The Way of the Stick Float.

A lot of people fish the Stick float well, but just as many fish it poorly. I’m going to try to explain exactly what the stick float should be doing, and why, when you’re fishing it. I’ll mention again, I’m no expert, I’m still learning, trying to understand why these floats are so deadly in the right conditions and right hands.

The River Match-man of old had to build a net of fish from any peg, often during times of the day not conducive for fishing. He would know the venue often and if he had a winning peg, that held Bream or Chub say. But if he didn’t draw a top peg, then mostly it was all about scratching.  Building a bag of little fish like Roach, Chub, Bleak, Dace, trying to catch quickly on every cast. The Stick float gave them this opportunity and this is why. It allowed very delicate presentation for well-educated fish. Often lines as low as .08 ounce, with size 24s hooks were used. (Nowadays Hi-Tec lines with such low diameters, finer lines can be used with a greater breaking strain.)

“Angling Times Picture showing what and what not to do when using a Stick.”


The Stick Float shotted correctly catches fish at all depths as it falls through the water column. When you hold it back (and you should) it rises and falls enticingly for the fish, exactly like the loose feed. You hold back, let it go, hold back, let it go, all the way down the swim, importantly you’re fishing over depth most of the time. If the swim is 6′ deep you’re fishing at 7′ with the bottom hook-length 10”/16” Un-shotted. It allows wonderful presentation and un-missable bites if you’re keeping a tight line to the float. Most bites come on or after the stop, as the float moved down the swim bit by bit. The trot could be relatively short overall, six or ten yards as the fish moved up-stream to intercept the then   revolutionary  bait the Caster! The Stick and Caster were a match made in heaven for the Trent Angler of old, as it is still today.


On waters like the Trent you would use 2 pints of Casters typically in a match or pleasure session, loose feeding so the fish are taking them at all levels. The stop and start checking of the float would ensure the bait and float were always in contact with the angler giving good solid bites.

The downside of the Stick was it could only be fished in the best of conditions. A slight up-stream wind, smooth top water, and less than six feet of depth on average. Any rough water, or downstream wind and the Avon float would fish much better, but that’s for another time. Many anglers fish a Stick in conditions were another float would give them a much better chance (myself included) such is the lure of the Stick.

Finally the rods used for this method (Stick float fishing) were also very special to cope with the ultra fine tackle. Anglers with famous names in the day started to endorse such rods, today these antiques sell for good money on E-Bay, Tom Pickering rods are a fine example. However we have some great Stick float rods today made from much better and lighter materials. The Acolyte Ultra and Daiwa Connoisseur range for example allow very fine lines to be used. But whatever you choose it must have a soft tip, but quick action to hit sharp bites at distance.


Old reels (as I mentioned before) like the Abu 501-506-506 are still up to the job, and great fun to use.




Rods for River Trotting, and Barbel.

On various fishing forums I visit, this has to be one of the most often questions asked and a difficult on to answer. Firstly rods have move on in the last few years (5-10) as at one time the big fish trotting angler had to make do with rods not specifically designed for the job. I see a lot of suggestions for the Drennan 12’9 Tench rod, well it’s a rod, about the right length but it’s got Tench on in for a reason, and it’s designed to sit in a rest most of the time. Will it do, yes but you could do better.

Angling Times Picture, Barbel on the Acolyte Plus.


I’ve not tried every rod available, few have, but during my search in 2015/16 I did a lot of looking, speaking to those in the know, holding and swishing rods. Lets look at what you need in a big fish trotting rod. First it has to be able to take a main-line of at least 6lb breaking strain. It has to bend right through the blank, not just the tip, or two-thirds, down below is where the power is.

There are plenty of rods designed for river fishing, even float fishing, but most are too light. Hence were the suggestion for something like a Tench rod comes in, it does all the above. But it lacks any finesse, or a quick but softish tip. I tried a Tench rod myself and just found it dull, it didn’t pick up line at distance quickly, or with any authority. I don’t think it’s until you have tried a proper float Barbel rod, that you would know any difference.

I mentioned earlier that rods have come on recently, due I think to the modern carp commercials. These places have a lot to do with new rod designs, specifically for pulling big carp out on light lines. These float rods are very light, as thin as a pencil and bend right through. One pellet waggler I own is the perfect small river float rod, its light super quick, ultra slim and takes 6 lb main-line. If I was a small river Barbel trotter I’d look no further. However it is too short for bigger river applications, where the 13′ rod rules. Sadly most of these pellet waggler rods are too short and 9′-11′ seems to be the ideal size as the carp anglers can net carp quicker with this length.

