Float fishing for carp

Float Fishing For Carp - (Complete Guide On Rigs & Tactics)

OK, listen. Throwing a 4oz lead into the stratosphere and sitting for hours waiting for one bite is OK, but sometimes you just need something more exciting.

Float fishing for carp is interesting, varied and there are many different techniques to have a crack at if things aren't going to plan. And the best bit? It requires little to no specialist equipment.

In this article, we will have a detailed look at float fishing for carp, run through some essential bits of kit and offer some handy tips on everything from rigs to the best baits (including one or two 'secret' weapons). Let's get into this...

The tackle you will need when float fishing for carp Tackle

Modern-day carp fishing is tailored around equipment (quite often expensive equipment) that involves all sorts of gadgets and gear with lots of bells and whistles.

Float fishing for carp on the other hand involves a far simpler approach with more traditional tactics that will not break the bank to get started with. Here's a useful list of the essentials you will need.


A float fishing setup is a lot lighter than it's ledgering style counterpart.  Because you won't be casting big weights, you'll find a test curve of anywhere between 1.25lb and 2.25lbs will be more than sufficient.

Manufacturers often make life easy, and you can now find a range of dedicated carp fishing rods. One such rod that is great for float fishing for carp is a pellet waggler rod. Something like this is a great option...

MIDDY White Knuckle 10ft Carp Float Rod

as of 13 July 2024 13:15


We said float fishing for carp was simple, and we meant it. When it comes to reels, you don't need anything too advanced. A 3000-4000 sized float fishing reel is about the perfect size. Something like this is one of our favourites and will be just the ticket...

Preston Innovations Magnitude Reel

4 new from £108.04
Free Delivery
as of 12 July 2024 08:12

On the subject of reels, we have a dedicated article to the best carp reels that include options for float fishing if you are interested.


You have to strike a balance with your line choice when float fishing for carp. You won't need to go too heavy, as your rod will have a softer test curve giving you plenty of 'suspension. A great middle-ground is to use a 6 - 8lb mainline with a thinner hook length of 3-4llb if required. Check out our comprehensive guide on the best carp fishing lines for more info. 

Rod Rest

This is vital if you are going to fish while seated. Our advice is that you'll only need one. Get one with a bank stick, and you will not be limited to using it only on your seat box.

Polarised Glasses

If you've ever wanted X-ray vision, this is about as close as you are going to get. Polarised glasses cut out horizontal light waves, reduce glare and let your vision penetrate deeper into the water.

Using polarized glasses can really make the difference in whether you see feeding carp or not so they are a worthwhile investment. 


More about this in a moment, but for now, let's say that you should really take a selection. Wagglers of different styles and sizes are a good option however stick floats can also be used. Our particular favourites are those with changeable tips for differing water and light conditions.


When it comes to shot, there are countless ways to combine them on the line to change your bait and float behaviour. Go for a multipack with various sizes that include number 6 and 8 shot so you can make very fine adjustments. A multipack like this will suffice...

7 Way NGT Non Toxic Split Shot

11 new from £7.95
as of 12 July 2024 08:12


Bigger isn't always better. You will probably be fishing smaller baits, so your best bet is to keep your hooks relatively small too. Take a range from size 10-16, and you'll be covered for everything. For more information you can always check out our comprehensive carp fishing hook guide.

The benefits of float fishing for carp

Alright, we get it. You're quite happy sat there on your bedchair with your bite alarms and comfy bivvy. We've shown you what tackle is needed to get started, but why should you float fish for carp?

Well, here are some really great reasons: -

Float Fishing is really Visual

When ledgering using heavy bottom rigs, this is your default setting… Stare at the rod tip, or bite alarm… All-day.  What's going on 100 yards out is anyone's guess. Want your imagination to be captured? Looking for a bit more excitement? Float fishing for carp is the answer.

