Feeder Fishing – part 2 in our guide to getting started
In the second part of our two-part guide to feeder fishing, resident writer and angler Chris Smith discusses groundbaits and some of the tackle needed to start fishing the feeder.
An introdution into feeder fishing
Feeder fishing has undergone a significant boom over the last few years. From being just another method in an angler’s arsenal there are now anglers who concentrate primarily on using the feeder. In part one of our article we explored the different types of feeders available and how to use them. In this article we explore groundbait and how to spot a bite.
The early mixes
Although plain breadcrumbs were initially used as the basis for the first groundbaits there was a huge cottage industry going on in the background with individual anglers adding ground biscuits, sweeteners, grains, seeds and any other edible ‘stuff’ that fish might like. Unsurprisingly, some of the great free-thinking anglers of the time took this cottage industry and using the skills and know how that had made them successful anglers, worked with manufacturers and developed it into a proper industry.
Back when the Method was first created, the greatest exponents of the art of groundbait manufacture were the continental Europeans. Marcel Van Den Eynde started his company in Belgium around 1970 following his World Championship victory and his company vied with Sensas to produce the most popular groundbait in the UK. Van Den Eynde is still recognised as the biggest groundbait manufacturer in Europe.
The first Method Mix was created by putting a very sticky layer, such as Van Den Eynde ‘River’, on as a first layer, followed by a second outer layer using a less sticky mix that broke down early. The level of sophistication was not high, but it didn’t need to be. The fish were suckers for it with carp smashing the bait to bits. Catching carp became easy.
From groundbait to pellets
There is one big problem if catching carp is made easy, it will prove to be easy for all. Once everyone had started using the Method, even though it still caught fish, the challenge was once again to catch more fish than the other anglers around you. Not only did anglers like Andy Findlay fine tune their hardware but they finessed the mixes they put into the feeders too. Once again the angling arms race accelerated and soon manufacturers, recognising the sales opportunities, began the creation of new designs and improvements in groundbaits.
The next big thing, due to the constant endeavour to create an advantage, came with the use of pellets. Clever anglers had recognised that owners of commercial venues were feeding their fish with pellets. They correctly concluded that if they fed pellets and offered pellet as a hookbait then the commercial carp would recognise this as the equivalent of Sunday lunch. And they were right.
Carp feed pellets would not have been universally available in tackle shops and some anglers were quietly using the more readily available trout pellets to win matches. Unfortunately these trout pellets are not designed for the carp’s digestive system and consequently their use was eventually banned by commercial fishery owners. Happily, once again an explosion of development had taken place, and carp pellets quickly became available in a multitude of sizes, with different ways to put them on the hook being created. As a result feeders were now specifically designed to deliver pellets as well as groundbait.
Groundbait and pellets: a bewildering array of choice
In the UK we now have so many home-grown groundbait manufacturers along with pellet manufacturers that the choices are, as the heading says, bewildering. The average angler will find it impossible to fully understand all the key advantages of one offering when compared to another. However, the truth is that all of the options being sold will catch fish, and like so many other areas of our sport, it comes down most often to an angler’s confidence in what they are doing. After all, you will often hear a sponsored angler, shortly after changing sponsor, extol the virtues of a completely different range of baits when they had previously only had eyes for their former sponsor. They still win matches, and they still find a way to make the completely new range that they are now obliged to use, work for them.
A list of manufacturers
Below is a sample list of current groundbait and pellet manufacturers, created after spending just five minutes of research. Some of them are new to me, and inevitably it is not exhaustive, so there will be plenty more out there. I include it only to demonstrate how numerous the options and how confusing it can be.
Blakes, Bait-tech, Ringers, Teddy Fisher, Dynamite, My Baits, Match Baits, UK Baits, Hinders, Mainline, Sonubaits, Spotted Fin, Copdock, Daiwa, AA Baits, Bag Up Baits, MPW Groundbaits, Peg No 1, Win-Win, Van Den Eynde, Sensas, The Juice.
How do I choose a groundbait?
Once you step back and realise that there are so many groundbait manufacturers, all separately telling you that their mix is ideal for what you need, the conclusion must be that they are all telling the truth. It simply must be true that within their individual range of products you can always find exactly what you need.
Making that final choice: Cost is King!
So, (drum roll please) my suggestion to you is to select your groundbait by cost. There is no evidence that a more expensive groundbait catches more fish. Once you have identified the cheapest on offer, have a quick read of the bag to confirm that your selection is recommended for your particular application, and just buy it. Don’t give it a second thought. Obviously, if you are going on a river you may want a sticky mix. If you might want an all-rounder, select that as well. You should be brave and experiment with two or three different kinds. After all, you purchased the cheapest you could find so what have you got to lose? Either way, as long as it is designed for the application you want, I don’t think you can buy a bad groundbait. THEY ALL WORK!
Experimentation is key: play with your groundbait
If you just want a quiet day, kicking back and relaxing, then experimentation is not for you. However, if you want to grow and learn you must be proactive. Learning to experiment goes a long way to developing that final ingredient, confidence. Here is a quick explanation of what I mean. Most importantly, always take a notepad and record everything. Sometimes you see patterns emerge when you read through your notes at home that were unrealised on the day.
