Beginners guide to float fishing – waggler floats

bream caught on waggler

A nice small water bream to a very simple waggler rig.

The sight of a dipping float is something that sums up the excitement of coarse fishing. Learn to fish the waggler, and you’ll have a method that will work on countless waters for all manner of species, and bring you that excitement wherever you fish.

Fishing For Dummies and Canal Fishing author Dominic Garnett provides an easy-to-follow guide to waggler float fishing.

What is a waggler?

There are various types of float used in coarse fishing, but the waggler is perhaps the most popular these days. They’re easy to set up, and allow for a stable, relatively tangle-free presentation that works with all kinds of baits on all kinds of fisheries. So what exactly is a waggler?

In simple terms, wagglers are floats that are attached by the bottom end only. This makes them easy to rig, because you can simply pinch them in place on your main line with split shot. This type of float also gives good stability, with the angler able to sink the line into the water, beating surface tow and debris.

Which waggler to choose?

types of waggler

There’s a wide selection of wagglers

Walk into any tackle shop and you’ll see various waggler floats to cater for different fishing scenarios. It’s well worth buying a variety of wagglers to suit various uses. You might be fishing right at your feet one session and casting well out into a stiff wind the next, with each scenario requiring quite a different float. There are several kinds of waggler to look out for:

canal wagglers

Canal and mini wagglers

A: Canal & Mini Wagglers are for fishing sensitively, usually at close range. They are often tapered and have a fairly fine tip. These are great for fishing on natural stillwaters and canals, where species such as roach, skimmers and crucians can be shy biting. Short versions like those shown also make sense for shallow water, where you don’t want a long or heavy float crashing down each cast.

insert wagglers

Insert wagglers

B: Insert Wagglers: Come in many sizes, but have a noticeably finer tip section or “insert”. This aids sensitivity for spotting gentle bites, although larger models can still be cast quite a distance.

Straight wagglers

Straight wagglers

C: Straight Wagglers: As the name sounds, these floats are straight, and have a thicker tip than insert models. These are sensible floats to use when you need extra stability; for example, when wind or tow will pull a skinny tip under and give false bites. The longer, larger floats can handle blustery conditions and be cast a fair distance. Some also have little “bodies” or thicker sections to offer even more casting weight and stability.

loaded and pellet wagglers

Loaded and pellet wagglers

D: Loaded and Pellet Wagglers: Some wagglers are weighted or “loaded” at the bottom, or come in much chunkier dimensions to allow longer casts made. These are excellent for aiming at distant features such as islands, and are often used for carp with slow sinking baits.

Typical Waggler Fishing Tackle

pellett waggler

Image source: UK Match Angler
A pellett waggler, hard at work!

The best rods for waggler fishing are float or match rods, although you will also get away with a light spinning rod for fishing close to the bank. However, ideally a float rod will be 12 or 13 feet long and suited to use with lines of 4-8lb breaking strain.

Many quite powerful “Carp match” or “power match” rods exist these days, and are ideal for commercial fisheries stocked with hard-fighting carp. Lighter rods that are ideal for natural venues and species such as roach and rudd are less commonly available, but a lighter rod is a lovely tool to use on canals and rivers.

It’s best to combine the rod with a small to mid sized reel, loaded with quality line (avoid cheap mono at all costs!). 5-6lbs main line would be typical where species such as carp and tench are the staple, or 3-4 lbs strength for silver fish and bream, where the odd bonus might show up.

Last but not least, it is always worth using a hook length (a foot or so of finer, more sensitive line to which the hook is tied). Not only will this give you better presentation (fish are less able to detect thinner line), but means that should you snag up, you will only lose a hook, not your whole rig. You can tie these yourself, but they also come ready-tied for convenience.

Tackle and typical waggler rigs

fishing tackle

Tackle!

Setting up a waggler rig isn’t rocket science, but the way you do this can be crucial to success. While not essential, it’s very helpful to use a float adaptor. This is a little silicone sleeve which accepts any waggler float.

The adaptor allows you to change your float at a moment’s notice without starting all over again. For example, you might decide to switch to a larger float to combat wind, or to make longer casts.

First, attach your waggler by trapping it onto your main reel line with split shot. Most floats will tell you how many shot are required by the numbers and letters written on the side (for example “3BB” or “5AA”).

A good general rule is to trap the float in place with at least two thirds of the required shot. This is because having most of the weight in one place helps with casting; lots of shot scattered down the line tend to cause tangles.

Attach your shot snugly to the line, but avoid squeezing them on so tightly that they’re fixed. You should be able to move them along the line to adjust the depth.

waggler on line

A balanced waggler outfit, ready for action

With your float secured in place, you will also need to attach some shot down the line, to help sink the bait and indicate bites. A few smaller weights (typically sizes 4, 6 and 8) will be much better for this than one or two larger samples. If you want the bait to get down quickly, try a little “bulk” of shot clustered together a foot to eighteen inches from the hook.

If you want a slower sinking bait, for example when you can see fish such as rudd or roach swimming higher in the water, try spacing the shot out evenly (see drawn illustration below).