Is there a difference between staring at a waggler and staring at a bite alarm? Yes indeed! A float is a great indicator of what is going on beneath the surface. Every touch, pull and knock is transmitted visually to that tiny glowing tip.

You'll often see an impending bite as the float will begin to 'swirl', bob, nod or even rise in the water. It's a heart-stopping experience. The visual element can be further enhanced depending on how you choose to float fish for carp.

If it's a warm day and the fish are up in the water, you can sight target (or stalk) individual fish with a controller float. You haven't been truly excited about carp fishing until you see a big mirror working its way along a line of dog biscuits, the last of which is attached to your controller float… and hook!

Float Fishing for Carp Isn't 'The Norm.'

Do us a favour. Next time you are at your local venue, do a quick 'straw poll' and make a note of how most people are fishing. Our point? We'll bet that 90% are all there with their bait and lines 40+ yards out towards features that look like they are good fish holding spots.

Where do you think the greatest angling pressure is, and where do you think the carp will be at their most wary? That's right, exactly on these features where 90% of anglers fish. Why would you fish in an area that is hard fished every single day? 

You can often outfish those around you by taking a different approach. We're talking about hard up against close in weed beds, rushes and the margins. You could try and lob a bomb in amongst all that or you could be more delicate, subtle and different by float fishing.

Check out the following video that gives some good tips on float fishing for carp close in.

It's Cheap

When it comes to buying carp fishing gear, you'll know that some specialist gear will cost you the same as a two-week holiday. Specialist rods, bite alarms, big pit reels, and don't get us started on all the rig making paraphernalia…

The good news is that float fishing for carp is relatively cheap. You don't need a super-specialized carp fishing rod or reel. It's generally a pretty standard and lightweight setup.

It's Customisable

Here are all the default settings for a feeder rig. On the bottom. That's it!

Once you get well versed, float fishing opens up plenty of options. If you've got the knowhow, you can pretty much fish anywhere, from right on the surface all the way down to the bottom and everything in between!

Float fishing allows you to work analytically and methodically—a split shot here, a slight tweak there. You'd be amazed at how many little changes you can make that bring instant and (highly) visible results.

Float Fishing for Carp is Easy To Setup

Look, we've all been there. Shock leader on, swivels, braid, beads, tubing, loops tied to hooks, rig crimps, bombs… How long does it take you to tackle up when you first arrive at the swim?

If you get a crack off on your first cast, then you know it's going to be a long day…

On the other hand, you have float fishing. It's relatively simple to get set up and take next to no time to change things around.

Moving Around When Float Fishing for Carp

So you've picked your spot, plonked your chair, hammered in the pegs for the bivvy, set up your rests, rigged your bite alarm and maybe even got a brew on the go. So far, so good.

The fish might have other ideas and decide they like the other side of the swim better. So, what are you going to do? Tough it out and wait for them to come back? Yeah, that's what other natural hunters do. Not. Have you ever seen a cheetah sit waiting for an antelope?

By float fishing for carp, you are taking the bait to the fish. Because you've got a light setup that only requires you to bring an arm and little else, you can afford to be really mobile and seek out the fish if it is slow at 'carp HQ'. Float fishing allows you to actively hunt the fish instead of sitting, waiting and leaving it to chance.

A Better Fight?

Now, if you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed a word keeps cropping up…
What is it?


Float fishing setups for carp tend to be pretty light. Aside from keeping you mobile, it has another advantage. A carp on a float fishing rod with a light test curve is something to behold. A 6 pounder will feel like a record-breaker…

And a big specimen? Well, we just hope you didn't skip arm day at the gym. Guns out for the carp!

What are the Best Floats for Carp Fishing?

You are generally going to be using three types of floats for carp fishing…

1. A Waggler Float.

This type of float is by far the most common, and they come in a range of sizes. The usual method of attaching a waggler is to pinch a split shot on either side of the float on your line.

