I've recently completed a number of articles for Declic Peche with two of England’s finest international anglers, Dave Vincent and Steve Gardener, about using soil. My time spent working with them gave me the inspiration for this particular Big Test about float bristles, in particular looking at whether hollow bristles are, in certain cases, THE most sensitive you can use.

So how does working with two international anglers and soil, relate to pole float bristles? Well, although both were using commercially available floats they had been modified to suit their own individual requirements. Dave was fishing with a Rive Pencil float and replaced the wire-stem with a longer carbon one, but more importantly he'd replaced the 1mm dia. plastic bristle with a slightly longer 0.7mm carbon bristle. Steve on the other hand had taken a diamond shaped wire-stemmed KC Canal float and swapped its 0.7mm dia. fibre bristle for a 1mm hollow one.

What intrigued me were some of the reasons behind each anglers thinking. For instance, each had a willingness to adapt commercial floats to suit the requirements and conditions of a particular venue and style of fishing. Then there was their own perception of what sensitivity meant and what they required from each float.

Steve was using a hollow tip in order to dot it right down, so that it was just sitting on the surface film. In this way, he was able to see every movement it made and strike as soon as the floats dimple on the water disappeared. Dave, on the other hand, regularly replaces fibreglass and plastic bristles with carbon ones, for two reasons. First, carbon is denser than glass, so will sink much easier. Secondly, like fibreglass, carbon is available in rods but comes in much finer diameters of 0.5 and 0.6mm, whereas fibreglass starts at 0.7mm.

It's fair to point out at this stage, that we DO NOT include carp in any of our sensitivity equations, they are an entirely different proposition when it comes to float selection and all our references relate to fishing for silvers, i.e. non-carp species!

We all know that choosing a float bristle depends on several factors, rather than just the abstract concept of 'sensitivity'. For instance:
Size of the hookbait. A large grain of corn or a chunk of meat requires a thicker bristle than one used for maggot, because the weight of the corn/meat will simply drag too fine a bristle under during any drift. Bear in mind that even the weight of a single maggot can sometimes have an effect on a sensitive bristle!
Depth. The size/weight/length of float bristle will be determined by whether you are fishing overdepth, dead depth or off the bottom.
Species and how they feed. This is one of the more critical factors in determining, not just bristle thickness, but how much of it you need to have showing. Many will argue that the bigger the fish, the less need there is for bristle sensitivity. In my opinion, this is completely WRONG. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the bigger the fish you are targeting, the more sensitive a bristle needs to be in order to 'read' bites more clearly. It's all relative to how each particular species feeds and when. For instance, think of big roach during cold weathe. They will often sit above your groundbait and barely move at all. If they do take a bait, it will be a simple suck in, it's unlikely they'll swim off with it. This will barely move the float bristle. I know this from having spent a very cold winter fishing for big roach where the indications on the float have been minimal. You have to be able to recognise these and strike... this is critical to success. It's not just winter roach that don’t move when feeding, crucians can be even worse... even in summer! Bream to can be notoriously finicky, especially when they are congregated in a tight feeding zone. If you cannot pick up every movement on the float, you will simply not see the true number of bites you actually get during a session.

The list of factors affecting bristle choice goes on and on... the amount of wind, drift, undertow, surface skim, distance you’re fishing at. There's no point in using a fine bristle dotted right down, if you can’t see anything what's going on under the surface! However, one thing will always remain true... you must be able to adapt your bristle's sensitivity to suit the conditions you are facing if you are going to see what's happening to the bait! Both Dave and Steve are adamant on one thing, the floats bristle is a window into what's happening in your swim... and like any window, the cleaner it is, the more you will see through it!

The heart of the test
Which brings me back the the point of this Big Test. Whilst each angler's floats had different modifications, they nevertheless both indicated the importance placed on sensitivity. Steve had used a noted sensitive float, the KC Canal, and changed its fine fibre bristle to a hollow one, in order to use the extra buoyancy and dot it right down. Dave had opted for a more slender carbon bristle, which is much denser than the plastic one he'd replaced it with. It would therefore offer much less resistance as the fish picked up the bait. It would also allow him to show more bristle than Steves' hollow modification.

