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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 Lord of the Fly , Rods on March 27, 2011 at 7:49am

John, here is a photo of one 8 and a quarter inches long, It's upside down in the photo because I'm holding the leader between the quill and the fish.

Comment by John Sheehan on March 27, 2011 at 7:24am
How long are those quills? The only Porcupine quills I've seen were about 3" and werent fasioned into floats I was gonna have some given me to me but I figured they wouldnt be castable  .Perhaps I can somehow attach a swivel and with shot put them into service.

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