When looking at a swim from the bank there may be features like overhanging trees or bushes, reeds, small bays etc, that just scream fish. These features are the first places people fish to, but what about features that you can’t see, or what if your swim doesn’t have any visible features from the bank?
Other questions you may ask yourself are how deep is my swim? Is it a uniform depth? Where are the ledges, a drop-off or hole? Are there any plateaux or gravel bars? What does the lakebed consist of; gravel, clay, silt, weed, and if so, where?
All of the above questions can be answered with the use of a marker-float set-up.
What is a Marker-Float?
A marker-float is normally a large, visible and very buoyant float, which has a single eye and/or swivel attached to the bottom. They can be purchased from most tackle shops, are mainly coloured orange or black and come in different sizes to take different size leads. Personally I use a marker-float that can be easily cocked by a 3oz lead.
How do you set up a Marker-Float?
You’ll need a rod that’s stiff enough to punch out a fairly heavy lead, a reel preferably loaded with braid, a braid shock-leader, a fairly heavy lead, a marker-float and some rubber beads.
Setting up a basic marker-float is very simple, simply tie your shock-leader directly to the marker-float with a running lead being able to run freely up and down the shock-leader and mainline. Then tie the other end of the shock-leader to your mainline. It’s advisable to make up a 30cm/12inch link between the lead and a run-ring (or large swivel) that slides on your shock-leader and mainline. This link helps to keep the shock-leader and mainline above any weed that may be present.
How do you use a Marker-Float?
Once you have set up your marker-float it’s time to explore your swim. If you’re searching for a known feature then choose a point of reference on the far side of your swim or horizon, like a tree, pylon or church spire.
Cast out your marker-float, overhead style, beyond where you think the underwater feature is by aiming for your chosen point of reference, say a tree on the far bank. If you don’t have any prior knowledge of your swim then fan out your casts in an arc to eventually cover the whole swim, making note of a point of reference for each cast.
Once the lead hits the surface of the water quickly flick over the bail-arm and wind up any slack so that you’re in direct contact with the lead and marker-float. Keeping the rod tip high, let the rod gently lower as the lead pulls the tip down.
Feel the lead and marker-float dropping through the water, this is where a braid shock-leader and main-line is advisable. When the lead touches down on the lakebed you’ll feel the vibrations traveling up the braid and down the rod to your hand.
Mono has too much elasticity and suppresses the vibrations. A coated lead will also suppress vibrations so either remove the coating or use a non-coated lead.
The feel of the touch-down depends on what the lakebed consists of in that place, for example if you feel a ‘donk’ then you’ve probably found gravel.
If you feel a firm ‘thud’ then you’ve found clay.
If you feel a soft ‘thud’ then you’ve found silt.
If you feel the lead gently coming to rest on the lakebed without a ‘thud’ then you’ve found weed.
Once the lead has touched down you then turn side on to the water pointing the rod at 90 degrees to the marker-float and tightening up. Then, by using the rod only, pull the lead and marker-float along the lakebed about 3 yards at a time.
The feelings/vibrations that come up from the lead will give you an indication of what the lakebed consists of. For example, if you feel a constant ‘donk’, ‘donk’, ‘donk’, then you’re pulling the lead across gravel and the rod tip will bounce quite violently.
If it feels like the lead is ‘sticking and skipping’ across the lakebed, then you’re pulling the lead across clay.
If it feels like the lead is being pulled through ‘porridge’, then you’re pulling the lead through silt.
If the lead starts to snag up and gets harder and harder to pull along, then you’re in weed; you can actually feel the strands of weed snapping as you do this.
When you’ve found say gravel, you can then explore how long or wide it is by casting past it or either side of it using your points of reference on the far bank or horizon and by using the line-clip on your spool.
You can also check the depth of that particular spot on the lakebed by pointing the rod in the direction of the marker-float and tightening up on the lead, then paying off line a foot at a time until the marker-float surfaces. Don’t forget to add the 30cm/12inch link to your depth.
This works because the lead is ‘running’ on the shock-leader and main line, and will allow the float to rise when given line.
Using this method you can find gravel bars, plateaux, ledges and drop-offs by feeling along the bottom and then allowing the marker-float to rise. Note the depth and repeat on the next spot.
Building up a picture
Once you get the hang of what different lakebeds feel like and their depths you can then begin to piece together what’s in your swim. You can take notes or mak
e sketches of the picture you have of the lakebed in relation to your points of reference.
Once you have chosen a likely spot for your hook bait using your marker-float, you can leave it in position, say on top of a gravel bar or at the bottom of a drop off. With the marker-float marking the position of your feature you can cast to it with your baited rig and introduce freebies or use it as a ‘spodding’ marker.
Note - A ‘spod’, used for ‘spodding’, is a missile or rocket shaped object, which is tied directly to a heavy shock-leader. With the aid of the line-clip on your spool and using a marker-float you can introduce particles, pellets, boilies, etc, accurately up to a range of 100 yards without too much trouble.
Once you’ve built up a picture of the lakebed using a marker-float and you have your points of reference you can then fish to the same spots time after time. I’ve seen anglers using two marker-floats to mark the width of a clear patch in the weed. Although I’ve never done this myself, it shows how other anglers use marker-float set-ups as part of their armory.
Whenever I visit a water to have a walk round I always take my marker-float set-up. If I see bubbles or a fish rolling I’ll then cast to where they are to see what feature attracts them to feed.
The only time that I will not use a marker-float is if I’m doing short sessions and its use might spook the fish. Saying that, on some waters the constant thrashing of the water attracts the fish! Another consideration is that other anglers might not want a marker-float crashing around the edges of their swim. If I am worried about spooking fish on a short session then I would do my feature finding after I’ve fished, ready for the next session.
Marker-float set-ups are a very valuable tool. After all, it’s what’s in the water that’s most important!
Garth Barnard a.k.a. Gaffer