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Porcupine Floats?!

Since the trade routes into Africa brought products from around the globe, old-time tackle companies in the 1700s or 1800s fashioned some bite indicators out of everything that wasn't tied down. A popular imported material for companies making floats was the porcupine quill out of Africa. 


These quills are thick and tapered to points. With very little preparation and the connection of a wire eye to the base, anglers can have a very durable, arrow-like fishing float.  These floats made it over to the Colonies with the French and were used all the way up to modern times. They can still be found on hooks hanging in tackle stores on a more limited basis.


Porcupine quills have some features that make them excellent floats for anglers as well as couple of traits that will make them less effective at times than some other floats.  While the difference might be subtle, it can make all the difference in times when the bite is either subtle or a lift-style bite. This is especially true in cold water, when the angler needs every advantage they can possibly find to see the bite more clearly.


Out of all available floats, this float grades out as a very good choice for fishing for many reasons, but in function falls just shy of being the all-around best float. Floats are much like golf clubs in that situations might call for a certain float to counteract current, wind, depth or to better indicate bites in situations when the fish are taking the bait and not moving, lift biting or especially in the cold when metabolism is at its slowest.


The two faults in this float are easily seen. The first is that they are not completely straight and the curves result in a non-straight path through the air and probably most important of all in the water. A float that doesn't slip downward (or upward) in a straight line increases resistance to the fish's feeding process. Any friction or reduced speed in the water is a bad thing.


A lessor problem comes in casting where a curved item will not fly as straight through the air. This will cut down on casting distance as well as accuracy.


For all the minor defects this very natural, sustainable bite indicator does have, it is an amazing gift to us and a very good choice to fish with. The positives of the porcupine quill surpass the negatives. Straighter porcupine quills offer the angler unsurpassed durability Unlike plastic floats which will warp in high heat, the quill is temperature resistant and is tough as nails. Much like the horn on a rhinoceros, the quill consists of a sort of hair-like structure which makes it ultra-durable.  You can cast this off concrete bridges, trees, docks and it will take a beating where a plastic float would crack.


Because the material which makes up the quills is dense, it does not float as much as some other materials. To most anglers, this aspect of the quill will not be noticed. But if you were to take the same size float in other materials and compare the split shot needed to sink the quill, you would see that the porcupine quill is one of the least buoyant of all the floats. While this might save you a few cents on using fewer split shot to sink it- this also means you sacrifice some speed in the pop of its lift. 


To sum up some  of the great things about the African Porcupine Quill:

1. Durable - they are very strong and this is a good value for the purchase price

2. Long, tall & Thin - these cast pretty well (although most Porcupine Quills are slightly off center or have a bend) they cast above average and better than the majority of bobbers.

3. Thin tip creates a good bite indicator.

4. Long Tall and thin which makes their resistance in the water less than many floats off the shelf

5. Did I mention durable?!


This is a good choice and I would grade it at a C+ or slightly better. Extra points for being heritage fishing equipment and a great conversation piece push this to a B-. Off center bobbers just aren't the best for casting and they buoyancy trait of these floats are reasons why this would not be my go-to. That said, I would pick this many times over vs. the rest of the field and would fish competitions with this float without losing too much sleep - it's good and more people should fish it!!

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Comment by Johnny wilkins on March 30, 2011 at 4:21pm

That stick float tactic is very very good as the line checks back straight off the side of the float. This technique has been around over 500 years but the materials haven't and the reel hasn't and the Lord of the Flys... no he hasn't either been around that long.


The hand method can not be topped in any type of fishing, the reels and the gear usually get in the way. I always chuckle when I see ice anglers with spinning reels. No offense anyone, but my teacher had me fishing 30 feet of water by hand - and that was the way it was done. The reel just holds line. 


This is also true when I do use a spin casting reel - it holds line and it is NOT for fighting the fish. I advocate that drags are the #2 cause of lost fish - #1 being bad knots : )  - oh how I know. An angler can take down a fish many more times heavier than the strength listed on the line spool by fighting the fish by hand, without the drag and have a ton more control in the battle. As I usually do agree with L.O.F. -  the feel of a fish using your hands and getting rid of the gear is where it is at.


I close by saying with my 42 foot pole, I can reach out and fish 70 feet away from me - but that is a whole other topic all together. For those who don't know - poles have no guides on them - rods have guides. These terms are the most often mixed terms in fishing so everybody says it that way. A fishin' pole is sans handle. The 42 foot pole has no reel and being in touch with a large fish at the end of a 42 foot pole - asa L.O.F. says- aint noth'n like it!! 


I've got bait that needs fish'n - look out fish we're coming your way.