I therefore decided to take a closer look at each aspect of this differing approach to sensitivity and test, in particular, whether a thicker hollow bristle can offer a better view of what is happening in your swim, over the more conventional bristle materials.

We'll also show just how easy it is to adapt commercially made floats to suit your own specific sensitivity requirements. Lets face it, the part that defeats most of us when it comes to float-making is actually turning the body shape! However, there are some anglers who have gone into this in great detail and produced home-made floats that are truly works-of-art. But the patience, time and skill required for this is more than most of us possess. I cannot see any benefit in making home-made floats when there is an extensive range of shapes readily available from the commercial manufacturers. To be honest, it’s hard to imagine any revolutionary or effective float body, which doesn't already exist! I can understand the satisfaction in catching fish on a float you’ve made entirely yourself, but in terms of getting a float to suit a particular venue, we can buy any commercially produced body shape and adapt stems, bristles and eyes to achieve the float we want. This is exactly how Dave and Steve approach the problem. It makes logical sense and even non-practical anglers like myself, can accomplish that!

Fortunately, manufacturers are also making stem and bristle materials more readily available. I was able to pick up a range of carbon and fibreglass rods, on the internet, in diameters of 0.5mm to 1.5m. The fact that these materials are widely available on the internet, is an indication of just how popular float modification has become.

Bristle types

Let’s look at the types of bristle that I was able to obtain for this test.
Solid plastic These are widely available in diameters from 0.8mm to 2.0mm, as well as really thick sizes for wagglers up to 4.4mm diameter. They generally come in packs of ready-cut lengths, which can easily be cut to size and inserted into any float. Plastic bristles are not the most buoyant, nor the most sensitive or visible you can use. In short, plastic bristles are not that exciting an option and I wouldn't be rushing out to modify any existing floats with these.
GOOD: Easily available, requires no painting or treatment, cheap, comes in a good range of diameters.
NOT GOOD: Boring, lacks sensitivity/buoyancy/visibility.

Fibre glass In recent years, fibre bristles have gained quite a following amongst those looking for sensitivity. They have, by and large, replaced wire bristles because fibre gives you all advantages of wire, in terms of slimness and sensitivity, whilst being much easier to use. Light will shine through a fibre bristle but not a wire one. I was able to obtain different diameters rods in lengths of 45cm, ranging from 0.7 to 1.5mm. These can then be chopped down to make either float bristles or stems.
GOOD: Fibre glass is cheap and you get a lot of bristles for a few Euros/£'s. The material is both sensitive and highly visible.
NOT GOOD: Cutting fibre glass cleanly is not straightforward as you need to file, or sand down, the rough fibreous cut ends, in order to create a smooth finish.

Carbon It was Dave Vincent who switched me on to the possibilities of using carbon for float bristles. Carbon allows you make ultra-fine bristles which are highly sensitive. One advantage of carbon is that it’s black, ideal for venues which are open to light, i.e., not heavily landscaped. A simple coat of clear nail varnish seals the bristle and guarantees that the tip does not absorb any water. Carbon can be bought in similar lengths to glass, in diameters ranging from 0.5 to 1.2mm. Much easier to cut and finish off than glass, just make sure you cut it with a sharp modelling knife before smoothing with fine sandpaper.
GOOD: Ultra-fine, sensitive and comes in black! An under-used material that can be experimented with, especially in longer lengths to create slender bristles that will clearly show up lift bites or dips of bigger fish.
NOT GOOD: To colour carbon stems, you will need a white base coat before applying any other colour paint. This will obviously then slightly add to their overall diameter and weight.

