Float fishing, otherwise known as "indicator fishing" is one of the most effective bait presentation methods available to the angler targeting any species. The ability to cover tons of water quickly in rivers, tributaries and tidal flows....gives the float fisherman a huge advantage over guys who just bottom fish in a single spot. You can work a large swath of "bottom" along with the entire water column...with a float, covering every square inch of holding water in a stalking type approach, versus plunking a bait down on the bottom and waiting for a fish to come to you. The ability to quickly eliminate dead water, and the ability to identify fish holding spots that particular day is the key to success for float fishermen.
With that said, there are obviously going to be a variety of different float styles to choose from based upon fishing conditions..we will cover them here.
First and foremost, float selection starts with the premise of matching the amount of weight you are trying to support with the appropriate float size. The numbers (in grams) stamped on the side of the float actually mean something....that is the amount of weight that float can support to keep its performance at an optimum level. Underweighting (using a float too big) or overweighting (using a float too small) will result in poor float performance in mending and tracking situations. Your float ideally should rest in the water between the yellow and white bands below the orange top. The orange top is for visibility purposes only. Simply add up the weight in grams of the entire shot pattern you are going to use, and choose the correctly weighted float. Super soft split shot packages will tell you the gram weight of each shot for easy reference.
There are a variety of float styles to be used in the varying conditions you may find yourself fishing. As a general rule, slimmer and longer profile floats track better in currents and seams. When you mend your line with a longer and slimmer profile float, you are less likely to pull the float out of the seam or track you are trying to float. Fatter and wider profile floats work better in turbulent waters or when making long drifts. More mass of the float is above the waterline, and in turbid situations, keeps your float from getting dragged under water by the turbidity. The larger profile above the water line allows for greater visibility and strike detection on longer drifts (i.e. you can see it better!).
Slimmer floats are better for subtle takes by fish who are pressured or not aggressively attacking presentations. The slimmer profile provides for less resistance for the fish to inhale the bait, providing a much more natural offering and higher percentage hookups. But again, if you are fishing long drifts or turbid waters, that slim profile float is going to get dragged under the surface and/or be very difficult to see further away on a long drift.
Having a good selection of float styles and weight are key to the advanced float fisherman. You never know what kind of conditions you might find yourself in, so its a safe bet to have a variety on hand in your tackle bag to cover all your bases.
Fixed floats with stems, using Float Tubing, allow you to quickly and easily swap out floats sizes and styles instantly based upon conditions without having to cut your mainline and re-do your shot selection. Fixed floats with stems are by far the most flexible float option as compared to rigging slip floats which require an entire tear down of your mainline/weight setup if you want to change them out.
Big Water Floats
Big Water floats are the best all around float available for most conditions in medium to large size rivers. You will generally have deeper runs to fish (more weight), longer drifts to make (higher profile above water for visibility) and possible turbid waters (keeps your float above water) in these larger systems. Big Water floats are fatter in profile, and shorter in stature (including stem below water). They are not the best trackers, but do a fine job keeping you in the game with minimal pull out issues when fishing bubble lines or seams when mending your line.
Sub styles of Big Water floats are Acorn floats (high above waterline profiles, short bottoms) and the Extra Deep slip styles for those fishing deep holes where an inline sinker or weight is better than running a tapered shot pattern.
Loafer Floats are the best tracking floats of any style, along with allowing for less resistance on subtle bait takes by fish. With their long profiles under the water line, they tend to stay stuck right on a seam or current line even after mending, allowing for precise bait presentation. Their slim profiles allow for low to no resistance when a fish inhales the presentation...i.e. they don't feel resistance from the float when they take the bait.
Swan floats are a cross between a Big Water acorn style and a Loafer. They have a larger profile above the water line to handle turbidity and visibility issues, but also have a longer stem below the water line to assist in tracking. Its not as good of tracking as a true loafer which has body mass and long stem below the water line, but the longer stem on the Swans does help with tracking. Swans tend to perform better in tracking if you can bulk shot a few shot right under the bottom of the stem to help create some mass below the waterline for tracking and stability.
Avon Floats are a cross between a Swan Float and a Loafer Float. Slightly less mass than a Swan above the water line, slightly slimmer profile than a Swan, and slightly more mass below the water line than a Swan. Longer stem below the waterline assists with tracking, and again bulk shotting a few shot just below the stem will help add some mass without affecting tracking during mending.
Cigar Floats are a new float design for 2020.... the Cigar is a nice blend between a Big Water and a Loafer in 18g to 30g sizes. For truly big water conditions, but adding some benefit of a much longer and slimmer profile below the water line, the Cigar will offer a better tracking option than a Big Water float for anglers running large weights under their floats. This float is primarily used with presentations up to 1 ounce in weight, often used in the Pacific Northwest with extremely fast flowing rivers.
Plunger Floats are a new float design for 2020....the Plunger is also a cross between a Loafer and a Big Water float with a strong lean towards the Loafer profile. A much longer and very tapered design below the water line for better tracking, but a larger above water profile than a Loafer (but not as much as a Big Water) for better visibility on long drifts. Plungers won't track as well as a true Loafer as they have a shorter stem profile below the waterline, but they will track better than a Big Water while providing a decent amount of mass above the waterline to see the top of the float further away on long drifts.