Steel or Carbon - The Right Float Keel for Fishing


17 min read

Welcome to "Steel or Carbon: The Right Float Keel for Fishing"!

If you're an angler, you know that choosing the right float keel is an important part of fishing success. Float keels play a crucial role in the stability and performance of your fishing float, and can make a big difference in how well your float tracks and how sensitive it is to bites.

When it comes to floating keels, you have two main options: steel or carbon. But which one is right for you?

In this article, we'll explore the pros and cons of steel and carbon float keels and help you decide which one is the best choice for your fishing needs.

So let's get started!

The Right Float Keel for Fishing

Carbon or wire: which material to choose for the keel, when, and why?

This question seems to be one of the most asked in the last ten years. Float manufacturers are also starting to think more and more about this topic and are reacting by producing the same floats with either carbon or wire stems.

[caption id="attachment_2109" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Steel or Carbon - The Right Float Keel for Fishing Steel or Carbon - The Right Float Keel for Fishing[/caption]

Same shape, and different keels. Many floats are built with both carbon and steel stems.

I realize that there is more to this than simply choosing a float and there will be much debate among anglers who have their own opinions as to when which keel should be used. While float selection is a very personal matter, the choice nonetheless reflects an angler's overall approach and technique.

In short, float selection cannot be divorced from any aspect of pole fishing. How else could it be that even world-class anglers have completely different views on this subject and express them confidently and with conviction? When I asked two international top anglers with different backgrounds about this topic, I got two completely different,

But this debate goes beyond the borders of their homeland because both have also gained a lot of experience across Europe.

But before we jump into too many assumptions, I should point out that the question of carbon versus wire is of course not limited to carp fishing, as is often the case here in England!

A few years ago the carbon and fiberglass keels were reserved for the commercial carp angler who used them mainly for their sturdiness. Some classic models, such as the Colmic Jolly, were an exception. There was only a small selection of quality carbon keel floats for coarse fishing.

Today you only have to look around and you will immediately see how the quality of the floats has improved with the models coming onto the market from the East! Many of these floats are designed for normal coarse fish fishing.

[caption id="attachment_2110" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Steel or Carbon - The Right Float Keel for Fishing Same shape, and different keels. Many floats are built with both carbon and steel stems.[/caption]

Carbon keels offer more to European match anglers than most people think. Given the two traditionally recognized advantages of steel keels—the stability of the material and the fact that they straighten up more quickly in the water—they don't necessarily have as clear an advantage over carbon keel floats as we often assume.

Carbon keel floats are smaller for each breaking strain and give the angler a more natural image of the sinking lure. When fishing in the current, the float follows the main line, which means that the angler can also follow the main lead much better. This in turn leads to more direct contact with the fish.

These are just some of the considerations I will explore as the article continues.

How the poses are produced and where they come from.

Many of us mainly look at the following characteristics of a pose: your body shape, the material of the antenna, and of course the keel, without giving much thought to where it all comes from. With the help of a few manufacturers and designers, I want to elucidate how materials and techniques come together to produce your favorite pose.

Wire keels

Do you remember the very thin and strongly vibrating old wire keels? They were an absolute nightmare. Often they were much too long and thin in relation to the pose body. They therefore consistently bent under the slightest pressure.

The wire used was also used for piano and guitar strings and was made from a common, readily available material known as spring steel. It was a low-alloy steel that was not hardened, so it was pliable and could be bent back to its basic shape over and over again. At least in theory! As we all know, guitar and piano strings are held under a great deal of tension, while the float keel wire, once bent, never returns to its original position! I can well remember how I regularly bent the thin spring steel quills of my fine mosquito larvae floats when I tried to slide the fine ultra-light float rubbers over the thin quills of the sensitive floats. Those keels were a real nightmare!

[caption id="attachment_2112" align="alignleft" width="300"]Float Float[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2113" align="alignleft" width="300"]Float Float[/caption]

What's more, they were a real headache once you hooked a better fish. They have often been completely destroyed in the drill.

In the 1990's manufacturers started to produce keels from a much thicker and stiffer wire. In principle, they were made of the same steel from which needles for the textile industry and medicine were made. The move towards using a new, more robust steel has given us the new, current generation of steel keel floats. As a result of these heavy steel keels, manufacturers were able to produce much shorter lengths. A fact that we will deal with shortly...