Hollow plastic These are now available from Colmic and Browning, along with some other brands. Diameters start at 1.00mm and go up 1.2mm, 1.5, 1.75, 2.0, 2.5mm and a whopping 3.00mm. The finer bristles come in 45mm lengths, the thicker ones up to 55mm which are easily cut shorter with a sharp modelling knife or scissors. If you quickly want to upgrade your existing bristle with that of a hollow. Follow our step-by-step instructions below. However, if you need slightly extra buoyancy then simply pull out the existing bristle and glue in a new hollow one, like Dave Vincent was doing when I originally phoned him to discuss the feature. He was pulling out plastics and replacing them with 3mm short hollows to fish grains of corn up in the water! You can also get a hollow bristle from a paint brush, so it's worth having a look in your local hardware store to see what's available, if you can’t find them in tackle stores easily.
GOOD: A perfect way of creating a bristle that can be dotted right down. Widely available and easy to fix on. More buoyant. Highly visible as the light shines right through them.
NOT GOOD: Check the shoulder of a float before fixing a hollow bristle over it. If the shoulder is tapered right up to a fine fibre bristle you may need to add a bit of vanish to smooth the join between the thicker hollow bristle and the float body once in place.

Fixing a hollow bristle to a fine fibre, or plastic bristle.

Step 1 Find a hollow bristle which fits tightly over your existing one. You will need to try a range of different hollows, usually 1.2mm will fit over fine fibre bristles.

preparingbristle4hollow350.jpgpreparingbristle4hollow350.jpgStep 2 Cut the hollow bristle to the length you want, making sure to cut the bottom or open end of the bristle, not the sealed top end, with a pair of sharp scissors (far right).

Step 3 Now cut your existing fine bristle back to about 1cm long. This will give you a good peg to fix the hollow bristle onto (right).

Step 4 Glue the existing bristle and push the hollow bristle firmly over it (below).


Step 5
Finish the job off with a coat of clear nail varnish, around the base of the bristle and float body to seal and toughen the join.














The bristle test

I have made certain assumptions in what I've said so far. For instance, a hollow bristle will be more buoyant than a carbon one. I've suggested that carbon bristles are more sensitive than fibreglass. But has anyone ever tested whether a hollow bristle is more buoyant than a plastic one of the same diameter? Or whether carbon does require less to sink it than fibreglass? Not to my knowledge.

Therefore, rather than just rely on bristle 'hearsay', I decided to conduct a test in my shotting tube to see just exactly how much each bristle could support, in terms of trimming shot. I would try and put some accurate figures to these claims as to which bristle material was more or less sensitive. Here is how I ran the test:

  • I started with a 0.8gr Rive 8 float which has a 1mm diameter plastic tip as standard, because I could replace it with an equivalent diameter hollow bristle. The Rive's bristle can also be easily be pulled out without damaging the floats body.
  • I then cut both a 1mm carbon and fibre bristle to the same length as the plastic and hollow ones. All four bristles were now the same diameter and the same length, so could be accurately compared.
  • I then shotted the float down to the base of the bristle and checked as each different tip was used, to ensure that no water had been taken on by the float during the test
  • I then recorded how many number 11 and 13 square styls (Stotz) it would take to hold each bristle up, just above the water surface, then noted what happened when one more No.13 was added.

Our table below clearly shows the results:

This test proved a couple of things. First, a hollow bristle does takes more shot to sink it than any other bristle material, given equal length and diameter. And by some margin! Secondly, a No.13 styl shot gives you a lot of scope to fine tune a hollow bristle. This in turn makes it EASIER to dot down, as you have more bouyancy and therefore more options when it comes to using shot. Carbon, which takes the least shot, proved to be the hardest material to dot right down. This simple test seemed to confirm the two different visions of sensitivity mentioned by Dave and Steve at the beginning of this article. Although the carbon bristle took the least shot because it was the least buoyant of our materials. Dave argues that this makes it more sensitive to bites, as it needs less resistance to sink it. Steve, on the other hand, believes that because a hollow bristle can be properly doted down, courtesy of its buoyancy, you can fish with the float just sitting in the surface film of the water which makes it unbelievably sensitive. The test puts some measurable value to these differences in buoyancy and shows clearly the apparent paradox that lies at the heart of the sensitivity debate... more buoyancy lets you set the bristle lower in the water, whilst less buoyancy make for less resistance. I was keen to get down to some actual fishing to see what I could make of these two opposed schools of thought.

