Beginners Guide To Pole Fishing – Part 4, Floats & Shot

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Beginners Guide To Pole Fishing – Part 4, Floats & Shot. Hi all fishing lovers, Today’s post is “Beginners Guide To Pole Fishing – Part 4, Floats & Shot”. i hope that this short article is useful for you, all fishing lovers.

Beginners Guide To Pole Fishing – Part 4, Floats & Shot

It is an old saying that floats are designed to catch anglers not fish. This is never more true than when talking of pole floats. To the beginner the array of patterns, sizes, colours, loading and materials is bewildering – and tempting. There is absolutely no need to try and buy or use every different combination. As I have discovered you really can get by with a very small range of floats.

Hopefully I can guide you through the maze so you can fish your chosen floats with confidence.  Once you have become comfortable with the pole you can then, if you wish, expand your float collection

Consider that floats do two jobs. Holding up the bait and indicating bites. Every float will do this. So to a small degree it doesn’t matter what it looks like or is made from. The time for refinement will come once you have some experience fishing the pole.

Before I get onto the actual float I think it worth taking a detour to talk about the weights we use with the float.

Shot, Stotz, Styls and Olivettes

Hopefully we all know the traditional round shot. Numbered 13 to 1 with the weight getting bigger the smaller the number. Larger than a size 1 we then get into letters BB, AA, and SSG (swanshot). For most pole fishing applications we will use nothing larger than a No.6. And for some even that is a no-no, 8 or 9 being the largest they will use.

I will mention at this point that in England it is illegal to use pure lead in any fishing shot/Stotz/Styls heavier than a No.8.

Because pole fishing is all about finesse and accuracy the tiniest shot, 11, 12 & 13 are used frequently. They help get a float shotted precisely as the angler wants. The trouble is that these tiny round shot are a devil to get on the line. Being round they roll away from where you want them. This problem was solved, certainly for me, with the invention of Stotz.

The brand name for the Preston Innovations alternative to round shot. They are extruded and cut producing a rectangular, almost cubic shape before being squeezed on the line. Because of their shape they don’t roll. Handling becomes easier thus encouraging the use of the smaller sizes in perfecting shotting of pole floats.  Before Stotz became available I gave up trying to use 12 & 13 shot.  Now I use these sizes of Stotz regularly.

Stotz are numbered exactly the same and are interchangeable with shot. It is just the shape that is different. So when you see numbers referring to shot sizes they apply equally to Stotz.

Other manufacturers have now followed on and produced their own version of Stotz. But the idea is the same.

Where later I refer to shot I will mean both shot and Stotz, which you use is personal choice. But I will say that since using Stotz I have never gone back to shot.

Styl weights were first used on the continent, possibly France or Belgium. Like Stotz they are extruded and cut to length. But the numbering is totally different as is the weight of the individual pieces compared to shot.  Styls are also thinner and longer than Stotz.  As far as I am aware all styls are pure lead being made primarily for the continental market where lead is not banned.

Styls are numbered 1-20 and get heavier the higher the number. But note that sizes 1-6 are rarely used as they are less than 0.01g and sizes 12-20 are illegal in England/UK. So generally we would see only sizes 7-11.

The shotting capacity of most pole floats tends to be marked in styls. This is a carry over from the floats having originated on the continent.

Any difficulty handling either styls or Stotz can be overcome by using either styl pliers or a similar tool made for Stotz.

Float Shotting Capacity Markings
The majority of pole floats will be marked “4xNN” where NN is the size number of a styl so the marking indicates the float’s capacity as four of a certain size of styl. Normally only the even styl numbers are used.

The following is a very rough indication of the gramme equivalent of standard styl markings.

4 X 11 = 0.1g

4 X 12 = 0.2g

4 X 14 = 0.4g

4 X 16 = 0.6g     (Actually its 0.5 but that doesn’t fit the pattern)

4 X 18 = 0.8g

4 X 20 = 1.0g

You should be able to spot the simple rule of thumb the above list reveals.

Some pole floats will be marked in grammes so you will see markings like 0.2, 0.5, 0.75 and 1.0.

I have known of some makers of handmade floats to mark their products in shot. But this will normally be obvious or the maker will tell you when you buy.

One important thing for the novice pole angler to understand that these markings are NOT an indication of how the float should be shotted. They are just an indication of the total shotting capacity of the float. What actual weights you use or what sizes and shotting pattern is up to the angler.

I will discuss shotting patterns in a future section.

French for small olive and that gives away their shape. These are weights used in place of shot to provide a compact bulk. Attached to the line either by the line passing through or using two silicone sleeves to trap the olivette by way of two prongs sticking out top & bottom just like a pole float stem.


In line olivettes.  Usully trapped in place with shot above and below. 
Very thin and short lengths of  bristle pushed into the hole can be used also.  


Although they can be used in sizes down to 0.2/0.4g I would venture to suggest their main use is on floats of 1g and more in deep water.

The olivette will be much smaller than an equivalent shot or string of shot thus will sink more quickly due to the reduced drag.

Pole Floats

Strictly speaking you can use just about any float on a pole. When I refer to pole floats though I am talking about the accepted bristle topped or dome topped floats made specifically for pole fishing.

