Floater fishing tips from Adam Penning

Floater fishing tips from Adam Penning

Floater fishing for carp is arguably the most exhilarating way to catch them, but it can be a tricky method to master.

Here, big-fish legend ADAM PENNING shares his top surface tips...

For more great tips from top anglers head to this year’s The Big One Show


In this piece I’m going to run you through some little ‘edges’ that I’ve picked up over the past 30 years or so that have made a big difference to my floater-fishing success.

First up, let’s look at tackling what is undoubtedly ‘public enemy number one’ when adopting the tactic – our feathered friends!   

Beat the Birds 

Far too many anglers don’t even attempt floater fishing nowadays due to being put off by the presence of various forms of waterfowl.

They can make life really hard, but there are a few things you can do to minimise the impact of these loosefeed-robbing birds. 

Feed off the birds with cheap bread and dog biscuits

Feed off the birds with cheap bread and dog biscuits

The first thing to do is assess how many there are on the lake. We have various types of geese, swans, mallards and, of course gulls, but don’t let them put you off.

The trick is to feed them off first, then get on with your fishing in relative peace. The amount of ‘bird food’ you’ll need obviously depends on the stock of birds on your venue.

My approach is to get a shopping basket and fill it with the cheapest bread and budget dog biscuits. Once you arrive at the lake, pick a corner from which both the fish and other anglers are absent, then put in the cheap bread and biscuits for the birds.

This will normally fill them up (and sometimes they even have a little sleep after!), which leaves you free to surface fish. 

Gulls can be the biggest problem of all, and it can often take quite a while for them to have their fill before floating off somewhere to digest it all, but feeding them off really is time well spent. 

If you don’t take this precaution, then you’ll have gulls swooping on your loosefeed. This can be a nightmare scenario because they can scare any carp that might be edging into the area with half a mind on feeding.

That said, once the carp are feeding in earnest, they don’t get worried by the gulls and will happily feed with them. So, my motto is ‘don’t let the birds defeat you’ – persist with your plan and you will soon be in floater fishing heaven. 

Get them ‘jostling’

The single most important aspect of successful floater fishing is to get the carp feeding and competing confidently before you put a rig out there.

Fish on the surface are generally much harder to catch than those on the bottom, so fishing for them when they are not up for it can be highly frustrating. I feed the birds, then feed the fish until I reach a point where there are a good number in the swim feeding confidently. 

Feed first, fish later

Feed first, fish later

The way the fish take the bait will start to change, and they will gradually become much more aggressive as they jostle for pole position for the next morsel.

In this ‘mental state’ they are far, far easier to catch and, more importantly, you can catch a number of fish instead of just the odd one. 

I have fed fish for many hours, even up to half a day on occasion, before casting out my rig, and enjoyed some big hits off the top as a result. Patience in this respect is absolutely vital! 

Small freebies to start…

I was fortunate to be at the forefront of the floater fishing revolution back in the 1990s, when my best mate Mark Cole discovered the power of small floating pellets.

Everyone was on Chum mixers and everywhere we went, we caught an incredible number of fish because of those small pellets. 

Everyone still uses large baits in the main, yet they really are missing a trick. I use a mixture of 3mm, 6mm and 11mm Krill Floaters, with 80 per cent of the mix being made up of the smaller two sizes.

Small baits, like Sticky Krill Floaters, certainly get them going

Small baits, like Sticky Krill Floaters, certainly get them going

These can work the fish into a feeding frenzy, and the bigger ones are only there to replicate the size of my hookbait, once I’m ready to introduce it. 

The Krill Floaters are crammed with oils and powders which ooze attraction, and I also add some spicy Cap Oil to them, which creates a flat spot around your bait, allowing you to see your hookbait far more easily. 

Finesse your end tackle

An irrefutable rule in fishing is that the thinner the hooklink and the smaller the hook you use, the more bites you are going to get.

The same is true in floater fishing but, having said that, you need to use tackle strong enough to land the fish that you are targeting. 

In short, use the lightest tackle that you can get away with and it will get you more bites. 

If you catch a couple on a size 10 hook with 0.30mm diameter line and they then start becoming trickier to catch, it’s time to drop to a size 12 and 0.25mm line, providing the weed isn’t bad and there aren’t any other obstacles.

While on the subject of fine tuning your tackle, I cannot stress enough what a difference a sticky-sharp hook makes when surface fishing. 

Sharp hooks are just as important in surface fishing

Sharp hooks are just as important in surface fishing

Hone your points, and far fewer fish will be able to spit out the hook once they’ve mouthed the bait (one of the many frustrations of this tactic!) 

Use a ‘beacon’ hookbait 

Back in the day we used to ‘match the hatch’ with our hookbaits when surface fishing – which was all well and good, but often we couldn’t see the bite until the float moved!

Nowadays I would say that waiting for the float to move is often too late - you need to be striking as soon as the fish sucks in the bait! 

You'll spot a bright pop-up much more easily

You'll spot a bright pop-up much more easily

To make this easier, and to distinguish your hookbait from the freebies, use a bright pop-up. A white or yellow one is perfect, and not only will you be able to see it as soon as the fish mouths the bait, but it will also stay buoyant far longer than a sodden Chum mixer.

I trim the pop-up to as small as I can get away with. The smaller the better as far as I’m concerned and, don’t worry, you will still be able to see it at range. 

To attach the bait I hair rig it as tight as possible to the back of the hook. At times, I have also side-hooked them, and that seems to work just as well. 

Go long, if you need to…

When I go back to the early days of floater fishing, it was all about using a small controller float about 30 yards from the bank, dotted right down and drifting amid a pouchful of floaters.

However, for one reason or another, the best floater sport can be at medium to long range on many lakes. The further out the carp are, the more confident they become and the quicker they lose their inhibitions, due mainly to the fact that they don’t know they’re being fished for. 

In this situation, Spombing your mix of freebies out alongside big, heavy controller floats can be the name of the game, so these bait delivery advices, along with spods and even the new Airbomb, need to be added to the standard catapult as baiting tools for floater fishing.

Surface fishing doesn't have to be close in

Surface fishing doesn't have to be close in

I carry a few options with me, each serving a different purpose depending on the situation I am faced with.

Having all the bases covered and being able to bait up at range will get more fish feeding and, with the big controllers, you can fish effectively in areas that many other anglers wouldn’t even try to get a bait to. 

Make instant contact

Since the mid- 1990s I’ve used braided mainline for my floater fishing. It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s peerless when it comes to setting the hook on the strike.

As soon as that hookbait goes, you are connected to the fish.

The other advantage of using braid is that if a breeze picks up you can ‘mend’ the line far easier than you could if you were using monofilament, keeping you in direct contact with your controller float and, therefore, far more likely to set the hook with minimal effort. 

Braid for surface fishing? Yep!

Braid for surface fishing? Yep!

One final tip, which is obvious but still something I see a lot of people doing wrong: always cast your float well past where you’ve got the fish feeding, before tweaking it back into the ‘hot zone’.

If you cast directly on top of their heads, it will ruin all your hard work and send the fish bolting off in panic.

Floater fishing is such an invigorating way to target carp, and I wouldn’t rather be doing anything else when the sun is high in the sky. I hope you have a great summer of surface sport too!