Whether you like it or not, pole fishing for very large fish is proving a big attraction for more and more anglers across Europe. As with all angling trends, it's the demand from the anglers themselves that has driven the development of equipment specifically capable of handling large carp. One thing is certain, pole tackle aimed at catching these big fish is still a major growth sector within the manufacturing trade.

Most anglers across Europe freely accept that they now need to have a big fish pole to complement their main pole choice. Hauling big fish out of snag pits, or fishing deep rivers for big barbel with large flat floats, puts such pressure on poles that the notion of a genuine 'All round' pole is fast disappearing. You simply cannot make poles light enough, for comfortable and fast all round fishing, with the wall strengths needed for more extreme fishing situations, when very heavy elastics and rigs are required.

This feature deals with floats for stillwater carp fishing, particularly testing some which are deemed 'indestructible'. For the 'live' part of this test, I spent a day fishing in a weed-filled swim, right next to a massive bed of lilies. No surprises then for guessing where all the fish would head for, once hooked! Yes, every fish would drag EVERY single float, straight into the weeds and lily bed... perfect!

It is exactly this sort of situation that test floats to their maximum abilities. Big fish dragging floats through dense weed beds have always been a guaranteed recipe for a trashed rig. My collection of floats for this test are all theoretically designed to cope with precisely this sort of situation and I will be looking closer at how they performed later on. Before that, I want to take a detailed look at float designs and the factors that affect their robustness… or lack of it!

Carbon stems, while stronger than wire, are still capable of snapping under heavy pressure. On the other hand, fibreglass proves the most robust of all because due to its ability to flex substantially when bent. Even so, a floats weakest point is where the stem is glued into the body itself. On the very strongest of floats, the stem is glued through the whole body length and the bristle then glued onto the top of it. However, most floats are not made this way. Drilling straight through a body, then gluing on hollow bristles, is a relatively expensive way to make floats. Most are simply made by drilling into the base of the body and gluing in a stem. You would think that on so-called strong floats, both the stem and bristle would be glued right into the body... wrong!!! It is amazing just how many seemingly 'strong' floats, have stems only glued into the body by a few millimetres. This is simply not secure enough to hold the stem in place, once fish start dragging the rig through weeds. The stem will then often pull away from the body itself, ripping the balsa!

It may seem a bit extreme, but if you are thinking about buying a series of floats to make some carp rigs, try cutting one open first to see exactly how far the stem goes into the body. You will be surprised just how many really solid looking floats, have the stem only partially glued into the body!

To some extent, the same problems apply to a bristle. They should be glued firmly into the body of the float... ideally be glued directly onto the stem itself. I was discussing with Steve Gardener this very problem and he was of the opinion that the strongest floats you can make, have a hollow bristle glued onto a fibreglass stem which then runs right through the body. Again, this is an issue worth checking on floats that may seem strong. If the bristle is simply glued into the top of the body, then it can easily come off under pressure. I will be looking at how you can modify floats to make them stronger later in this article. Steve’s opinion's have certainly stuck with me on this.

This is the real weak spot on all traditional floats. When a large fish is hooked, it is usually the eye that gets pulled out by the fishes' power surge. Remember, because both you and the fish are pulling on the line, all that force is being channelled through the eye. They are, however, still used on a number of 'big-fish' floats, but some have been slightly modified. a couple of patterns still used on big fish floats.

In addition to the classic side eye, which is made from twisting the wire ends then gluing them deep into the body itself, we have wire which is twisted around the base of the bristle to form an opening for the line to pass through. These prove more secure than eyes glued into the body. Even so, wire can trap line and damage it, especially if a fish is dragging the rig through dense weed and consequently causing the float to move up the line under great pressure. There is then the system of taking the classic eye pattern, but rather than gluing it directly into the balsa body, embed it into a plastic sleeve. This is then set into the top of the balsa body and is Drennan's unique approach to the 'classic' eye problem.

Because of the weak structure of the classic eye system, in-line floats are becoming more common and popular for big fish situations. All the inherent dangers of the classic system are simply eliminated, by running the line through the central part of the body. An alternative approach, which is becoming more fashionable, is a second hole through the body, just offset of the central core, for the line to pass through.