So as you can see the right design is the key, after much looking I’ve fund just a handful of rods up to the job. Remember these are rods I’ve tried myself and still own.


The Acolyte Plus range from Drennan. In my humble view these rods are perfect, they have all the traits I look for. Some say they are too light for big Barbel, but most people who say that don’t ever test their tackle to the full.  Look at;  You-Tube epic fishing fight on 1lb hook link.  (Have you ever watched anglers with strong carp rods and 15 lb line fish for Barbel. With modest fish they haul them in super fast trying to keep them from snags, nothing wrong with that, but where is the fun, fight?) I don’t float fish near snags, full stop, so my tackle is appropriate. I also bend into my fish and with a float rod, that’s nothing like bending into a fish with a carp rod and 15lb believe me. Mostly my Barbel move toward the middle of the river, then sulk, until I move them again.

It’s worth a test if you still unsure, try breaking 6lb line on a straight pull when attached to one of these rods. Then imagine trying to break it on a big fish, almost impossible, the hook-link goes first, and at 4/5 pound that too takes some breaking. A long float rod is an impressive tool, and can exert real power on a big Barbel.

You can pick these up now for bargain prices. Google Acolyte plus. 14′ my favourite.

The Daiwa Tournament. I’ve been a big Daiwa rod fan for years. The blanks are so high quality, and they last. Most have been good investments for me, but they come at a price. I bit heavier than the Acolyte, but the feel is very steely if you know what I mean. Mine is rated 2-8 pound and is stronger than the Acolyte, just. My choice is the 13’/15′ at 15′ with a light balanced reel the rod is a delight to use, is a Barbel rod killer without compromise.  I often lay-on with this length in the evenings, hooking Barbel as they pull against the rod top, no buzzer required thank God, but do hang on! Maybe because of the quality these rods go for a good price second-hand.

That’s it, just two rods I would choose from. Their must be others, I’m told some of the old Normark are good, and Harrison does one as well as do Free-Spirit. Daiwa also do a Spectron thats almost as good as the Tourny. But you will have to do your research like I did.  Finally forums are a good source, but only listen to those that really do trot for Barbel, and not those ones that wish they did?





Stick Float Rods and Reels.

Traditionally if you used a stick float for float fishing you would use either a centrepin, or closed face reel. The Abu Garcia 500 series, all made in Sweden were the closed face reels to own if you were serious about your stick fishing. They were simple in design, and to use, design for spinning they found a niche with the stick float anglers of the day.Being made in Sweden ( now in the far East) the quality was high, even though the mechanics were very simple. The bodies were made of metal and inners with cheap parts that at the time could easily be replaced, once worn. The 501 became a cult reel over the years and many say it’s never been bettered.

Old ones in mint condition fetch between £70-£100 today, when first made they cost around £20. The reel had a few downsides, particularly the clutch system that took some getting use to. However the stick men overcame this by taking out the mechanism so the reel could only back-wind. Remember these anglers were using a method (stick float fishing) designed for quantity, not big fish. So when a big fish did come along the 501 would allow the angler to backwind giving the fish line to avoid breakage. Many of todays big fish anglers still prefer to back-wind over a clutch, even though todays reels have wonderful clutch arrangement.



Abu Garcia in later years (like many UK manufacturers, Hardy for example) move their reel production to the far East, China, Thailand, and the quality metal bodywork was replaced with plastic. Lighter but not as long-lived. I doubt many of todays Abu reels will ever see two decades before they fall apart. The close faced reel had many advantages for the angler, especially in windy conditions. Centrepin reels came without a line guard in those days, so any wind could see the line getting behind the reel, very annoying and time-consuming. They also had the disadvantages of range, you could only cast so far with a pin! I love to use a pin but most of mine have line guards. The one that doesn’t I only use on still days, it’s just not worth the effort. Oddly these days anglers are just as likely to ledger with a pin, Barbel, Carp anglers especially.