Because the variations and range of floats available is large and this is a beginner’s guide I am not going to try and explain all of them.  As you develop and learn so you will discover what you prefer and what works on your venues.

Do not get tempted to buy a vast range of floats in different sizes. Start with one or two patterns in a couple of sizes and go from there. When I say sizes, I see little point in having floats that are just 0.2 grammes different in weight. 0.5 and 1 gramme floats will cover most situations. If targeting silvers on a lake up to four to five foot in depth or a slow moving, shallow canal then some floats of around 0.2g may be suitable. For fishing up in the water or margins then shorter dibber type floats are an advantage.

There is an accepted rule of thumb that for still waters like lakes and canals your float should carry 0.1 gramme per foot of depth. This is a guide and not an absolute. I will happily use a 0.75 gramme float in four foot of water if the water is flowing like a canal when the lock gates open. 0.2g in five or six foot if it is a calm day on a lake or canal can give me the sensitivity to spot delicate bites.

The important thing is that the float allows you to control the presentation and the bait.

If you wish to read an explanation of different patterns and materials then follow the link below and read the first part of the article by Nemesis. It is not exhaustive but it covers the basics.

Parts of the Float
There are four basic elements to a pole float – bristle, body, stem and eye. Though not all pole floats will have all of these.

A standard pole float showing the four basic parts.

A tiny dibber style float I use. 
Shown next to a 5p coin for scale.


Just because pole fishing is complicated we of course have to have at least two types of eyes.

First is what is known as a side eye. This is made from a piece of fine wire, twisted and with a loop or hole, the “eye” at one end. The cut end is pushed into the float body so the eye sticks out enabling the line to be threaded through.

When playing big fish these eyes can be pulled out of the float. Thus there was seen a need for a more robust type and the spring or figure of eight eye was born.

The spring eye is basically a coiled length of fine wire that fits snugly over the float bristle and has a protruding eye of some kind to accept the line. Being anchored to the base of the bristle it is a lot more robust than a side eye.

I add spring eyes to most of the floats I use for commercial carp fishing though many are made with them already in place.

Commercial Carp Floats
The very limited range of floats I use for commercial carp fishing are detailed in my blog on my simple approach to this type of venue.

Unfortunately the online store I got my floats from has stopped trading. But reading this article will show you the general patterns of floats I use and demonstrate that you don’t need a vast range to catch fish.

Canal, River and Natural Lake Silvers Floats

Rivers and canals can vary tremendously so it is impossible for me to tell you which type of floats you will need for your local waters. The best people to advise is your local tackle shop and experienced local pole anglers.

Generally though you will need floats that are probably lighter and have a finer bristle when tackling canals and lake roach than you would use when targeting commercial carp.  Rivers may demand a much heavier float with a more buoyant bristle to combat the flow and keep the bait where you want it.   

Lollipop or Flat floats
Specifically a river or flowing water float. Worth mentioning because they are so different to anything else. Having used them to good effect I can attest to the fact that they are not a gimmick and truly work.

Two views of a flat float.
When sitting perfectly in a river’s flow the bristle will be vertical.  These floats range in size from around 1 gramme to as much as 75 grammes (3 ounces!) for deep, fast flowing rivers.  The much larger sizes tend to be used more on the continent, most British rivers not requiring such extremes.

Hand Made v Mass Produced
Here you very much pays your money and takes your choice.  I have never used hand made floats.  Not because I have anything against them, I just have never felt the need.

Those that swear by them tell me they are more robust and have a better build quality. 

All I can say is that I am happy with the mass produced floats I currently use and see no reason to switch.  My advice would be to learn what you want from your pole floats before plunging into the hand made arena.  There are plenty of good makers out there.  And for the adventurous you can make your own.  All the materials are available on eBay.

Float Care
There is not much to say really but I will mention a couple of things. 

The first thing I do with any new float is to give the body a couple of coats of clear nail varnish.  Some will insist it must be a certain brand.  I just go for the cheapest I can get.  I will then re-paint the floats with a coat or two each time I re-make a rig, particularly where the line may have cut into the body. 

I know the float should be ready to go when bought but I get a little bit of confidence knowing I have sealed all the holes (stem, bristle, eye) and given the body that little bit of extra protection.  The varnish dries to a very thin finish and so has no noticeable effect on shotting capacity.

Not something I have done but you could, if you so wished, use a coloured varnish and so make your floats individual, even sparkly or fluorescent – tackle tart heaven?

The other thing I do with my floats I use for carp fishing is to add a spring eye if there isn’t one already.  The eyes can be bought cheaply on eBay and a spot of superglue will hold it in place on the bristle.  Just make sure you get the size right.  For a 2mm bristle you will need a 2.1mm eye.

And if I do damage a float I have no issue repairing it if at all possible.  I have re-fitted bristles stems and eyes.  Just superglue in place and nail varnish over when set to seal.

My final word on pole floats is that I am a believer in the old adage that if it looks right then it will be right.  If a pole float looks to you that it will do the intended job then use it with confidence.

Best example of this is the float I love to use on the canal.  To me it just looks beautiful, and it is brilliant for those small canal roach.  7 inches/18cm long, 0.2g and a bristle that can be sunk by a No.12 shot.

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