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Contributed by: Gareth Purnell
Jon Walker started making floats almost by accident, writes Gareth Purnell. The 35-year-old became so frustrated with commercially made pole floats collapsing on him under the pressure of big fish just when he was getting things right mid-session, that he decided there was nothing for it but to do it himself.
And Jon should know what’s needed in a float. He’s a veritable bagging machine. The current five-hour venue record holder at big carp Mecca Rolfs Lake, with an incredible 530lb!!
A few thousands floats later, and despite the fact that he’s got a ‘real job’ and does not want to make them in huge numbers and certainly not to make a living, Jon knows more about how to make a float to withstand the size of carp we can encounter in our commercials than almost anyone else on the planet.
He keeps making them simply because people keep asking for them. And he gets to swap them for a bit of bait here, a bit of tackle there.
“It’s so difficult to break my floats in a fishing situation that if ever someone does so, I always ask them at length how it happened,” says the Wiltshire float maker.
So with a ‘proper job’ as radio frequency electronic for satellite equipment to hold down, how does our float ace find time to hand craft his bullet proof pole floats?
“It’s all down to having a very, very understanding wife,” he says. “Very often I’m locked away in my shed from 9pm until after midnight. I’m a good friend of Gaz Malman who also makes excellent, strong pole floats, and admire him for making it work full time.
“But for me it’s a labour of love and I still get a great sense of pride out of my floats, which is why I would never want it to be all I did.”
It’s a combination of various qualities all coming together that make Jon’s distinctive metallic blue-bodied floats so popular, and so strong.
All of his floats have glass stems, rather than carbon.
“Carbon is prone to splitting, especially if you get a wrap-up,” he says. “Glass is much more durable. It’s also a lot heavier and that makes the float more stable when it’s sitting up.”
Jon uses a very high grade of foam for the bodies of his floats, never balsa. And this is key.
“The foam I use never, ever takes on any water so the float always sits perfectly. You could leave the float in a bucket for six months and it would take exactly the same weight to cock it as at the start,” he says.
“Also there is absolutely no variation in density, so one batch of 0.4gr floats will be exactly the same as the next. That’s just not something you can rely on with balsa. Plus there’s no ‘grain effect’ when drilling so you can be more accurate. It’s also very high impact, and takes on paint brilliantly. In a nutshell you end up with a float that lasts for ages and ages, more or less whatever your throw at it.”
There are several other factors that go to make Jon’s floats so much in demand. When you pick them up you notice that the eyes (those that have them) are thicker wire than normal.
“I use 0.4mm wire, the thickest you will see on any pole floats, for several reasons. First of all I like a big eye that I can slide a knot in 0.20mm line over so I can change floats quickly on the same rig if I need to. Also, the thicker wire gives me a thicker surface area to apply the waterproof superglue to, so it seals into the body very strongly indeed.”
Jon does use plastic bristles on some floats, but prefers cane.
“Cane gives you strength and buoyancy,” he explains. “Hollow plastic bristles are buoyant but they can be weak because they can fold over at the base of the bristle even if you spigot them, especially if you are using something like red Hydro elastic with a double figure carp on the end.
“The exception is with my paste floats. On these I use hollow plastic, because paste floats need to have long bristles, and when you have to use a longer piece of cane it loses its strength. However, for my pellet, corn and meat floats I much prefer cane, which doesn’t seem to ‘stick’ in the surface skim like plastic can.”
The other key to making his floats so strong is in the painting and varnishing. The finished float is primed twice, then three coats of the metallic blue paint are added. Because of the unique foam he’s using there is no disintegration at all of the body during this process, and on top of that go two coats of ‘very expensive’ varnish.
“I don’t want to say too much about the varnish, but it’s one of the keys to making my floats so long-lasting. All anglers have used floats on which the varnish has cracked, allowing water in. My varnish is flexible over a very wide temperature range, and it never cracks,” he says.
Then there are other little tricks. The weight capacity of these floats is not painted onto the body, but onto a copper strip on the same side as the eye. This sits between the coats of varnish and it has a key purpose.
“Under pressure and tension line can cut into the body of your float and ruin it – I’ve seen it happen many times,” says Jon. “To be honest that’s unlikely with my floats because the foam is so high impact, but the copper band gives extra insurance against this ever happening. And it looks good!”
So Jon makes great floats for commercials, but the bad news is that you are going to have to talk him into doing some for you, and that’s if you can track him down.
“I only make floats for people I know, but it you can persuade me to make some floats for you, I’m happy to do something bespoke for your needs,” he says.
Some Of Jon’s Specials
Eye at top of long, hollow plastic bristle prevents the line wrapping over as you ship out your paste and stabilises the rig – Gaz Malman also does this with his paste floats. Very, very strong glass stem adds weight, so that the float self cocks, although not completely. Ideal for depths of 4ft plus.
JW Power Margin
Line goes right through the top of tip and bottom of the body. This float is designed for swims where fish are likely to charge through weeds and reeds – it allows you to get them out the way they went in without damaging the float. Strong glass stem, and thick, solid plastic 3mm bristle (drilled). Difficult to make, but bullet proof.
Superb deeper water pellet/corn float that can also be used with paste. Rugby ball shaped body is an alternative to the diamond shape and is the choice when there’s no tow. Use the diamond shape when it’s towing. Jon is a big fan of cane bristles as they don’t ‘stick’ in the surface skim and his are highly visible at up to 16m. Strong glass stem, available in 0.1gr up to 1gr.
Shortish diamond shaped float for fishing down the shelf, off far bank features. Copper band all the way round means there’s no chance of the line bedding into the body of the float under pressure. Spring type eye going right around bristle adds strength. Comes in 0.1gr to 0.5gr.
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