The Main Test

For this particular Big Test, I decided to return to the main lake at Sumners Ponds in Sussex. This is where we had done Steve Gardener's 'Make Mine A Double ' feature, when he'd been using joker and bloodworm on a hollow bristled float, to pick up tiny bites from the hordes of finicky skimmers. Steve showed me the floats he had modified for the venue, which could be dotted right down to show up the slightest indication of a fish. As the venue is pellet based, my plan was to use 4mm expanders over 4mm feed pellets, with some fishmeal groundbait and fish just on, or off, the bottom. Expander pellets would be the perfect bait for our test as they have an almost neutral buoyancy. This would be an ideal way to approach the test, as any heavier baits, such as worm, corn or even bunches of maggots, would have placed the finer bristles at a disadvantage. Expanders are normally fished at dead depth anyway, or just off the bottom, rarely are they laid hard on the deck. This would also help make the test fair as there would be no bait dragging along the bottom. I wanted to focus on which bristle would let me see bites the clearest.

When pellet fishing in winter and spring, I prefer to pump up 4mm expanders with a few 6mm pellets in case the fishing goes mad! I also try to use pellets from different manufacturers to get a mix of colour, size and texture. I pump what hookers I need on the bank, before every session. My mix for this test included:
Yorkshire Baits 4mm Expanders, regular in size and deep beige in colour. These go very soft over time.
GOT Baits 4mm Expanders, lighter in colour and more irregular in length. These allow you to slightly vary the size of pellet you put on the hook.
Sensas 6mm Carp Expanders, darker and fairly regular bigger pellets, just as a change hookbait
When using 4mm pellets on the hook you need to use a fairly fine wire hook to avoid ripping it through the pellet. I use size 18 and 16 Tubertini 801’s for this purpose.

Venue profile:
Depth: 1.80 metres at 13 metres
Target species: skimmers and bigger bream
Predicted weather conditions: a warm 16° spring day, with a light wind in the morning, dropping by afternoon. High pressure.

Test floats
I wanted to compare float models with thin sensitive bristles, against the thicker, more buoyant hollow bristles. I therefore shotted up two sets of identical floats, except for their bristles, with a bulk of No.8 shot, then two No.9 droppers and some fine-tuning shot above the bulk. Hooks for all rigs were Tubertini 801 to 0.08mm Colmic Stream line.

4x16 Perfect Sensitive carbon-stemmed. I chose this float because of its long, thin fibre glass bristle. As their name suggests, these are designed for sensitivity. The floats have been widely used on UK commercial waters and recommended by the likes of Alan Scotthorne, for difficult fishing conditions. The pencil body shape also helps to optimise its sensitivity for this sort of fine pellet fishing.
Modified 4x16 Perfect Sensitive. Same float but with a modified hollow 1.2mm bristle. I also took the opportunity to slightly shorten the bristle length with my hollow tip, which to my eyes made the float look more in proportion. I liked the look of my modified float, it looked ideal for all types of difficult fishing conditions.

4x16 KC Carpa Chimp. This is a well established classic float which has been used for tricky commercial fishing for several years. Designed with a 1.5mm diameter hollow bristle, specifically for doting down and picking up the tiniest movements. It's wire-stemmed float and I would use if conditions became windier.
4x16 KC Carpa Belter. Identical body shape and wire stem as the Chimp, but with a fine plastic bristle.

Once on the bank, I spent a good half hour plumbing up each float individually and working on the tuning shot to get all floats dotted as low as I could. As expected, the hollow bristles took a more fine-tuning even though they were easier to dot down. The fibre and plastic bristles took a bit of 'fiddling', but I eventually got them sitting nicely in the water.