Last but not least, you’ll also notice that we always set up with a final, small shot just 2-3 inches from the hook (usually a size 8,9 or 10 shot). It might be the least visible, but this little shot (often called the “tell tale shot”) is so, so important.

Why, exactly? Because when a fish takes the bait, this little shot also moves and gives you an early indication that you have a bite; without it, you will spot bites late, leading to more missed and deep-hooked fish.

waggler rigs plumbing depth

Try a “bulk” of shot to get down quickly; or space evenly for a slower fall of the bait.

Basic Waggler fishing skills

Many new and inexperienced anglers just want to cast their float as far as possible. However, the best advice on most popular day ticket lakes would be to start much closer in, because there will often be many more fish right by the bank and close to marginal features.

Sometimes you might fish off the bottom when fish are cruising in midwater, or even fish “overdepth” with a little line on the bottom if it is too windy to keep the bait still. Most of the time, however, it is best to start with the bait just about touching the bottom. This ensures that any bites you get will quickly be transmitted to the float tip. 

Plumbing the depths

Sussing out the depth of your chosen spot is a vital skill. Too many anglers either don’t bother, rush the job, or get it wrong. Do take your time, because there is a huge difference between having the depth spot on and “about right.”

The easiest way to test the depth with a waggler is to carefully pinch a larger shot, such as an AA, onto the final inch of line right next to the hook before casting out and observing what happens. If the float plunges down and out of sight, you are set too shallow and should move the float away from the hook.

If the opposite happens,and the float sits up too high or even lies flat, you have too much line between float and hook and must narrow the gap. Adjust this length carefully, until just the very tip of the float shows and you have the right depth.

Be warned though, you must give a little slack line when testing the depth. This avoids creating a diagonal angle between hook and float and getting an inaccurate reading.

You’ll find it much easier to get the exact depth closer in – and it’s also worth spending a few minutes trying different spots around your swim and seeing how the depth changes. This can give you some handy answers to important questions. How deep is the water right by the bank? How deep is it two or three rod lengths out? Does the depth drop away suddenly or gradually? Answer these kinds of questions, and you will be able to catch more fish!

Where to begin

A good starting point for your waggler fishing session is often to try just down the “shelf”, where the margin drops away into slightly deeper water, often between one and two rod lengths out. In warm weather, fish like carp might come right under your feet; in the winter, you may fare better by fishing deeper water.

Once you’re happy with where you want to fish, it’s time to add some bait. Start with a small handful of samples, but be prepared to keep adding a small amount to this at regular intervals.

Spotting Bites and Striking

action on the waggler

The author plays a good fish on the waggler; in this case a tench, hooked in deep water with a long bodied float

Bites can vary a lot between different fish species. The classic movement will be the float just pulling straight under – for fish like carp and tench it’s best to ignore the tiny movements, and wait for this to happen before striking.

Other bites can be cagier, however, with the float “taking a walk” but not submerging. Sometimes the float can even lift slightly. Experience and practise will tell you when to strike, but with shy-biting fish like roach and skimmers, you might have to hit these indications early!

Above all, pay close attention to that float, observing how it settles as the bait and shot fall through the water. If the float stops or behaves suspiciously, this can quite often be a fish taking “on the drop” as the bait falls. Strike!

Waggler Fishing Tips

waggler caught tench

A margin caught tench, caught on the waggler

    • One of the best tips for all float fishing is to hold the rod at all times. Don’t be lazy and put the rod down in a rest! Much of the time you will have missed the fish by the time you pick the rod up. Instead, be ready to strike with a nice positive lift.
    • As with the casting and feeding, the strike takes practice. It should be decisive but not violent – find a happy medium! Strike too softly and you won’t set the hook Strike brutally and you’ll “bump” fish off, or risk breaking the line on a big one.
    • One of the most common mistakes when fishing the waggler is to have too much float showing above the water. If you give the fish too much tip to pull under, many of them will simply get suspicious and drop the bait. Aim to have just the brightly coloured tip showing – or just the final 2-3mm if conditions are calm.
    • For most waggler fishing, a floating reel line is sensible. However, in windy conditions, you can also sink the line to avoid tow. Do this by dipping the rod tip under the water and giving a couple of pulls after casting out.
    • As with most types of general float fishing, you will usually catch a lot more by loose feeding. Try doing this “little and often” by throwing or catapulting in just a few samples of bait every three or so minutes. If you keep casting to the exact same spot and keep your feed accurate, this will help concentrate the fish.
    • Try Stotz rather than dust shot for your smaller weights. They tend to stay on the line much better than tiny traditional shot in sizes 8,9 and 10.
    • Don’t just sit there when you waggler fish. Quite often the fish will bite just as the float settles, because they have spotted the bait sinking to the bottom. Try recasting to get extra bites – or search different areas of your swim. For example, if you’re catching a lot of fish in your main feed area, you might find that the fish start to back off or go a little further out.

Further Info:

You can find more of Dominic’s fishing tips, tales and photography at www.dgfishing.co.uk

His book “Fishing For Dummies” is excellent for beginners and those returning to the sport, while Canal Fishing: A Practical Guide provides the lowdown on a wide range of methods, species and locations across the UK.

 

All images courtesy of Dominic Garnett unless otherwise stated

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