There are different types of waggler float to consider when float fishing for carp. The crystal insert and the pellet waggler are two of the more popular types available.

carp fishing waggler floats

An example of some different types of waggler float. Crystal Insert (Left), Pellet Wagglers (centre) and Loafer (Right)

Waggler floats are really sensitive and are pulled under very easily. They are excellent for fishing still waters, but they are less effective for fishing water with a current as they can be pulled under with pressure from the reel side of the line.

They come in a range of sizes. Often they will come with a weighting guide embossed on the side, telling you the optimum weight of split shot needed to 'cock’ it in the water. Waggler floats are very cost-effective and can be bought in a multi-pack of different types and sizes such as this bundle...

10 waggler floats sizes 2bb to 7bb

4 new from £3.95
as of 12 July 2024 08:12

2. A Stick Float

A stick float differs from a waggler by the way it is attached to the line. With a waggler, the line is attached through a hole at the bottom of the float. A stick float has no hole and so is attached via small pieces of silicone at the top, middle and bottom of the float.

Stick floats tend to suit rivers or canals where you can have more control over the pace of the hook bait along the moving water.

3. A Controller Float

Controller floats serve a couple of purposes. First, they are a visual aid to see when you have a bite. However, they are also heavily weighted to allow you to cast baits that float further.

The float nearly always contains an integral weight and is commonly threaded to the line via a swivel at the top of the float or at times threaded through the whole float.

Controller floats, as the name suggests, give you a degree of control over how your surface baits are presented and obviously aid in bite indication, particularly if fishing further out. 

best controller floats for carp fishing

Some examples of different types of controller float

Plumbing the depth

As my old man used to say…

"If you aren't measuring, you are guessing".

Plumbing is an important part of float fishing for carp as to be successful, you need to be fishing at the right depth to where the fish are feeding. As a starter for ten, it's best to know the actual depth of the swim you are fishing so you can then set up your float rig accordingly.

Plumbing is easy to do. Here's a super-quick guide: -

  1. Attach a large visible float to the line using float stops or split shot.
  2. Attach a small ledger bomb or plumb weight to the end of the line.
  3. Cast in and around the area you intend to fish… And observe the result

If your float lies on top of the water… the water is shallower than the distance between your weight and your float.

If your float sinks beneath the water… Reel in, move the float a foot up the line and try again until you know the depth.

Check out this video showing an angler plumbing the depth:

Carp float Fishing Rigs with Diagrams

Once you've got the depth dialled in and have an idea where the fish might be, you can decide on a tactic to use. Here are some common setups to use to catch carp on a float:

Pellet Waggler Fishing Rig:

Pellet waggler fishing is the float fishing equivalent of the method feeder. You generally will fish very shallow with a pellet waggler and the aim is to get the fish into a feeding frenzy, through constant offerings of loose feed.

The constant flow of food brings the fish up in the water and competing for the morsels you introduce.

Carp will associate the splash on top with the introduction of freebies and, as such, the cast of a pellet waggler into the swim can cause an instant take if everything is working. 

The pellet waggler can be a very exciting way of float fishing for carp with great results if the tactics are right and the fish are in the mood!

pellet waggler rig for float fishing for carp

Standard Float Fishing Rigs - Shotting Patterns

When we say standard float fishing rigs, we simply mean the traditional way of fishing a float which is a simple float, cocked perfectly in the water at the required depth.

One of the common questions asked however is what shotting pattern to use when float fishing for carp. Generally, we use two shotting pattern setups for our float fishing that are both simple and effective. These are as follows:

carp fishing float rigs

Good to use in deeper water for an even, steady sink of your hook bait

best carp fishing float rigs

Good to use in shallower water for a slower sink of your hook bait

Oh, and as a final tip… Normally, you'll want to position the heaviest shot toward the float and go lighter down towards the hook. Otherwise, you'll end up with tangles in the cast!