All the floats we tested, with the exception of the Drennan Tuff Eye, were in-line. However, there is nothing new about this type of float. The Italians have been big fans of the in-line system for many years. Just look at the number of Milo floats that are actually in-line and see the choice available. Italians where targeting carp, carassio and big catfish in matches with these models, long before the UK started using them on their match-dominated commercials! A good website to check out an excellent range of in-line Italian floats is www.schiepattigalleggianti.it , which has been mentioned on some fishing forums.

The final area of potential trouble for a big fish float. First, there is the danger that when line is placed under great pressure, it can dig into the body. If you read Steve Gardeners' excellent article on how he makes up his rigs, you will see that he always coats his normal pole floats with a hard clear nail varnish to help protect them against this problem. However, the second type of damage that a float body may sustain, happens when it's dragged through underwater debris and weeds. This can cause damage to the body's structure because if the stems and bristles are constructed poorly then they become weak points and will break away from the body when placed under pressure.

I wanted to test several floats which were designed, supposedly, to cope with the punishment of big fish in snaggy areas. Our introduction below, to five of these, include the manufacturers' advertising description.

Cralusso Capri (0.3gr)
This is one of the new breed of in-line floats from the innovative Hungarian Cralusso company and are designed to be 'virtually' indestructible. The model I chose was the lighter and more sensitive float in Cralusso's pole range. To quote from the company themselves: “This body shape allows for more sensitive presentation, even more so if you use the 1mm carbon or glass stem as the bristle. Also incredibly strong, it will handle big fish well.”

Rive 41 (0.4gr)
A new in-line carbon stemmed float from Rive. Designed specifically for carping. To quote from the new Rive catalogue: “stemmed, with hollow plastic bristle and line through the body. The float's designed for fishing with thick lines without damaging the body.”

Drennan Tuff Eye (4x12)
These were something of a departure from normality, in terms of strong floats. What Drennan have done, is to set the eye of the float into a strong plastic pegged collar which is then glued into the top of the body. This way there is no danger of the eye ripping out of a weak balsa body. To quote Drennan: “Drennan Polemaster Tuff Eye floats have the side eye securely mounted in a tough plastic housing. This ensures that unlike conventional balsa floats, the side eye does not pull out under the pressure of landing big fish. The plastic housing also allows the tips to be interchanged with different colours, including the three prime colours and the all important black. There are four tips included with each float.”

Sensas Bagger Carp 2 (0.3gr)
I picked both this float and the following one, because the line runs through a separate tube offset from the central core, rather than through the centre stem itself. To quote Sensas: “Strong as you can get, these line through the body floats won't buckle under pressure.”

KC Carpa Force (4x12)
Similar to the Sensas float above, with the line running through the side of the body, they have an additional strong wire eye at the base of the bristle. “new model. Diamond shape with tube through the body and spiral eye on bristle, making a very strong float for commercial fishing. Hollow tipped and carbon stemmed.”

Now you start to get some idea why I was keen to test these floats. They all claim to be extra strong and capable of handling the toughest challenges. But having 'coughed-up' my cash, what did I actually get for my money? I decided to take the floats apart, and look deeper into how they were built...

Cralusso Capri
This float is made out of a special extruded polyurethane and the body is, to all intent and purposes, indestructible (see our review). The centre of the float has been fitted with a tough blue silicone tube down which the line and stem runs. The construction of the float is very simple. You have a teardrop body, which can be fished either way round, then a carbon or fibreglass stem running through it with the line. The bristles are all push-on and each float comes with three spare inter-changeable coloured bristles.

I also bought the additional Cralusso Bristle pack. This gives the float incredible flexibility. Included is a spare carbon and fibreglass stem, with some long lengths of different diameter hollow plastic for making up your own bristle lengths and thicknesses. One real advantage of this system is that you can switch to a slightly longer, or thicker, bristle instantly, which is really handy if you are wanting a little more sight control in a drift or using a bigger bait. The float is extremely solid and well made, with a great range of versatile accessories, making it excellent value for money.

Rive 41
This float has a high density balsa body and is fished in-line with a fibreglass, rather than carbon stem, running through the middle of the body. Unlike the Cralusso, the tube running through the float is made of solid plastic and is fairly loose fitting around the stem.

The hollow bristle has been glued on, after being pushed onto the carbon stem, by 5mm. This gluing rules out any interchangeability in bristles, but the joint was very solid and did not feel like it was going to come out. The bristle, however, was soft and folded over quite easily above where it had been glued.