Today's wire quills come already been cut to the float manufacturers. The necessary cutting is done on a kind of industrial guillotine, so there is always a chance that the cut will not be clean. For this reason, you should always examine the lower part of the steel keel before you buy it to make sure that it has no sharp edges.

Improperly manufactured ends can already damage the fishing line when moving the float. If you've caught a pose that feels a little rough, simply take a piece of fine sandpaper and smooth out the offending areas. This step is usually omitted when making poses. It can only be done by hand and would be too time-consuming and therefore too expensive for most float makers.


Tempering is a heat treatment technique for metals, alloys, and glass. In the case of steel, it is used to make the metal, which is brittle from hardening, resistant and to give it a certain flexibility. By playing with different tempering and tempering temperatures, steelmakers can achieve the right balance of flexibility and temper for each specific application. Steel strings for the music industry, for example, need to be elastic and pliable because they are designed to string different types of instruments.

The wire we use for float quills usually has the same characteristics as the needle manufacturers and tends to be less pliable and springy. Features that make today's steel keels far more user-friendly than the models of yesteryear.

Carbon keels

Today, carbon keels come from the same part of the world that produces other carbon fishing parts. Far East. China in particular specializes in the production of carbon rods, which are generally manufactured in two ways:

  • Carbon and resin are mixed, then pressed and shaped
  • A resin and charcoal mixture is simply extruded through a machine.

The carbon rods that are supplied for float production usually arrive in 60cm lengths and are then cut to size with a table saw. These rods are also used for many other industrial materials such as anodes, electrodes, heating elements, crucibles, gas nozzles, welding plugs, glass rods, stirring rods, grease sticks and plain bearing bushings. These are all pretty useful items!

As carbon becomes expensive, more and more companies are switching to cheaper and slightly more flexible fiberglass keels. Although fiberglass is not nearly as heavy as steel, it is slightly heavier and less stiff than carbon.

The last point to note is that if you look at the technical data sheets of commercially manufactured carbon rods, you will see that such a rod has a porosity of 6-8%. As a result, even a carbon keel of a float will absorb water to some extent while fishing. A fact that only a few anglers know!

[caption id="attachment_2114" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Float Float[/caption]

Not pretty, but effective. A thick layer of clear varnish protects the float from damage and prevents water from entering.

Fixation of the keel

There are two different methods of attaching a keel to the floating body:

  1. The most common is to drill out the bottom of the body to the desired diameter and then glue in the keel separately
  2. Drill all the way through the floating body and then push the keel all the way through. This now serves both as a keel and as an antenna.

[caption id="attachment_2115" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Carbon keel Carbon keel[/caption]

Carbon keel pushed through on the left with attached antenna - drilled separately in the middle and on the right and glued in. While the two poses on the left are made of natural material, an artificial foam can be seen on the right.

Which material is easier to use?

This depends on the chosen type of fixation. If the more common method is chosen, then carbon is the far better method. This is because carbon is usually lighter than steel and therefore a much stronger and more stable diameter can be chosen. This makes it easier to shape the posed body. On the other hand, a steel keel is easier to fit and connect to the body.

A problem with steel keel floats is that, due to the heavier steel, a comparatively much thinner keel diameter must be chosen. For example, if the diameter were not reduced, there would be various problems in producing floats under one gram that could still carry a usable number of lead shots.

[caption id="attachment_2116" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Carbon keels Carbon keels[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2117" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Carbon keels Carbon keels[/caption]
Carbon keels are stronger than steel keels, especially for lighter floats. In this case, 0.9 mm for the carbon keel float Drennan Tipo to 0.5 mm for the otherwise identical Quad.

The natural properties of steel mean that not only does the shaping of the floating body require greater care, but also, due to the often tapered float shape, it necessitates the use of a much finer balsa wood structure.

Have you ever tried replacing a steel keel on a float? I have it, and it's almost an impossible task because of that very pointed shape at the end of many pose bodies!

The introduction and use of special polyurethane materials and foams from manufacturers such as Jean Luc Dufils and Karoly Kralik make drilling fine diameters much easier. The material will not crack or splinter like traditional balsa.

Weight can make a difference!

One thing is certain when it comes to pose-making. Steel is a lot heavier than carbon. So when making steel keel floats, you need a bigger body and you need more material. Just take similar steel and a carbon keel float of the same grammage and compare them side by side.

