Heron feather transformed into a stick float, becomes a fish catcher

September 26, 2022 at 11:04 am

Walking along my local river Cut last week, I stopped as I was about to cross a narrow girder bridge. In the river a heron was standing neck poised, concentrating on a shoal of fry, waiting for them to come within range. In a flash it’s beak stabbed at the water and a fry was swallowed down. I watched as the heron repeated the feeding ritual, unaware that I was watching, until a mountain biker rode across the bridge at full speed. I stepped back to let the rider pass, in time to watch the heron rise in panic from the river and flap away upstream, a lone wing feather becoming detached to spin to the ground.

I picked it up and immediately thought that it would make a good float. As a young teenager, all my floats were made from the quills of birds. Swan quills were prized, but crow quills were plentiful and most were stripped, with the tips dipped into scarlet Airfix kit paints, meant for model Spitfire propeller spinners.

These days I am very particular about what stick floats I buy, my old favourite Middy Ali Stemmed floats are no longer available. I bought up stocks, but they are now gone to be replaced by Drennan Ali Stems, which are going the same way. Are these that important? I decided to strip back the heron feather, rub it down, spray it with satin black, dipping the tip in white emulsion, before applying some florescent yellow once the emulsion was dry. Not a pretty sight, but it should work ok.

With a rubber top and bottom, I shotted it up level with the top rubber to 3 BB and put it on a winder ready for my next river session on the Cut. I still have the old sheet metal box that my father made for me many years ago, containing similar floats on Perspex winders. Starling quills and crow quills for canal and river use, nestled with porcupine and swan quills. I used to catch many fish and won matches with these, but abandoned them once I joined my first sponsored match fishing team, replaced by a set of Ashurst balsa and greenheart stick floats of various sizes. Today all my floats are on winders, we have gone full circle on that one.

I would liked to have fished with the float, where I watched the heron, but the trees hung low over the water and it would be a shame to lose it first cast among the branches. I chose a spot well upstream with plenty of room for my 14 foot Browning float rod.

Without any rain for weeks, the river was low and clear, the bottom visible right across. On my last visit to this swim in July, I topped out a net of decent roach, with a monster 3 lb 12 oz crucian carp from a coloured river, but I did not expect a repeat performance today and would be happy to watch my new, old style float showing bites and going under.

I mixed up a half tray of liquidised bread, ground carp pellets and ground hemp, adding enough water to hold a ball together, then put a couple of balls over toward the opposite bank, where the flow followed the outside of the bend. The balls could be seen sinking slowly downstream, spreading along the bottom. Not a lot of flow, even there. I plumbed the depth, only two feet. I was already considering a move to one of the deeper swims further downstream.

Oh well, let’s give it a go. I cast down close to a dead branch on the opposite bank, below my feed. The yellow tip was clearly visible for a second before it was pulled under. I struck and saw a small roach twist and turn beneath the surface, swinging it to hand.

The float had caught its first fish, this small roach having taken a 6 mm punch of bread.

Not a fluke. Next cast another small roach, dip, dip, down, perfect bite indication. There were plenty of them down there and I began swinging them in. I could watch the bread sink, then disappear in time with the float going under. I decided to bulk two No 4 shot close to the hook link and increased the depth to fish hard on the bottom, casting downstream and tightening the line to the float. This provoked an instant bite, but this time a decent gudgeon was putting a bend in the rod.

It was a fish a chuck, gudgeon and small roach, but nothing big, until the float held down and a better sized fish turned over as I struck. It was not a roach, but a perch that had taken the bread, either mistaking the bread for a small fish as it fluttered down, or hooked attempting to take a small roach feeding on the bread. Whatever, the landing net was out for the first time that afternoon.

There were a lot of small perch about, chasing fry across the shallows, bullying them and scooping them from the surface. A kingfisher was also busy, dropping from a branch at regular intervals to plunder the small fish.

More feed brought better roach on the feed, but gudgeon kept filling the net. even another bread punch perch got in on the act.

Time was getting on and I was running out of punch bread, this roach taking a 5 mm punch offered on the size 14 hook.

The bread punch had provided another busy session and as usual, I’d run out of holes to punch.

There were no decent roach and where were the chub? Not even a small one, although a few small dace stayed on long enough to go into the net. Ironically it was a heron’s feather quill float that accounted for this lot.