There are some things to like in this float, such as the solid tube through the body. It looked like an internal PTFE bush, which in fact it may have been. The fact that the stem was fibre, rather than carbon, was more appealing. Fibreglass is more robust and will bend, rather than break if dragged through dense weed. I would have preferred EITHER to have had the entire length of the bristle glued into the stem, OR, the interchangeable system of the Cralusso. Nevertheless, this is a solid float which looked very well built.

Drennan Tuff Eye
This float is something quite different from the rest. Once I cut it open, I could see the plastic collar and how it had been pushed into the body. The peg for the eye housing sat 9mm into the body and seemed very solid. The body itself was made from high-grade balsa, unfortunately, whilst the eye is solid, the surface paint on the body is less so. This would definitely need a coat of nail varnish to ensure that the line does not dig into it.

The stem is carbon and has been glued up into the body by about 9mm, again to meet up with the base of the eye holder. It is a shame that the stem was not actually fitted into the plastic bristle housing, as this would have made for a really strong float, yet wouldn't have been difficult to do. A simple hole drilled in the base of the plastic eye collar would have been enough to fit the stem into. I say this because these floats have been widely discussed on English fishing forums and a few anglers have claimed to have experienced breakage's, exactly at this point.

On the plus side, the float comes with four interchangeable bristles. Drennan make two versions of these floats, one has fine and the other thicker bristles. I chose the fine bristled version and these were easily the most sensitive bristles of my big fish float selection. This is a real bonus point, because sometimes big fish need delicate presentation and these were the only floats on offer to provide that sensitivity.

Sensas Bagger Carp
The cheapest of the floats I tested, both in terms of money and build quality. The body of the float has a soft silicone sleeve inserted, just off-centre of the where the central stem and bristle hole is located. This allows the line to travel through the body without following the same line as the stem. I think this system is OK, provided the stem and bristle are well fixed into the body. Sadly, the stem on this float was only glued in by 7mm and broke easily under a little pressure from my right foot! The bristle was also glued in by 7mm. Neither stem nor bristle met up within the body of the float!

This is a prime example of a float that looks rock solid, but when you cut it open, the internal strength is really not there. Given that these come at almost half the price of the better built Cralusso and Rive floats, they would be fine for most open water applications. However, in a battle for the title of unbreakable float of the year, they are lightweight contenders!

KC Carpa Force
Built on the same lines as the Sensas float, this float is as expensive as the Cralusso and features an additional wire eye on the bristle, which would allow you to guide the line straighter through the float. I chose not to use the wire because I personally don’t like them. I'd previously used Preston Durafloats and had problems with line becoming damaged on the wire when big fish dragged the floats through vegetation. When I measured the extent to which both stem and bristle were drilled into the body, they came out the same, both 7mm deep. There were a couple of improvements over the Sensas model. The quality of the silicone in-line tubing was more evident and the balsa material was much closer grained and denser. This stood up better when subjected to my 'trample' test!

When I looked closely at all the floats, I believed that they produced all the elements for the perfect model. Sadly, all these required elements were not present within the same float! I liked the flexibility of the Cralusso’s and certainly the bristle pack is a fantastic option. However, the Rive float had a better internal tubing which was more solid and wider so would trap less air. I liked the concept of the Drennan Tough Eye and the fact that you could use fine bristles with safety, but the stem build was suspect and the body finish not quite tough enough. Offset in-line floats, have certain advantages too. Here there is no danger of the body being pulled off the stem, as can happen on standard in-line models. However, these particular floats would benefit greatly from better internal construction, with stems linked to bristles and a better tube-build to guide the line through the body. Within this collection of tested floats, there were enough good ideas to make some brilliant big fish floats. It just needs a floatmaker to combine ALL of them together!!!

Test conditions
A proper test required certain conditions...
a swim full of weeds, preferably with lily pads, plus a lake containing big fish! It did not want to be too deep as I needed the fish to drag both the float and line through the weeds/pads!

