Carp anglers often talk about using popped up baits over weed as a means of stopping the bait from becoming hidden. Time for a reality check here, most weed grows in thin strands, many of which can be several feet in length. Even when the weed is patchy most of it will be quite long. Fish a pop-up on a eight inch hook length floating a couple of inches off the bottom and you might as well be using a bottom bait! If you do want to fish a pop-up over weed then make sure you have a few pulls through with a marker float first. When you pick up a strand of weed, don't just discard it, take a look at it. How long is it? How thick is the weed? Can you fish a bait on a LONG hook length so that it floats above the weed?
Fishing long hook lengths over weed can work really well, but it is not the only reason for using pop-ups. Take the lake that I am currently tench fishing. Here the fish move around in small groups at high speed, only stopping to feed for a few minutes at most. Even a feeder full of bait is likely to be more than enough for them, but I need quite a bit of bait out to pull them to the area I am fishing and entice them to stop. As part of my whole strategy I make the hook bait stand out more than the rest of the maggots by floating it a few inches above the feeder by putting a little slither of foam on the hook. The patch of maggots from the feeder attracts the fish down, but it is the hook bait that is often taken first as it is so obvious, gently floating above the rest of the bait. This method has also worked really well when carp fishing and when rudd fishing, any time in fact that the fish are moving around rather than staying in the swim, so when the opportunity arises it is well worth a try.
Another reason for using floating or at the very least slow sinking hook baits is when the fish are proving difficult to hook. When bottom fishing it is sometimes the case that the weight of a large hook will stop the hook bait travelling very far into the fish's mouth. This can lead to a lot of lost fish as the hook comes adrift during the fight. A simple answer to this problem that has worked for me on lots of occasions has been to use a bait that only just sinks on the hook. When the fish sucks at this bait it travels into the mouth very easily and goes a long way back. Expect the fish to be hooked well back when fishing like this.
The final method that I use a lot is floating and slow sinking maggots. The difference between the two is generally down to the weight of the hook used. Floating maggots are awesome for getting finicky carp surface feeding, whilst the slow sinking baits can be great for chub fishing on rivers, through to roach fishing in stillwaters. Making maggots float is dead easy. Take a clean maggot container and add just enough water to cover a handful of maggots. Put the lid on and leave them for about half an hour. In a bid to escape drowning the maggots will gulp lots of air and so a little air bubble will form inside them. And that is all there is to it, floating maggots! Try a few different combinations of hook size and pattern to number of maggots until you get the sinking rate that you desire.
One of the problems that there has been since the beginning of carp fishing has been the production of the ultimate pop-up. All sorts of bits of cork, foam, poly-balls, through to cooking and micro-waving have been used to make baits float. The problem with all of these methods is that they produce a bait which sticks out like a sore thumb. OK if you want a bait that fish can find from half a mile away, but not so good if they are proving a bit finicky.
There are two methods that I now use, that produce a bait which is almost the same as the originals, except of course that they float! For most baits not containing huge amounts of fishmeal the easiest method is to roll the baits as normal and then without boiling them whack them in a microwave for a couple of minutes on half power. Now give them a couple more minutes on full-blast. Perfect pop-ups with no burnt outer skin. Alternatively get hold of some cork dust. Mix a little of this with your base mix and roll your baits as normal. Getting the amount of cork right will take a little bit of experimentation, but you will soon be making baits, that apart from a bit speckling, will float for ever and look really natural.