Another readily available and popular material with float makers of the past were bird quills. Pretty much any bird quill can be used to make a float if its big enough, but Crow and Goose quills were most commonly used. You will also find floats made from other quills including those from Swans, and even Pelicans.
Peacock quill is also a popular float making material and was used for many years after other types of quill were abandoned, only losing out to plastic, but I’ll be dealing with Peacock quill floats later, as they are used differently to other quills.
Many styles of traditional float were made with bird quills, the four most common styles being ‘single quill’ where a bird quill is used in much the same way as the porcupine quill described in the previous post, ‘top bodied’ or ‘Avon’ where a body of cork, or later balsa, was added near the top of the float, ‘bottom bodied’ where a similar body was added near the bottom, and ‘double quill’ where part of one quill is inserted into another to produce a heavier, more buoyant float.
As bird quills and balsa are still readily available, there are some very good float makers still producing this style of float to a very high standard. In fact, in common with modern split cane rod makers, traditional float makers today make floats to a much higher standard of finish than their historical counterparts. They do, though, cost a lot more than the mass-produced equivalents of the past.
A few of these float makers advertise on eBay and you can buy some very nice sets of quill-based floats to cover all of your fishing.
Single Quill Floats
Slender quills are best left quite long for fishing like a stick float, but thick quills can be cut quite short to produce a heavier style of float that can be fished like a Balsa with bunched shot in fast swims.
To make a single quill float you first need to prepare the quill by removing the feathers. Dont be tempted to just pull the feather off as you will nearly always put a hole in the side of the quill if you do. I prefer to remove the feathers as close to the quill as possible using a sharp pair of scissors, and then remove the stubbly remains with fine sandpaper.
Once the quill is prepared you can either whip a small wire ring to the base, or use the older method of carefully removing half of the quill for about half an inch at the the base and folding the other half over to make a loop that is again fastened by whipping.
Next you paint the top of the float with a base coat of white followed by a high visibility colour in the same way as for the porcupine quill and once that’s dry either varnish over the quill, or for a more traditional look, add some strengthening and decorative whippings before varnishing.
I always like to use two or sometimes three coats of varnish to get a really good finish, but once is probably enough if you just want the float to be functional.
TRADITIONAL GOOSE QUILL AVON FISHING FLOATS x 2
£2.45 (4 Bids)
Auction Ends: Tuesday Jun-18-2013 20:12:15 BST
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Top-bodied Quill Floats
This is probably the best known style of bird quill float, especially the ‘Crow Quill Avon’ often referred to as a ‘Topper’ after Bristol angler Topper Haskins.
To make this float you need to prepare the quill as above, using most of its length, on to which you fix a body of cork or balsa. Cork is more traditional, but more expensive and less easy to come by than balsa, but you can occasionally buy supplies of shaped bodies in both materials on ebay.
Alternatively you can buy lengths of balsa and turn your own float bodies using a small hand drill to turn the balsa while you shape it with sandpaper.
Once you have your shaped body, slide it carefully over the quill to the desired position and glue it in place.
Paint the top of the float as already described, and then add a loop to the base of the quill using either method above. Whipping the quill below the body will strengthen the thinner part of the quill and add decoration.
Finish the float with varnish, either clear or a stain, or paint if you prefer. With balsa you will probably find that you need to rub down between coats to get a smooth finish.
Top-bodied or Avon floats are generally used when you want to have a large bunch of shot to get the bait down to the fish. Unlike Balsa floats which are designed for fast swims, Avons are used in slow but very deep swims where a lot of shot is necessary to ensure the bait gets down to the fish quickly, or at all!
Topper Haskins became famous for using this style of float when fishing for Bream in the deep slow reaches of the Bristol Avon.
Bottom-bodied Quill Floats
This type of float is made in essentially the same way as the ‘Top-bodied’ float, with the obvious exception that the body is at the base of the float instead of the top.
These floats are fished ‘bottom-only’ like the modern Waggler and Bodied Waggler for fishing stillwaters and very slow moving rivers where it is necessary to sink the line to combat surface drift.
There are numerous shotting patterns for this type of float, but a basis pattern would be to lock the float with a shot either side of the ring at the base sufficient to ‘cock’ the float and sit with most of its length below water. The remaining shot needed to set the float correctly is either spaced or bunched down the line depending on conditions.
Double Quill Floats
Double quill floats are made by inserting a piece of quill into the top of another either to create a heavier or more buoyant float, or add a more sensitive tip. The top of the quill to be used as the lower part of the quill is removed with scissors or a sharp knife, and a piece cut from another quill is glued into this. The float is then finished by painting, whipping and varnishing in the same way as the other quill floats above.
Depending on the thickness of the quills used, this type of float can either be shotted like a porcupine or single quill float for trotting like a stick float, or shotted with bunched shot like a Balsa for fast swims.