Tackle and Tactics
Mike Ladle


Information Page.

"Bubble floats and controllers."

Recently I had an email from Edmond Tang asking about the use of bubble floats as an alternative to fly fishing. In the past most of my fly fishing was for mullet and there is no doubt that at times it can be extremely difficult. One of the main problems is wind. The nature of the difficulty depends on the strength, gustiness and direction of the wind and is worth exploring in a bit more depth.

I'll start with mullet because they provide clear illustrations. One of the best situations to catch them on the fly is when they are surface feeding on the maggots of seaweed flies. They are easiest to catch when the maggots are clustered close in to the waters edge in more or less calm conditions. However, even a slight offshore breeze can drive the maggot rafts out to or beyond easy fly casting range. Distance casting with fly tackle is useless because the maggots that I use to adorn the hook are flicked off by the force of the cast. One solution that we came up with was - a bubble float.

When the wind is stronger and blowing onshore or even along the shore it can be difficult to get a fly line out to fish, even if they are feeding at short range. Again the bubble float seemed to provide an answer.

In both situations the solution was similar. In order to get a tiny, almost weightless, polyethylene maggot fly, baited with maggots, out to the fish, feeding in the surface film, it was necessary to use a floating weight. The same idea as the carp anglers controller or the JIF lemon filled with candle wax used by bass anglers to give distance when using a plastic eel. There are clearly two obvious ways of rigging this system. Either the maggot fly can be tied on the end of a trace that lies beyond the bubble float. In this case the drag of the float may interfere with the strike. The second, more appealing, approach is to tie a dropper between the float and the rod top and attach the fly to the dropper. The float can be tied or attached by a swivel and clip at one or both ends according to its position in the rig.

There are several advantages of the latter method. In theory the contact with a taking fish should be immediate and less hampered by the presence of the float. Also, it should be possible to lift most of the line off the water so that only the baited fly lies on the surface thus making the rig less conspicuous to the fish. Lastly, it is possible to lob the float beyond any feeding fish and draw it back so that they are not disturbed by the presence of the float.

At one time I always carried a bubble float in the bag so that when I came across feeding fish in difficult situations I could at least have a chance of catching them. The method certainly works although it is not as easy as I may have made it sound. Over the years I have met one or two people who have specialised in these tactics almost to the exclusion of other methods One chap had considerable success by using two droppers each with a floating maggot fly baited with maggots. He probably got more bites in this way and he certainly caught plenty of mullet but since there is a distinct possibility of hooking two fish at once I could not recommend it.

Fly fishing with a bubble float has its difficulties. Drifting weed catches on the float and the dropper and the drag of the float interferes with playing fish (See 'Saltwater' page 08/07/2003) but there is no doubt that it is a viable alternative to fly gear and at times succeeds where no other approach can. To be honest conventional fly fishing is not that difficult (whatever some 'experts' may try to make you think) and these days most anglers could afford a cheap set of tackle to have a go. Nevertheless, if you prefer to use a fixed spool outfit with a float or controller that's fine.

Bubble floats are probably a bit 'old fashioned' nowadays and I would suggest that there are better alternatives. Those kids bouncy solid rubber balls have plenty of weight, come in a variety of sizes and can be rigged as floats. One of my pals used to use a 'carpenters' thick pencil as an alternative and I'm sure that these days you can buy a wide range of controllers designed for carp fishing. These will certainly be more streamlined than a bubble float and will cast well and cause less resistance.

Mullet fishing is not the only situation where a controller can be useful. Years ago Malcolm Brindle and others were using heavily weighted floats to cast from the rocks at Portland. The idea was to get an unweighted Redgill out to bass feeding in the tide race a long way off shore. Other anglers successfully used Jif lemons filled with candle wax to fish small Redgills in powerstation outfalls. A similar approach can pay off in less extreme conditions where the fish are hard to reach and conditions may be too snaggy for conventional spinning. It is easy to extend this to fishing for other species. Flies or small rubber eels can be used with a weighted float to catch mackerel, pollack, coalfish, scad and the like, feeding near the surface on small baitfish or plankton animals.

If you have any comments or questions about fish, methods, tactics or 'what have you.'get in touch with me by sending an E-MAIL to - docladle@hotmail.com


Bubble floats and controllers.

Three rods.

I always used to take three rods down to the coast - a spinning rod for plugging, a fly rod for mullet fishing and a float rod for using with float gear or a bubble float.  If I left one at home I invariably regretted it.

Rough conditions.

A controller can be a big help in an onshore wind or to reach over the breakers full of crappy weed.

Calm conditions.

Fly casting is easy when it's flat calm but you have to keep out of sight of the fish.

Nice mullet.

Quality thichlips can be caught on maggot flies whether cast with a controller or a fly line.