Comment by Lord of the Fly , Rods on March 30, 2011 at 3:17pm
Johnny, now that a have shown yall how I use a quill, I tell you the rest of the story , I know you like fishing with a long pole, imagine this , an 8 anda half foot graphite rod with adjustable line on it that can reach 30-40 ft.  with a sensitive Quill on the line,reaching into the nooks and crannies of the enviroment where bluegill like to hang out. I fish out of a boat and sneak up on them , so sometimes it close combat situations,  I hardly ever touch my reel ,except to take up extra line around my feet.  I use one hand as a drag or brake ,and the other to strip line, to me there is nothing more sensitive as a fish on one end of the line and you hand on the other end of that line, I can feel every twitch of the fish with both line and rod , and with a strip set it's like a symphony of catching fish and the flyrod is the baton.  I prefer the hands on feel of the fish , the line , and the rod    but I also  do use ultra light spinning reels with some of my  mountain smallmouth fishing and sometimes I think some spinning reels are as sensitive as a Warn Winch.
Comment by David, aka, "McScruff" on March 29, 2011 at 10:50pm

@ John Sheehan -


Sorry I dont have any links. But start with ebay and then just google fishing quills, or just porcupine quills.

Comment by Johnny wilkins on March 29, 2011 at 7:13am

Lord is fishing it stick-float style with the ring holding the line to the float. You can also fish these waggler style when casting for distance and pinch it in place with the split shot.


Stick float style will be good in current to control the float or to flip it into nooks and crannies. Fish it with the split shot pinched to go for distance or when it is really windy to keep the line from pulling your float and bait out of position.


Nice observations for the group - Lord 'o da Fly has got it goin' on. I am looking at bringing quills into the market and have had a source to import the African quills for some time I will keep you posted.

These I have found in stores. Pack of 2 costs around $2.50 at this store where I last saw- of course they closed their doors... hmmm.


I will have an assortment of sizes, something that has not been on the market here that I am aware of. I have only seen the 8" quills.

Comment by Lord of the Fly , Rods on March 29, 2011 at 6:40am
Yall take another look at the photo of my rig , the line goes through the o-ring  and then the o-ring is placed on the quill and then the line goes through the loop at the  bottom of the quill. The o-ring is what secures the quill to the line for the chosen proper depth and allows for change of depth at a fraction of a second. If the quill doesnt stand up you know the bait and shot is on the bottom, just adjust the quill on the line until it stands up vertical, why would you want to attach a swivel to the quill it wasn't designed for a swivel,below the quill would be fine to attach hooks, different size leader ,ect,ect.  Split shot is not needed to hold the quill in place on the line , but is is needed to balance the quill to make it stand vertical so just attach your split shot normally  6-8 inches above the hook. The quill should float vertically with 2 to 3 inches of the top out of the water  with the bait below it at your chosen depth.
Comment by John Sheehan on March 29, 2011 at 6:15am

I got some guills from a niece( her boyfriend gave them to her lol) but they are too small. Very thin and short.

I have never seen quills in a Tackle store.

David -Got any handy links for quills?


Comment by David, aka, "McScruff" on March 28, 2011 at 10:25pm

Ive only heard of them recently. I find them often enough on the internet, prices starting at around $1 and going up. I'm not sure if I have ever seen them in a shop or store - all right, when thinking about it - I'm sure I haven't.


Comment by Johnny wilkins on March 28, 2011 at 8:19pm

The quills I have are between 8 and 10" long. Yes you can definitely attach a swivel to it - the quills usually come with a big wire eye at the bottom as well. With the swivel, you can take it off your line and leave the split shot in place and you don't have to re-rig it.


Question - when you go to your tackle store, do you see quills on the shelf??

I am just wondering how many people do have these in their local store.



Comment by Johnny wilkins on March 27, 2011 at 9:46pm

Quills vary in size but can be as long as 10" and you can make floats out of them in a matter of a couple of hours and some handwork.


It says something that this float which was around in the 1600/1700s still whoops the pants off stuff on the shelves. While I grade it in tough fashion at B-, it is still very, very, very good. This is a casting float and once you cast a float, it immediately becomes slightly less effective than a pole float - which you can check and tighten up on with the pole in steady fashion. The quill is an excellent casting waggler and I noted why I say this is not the best waggler.


Your rigs are good- remember that when we are talking Revolution exercise together, you should be fishing your rigs that you have - not making changes but noting what is happening.


I do love the porcupine float modern & vintage - it still rocks.

Comment by Lord of the Fly , Rods on March 27, 2011 at 8:30am
John, I use the quills on a flyrod, here is a photo of the rig I use,and as long  as they keep bringing in fish this size , I'll give them an A+ in my book.

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