Thinking about this over several weeks, I remembered fishing a match on a lake which contained lots of tench to 5 kilos, carp topping 15 kilos with plenty around the 3 to 6 kilo mark as well as being stuffed full of strong crucians between 1 and 2 kilos. I'd previously had a good record on this lake and was looking forward to the match… that was until I drew peg 19. This particular peg was in shallow water with a massive bed of lilies to the left and was solid with weed everywhere else. You all know that confident feeling of doing well off 80% of the pegs in a match, but then don't draw one of them!

Well, that was what happened to me when I set off to the 'weed pit'. However, as I carefully plumbed up, I found that the thick blanket weed did not fully extend right up to the lily pads. If I fished with the float just on the end of the pads, there was no weed. I believed the pads actually acted as a shade from the sunlight and created a clear channel, about a metre wide round the pads themselves. Not sure of what would happen, I fed some pellets and placed the float in this gap. To cut a long story short, I managed to put together about 20 kilos, despite trashing numerous rigs as the fish constantly dragged me into the pads and the dense blanket weed.

This struck a chord as I thought of a suitable place to test the floats out. So it was, that on a beautiful summers morning, just as the sun rose up over the lake, I plumbed up expecting some mayhem! Sure enough, things were exactly as I remembered. I could still feel the underlying weed all around the swim, as I dragged the plummet across the bottom... and there was still that clear channel around the lily pads. With a depth of about 1.20 metres I felt sure that a few big fish would put in an appearance.

First problem fish!
My first test float was the Cralusso. I was positive this would be a good float in these circumstances and, having already fished with them, I was impressed by the thought that had gone in to the concept. I was fishing soft expander pellet over soft feed pellet and sure enough, after 20 minutes of inactivity, the float suddenly buried. I struck and the fish, which felt big, instantly bolted into the weeds. What followed was a tough fight. The fish would get buried tight in weeds... I’d have to let the line go slack... the fish would swim out... I'd put pressure back on... then the fish went straight into the blanket weed on the other side.

This fish bolted into the pads and weeds at least six times during the fight and when netted, it was a fit young carp just over 3 kilos. As is common in England, carp cannot be retained in keepnets, except during competitions, so I slipped it back. There would be plenty more to come through the day I felt.

The float looked good and seemed to be every bit the perfect big fish float. I was pretty confident as it buried for a second time. This time I had a fish that felt much larger. It kited straight through the pads and the blanket weed heading out to the middle of the lake. The carp here exceed 10 kilos and this one felt no exception. I followed the fish (I had no choice!) and held on, but I had no avail as the elastic went slack shortly after. I checked the rig for damage and sure enough my Tubertini 808, a pretty good carp hook, had been straightened by the pressure. I was disappointed as I would have loved to have banked a decent double for this feature. However, my disappointment turned to curiosity when I looked up the line. There was no proper float anymore, just the body of the Cralusso and the silicones but no stem or bristle!

So what exactly had happened? Well, it would seem that as the fish dragged the rig into the lillies, the float body may have caught up momentarily, pushing it up the line and popping the bristle off the end of the stem. As the fish made its way out of the pads, the stem must also have become detached from the silicones. The other possibilty is that the stem itself got caught in the tangle of lillies and forced itself up through the silicones, causing the body to 'pop' out onto the line under the pressure.

To be fair, I will never know, but it did raise some questions about push-in bristles and their ability to remain in place under extreme pressure. Luckily I was able to slide a whole new stem and bristle, from my accessory pack, back onto the rig and with a new hook was fishing again within a few minutes.

To be fair to the Cralusso, this was the biggest fish hooked all day and on the average, 1 to 3 kilo fish were coped with very well. However, it does highlight some interesting aspects about this type of float. First, Cralusso’s are made from high density polystyrene which do not let in water, even if cut wide open. This is excellent, but a strong float is only as good as its weakest point.

So the toughest float in the world is of little use, if the stem can be detached from the body. Secondly, there is the possibility within the bristle pack to make a series of stems with bristles glued fully on. OK, you'll loose the speed of simply changing from a red to black sight bristle, once you glue it to the stem. You then have to replace the whole stem/bristle structure each time a different sight tip is required, but this would eliminate any danger of a bristle popping off. It would also be feasible to set up lots of rigs on winders with just bodies and then work with a few prepared stems/bristles for all your rigs. It would be worth the slight inconvenience in order to fish in total security. All I can say with certainty is that the Rive float, which works the same way, never lost its bristle, because it comes with the bristle already glued on!