You can clearly see the differences in weight and size. As a rough guide, if you want to make a 4x14 (0.34g) steel and carbon-keeled float, the body of the steel-keeled float needs to be replaced with a 4x16 (0.52g) size! To put it more simply, a steel keel float always requires a body of the next higher grammage to balance the weight of the steel keel. On average, compared to the carbon keel, you lose the ability to mount 0.21g of lead shot.

[caption id="attachment_2119" align="alignleft" width="300"]Carbon keel float Carbon keel float[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2118" align="alignleft" width="300"]Carbon keel float Carbon keel float[/caption]
Who would have thought? Same model and lifting capacity - carbon keel floats are clearly smaller!

Facts and Fiction!

There are some persistent misconceptions about fishing, not least when it comes to floating keels. Everyone knows statements like: "I prefer steel quills because you can fish much faster with them".

Well, I'd like to shed some light and separate fact from fiction based on our test fishing.

Fishing speed

It seems that there is a widespread belief that just because a steel keel raises a float faster on the surface, it means you can fish faster. At first glance, this also seems to be true. Anyhow, I think there are some other fundamental factors that are more relevant to fishing speed and more aimed at what's going on below the waterline. Just think about the following points:

  • Does the float keel have any effect on the speed at which the lead falls through the water?

The logical answer must be no! How can something just a few centimeters below the surface affect something falling through the water below? I just can't accept that a hook bait can get to the bottom quicker using a steel keel than using a carbon keel float.

  • Which pose allows us to spot bites better when sinking?

Due to its lower weight, carbon can better follow the natural sinking of the lead. Therefore, bites become visible more quickly and the strike is in more direct contact with the bait.

[caption id="attachment_2125" align="alignleft" width="250"]Fishing With Carbon Keel Float Fishing With Carbon Keel Float[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2126" align="alignleft" width="250"]Fishing With Carbon Keel Float Fishing With Carbon Keel Float[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2127" align="alignleft" width="250"]Fishing With Carbon Keel Float Fishing With Carbon Keel Float[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2128" align="alignleft" width="250"]Fishing With Carbon Keel Float Fishing With Carbon Keel Float[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2129" align="alignleft" width="250"]Fishing With Carbon Keel Float Fishing With Carbon Keel Float[/caption]

With a steel keel, the float stands vertically in the water from the start and there is no contact with the sinking rig. This is why bites can be harder to spot at this stage.

[caption id="attachment_2124" align="alignleft" width="250"]Fishing With Carbon Keel Float Fishing With Carbon Keel Float[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2123" align="alignleft" width="250"]Fishing With Carbon Keel Float Fishing With Carbon Keel Float[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2122" align="alignleft" width="250"]Fishing With Carbon Keel Float Fishing With Carbon Keel Float[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2121" align="alignleft" width="250"]Fishing With Carbon Keel Float Fishing With Carbon Keel Float[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_2120" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Fishing Radar Fishing Radar[/caption]
If the fish are in the middle water, bites with carbon quills are easier to see.
  • Which float is faster to fish when the lead has settled?

Here the steel keel float has a clear advantage. With carbon, keel floats it is not uncommon to have to lift and lower the float again so that it sits correctly (this mainly occurs with light floats). This is because the carbon's lack of weight causes the float to be affected by surface tension. That doesn't happen with steel keel antennas. The float has already fully stabilized and is ready to use when the bait hits the bottom.

Float Sensitivity

Here again, there is a degree of misunderstanding of the relative sensitivity of steel keels. Just don't confuse the sensibility of steel wedges with the sensibility of steel antennas. Of course, it is true that a steel antenna is much more sensitive than one made of other materials. But that does not mean that this is also the case with a steel keel! In fact, there is some evidence that steel keels can be significantly less sensitive.

As already mentioned, a float with a steel keel is usually larger than one with a carbon keel of the same load capacity. Logic alone would suggest that a smaller float would provide less mass and consequently less resistance to the bite.

It is clear that steel keels are much more stable in windy conditions and waves. This has already been shown in previous reports at (Float stability Parts One and Two). This stability undoubtedly helps to provide a more positive and cleaner bite detection. This has less to do with a higher sensitivity than with the more stable position of the rig and the better bait presentation that comes with it. To a certain extent, the choice also depends on the intended target fish. For example, when fishing for smaller silverfish, the steel keel can offer some resistance to lifting bites.

