Why did anglers need the slider float? And who used it? Find out more about the history of this little piece of angling tackle.
Fishing the slider is a method that the majority of anglers would not be familiar with today. Many will recall that the late Billy Lane was a great exponent of slider fishing, and some still may believe that Billy invented the slider float. This is not the case.
The need for a sliding float was never a problem for the pole angler. With an 18-foot pole they could comfortably tackle swims up to that depth and even a little deeper, albeit limited to a similar distance from the bank. The float could be set to within a couple of inches of the pole's whalebone tip, thus allowing the angler to run through or hold hard on the bottom in those deeper swims. However, fishing a peg that was deeper than the length of the rod was a major challenge.
With the introduction of tiny brass winches in the mid-17th century, things began to change. Originally, these 2-inch brass reels were used as a tiny reservoir of extra line. They allowed the pole angler some additional control and a much better chance of landing those bigger fish. They were small so as not to add too much weight to the already heavy poles.
By the middle of the 19th century the fishing reel had moved on. They became much larger in diameter, four or five inches, to hold more line. To compensate for the increase in size, lightweight materials featured in their production, namely wood, ebonite and aluminium.
As a result rods became much shorter with rings throughout to allow the line to run directly from reel to the end tackle. The introduction of the wooden Nottingham reel allowed coarse anglers to trot the stream with rods of only 12 or 13 feet in length.
According to JW Martin in his book, 'Barbel and Chub Fishing' (1896) the slider float was actually invented by George Holland around 1860. The full story was said to have been published in some obscure journal called 'The Recollections of Nottingham George.'
The story goes something like this, in the words of George himself. "Many years ago I remember a question was asked. Can a 25-foot deep swim be fished with an ordinary 11-foot rod and float tackle, and if so how? The answer: it is an impossibility, unless the angler had a big tree and a long ladder at his back, so that on hooking a big barbel he could mount the tree while a companion below landed the fish."
It is then that George Holland came up with the idea. He had a dream about how he could use a float that slid on the line and woke up saying, "Eh! Missus, missus, I’ve had a wonderful dream." To which his wife replied, "Thou hast lad? Well prithee get up and go fish it."
George did develop his idea and the slider float became a cornerstone of float fishing for the next hundred years. Illustrations of the 'Nottingham' slider floats from catalogues at the turn of the 20th century reveal a large 'cork on quill' float with two rings for the line, one at the base of the float and the other at the shoulder. Close examination shows the rings are of a large diameter, hence the float was stopped at the required depth by looping the line and placing a piece of rubber, elastic or string into the loop.
It wasn't until Billy Lane (pictured) came on the scene that the style and appearance of the slider began to change. By this time, Billy had developed the big ducker and missile floats for use on the wide Fenland waters. Billy admitted that he borrowed his ideas from Somerset anglers, but he played a key role in the use of the slider in the 1955 Huntspill National Championship by his development of the small diameter bottom ring and the sliding stop knot.
The two key developments involved the design of a small ring with a diameter of .015 inch and Billy's novel sliding stop knot, based upon the blood knot, to replace the rubber or elastic that had been used up to that point. In addition the top ring was dispensed with so that only the tiny diameter base ring remained.
The sliding 'missile' was born and ready to use on the 1967 Relief Channel National, but Coventry, like so many others teams, suffered from too many 'water-licked' anglers. Nevertheless, the bottom only sliding float was here to stay, to become a firm anglers’ favourite on wide deep waters.
Last date edited: 19 January 2021
John Essex was a key member of the legendary Leicester Likely Lads match team of the 1970s, picking up five Division 1 National team medals. John coached the Leicester juniors to five NFA junior titles and chaired Leicestershire Angling Federation for nearly 30 years. Still fishing weekly at club level, John is an avid collector of books and old tackle, and has written a book about the history of the National. John blogs for us about angling history and heritage.See more blogs from this author