Float rotation
I had a couple of power top kits set up for the test and was rotating the floats round them. I was using black and grey Hydro and putting together quite a few fish. I caught carp, but also tench and a couple of decent crucians. Each fish 'weeded' me, either in the pads or in the blanket weed. I was getting used to just sitting and waiting for a fish to dislodge itself from the underwater 'snares', as the floats were constantly being dragged through them. The black Hydro proved best when it came to forcing fish out of the weeds, but it was the grey Hydro which was doing the better job for our float test! Even fish of 600 or 700 grams were able to launch themselves into the heart of the weed beds with the grey giving us clear insight into our floats abilities.

All the floats were coping well with the job of not getting broken in the weeds, except the misadventure with that massive carp and the Cralusso... which didn't really break at all! So they were all seemed basically 'fit for purpose'. However, there were still a few 'fish-ability' issues coming up with some of these floats.

Floats taking on water?
This was a bit of a surprise. With the exception of the Rive float, the other three in-line floats seemed to be taking on water as they gradually sat lower in the water. I had to take a shot or two off some of the rigs and this puzzled me. The Cralusso float is made from a tough polyurethane that DOES NOT let in water. The finish of both the KC and Sensas floats also looked fine. Add to this the fact that these floats had pretty big bristles, it seemed weird that they should all gradually sit lower in the water.

I was puzzled, but then I through about it a bit more. It seems the answer lies, not in the surface of the floats body, but in the silicone tubing through which they’re attached to the stem. I suspect what was happening was that there was some air trapped in the silicone sleeving and as it gradually filled with water the floats were sitting lower, giving the impression they were taking on water. I may be wrong, but the Rive float, with the looser fitting and wider central tube, had none of these problems. I believed this tube was so loose that it quickly filled with water. It was simply too much of a coincidence to believe that three brand new floats had suddenly become porous! The Drennan Tuff Eye had no such problem, of course, because the line runs through a normal eye.

Sliding on the line
I think we can all accept that when a fish pulls your rig through dense weed, there is a fair chance that the float will slide on the line. I used good quality Stonfo pole silicones on all the models tested, with three on the stem itself, making sure the bottom one was extra long. After each proper fish, I plumbed up again, just to double-check the depth. Here is what I found.

The Cralusso, Drennan and Rive floats seemed not to slide around much during general fishing. The Carpa slid a couple of times and the Sensas had to be adjusted the most. I think both the Carpa and Sensas caught the weed and pads more, as they went through them. Maybe this was due to the fact that the line did not run centrally through the body and was sort of slightly hanging on one side of the line, causing it to get caught more in the weeds. The thing to remember when fish dart into weeds, is that there are two forces at work. There is the fish pulling the float into the weeds and then there is the angler trying to pull the fish out again. This means that the float gets constantly tugged one way, then the other. I believe that floats attached at the side, or slightly off-centre, create a less streamline effect as they travel through vegetation and as a consequence get trapped more easily, especially in lily stems!

After fishing for a couple of hours, the sun was getting higher and hotter and the fish seemed to becoming more finicky. Bites that had been burying the bristles earlier were now showing up as dips and quivers. There may also have been a couple of contributing factors thrown in as well. The fact that I had pulled some nice fish out the swim and weeds already had, in the process, caused quite a commotion. The conditions, while becoming bright and hotter, had been compounded by a lack of breeze. Another factor making things more difficult was the species of fish now present. The carp seemed to have moved away for the time being, making way for tench and crucian carp. While the tench didn't mess about when it came to taking the float under, my problems seemed to arise, unsurprisingly, from crucians!

I'd been swapping rigs between the Cralusso and KC, looking at what difference it made between the line running through the middle, compared to off-centre. Both have fairly chunky bristles and my bite-to-fish ratio was dropping fast with both floats. In-line floats, while eliminating the need for an eye, do have a negative downside when it comes to the bristles thickness. This is due to the central stem factor, which obviously needs the bristle attaching to it. As a consequence, the bristle always has to be thicker than the stem itself which in turn increases the size of its diameter and thereby reduces any chance of bristle finesse!