Bottom Rigs

Bottom rigs can be really effective, but to fish them properly, you'll need to be literally inch-perfect in your knowledge of the depth.

The float is secured to the line and is held in the perfect position by a weight 'anchor'  (in the form of a split shot) that sits tight on the bottom. Running on from this weight is your hook length and bait.

Bottom rigs fish different to pellet wagglers. Your float may 'dip' under the water with a bite, but it is just as likely to rise and lie flat as a fish removes the weighted anchor as it swims away with your bait.

This is a great rig to use in windy conditions and colder days when the fish are down deep. It can be troublesome if you want to move around, as it requires an accurate depth assessment

float fishing bottom rig for carp

Surface Setups

This is one of the easiest rigs for float fishing for carp. It's pretty simple. You have some form of controller float… This is a buoyant, weighted float that is can be attached to the line either by some small split shot or a couple of rubber float stops. We prefer the latter as it helps keep the line afloat.

From there, it is just a case of hooking your bait and casting out. While this is a great rig for fishing floating surface baits, it can be a double-edged sword. If the carp are on the surface, they'll have their heads up and can be easily spooked by the float, line and hook if anything looks untoward. 

Remember how we said surface fishing was super visual?

Here's a great video showing how fun it can be

Zig Rigs

I wasn't sure whether to include zig rigs when discussing float fishing for carp… But one of the zig methods becoming more popular is using an adjustable float so why not. A zig rig is slightly different from the bog-standard float fishing setup.

The crux of this rig is that your weight still rests on the bottom, but your floating bait is on a long piece of hook length that floats up to the required depth. An adjustable float in conjunction with a zig rig can really help in identifying what depth the carp are at.

This rig can be a great tactic if fish are showing signs of being up in the water but are not necessarily feeding on the surface.

Check out this video that explains how to use an adjustable float for carp fishing with a zig rig:

What are The Best Baits to use When Float Fishing for Carp?

Everyone has their favourites, which can vary on a day-to-day (or even hourly) basis. Here is a list of some really effective carp baits to use under a float… With one or two 'secrets'.


The old favourite… With added movement! Depending on the size of the hook you are using, we like to use two or more at a time in an attempt to deter (as best as possible) the silver fish.

There are some myths that red maggots perform better than white, but in all honesty, we find that the carp love all colours!



Or 'middle-aged maggots' as we like to call them. Casters can be used on the hook and because of their fragile shell can even be used to cover the hook entirely as a strike will push the hook point through.

This could be particularly useful where the fish are very wary.


Some anglers like to hair rig casters alongside some buoyant plastic imitation versions for a slightly different approach.

Our favourite use for casters is as a loose feed. The carp love them and you don't have to worry about them 'wiggling' into the silt when they hit the bottom.


The good ole worm. A classic and natural bait that will always catch. Chopped worms loose fed with a big lobworm on the hook can be a great bait option when float fishing for carp.

There are various ways of hooking a worm with our favourite being to thread it down the hook shank and then pushing the hook point through the body.



Sweetcorn is great as it is easy to hook! Another bait that has been used by many, it's cheap, easy to obtain and it works!

Yellow might equal danger on hard fished waters. Gain the edge by dying it an obscure colour or even investing in some flavoured sweetcorn!



Pellets are lethal! It might be what the carp grew up eating. They are great as loose feed but can also be used on the hook by soaking them or by using a bait band or hair rig on your hook.

Again there are many flavours on the market with traditional trout pellets and the Robin Red varieties being our favourite.


Luncheon Meat

Luncheon meat is great as it releases a trail of fat into the water that can attract fish from all over.

It can be tricky to keep on the hook at times so consider using a punch or hair rigging it for peace of mind.

luncheon meat


Carp love boilies, and so do carp fishermen due to their versatile nature. They are hardy, easy to use and come in a myriad of different shapes, sizes and flavours.

Similar to pellets, they can be tricky to use straight on the hook so consider using a bait band or a hair rig.



