Thursday, 24 January 2013

Tip Watching

"The thing to remember with a float is that it straddles two worlds, resting in the meniscus that separates the world of water and that of air. The angler assumes that the float dips from his world into another; the fish sees the float rise into its world – a lift bite so to speak. Who is catching who? Have you ever heard Peter Gabriel's "Downside Up"? It talks of lying on the ground looking up at the blue sky and imagining it as an ocean. I believe that fish think of their 'sky' in the same way. How exciting it would be to break the barrier and enter into another world, to then safely return with all preconceptions changed and a wider view and understanding received. Enlightenment, and relief. A float is an antenna that allows communication between worlds…."

Nigel ‘Fennel’ Hudson



One of the most delightful ways to fish is float fishing. Mesmerised for hours by a little orange tip, willing it to dip, sometimes missing it completely due to some wonder of nature you that spot from the corner of your eye momentarily loosening your grip on what it was you were doing, ‘Tip Watching’. It can be the makings of a restless day, especially if the fish are in a greedy mood, so I recommend regular breaks from your ‘Tip watching’.

But it is what goes on in that underwater world that intrigued me, the dips, swirls and sail away bites that somehow fail to connect. Many modern tackle companies have spent time and money watching fish in their world, how they react to various modern rigs and baits with a view to perfecting everything, leaving nothing to chance and to stack the odds in the anglers favour. Nobody, as far as I am aware, has done the same with float fishing.

Perhaps we could set up two cameras, one concentrating on the float tip and the other on the hook. As a fish approaches the bait and sucks it in we can see how the float reacts, or if it registers at all. We could try a variety of floats, different shapes and sizes, different shotting patterns, different size hook-baits and at various areas of the pool, lake or river. I’d be quite interested to find out just how crucians always seem to avoid getting hooked. How the little dips and sometimes no movement at all tend to be the ones to strike at, the delicate bite one only hits when concentration is at its highest that hook those most cautious of fishes.

We could learn much about those margin dwelling carp, the ones that live under overhanging bushes, the same carp that are clearly visible through the gin clear water and appear to be feeding but do not trouble the float. Has the line merely become attached somehow to a fin or has the fish actually got the bait in its mouth? How long do the small roach feed alone, do the larger specimens really sit off the shoal and only begin feeding once you’ve wound in? There are so many questions we have if we really think about it. But then again, do we really want to know?

Maybe all we want to do is to go fishing without knowing what goes on under the surface. Happy to go ‘Tip Watching’ for the day and not actually too bothered if it dips at all. Of all the different methods of fishing, float fishing has to be my favourite. Since becoming a traditional angler I have been acquainted with a plethora of artistry. Folk spending all of their spare time, and indeed making a living from, making floats that wouldn’t look out of place in an art gallery. Some tend not to see these as fishing floats, I do. The beauty is in the float and watching it, I see that as a separate exercise to the actual fishing itself. My relaxation begins when I perch on my creel, cast out and watch my new float sit pretty in the surface water. The angling side of it comes into play when it disappears out of sight and the rod tip arches to signify a fish is hooked. Once the fish is banked and the heart-rate returns to a normal level the beauty returns once again in the shape of a wonderful fish.

How many times have you been fishing and a damselfly lands on your float tip? It has happened to me in the past causing the float to dip. When the damselfly comes into contact with the water it flies off briefly, allows the float to right itself and repeats the process all over again. I enjoy watching this as much as the damselfly appears to enjoy toying with my float. It worries me not that the whole charade might cause me to miss an opportunity, for it is an opportunity not to be missed in itself.

From a young age I wondered what goes on out there, even through my sea fishing days when I would target the flounders in my the local creek. I’m talking twenty five years ago now, I always wondered what it would be like to have a camera built into my lead so I could see the flounders approach, smell the bait, start to feast upon it and then to strike at the perfect time so not to deep hook them; so all this underwater camera work isn’t a new idea, far from it. My outlook on it all now is that we really don’t need to know, and in fact, it would spoil all that is wonderful about fishing, for me anyway. When will it happen? What will it be? Will it happen at all? To remove these questions from the equation is to remove the essence of angling. Chance is a lovely thing, embrace it, do not eliminate it.

Float fishing, for me, is all about focus, our focus on whatever it is our mind wants to concentrate on, leaving everything else around us to become a foggy haze that we are neither conscious of or bothered about. A tap on the shoulder whilst staring at a float would make us turn, although that person could have been there for any length of time. It would take us to feel the tap on the shoulder to snap out of whatever trance we were in and to realise there are other things apart from the float tip; but we would need to resume our float watching as soon as possible, like a drug fuelled obsession. The same does not apply to the world beneath the surface, in as much as although we are mesmerised by the float tip, we are all the time imagining it slipping under, imagining our target species swimming below and spotting our bait all the time conjuring up glorious images of monsters in our mind. That childlike imagination never wanes, not for me anyway.


Note. The previously unpublished opening quote was kindly provided by ‘Fennel’ for use in this article. For more information about ‘Fennel’s Priory’ visit his delightful website


  1. Excellent piece - 'pleasing in its appearance even more in its disappearance' not sure if I have that quite right but there is nothing better than watching a float on calm water.

  2. That's the one. Floats are wonderful, and there is much fun to be had in making your own. I just don't get the time anymore so have them made for me, but I still have a few I made a year or so ago...