Most sea anglers fish hard on the sea bed, or occasionally with lures cast and retrieved, and come summer many neglect a very effective way of sea fishing that is not only very productive, but great fun – that’s fishing with a float or even free lining a bait in the current.

This time of year is a great time to fish the float, especially from a vantage point like a pier or rock mark where the bait can drift naturally with the current. It can be suspended under, beside, or behind a pier pile or just above rock ledges or kelp fronds and at a set depth. It’s a way of presenting a bait directly to several species that are more commonly found off the sea bed and what type of angling beats watching your float suddenly disappear?

Essential to fishing with a float is to use a lighter outfit – a lighter more flexible rod, lighter, lower diameter line and a fixed spool reel which allows the lighter tackle to be cast. You can cast a heavier float outfit with a multiplier, and this can be useful for long range work from pier walls in swelling seas for mackerel, gars, wrasse etc. but with smaller floats and for species such as mullet and bream in calm conditions a fixed spool is best. A lighter rod with a softer action also allows the use of light line (8/10lb) or braid, which offers less restriction to the movement of the tackle and allows for more control in the current.

There are two basic ways to fish with a float and that is fixed, or sliding. Fixed floats are locked on the line so that the depth the bait is fished at under the float is set and can only be altered by physically moving the float up or down the line. Its disadvantage is that you can only fish up to 5 or 6ft because any deeper than that the rig becomes too long to cast.

The sliding float set up allows the angler to alter the depth they want to fish, and to cast efficiently whatever the depth. Using a float with a tube through its centre allows the float to slide up and down the main line and cigar shapes are most efficient. After the float add a bullet lead and swivel to the end of the line with a hook length then added to the bottom of the swivel. The depth the hook is fished below the float is fixed by placing a stop knot on the main line above the float. You can use mono or Power Gum for this with a four turn Grinner knot – two stop knots add a failsafe should one fail. Adjustment of the knot allows the bait to be fished shallower or deeper.

A couple of important points include adding a small bead to the line above the float as this prevents the stop knot entering the tube in the float and jamming.  In most cases the lead used is a bullet or barrel of less than 2oz; the lead is required to make the float cock and you need to be fussy with the weight used so that the float sits up in the water correctly and can be clearly seen at distance. In most cases large floats are required, not only for casting, but also so they can be seen between the waves if fishing at distance, remembering you are also intending to let the float drift back in the tide. Fishing with a float is at its most efficient with a single hook, adding more hooks simply increases the likelihood of tangles if casting is involved.

Almost all species of sea fish can be caught on a float and it’s noticeable that the tactic is more commonly used in summer when more species are up off the sea bed in the clearer water. It’s also a tactic regularly used in regions of clear water, not the muddy estuary regions, and in areas such as the south west and Channel Islands anglers fish the float for much of the year.

Mackerel and garfish are the two UK species that are most often found near the surface, although others also feed off the bottom at times and much depends on the conditions and food source.

Wrasse, pollack, coalfish, scad, mullet, bream, coalfish and others often swim in midwater around the weed edges alongside piers, walls and cliffs looking for small fish and crabs. This means the depth under a float you fish can be crucial – and remember that the depth the fish swim at is continually affected by the rising or falling of the tide. If in doubt err on the shallow side because it is more likely a fish will spot a bait above it, silhouetted against the surface, rather than below it, camouflaged in the darkness of the sea bed.

Freelining is a very underrated alternate method and involves fishing just a baited hook on the end of your line. You can add a split shot but the essence is to allow the bait to find its own path in the tide. Deadly on occasions, especially at short range, and a tactic to log in your fishing armoury to bring out when the situation arises. Spot a big bass snaffling small pout off the surface and a freelined bait won’t spook it, the same applies with mullet or even wrasse and pollack.

In most cases float fishing and freelining involve a single hook and bait, like a head hooked ragworm, sliver of fish, live prawn or sandeel, live pout, live soft jelly crab, etc. These cast with less chance of tangling, but if you want to use a multi-hook trace under a float for casting it’s essential to only under arm cast because the overhead will result in the trace tangling in the line above the float. Other alternatives are a swivel bead on the main line above the float with a short hook length, these slide back to the stop knot and work well for garfish.

A crafty way to freeline is to use a multi-hook rig with hooks close to one another (inches apart) and light line (8lb). The hooks should be baited with small pieces of worm, etc. to create a ‘cloud of bait’ effect, which can get the fish to feed more confidently than they do on a single bait.

A typical summer catch on the float


A major rule when fishing in clear water – never strike at a fish taking the bait, wait until the float, or the line, goes away!

A very important tactic linked with float fishing and freelining is groundbaiting, and this can be in the form of anything from mashed bread or fish, bran, boiled fish, etc. spooned into the tide/swim at regular intervals. An oily slick produced by boiled mackerel or pilchard oil with few larger pieces of food will attract fish from far and wide – the idea is to feed little and often. During a rising tide scatter the groundbait on the rocks that will be covered later to keep the slick running.

A bag full of bread etc. suspended alongside the pier wall is another way to attract species such as mullet. Try two bags and you can move from one to the other if the fish are spooked or shy.

Staying with bait – sandeel is a very popular and deadly bait at this time of year especially live ones. However, they are not always available and lots of anglers rely on the frozen ones. But shop around because some frozen eels are better than others and some dealers just don’t look after their frozen bait. I have been forced to cast some rubbish at times, eels that were soft, with burst bellies and off colour because they were not blast frozen, or were ruined by tackle dealers. They end up on the hook in a mush looking nothing like a sandeel. So stick to the reputable makes and remember when they are thawed out and mounted on the hook they should look like a little bar of silver. Remember too that all frozen sandeel will deteriorate rapidly once thawed so transport your eels to the beach inside a stainless steel food flask and only take each eel out of the flask as you use it.

Tight lines,