I come back to the 500 series. The Match men of the day would only fill the narrow spools with 50/70 yards of very fine main line 2.6lb typically. This would help stop the bedding in of the line on the spool after a big fish was landed. After all, they were fishing for bites and big fish were the bonus of well thought out feeding tactics, another talent many of those men had. Hook-links could be as fine as 1lb or less, my mind boggles at the finesse. Hooks size 22/24/26 were common. Just recently I managed to pick up a little minter 501 that’s now with  Jim’s reel shop having the anti-reverse pawn put back to its original state. The 501 is the only 500 in the series that this pawn helps the drag, and allows you to backwind with some resistance. A fish runs, the handle backwinds but with some measure of protection of the light hook-link.

The hot weather is still with use and proper fishing is limited for the time being. Stick with use as I’ve still got lots to say.

Records are Broken.

I think this will go down as one of the longest dry spell in a decade. I cannot remember that last time we had some decent rain, March maybe? My garden is dry, the lawns browny/white, and the flowers and shrubs look forlorn.


Today on the River I basted again, speaking to other anglers the barbel are scarce as are most of the fish, night-time is the main time the fish are feeding it seems. I think if this continues I’ll have to forgo daytime fishing and just have a few hours into darkness. It will mean getting out the quiver tip again, but hopefully it won’t be for long.

I’m wondering if the better Roach would feed late on, and not just the barbel. Thing is I’ve caught plenty of Barbel on bread in the past, and I know they take it on the Trent.

I could compromise and fish a 6lb mainline and 4lb hook link, that way I’d have a good chance if I do hit a Barbel of landing it provided it didn’t snag me. I have a nice Drennan Super feeder that while being tippy, is good with light line hook-links. Sitting touch ledgering is a nice way of passing an evening with a quiver tip rod. Bread, corn, even a small pellet (8 mm) would work on the better Roach. I’ve managed to get a few, small open and close ended feeders for the Roach work, 25-30 grams is ideal at present.


Currently the Trent is clear and low so maybe a maggot feeder would be better than a cereal feeder. Maybe maggots and hemp on the deck, would be better than trotting when I often spread the bait all over the place.

I’m busy now for the rest of this week, but next week I’ll be out again. By then we may have had some rain, I dearly hope so!


The Art of Stick Float Fishing.

Firstly let me say I’m no expert when it comes to the art of stick float fishing (unlike many of the Trent anglers of old). But its something I really love to do whenever I can. The wind and river conditions have to be just right for it to be productive, but sometimes I simply do it when all is against me and a waggler would be a better choice!

King of the stick float, Ivan Marks from Nottingham.


On super bright sunny days I find a black tip stick float stands out better than almost any other colour. It seems to help the eyes rest on the float, rather than search for it. Stick float fishing is all about finesse, fine lines and small hooks. Designed to catch fish downstream of you in shallow water, up to six feet mostly. It’s not unusual to find stick float experts fishing with 2lb main line and 1.5lb hook links. Hooks size 16s and lower. I compromise however and fish with a 3.4lb main line, and hook links of 2.10lb. It doesn’t seem to make that much difference to me and my catches, but the experts would disagree, saying its far to heavy for the ultra light presentation required of this method?

Now that’s a match-mans approach, but the layman may wish to fish for bigger fish like chub and barbel on the stick, and this does require a different approach. I find my set up with an upped hook-link to (4lb and 5lb)  main line allows me not only to catch small fish like Dace and Roach, but chub and the barbel that the Trent produces in numbers these days. In the older days of the Trent fishing the Barbel just did not appear in catches, now they dominate it, hence the ultra light tackle was more than suitable then.

The traditional way of Stick Float fishing was to use hemp and caster or hemp and tares for the mass of Roach/Dace the river use to hold. These fish have come back but are much harder to catch due to the cleaner river the Trent is now. (More about this in another article). This is still the go-to method, but now it catches big Chub and Barbel for those that know how to go about tackling it, feeding is a vital part of the puzzle.

I’m learning this as I go along, at times I’m successful, so I can only tell you how I go about it. On arrival I put about 3-5 handfuls of hemp in along with 2 of caster. Then I set up, tackle is a Drennan 14′ Power float rod, 4.4lb line and 3.2lb hook link, size 16 forged hook. Once I’m settled I start to feed and continue until I leave, during this time I may only feed 10 grains of hemp and 3 caters, or 30 grains and a dozen caster it will depend on what I’m catching and how the fish respond. If I can give you an example of one good day I had in September 2017.

Big Chub also fall for laid on tactics, this on weighed 5.5oz.