Sometimes you've got to think outside of the box. According to my Mrs, Pepperami stinks. This can only be a good thing when it comes to carp fishing!

Pepperami is as hardy as boilies and as oily as luncheon meat so can be really effective if the carp have gone off other baits. 



Speaking of stinky, squid is one of our secret weapons. A small square will stay on the hook for ages, releasing a nice scent trail into the water.

Squid is used more in the sea angling world but the carp also love it so definitely worth a try.



In the same vein as squid, a small cube of prawn can sometimes be the difference if the fish just aren't feeding on more traditional bait.

Easy to see and very smelly, Prawns are definitely worth a shot.


Chum Mixer

Chum mixer or a general dog biscuit is a great floating bait when surface fishing a controller float for carp.

Great as loose feed, chum can also be pre-soaked for easy hooking or hair rigged with the use of a bait drill if needed.

dog biscuit


One of the most traditional baits of all times, the humble bread. It is also one of the more versatile baits around as well.

Bread punch, bread flake, bread crust and groundbait are all methods used with this great fishing bait. The best thing about bread though, it's very cheap and easy to get hold off!



These are great floating bait as they are packed full of air. They are also really easy to hook.

We like to bait up a swim with the mini ones and present a big old fat marshmallow right in the middle on a controller float.



This is another great floating bait that you won't see often. Trust us, it works.

We've found sweet and salty works great. Because of its porous nature, it is great for soaking up a flavour additive or two.


Carp Float Fishing Tactics and Tips

New to carp float fishing? Here are a few great guidelines to get you off to the best possible start

1. Be stealthy

When you are float fishing, consider yourself a bit like a sniper. They don't go running around and crashing about. They sneak, they are precise, they are deliberate. You are a lot closer to the fish when float fishing, so be cautious.

If you can see the fish, there is a good chance that they can see you, so try to avoid sudden movement, making noise or anything else that a carp would consider 'unnatural'.

2. Change things up

The beauty of float fishing is that you can be dynamic. If you haven't caught after, say, 20 minutes, try changing something. Here are some things you can tweak in seconds while float fishing for carp..

  • The size of the hook
  • The size and type of the bait
  • The depth you are fishing
  • The shotting pattern
  • Where you are fishing

3. Don't ignore the edges!

The margins often hold surprisingly big fish. Carp often like to bask in the shallows and chill among weeds and overhangs. Use this knowledge to your advantage and use the lightweight nature of a float setup to capitalize.

4. Feed little and often

Feeding is key to succeeding at float fishing. Unlike ledgering, where your bait sits on the bottom static, float fishing allows you to float the hook bait down with an attractive cloud of ground bait and/or loose feed.

But… Be smart with your offerings. Too little feeding and the fish will swim off elsewhere. Feed too much, and they might get too full! A good general rule of thumb is double the amount of feed when you are getting bites and half that amount if the bites fizzle out.

5. Be methodical

One of the great things about float fishing is you can see exactly where you are fishing. Use this to your advantage and divide the swim-up into sections. Start close in, and gradually work your way around your swim until you start seeing some action.

No luck... Cast a little further out and repeat the process until you find the fish. The obvious exception is if you are catching in one spot. If that's the case, keep doing what you are doing, as it is obviously working.

6. Don't go in all guns blazing

Spend 5 minutes when you arrive at the swim and see what's going on. Are there fish moving on top, or are they down deep? As a general rule of thumb, the colder the day/water, the deeper the fish will be.

From there, decide on a strategy. If in doubt, go light. Nothing is going to frighten the fish off more than you lobbing a big, heavy float into their dinner party!

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, our complete guide to float fishing for carp has whetted your appetite to give it a go. There's a good chance that you have most of the gear required already. 

It's easy to learn and even master!

Thanks for reading.

Tight Lines!

All of the fishing tackle featured in this article can be found at one of the following online shops...

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