A book by Jeff Della Mura
Review by Chris Yates
This season I have mainly been looking at floats. When freshwater fishing I rarely use the ledger nowadays, nor do I spend much time freelining or fly fishing. I have always been fond of the float, but this season I have found it even more seductive than usual. Yesterday, for instance, by a quiet tree-hung eddy on the Dorset Stour, I spent perhaps five hours staring at a lovely cork-bodied porcupine quill, its amber tip seeming to mark the very centre of the universe. Having set my tackle over-depth at seven feet, I was laying-on with the float at half-cock right next to a semi-submerged willow trunk. It was just the place for a big perch and, after casting, I expected a bite within minutes; but the minutes ticked past uneventfully. After half an hour I should really have reeled in and made another throw, possibly towards the edge of the main current, yet the float was in such a perfect position and it looked so wonderfully bright on the dark winter river that I became almost totally mesmerised. Even when they’re not getting bites, float anglers like to reel in regularly to check their baits, but if the float itself is a minor work of art, and if its appearance on the water somehow completes the look of the world, then the main object of the exercise – the fish – can seem to lose its importance.
Over the years I have gathered many beautiful fistfuls of floats and I never tire of admiring them, either in their cases or in colouful bunches stuffed into old tea mugs on my windowsill, but they always look their best when they’re standing solitary and a little mysteriously on the edge of a quiet pool or river. Last summer, all my fishing was for crucian carp and tench on small ponds and I used fine delicate crow quills most of the time. From November to March I inhabit riverbanks and what with floods and spates I generally use larger and more buoyant floats than in summer. And throughout this season, despite knowing that I could be content whether the float remained motionless or not, there have been many wonderful instances of disappearance followed by a suitably bent rod.
And so, in this year of complete float fishing, I am more enthusiastic than ever about this superb new book, Hooked on Floats, by Jeff Della Mura. As someone who just likes to gaze on a painted tip it could not fail to find a place on my bookshelf, crammed as it is with gorgeous colour photographs of all my favourite kinds of float, but I am particularly gladdened by the fact that Jeff’s historical survey of float patterns does not include anything produced after the 1960s. While there are still many skilled floatmakers turning out handsome, classic and very usable floats today, the types on general sale are now rather dull and often quite ugly – and how can an angler fish with an ugly float?
Hooked on Floats is an encyclopedia as well as a bible of float fishing. It begins with an entertaining and sometimes nostalgic series of personal reflections from a number of obviously gifted enthusiasts then reaches back through a wonderful century of float making, describing not just the classic patterns and famous makers but also illustrating fascinating variations of style and manufacture both here and in other parts of the world, especially France and America. All the old firms are here, from Allcock to Hardy and from Milwards to the blissfully named Ideal Float Company. Amongst the artefacts themselves there are descriptions and lovely portraits of every concievable type: bubble, fluted, ivory tipped, sliding, telescopic, luminous, quill, cane, cork, pith, celluloid and vulcanite.
Amongst the many radical ideas from America my favourite, as shown in Chapter 6, page 359, is the Jamison Whistling Bobber, a float that ingeniously harnessed water and air pressure to emit a shrill whistle when a fish drew it beneath the surface. (Ideal for anglers like me who can occasionally nod off on the bankside.) And amongst the numerous quotations from avid float fishers, my favourite is this by Eric Parker in his 1920 book An Angler’s Garland: ‘I used at one time prodigiously to admire a certain slender kind of float fashioned out of twin sections of clear quill, amber varnished, silk lappped, and tipped at either end with a slim point of bone. I lavished a good shilling thereon….in pursuit of roaches.’
There is a danger, however, that I might spend almost as much time drooling over the exquisitely shaped floats in these beautifully printed pages as I do on the riverbank, but as there are only a few weeks to go before March 14th I really must get back to my secret perch pool.
Now then, which float shall I use today? What a delicious time I’m going to have choosing.