I’d been feeding cautiously for about 2 hours (as mentioned above) taking a few Roach, Dace, and little Chub. My float was a wide topped stick taking 8 number 4 shot, 4.4lb hook link. Swim was about 7-8 foot deep steady flow coming up slightly towards the end of my run of 30 yards. Around 4pm I hooked a Barbel of just over 11lb on double caster fished just on depth. It run towards the middle of the river and stopped, but steady pressure moved it into my back and after maybe four minutes it was landed in my Gardner barbel net. I baited a little more next run down but had to wait another ten minutes before another Barbel of 8lb followed by another of 9lb came along. All on trotted caster, I did change the hook-link and hook after the first fish, just for safety.

As it was getting towards dark now I picked up my other rod, a 15′ Daiwa loaded with 6lb mainline and 5.5lb bottom. I then laid on with the same 8 number 4 shot stick float but with the shot replaced by a 4 gram olivette. I was fishing only one rod length below me so when the next fish took the triple caster, the rod was off the rest with me hanging on for grim death. Sadly after a great fight the fish was lost, and the hook returned neatly flattened out. After this it was too dark to see a float, so I packed up and headed home. Feeding is the key, prolonged and regular every trot down the swim, its not a lazy mans method.

True Stick men like the great ‘Ivan Marks’ from Nottingham suggested in his book a lot of his success was down to fishing very small hooks, and light lines. In those days as I’ve mention the barbel were just not there. I’ve just watched a great clip form another true great angler John Allerton. Its worth looking on You-Tube to find these rare clips.

Once this amazing hot weather declines a bit, I’ll be fishing again, see you on the bank.






Black floats and Balloons.

With the sun shining down from a cloudless blue sky, a black tipped 6 number 4 was my choice of weapon today. It would be like war trying to get a fish out of the Trent today, so hot was it. I set up with a 2lb 10oz Preston power line bottom just .10 in diameter then took a fest of little Perch one after the other that seemed to loved my fresh Bronze maggots.

Feeding hemp and caster little and often, the fish came in batches, some small Roach, Chub and Dace among them. Being so hot all fish were released at hand, and not kept for a picture like normal days. Towards evening I set up my longer Daiwa rod 15′ with a J. W. Young’s pin loaded with 6lb  laid on for an evening Barbel.  Its something I often do when evening comes and I’ve been baiting a swim all day with my loose feed. But the sun had given me a bad headache thought the day, and the fishing was half-hearted, so I packed at 7.30 with the best time still to come.


The Trent is currently low and has little flow, so we need a substantial amount of rain, steady and prolonged to bring the River back to life, a little like my garden currently?


One person enjoying the evening much more than myself was a balloonist, that had taken his bright red “lightbulb in the sky” for a trip around the Trent Valley. Bet it was a super cool evening up their?

Can it be Too hot for fishing?

We’ll yes and no, yes for consistent sport, and no for the odd bigger fish. I started today on a new stretch for me called the Viaduct on the Notts ticket. It takes a bit of finding, plus two locked gates, but it is worth the effort. It screams big fish, and is also noted for such. Barbel to 18lb, Chub to over 8lb and a host of other big fish. I can only guess why it produces such big fish, apart from anglers high protein baits. Its deep, slow even pace compared to some part of the Trent, very wide and tree-lined all along the beat, meaning lots of insect falls. IMGP0613

Unlike East Stoke the Viaduct has no hand-made swims, so is rather difficult to set up in, but we managed. Starting on a 3AAA waggler I ran through both off the bottom then dragging, caster and feeding hemp. It resulted in just a few small Chub under 6oz a piece. The sun was baking down and I started to count my own sanity of fishing on such a day 30.deg.

A family of ducks paid a visit as well as a pair of young male swans. They in turn were rewarded with some bread slices I’d planned to use if any better Chub appeared.

IMGP0610After lunch I thought I’d try a feeder, with a small pellet. After about 30 minutes I introduced some ground-bait by hand thinking just maybe the fish wanted a static bait.

After another hour the tips pulled round and I hooked a nice fish that fought well in the little flow there was. To be honest I was hoping for a decent Chub, but a near 8lb Bream took its place on the little 16s hook. I should have known, once you introduce any pellet on the Trent, the Bream know!

IMGP0616I packed up knowing I’ll return, but it will be when it’s not so hot. Meanwhile my little fishing dog is also hoping for a trip once its cooler! I can imagine in winter long trotting with bread flake could be the big Chub way, or maggots (plenty) on the milder wetter high pressure days, we’ll see?