by Jeff Della Mura published by Timbo Books
£50 (leather £120), www.hookedonfloats.com
Those who have never watched a float slide under the surface have missed more than they know. Few experiences in angling can come close to the excitement, anticipation and
mystery of seeing a float bob and disappear, activated by something unseen. It really doesn’t matter if the culprit is a mackerel or marlin, a 20lb pike or 1oz gudgeon: the sheer delight of the float’s animation is as good as – maybe even better than – discovering what’s responsible.
Keith Harwood created a marvellous, scholarly work with his 2003 work The Float. But Hooked on Floats doesn’t attempt to be a competitor: it is much more a celebration
of floats, written for and by those who love their rich colours, their elegant shapes and above all, the frisson they give to a fisherman, whether on the bank or even admiring them in a tackle shop.
To this end, Jeff Della Mura starts by asking others to write about what they find so fascinating in these brightly decorated bits of cork and plastic, quill and metal (plus several other materials). These 50-odd pages set the tone of what’s to follow. You learn immediately that this is not a UK-centric book; that it’s just as interested in what has occurred in Europe and the US.
This section ranges from the seriously nutty (a collector obsessed with weird devices that light up, self-hook and wave little flags) to the seriously antique, with bone or ivory tips dating back as far as 1800.
Hooked on Floats is a substantial work, stretching to more than 430 pages and 77,000 words. But it’s entertainingly written, has high production values and is enhanced by the excellent photographs (largely the work of David Watson). There isn’t one chapter that you’ll be tempted to skip.
The author has even included very useful sections on identification, care and conservation, sourcing, valuations and dating. This latter is a very contentious area, but he makes a good stab at it. You sense that he has consulted many sources to make this as dependable as possible in an area strewn with minefields. This isn’t one man’s guesses: it has a real air of authority.
I mentioned earlier that this book had an international flavour. The author has written quite substantial chapters on floats from Australia and Japan, Germany and France (though surprisingly nothing from Holland), Canada and especially the US, source of those wonderful multicoloured lighthouses created by the Ideal Fishing Float Company of Richmond, Virginia. Americans like to call them bobbers, probably because these ones would take a huge fish to actually pull them beneath the surface. The best you can hope is that they bob energetically.
The book also gives due recognition to an area that has remained curiously unacknowledged: the lovely tackle winders and float containers of wood, bone, ivory and aluminium that make rigs easier to transport. There has rightly been a surge of interest in the collecting front for this area.
It isn’t all retrospective. In a chapter entitled Where To Now? it looks at how modern craftsmen like Andrew Field, Chris Lythe and Paul Cook are recreating beautiful (and highly collectable) examples in cane, cork and quill – though sadly most are disappearing into collections rather than being used as the best of all visual bite indicators.
Della Mura also makes the point that in many cases, these floatmakers are actually improving on the original by adding features like whipping and artistic touches, while still building something that isn’t afraid of the water.
The author may have set out to make this book less of a history tome, but it contains some invaluable information on many of the floats whose names will be familiar to many: Harcork and Slipstream, Elfin, Zephyr and Fishing Gazette.
He does not pretend to offer a definitive work. On the contrary: he admits to knowing little or nothing about certain examples, and bravely offers a reward for information leading to the capture of their background. We detect the basis of Hooked on Floats Revisited here…
It’s tempting to question why the chapters need to be interspersed with spreads on Tuck postcards, hook packets and old tackle shops. Della Mura says: “Page after page of fishing floats might be a relentless demand to place on the reader. The motive was somewhere between indulgence on my part and a desire to provide interesting content.”
He need not have worried. This book has a very limited run of just 340 copies, plus 60 in leather, and I predict they will sell out within weeks, creating quite a demand in the aftermarket. So get in quick. This a book you’ll enjoy – and who knows, maybe you will be able to pay for its cost if you can tell the author more about some of the floats he has been unable to identify.