I started with the hollow Perfect float and after 10 minutes, the dot I was focusing on disappeared. I struck and was immediately into the first decent fish of the day. I was using doubled-up No.4 (0.8mm) elastic for this sort of fishing because it is very soft and forgiving when hooking skimmers, but powers up as bigger fish pull out more elastic. This first fish was a good one and the elastic coped well as I brought it to the net. At least the fish seemed willing to co-operate... but how would my bristles cope as the session progressed? There would be a some factors which affected their performances throughout the day...

Fine bristles: When I started plumbing up there was hardly any breeze across the lake and I was able to get the all the fine bristles sitting fairly low in the water. However, through the morning the breeze picked up and made using them more difficult. First, the wind broke the surface tension, which had helped hold them up, causing them to sink. Removing a couple of trimming shot solved the problem, but left me fishing with a couple of centimetres more of bristle showing. Secondly, visibility became much more an issue. With a rippling surface, it was more difficult to see the ultra-fine bristle set low in the water. Nevertheless, there are a couple of things you can do when conditions become like this. Bristle grease will hold up the tip better in the surface film. You can also use a fine grade sandpaper to lightly rub down the bristle to create a rougher surface. This in turn creates more friction between the surface tension of the water and the bristle. But I wanted to fish with the bristles 'au naturel', or as they were, therefore using bristle grease and sandpaper would detract slightly from the inherent sensitivity of the bristle. These maybe 'quick-fixes' but they didn't really answer the question of sensitivity correctly. My problems then further increased during the afternoon when the wind dropped and I had to switch the floats shotting back to its original set-up.

Hollow tips: You would expect me to say that the hollow bristle coped much better in the wind, thanks to their extra buoyancy and that I didn't have to adjust them to the changing conditions. Well, you’d be wrong, as they also required adjustment. The only difference was that it was minimal. By simply removing, or adding, a No.11 trimming shot, it was enough to keep the hollow bristle low in the water and visible throughout the changing session. There was another unexpected benefit to using the dotted down hollow bristle in the wind. Despite it being thicker, the fact that it sat so low in the water meant it picked up less wind. As a consequence the rigs proved more stable than the finer ones!

I had endeavoured to fish with both types of rigs shotted down as low as I could get them, in terms of both retaining sensitivity and visibility. When looking to retain any degree of bristle sensitivity, on any rig, be it fibre, plastic or hollow, you need to be ready to adjust shotting should conditions change. During my session, the wind increased quite strongly, turned and then dropped again and I had to use the tuning shot to alter both rigs. But the thing about using hollow bristles is that adjustments are much easier to do. Because the buoyant hollow requires more shot to sink it than a slender fibre bristle, taking off just one No.11 has LESS effect it. Losing a No.11 would have lifted my fibre bristle several centimetres out of the water, which was not what I wanted. This is why it became more 'fiddly' to adjust the fibre tips with the smaller No.13 shot, rather than simply add or take off one No.11. I think you get the picture!

Feeding comparisons
You would imagine that the feeding of a swim would have little bearing on a float bristle. Again no. The way I fed actually caused some problems when using the finer bristles. It was all to do with deciding where to keep the fish. At the beginning I was putting pellets out in a big cup and topping up every 20 minutes or so. The problem was that after each feed the fish would back off and I would get a quiet 5 minutes, then catch a few good fish in a row, then the bites would dry up again. I followed this procedure several times and the pattern was always the same... feed... wait... catch... bites dry-up. I wanted to try and reduce these gaps, so I started feeding with a tip cup to see if the fish stayed longer. Stay they did, but they also quickly came off the bottom. I started to get the bait taken on the drop, some 30cm off the deck! It must be said that for showing up these bites, the fine bristles were perfect. Each dropper shot could be read very easily on a fine bristle as it fell. When a fish held the bait up, you could see it straight away.

That's fine, if it's only the odd fish coming up in the water, in fact it's one of the advantages of the finer longer bristle. However, if most of the fish come off the bottom then it makes more sense to fish there too! I started to fish off the bottom and despite the expander pellet being relatively buoyant, I still had a couple of issues with my fine bristles. You know the sort of thing. The bristle settles right down then slowly disappears and you ask yourself, is it a bite or the weight of the pellet? So once again I needed to 'fiddle' with No.13 shot to get the bristles sitting right. The hollow required no such effort, as the weight of the bait was light enough to be held up by its buoyant qualities. Again, hollow bristles just made the adjustment of depth much easier.