Float Stability

There is no question that floats with a steel keel sit much better in the water in surface currents or wind and thus offer a more stable bait presentation. This is certainly true in relatively shallow waters. In very deep water, on the other hand, the size of the float and the distance to the main lead play such a large role that the advantages of the stability of steel keels are canceled out again. I do not want to dwell too long on this point, as it has already been dealt with in detail in another report.

A large number of well-known anglers attach a small lead shot directly under their carbon keel float when it gets too windy, increasing the stability of the float. This may be a stopgap measure most of the time, but in practice doing this in windy conditions will help achieve a degree of needed stability.

Float River control:

Many of us believe that a steel keel offers much greater stability when floating a lure in a river or when fishing with a heavy lag. I've always believed that too and my favorite models for this type of fishing have always been steel keel floats. However, I am no longer sure if this is really correct.

Especially not if you deal with the following points:

  • We use carbon keels on the Bolognese rod. Shouldn't the advantage of better control also extend to the pole? I think that when a rig is drifting across the course, a carbon keel is -to a degree- at the same angle to the main weights, allowing for a cleaner strike.
  • With the increasingly better water quality, we are catching more and more large fish, such as barbel, in our rivers. Using steel keels here is almost provoking trouble as the keels bend easily under heavy pressure.

Maybe I'm playing devil's advocate, but I think we're neglecting 1-2 points in pose choice for getting carried away here.

Working with the pose When Casting

It depends on which movements are actually being talked about. Steel floats are perfect for small lateral movements. The dead weight of the pose makes it easy to control the pose without any strange movements. However, carbon keels are better suited for raising and lowering the rig, as they allow for resistance-free movement. Many top anglers have moved to use carbon keels where a lot of bait play is needed to activate silverfish.

Fishability (tangles, etc)

Shortened fishing:

Carbon keels tend to have fewer tangles when catching a lot of fish on very short lines. Steel keels, on the other hand, may be caught by the rig and entanglement will occur. This is because the weight of the steel keel can cause the rig to wobble as you push it out, or you can bang and miss the bite.

The problem with steel keels is that once the rig becomes tangled, it tends to be useless.

[caption id="attachment_2111" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Float with tangle line Float with tangle line[/caption]

It's over. This montage no longer catches fish!

Long rod:

Carbon keels are also better when fishing the long-long rod. Again, the lighter weight of the pose results in fewer tangles when swinging out and perhaps more importantly when swinging in. With a long line, using steel quills is a little risky. One constantly has the feeling that a second main weight would swing around when throwing.

All top anglers agree on this point. Steel is good in normal conditions, but if you're using particularly short or long lines more often, switch to carbon.

Float Strength/Durability:

Here are a few things that struck me like lightning while looking at this topic:

  • When you've hooked a big fish and you're playing it in open water, how can a float bend? There is no way a fish could bend or damage a float just because it uses rubber during the fight.
  • When using steel keel floats for carp you should always use four good strong pieces of silicone to keep the line nice and close to the float during the fight. The top silicone piece should be as close as possible to the float body. This helps to keep the steel keel straight.
  • When fishing for big fish with steel quills, it is better to use a softer rubber like a hollow. The fish can simply take significantly more rubber. With stronger elastics, such as some solid elastics, the fish can build up enormous pressure directly under the rod tip and destroy a lot due to the forces acting on it. Carbon keels are better at this point.

The point I want to make here, however, is that it is not the actual pressure of the fish that destroys steel keel floats, but rather the rough, hard treatment by the angler during the fight. As an example, consider the situation when the angler pulls a fish through the bank vegetation or the fish is fighting right under the rod tip and the float keeps hitting the water surface.

In addition, the float can be damaged if the fish in the net, especially when fishing in shallow water, flaps or even jumps around. When fishing for big weights, only carbon or fiberglass keels can handle this type of angler.


In conclusion, we've explored the pros and cons of steel and carbon float keels for fishing. Both materials have their own unique characteristics and benefits, and the right choice for you will depend on your specific fishing needs and preferences.

Steel float keels are strong and durable, but can be heavy and less sensitive to bites. Carbon float keels are lightweight and sensitive, but may not be as durable as steel.

Ultimately, the right float keel for you will depend on the type of fishing you do, the conditions you fish in, and your personal preferences.