There are few tactics more rewarding than catching on a stick float. River expert James Robbins explains how to master the basics…
When it comes to catching fish from rivers there is no finer tactic than using a stick float. A beautiful way to spend the day, it is a method that, as well as being highly effective, requires a fair amount of skill to fish correctly and successfully. For life-long river enthusiast James Robbins it is this combination which makes it such an enjoyable form of angling. “Yes, it takes practice to get stick float fishing spot-on, but once you begin to master the basics, you will find it hard to go back to any other method on running water,” said James with an audible passion in his voice. “If there is a bit of pace on the water, the stick float will work. And when you get it right the results can be unbeatable’. To find out more about this style of river fishing, IYCF met up with the 42-year-old Shakespeare brand manager on the banks of the River Avon, close to his home in Warwick, where James very quickly got into his stride putting a host of silverfish and a few bonus chub on the bank. What is a stick float? A stick float is a float which is fished with the line attached top and bottom. So, unlike a waggler that is only fixed to the mainline at its base, a stick float enables the angler to regulate the pace at which the float is run through the swim. It can even be stopped without it being pulled under.
This enables the hookbait to rise off the riverbed and flutter enticingly in the flow, often prompting a bite. Stick floats are generally quite slim, with a buoyant balsa body while a variety of materials are used in the base of the float. (For more information regarding the different bases, see the panel right). Like wagglers, they come with either slimmer insert-type tops which are excellent for using with small baits such as maggots, casters and hemp, while the thicker, dometopped versions are ideal for large baits such as corn, meat or pellets. Choosing the right float For James there are two considerations to take into account – the depth of the river and the strength of the flow. All good quality stick floats will have their shotting capacity printed on the side of the float’s body. This is normally along the lines of 4 x No.4 or 10 x No.4. This indicates the amount of weight that the float will need to shot it correctly. Of course, this is just a guide and a few extra shot may be required to get the bristle to sit perfectly in the water. “As a rule of thumb, use one No.4 shot per one foot of depth. So in a 5ft swim, a 5 x No.4 float would be a good starting point,” he explained. “If the flow is quite powerful or there is a strong wind, the size of the float will need to be increased accordingly.” With regards to split shot, even though stick floats are rated in No.4s, James always uses No.8s. A 4 x No.4 float will take about eight or nine No.8s and a couple of No.10s to get it to sit perfectly. “The reason I use more small shot is that it gives me many more shotting options,” James continued. “I can string them out, bulk them, or have them in pairs, which enables the hookbait to look more natural in the flow. “The other advantage of more small shot is you get fewer tangles on the cast as there is less space between the individual shot.” To place his shot on the line, James squeezes them all on to the end of the mainline in a bulk, before testing to see how the float sits in the flow. The shot are then carefully pushed up the mainline and the length to which they were originally attached is removed as it could have been damaged. “The smaller, softer shot are also easier to move on the line than the larger No.4 shot,” he added. Once he has happy with how the float is sitting he then attaches his hooklength.
Correct stick float tackle A traditional float rod of 13ft makes for the perfect all-round tool. However, as a stick float is generally trotted a rodlength out, if you are going to do a lot of stick float fishing, it may help to get a longer – 15ft to 20ft rod – although, the longer the rod, the heavier it will be. In recent years James has moved away from standard mono mainlines and now favours hightech pole lines. “These lines are very thin but incredibly strong for their diameter. They tend to float well too – something that is essential when looking to trot a float,” he said. “However, as long as the line two to three feet directly above the stick actually floats, that will be perfect. This makes controlling the float in the flow so much easier.” The hooklink James uses is Shakespeare Mach XT, between 0.14mm (4lb 2oz) if chub are the main quarry or 0.10mm (2lb 3oz) if he is mostly targeting smaller silverfish. The same rule applies to the hook size. A Kamasan B560 is his favoured pattern and size will range between 14 and 20 depending upon the hookbait he is using. How to trot the river Running a rig correctly through the flow is the art of stick float fishing. The float, if allowed to run through ‘unchecked’ will travel at the speed of the current at the top of the river. However, due to friction with the riverbed, the flow close to the deck will be around half this speed. “Once you conquer the basics you won’t want to fish any other method on running water”
A net of silvers and five bonus chub were James’ reward “This is why a stick float is superior to a waggler,” James said. “To slow down a waggler, all you can do is fish the rig well overdepth. But with a stick float, you can place your finger on the spool to either halt the float’s progress or even hold it back indefinitely if you want. If you did this with a waggler, the float would sink.” You need to keep in contact with the float at all times with the mainline running behind, not in front. This enables the float to travel in a straight line down the river. If a bow forms and the mainline travels in front of the float, the rig will zig-zag across the flow and you will struggle to get any bites because the bait will look unnatural. Feed little and often Regardless of what you loosefeed, it must be fed little and often to create a constant column of feed in the river. “I will feed at least once a cast if not more, depending upon the length of the trot,” James explained. “With maggots I might feed three or four times using five to six grubs at a time. This is plenty to create a stream of bait. It is all about maximizing your loosefeed and matching it to the hookbait.” Depending upon what he is feeding, James will throw in lighter items such as maggots further upstream as they sink slower. Heavier baits such as hemp and pellets are introduced further down the swim, so they hopefully come to rest in the same spot on the riverbed. The more you fish this style the more accomplished you will become at judging the speed of the river and where the baits will fall. “Stick float fishing is all about getting into a rhythm,” James continued. “Cast, feed, trot, hold, feed, retrieve and repeat. It could take a couple of hours for the swim to really come to life, but when it does, you will ‘fill your boots’. For me, there is simply no better, finer or more satisfying way to spend a day on the river bank.”