I decided to switch over to the Tuff Eye, which had a much finer bristle. First put in, the float buried, and a plump crucian was shortly in the net. Back onto the Cralusso/KC and the fish start messing around again. Returning to the Tuff Eye, it was another fish cleanly hooked. I was impressed with this float, as while it seemed strong enough for what we were doing, it had a finesse about it which the others lacked. Having said that, I must also point out that the Cralusso float comes with different thicknesses of bristles, giving different bait options, from light maggot to heavy pellet or sweetcorn.

I should emphasis that crucians, while particularly noted for this sort of finicky bite behaviour, were not the actual target species for our big fish floats! Even so, carp can sometimes prove equally difficult and on many fisheries you really need to maximise and catch the fish that are in front of you.

Even so, the extra finesse of the Drennan did impress me, as did their more original approach to float design. Only they had looked at the eye problem from a different angle. Drennan seemed to say, 'if the eyes are weak, let’s make them stronger'. This was instead of the more radical approach of, 'lets find a way of attaching a float that doesn't need an eye'! Once you have solved the eye issue you have much more freedom to design how you want the rest of the float to be and this was true of the bristle sensitivity today. The finer bristle was getting me more positive bites from crucians, than any of the hollow bristles.

This is what was so frustrating about the test. I have said earlier that there are a lot of good ideas on offer with the floats I used, but none of them was totally perfect. Well, after complimenting the design of the Drennan float, I must now raise caution with a problem I found. Having fished all the rigs on a fairly short line of around 25cm to the float, tight to the weeds, most of the floats proved trouble-free in terms of shipping in and out. But I did experience a particular problem with the Tuff-Eye, in terms of tangling round the pole tip, caused partly because I think the stem is a bit too short for the float, but mainly I believe by the eye.

In-line floats are less likely to tangle, as the line becomes much straighter when run through the centre of the float due to the fact that there is no single point on which the rig can spin or twist round. The whole rig therefore becomes very straight and true during shipping in and out. I did have one other concern, which was that the plastic eye housing at the top of the body may actually have been unbalancing the float. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that if there was trouble with float spin or tangling, it only occurred on the Drennan, nothing major mind you, but still a nuisance factor during the day.

Line damage
One thing I wanted to look at was whether different ways of attaching in-line floats would damage the line at all. I am pleased to report that I found absolutely no evidence of line damage caused either by the Drennan, or any of the in-line floats. I think it is a design-fact of life that these floats would be used with strong lines and in this respect they all performed perfectly.

We've looked at a series of floats all designed to do the same job, that of being able to cope with the pressures of catching big fish in demanding environments. Overall, I think that every float seemed basically up to the task for which they were manufactured, but none were 100% perfect.

Of the tests conducted, the Sensas float proved the most fragile in construction and the Rive the most sturdy, thanks to its solid internal tubing, although it wasn't as indestructable as the Cralusso's body. In terms of originality the Drennan float wins hands down (a longer carbon stem would have definitely helped!) but is still not as strong as perhaps the KC Carpa. During my test, I only trashed one float, if you can call it that, and that was the Cralusso. So it may seem surprising for me to end by saying that the float I found the best all-round big fish float was… the Cralusso!

I loved the thought that went into making these floats, and the addition of a bristle pack opened up so many possibilities of fishing in different environments. Take the fact that I was able to simply slide a new stem onto the trashed rig and get fishing again proved the point. I did like the inter-changeability of bristles, particularly when fishing in changing light or fishing two swims at the same depth, a thing we often do on UK commercials. If one swim is in shade, you can use a red bristle, if the other is against clear sky simply swap to a black bristle, in a matter of seconds. The notion of preparing stems with secularly glued bristles in advance and using a number of bodies on winders does seem a good idea to me. The bodies are so tough you can walk on them, cut them, drive over them... and they are still fit to fish with!

I also liked the Drennan Tuff Eye as well. Innovative and well thought out, although it had a few niggles creeping in when actually fishing with them. I also congratulate this float because I would have struggled to have caught so many good crucians without it. Nevertheless, in-line floats make more sense when big fish are on the cards as they eliminate the major problem of eye damage. No doubt they will get smaller and more delicate over the coming years, if those emerging from Italy are anything to go by, I for one am now a big fan!
We've added a few small videos of the Cralusso's, which we shot a couple of years ago for YouTube. We are sure you'll find them interesting. We hope to include many more videos over the coming year, especially in some of our MA Plus features.
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