, such that it successfully jams atop the antenna. Alternatively a kink made in the tube might allow it to grip on its own. Or use glue for a more permanent bob. There is very little to lose by adding a sight bob, and it should enable you to fish very sensitively at much greater distance.

One? Two? A Couple of Hundred?

Lastly, how many floats do you own?  If you have done any amount of float fishing at all, the answer is probably far, far too many.   A float has to be learned, so study how it reacts in still, calm water, in rougher, choppier surfaces, in winds. Be at one with your float.  To do this you really need to restrict how many different types of floats you use.   Let's face it, most of those in your tackle box have never yet seen water. So next time you see that ten year old kid, his one and only float stuck high above his head in that hawthorn tree, give him a few of yours...and then, next time you are on the water check the tree again to see how many more he has lost.   But losing floats is not something just the kids do.  We lose some too.  That bad cast, that risky chuck too near to that overhanging tree, the fish that sheds the hook under tension, causing your float, shot and hook to rocket up into that oak tree directly above your head, lost forever, or at least until the autumnal leaf fall.  So buy several of each type that you use regularly, in maybe a couple of different sizes.  It is unlikely that you have need for more than a dozen different float styles.  So have a few of each pattern, and then a loss of one will not leave you needing to fish differently, just dip into your tackle bag, and there, lo and behold,  is an identical float.    


  1. Great read Jay.

    I think we could do with a chat 😉

  2. JZ, that was epic

    I wish you'd been my physics master I might've understood some of it!

    Two things:
    The reason match angler's dot pole floats down and/or suspend them from surface film with grease is that it speeds things up for small fish, especially roach.
    If there's more float showing one is more inclined to let a bite develop thus wasting time.
    When dotted you would strike as soon as it disappeared so you could squeeze more bites into the match period. It also minimises effect of surface tow which is critical for roach.
    Second thing is, when fishing bread on the lift method I tend to use 1BB tell tale as that will JUST nail the right size of flake to the deck in perfectly still water AND hold the antenna down. So there's an extra variation...the buoyancy of the bread, which also varies if it's squeezed or folded of course!

    Once again, I really enjoyed that

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  4. Cheers George, I have to admit that there are a few things I missed out. It was just taking too long to write. I sometimes, if using a large or heavy bait, miss out the shot altogether, allowing the bait to sink the float. Flake I usually compress enough so it would sink anyway. I didn't know about the use of grease to hold a float in the surface layer...but I gave up match fishing when I was 17, over 50 years ago, so am not quite up to scratch with the latest developments. Interesting point about NOT letting a bite develop. I guess that on the day you would need to determine whether you COULD strike at the first twitch, or needed to allow it more time. I doubt I could ever go back to match angling...my eyes couldn't focus on such a micro dot for 5 hours. I had also intended to put in a section about what happens if the fish gives a normal, rather than a lift bite, but then forgot about it.

  5. As you say you could have gone on forever...oh hang on - you did anyway ;)

    No, I couldn't go back to match fishing either, much as I loved it then, my eyes ain't what they used to be either, plus whenever I start catching smaller fish regularly I want to pack up and move now!