I stopped using the tip cup after an hour or so, as the fish were actually getting smaller than those I had caught on the deck. It was back to the main pole pot and started feeding about every 20 minutes again. Most fish caught this way were between 500 grams and a good 2 kilos!

When pellet fishing it is vital to keep a track of what dead depth is. I now use silicone bands (below) on all my pole tops with the depth set to the tip of the bristle. Not only can I tell where dead depth is all the times, but I can see to within fractions of an inch, just how much I may have come off the bottom.

Reading the bites
This is perhaps the real heart of the test. How do these different bristles cope with registering bites from fish. Well, the differences were astonishing!

Fine bristles Even dotting down the fibre tips as low as I could, bites suddenly became hesitant. You could see the bristle just dipping as the fish slowly took the bait. The certainty about when to strike became blurred. I tended to wait until the fish took the bristle completely under before striking and most of the time it was hooked. But I also missed more bites with these bristles than the hollows... and by some margin! Striking at any sign of movement did not work. The fish were either just mouthing the bait, or simply brushing the line. Remember what we said about less bouyancy having less resistance! That was why the only conclusive approach I found was to let the tip bury before striking. Some lift bites were also difficult to distinguish. This was probably down to the fact that because there was a reasonable amount of bristle already showing above the water line, any small rises didn't make for an easy judgement!

Hollow tips The bites you got were crystal clear and seemed almost unmissable. The float would be there as a dot, then it would simply disappear without any hesitation. Lift bite showed up clearly, as any rise from the bristles small dot seemed enormous. What the hollow seemed to do was make any minute movement below more prominent. Fish starting to mouth and suck the bait which would gave the clearest indication and I could strike cleanly. The only aspect which didn't seem to work that well was reading bites on the drop. But for clarifying positive bites and making it crystal clear when to strike, the hollow tips were fantastic! I must again emphasise the importance of dotting these bristles right down, in order to reap the benefits of positive registration! Without the float's bristle sitting just on or above the surface film, the dividing line between certain and uncertain bite recognition would be nowhere near as conclusive.


There are more and more hollow tipped floats now coming onto the market and they are not all of the clumsy bagging type variety. Wire-stemmed canal floats, delicate long pencil floats, similar to my modified perfect float, have all been fair game for modification! These floats are perfect for many specific and technical fishing situations, as Steve Gardener displayed when fishing joker on a hollow bristled float! It's about how we perceive a feeding fish... how far is it going to move when it picks up the hookbait... how quickly might it reject it? Each situation is different. What is clear is that hollow bristles lend themselves to a technical approach, fished with a relatively short line so contact on the strike is immediate.

Like all things, dotted down hollow bristles are not the answer to every situation. Targeting smaller, more mobile roach, is generally best done with a fine bristle. Situations where a bait needs to be nailed hard on the bottom don't require a float tip sitting on the surface film and, of course, fishing on the drop.

So which was the more sensitive? Well, you could argue that because I was seeing more of what was happening on the finer bristles, there would be some justification in giving them the title. But are we actually equating sensitivity with every movement that can be seen on a floats bristle... or actually the procedure of converting bites into fish? I'm convinced that on many occasions, fish simply sample a hookbait and quickly reject it, without us even knowing it. These are probably what the knocks and dips on the float tip are. I believe hollow bristles offer us the opportunity to fish in a completely different way to what we have become accustomed to. By using their natural in-built buoyancy and a different approach to shotting, we can now see the slightest indication transmitted from the hook and bait...

and after all, isn't this the Holy Grail that we seek?

Finally, before you go and replace the whole of your whole float collections with hollow bristled ones, bear in mind that you can buy a pack of TEN bristles for the price of ONE float, so look to modify some of your exiting floats first. I do recommend you try fishing this way, it may surprise you just how many more bites you start seeing clearly!