Start off simple. A sticky ‘river’ style groundbait mixed with a ‘fluffy’ lake offering in different proportions will vary infinitely from 100% one way to 100% the other. Try a 50:50 and see what that does. Then go 75:25 one way or the other and keep varying proportions to see if anything changes. Best of all would be to fish two lines and use one mix on one and a different mix on the other. If there is a noticeable difference just swap over. If the fish follow the groundbait then it was possibly the mix that made the difference, if they stay put it was possibly swim choice that clinched it. Maybe the bites came quicker? Maybe you get bites ‘on the drop?’ Either way, that is a good result because it proved whether or not your groundbait worked and how the fish reacted to it.
If you are feeling particularly adventurous, use entirely different groundbait mixes on multiple lines, on multiple days, and keep doing that as many times as possible until you can reach a valid conclusion. Record everything and don’t jump to early conclusions. Remember, one good result could be a fluke. Twice might be due to the venue. Three times, on different swims is certainly getting there, until eventually you come up with a mx that always seems to work for you no matter where you use it. But you will hopefully realise that there is no such thing as a mix that always works on every occasion. You have two ‘go to mixes’ and you still have ideas for more. Stop for a second, take a good look at yourself, and consider this… just how far you have come. Could we make a second Marcel Van Den Eynde out of you? Perhaps.
Confidence is the most important ingredient
If you are not an experimental angler please don’t lose heart, experimentation is not for everyone. After a few times of buying the cheapest groundbait you can find, you will eventually get to know which one of the cheap baits works best for you. Yes, I know I said they all work, but we are human… inevitably we will develop a preference, whether it is because we think it smells nicest, it is a lovely colour, or just because it’s the one we used that time we had a really great session. Either way you will have formed an opinion about groundbaits and make no doubt that your opinion and preferences will be just as valid as those of any other angler. Do not lose sight of the fact that the most important ingredient in groundbait is always… CONFIDENCE!
There was a time when feeder fishing was conducted by modifying your float rod. This could be done by screwing in a swing-tip or quiver-tip into the threaded tip ring, or alternatively sometimes a side indicator was fixed half-way along your rod. Long distance casting was the preserve of sea anglers so most feeder fishing was conducted at short distance because there was no such thing as a dedicated feeder rod, let alone the extreme distance rods available these days. That man Andy Findlay is on record stating that the Emstat Method feeder, fully loaded, was so heavy that anglers used carp rods to enable them to put it out there. How times change.
Bite indication without a float: the early days
Bream were originally seen by most anglers as extremely shy biting fish. Almost exclusively in the early days, if an angler used a groundbait feeder, they were targeting bream. Swing tips were considered ‘de rigeur’ and site-boards were needed so that the angler could use the gradations as a background to establish if the swing-tip had moved so much as a ¼”. It was all part of the myth that some fish were extremely difficult to catch.
My own father taught me that quiver tips were ‘too stiff’ for bream, so I grew up initially thinking that was true. I now realise that it was just another of the myths that still survived back then. When my dad gave me this advice he still used a bamboo rod and also one of the tubular steel rods that had been made from adapting the radio antenna from a WW2 tank. Different times.
Glass fibre: The dawn of a new beginning
As soon as glass fibre began to be more affordable in rod making, the logical next step was to also supply glass fibre quiver tips. A fine ½oz quiver tip was capable of giving bite indications from any species of fish and the swing tip became an anachronism. As soon as the screw-in swing-tip became redundant it was a logical step to do away with the threaded tip-ring and make glass fibre rods with push-in glass fibre, so called ‘quiver- tips’ of differing strengths. Thus the modern feeder rod was born.
In the late 1970s the first carbon fibre rods were developed but, being astonishingly expensive, they were not much used on ‘feeder’ rods. The lightweight advantages of carbon were seen as extremely desirable in a float rod but less important for rods that spent much of their time in a rod rest.
As carbon fibre products became more affordable in the 1980s it was recognised, because of its superior strength and stiffness, that it could also provide worthwhile advantages for feeder fishing, especially when longer casting distances and catching bigger fish with bigger baits was required. The advantages of carbon fibre in rod design allowed for feeder fishing to not only keep abreast with modern angling trends, but also dictate the direction that those modern fishing trends were going. There was no point designing an aerodynamic feeder for flinging 100 metres if doing so would break the rod.
When should I use a feeder rather than a float?
Although you can probably find a waggler float large enough to cast more than fifty metres you would soon realise that you will struggle to accurately put feed out to that same distance, and seeing the float go under at anything like that distance is virtually impossible. So the first scenario is to fish the feeder at distances that you cannot float fish. Many modern anglers think nothing of casting a feeder a hundred metres. Another advantage of the feeder is when it is used to pin your hookbait down, holding it absolutely still, especially on a river. A feeder can be used to provide a concentrated packet of feed into a small area that simply cannot be matched by catapulting or throwing free offerings. Carp anglers achieve similar results with the use of water soluble pva bags.
But the real answer is… a feeder can be used at any distance in any swim. If you can make it work, and you enjoy it, why not?
What strength line should I use when feeder fishing for commercial carp and f1s?
The most important question should first be what “weight will I be casting”, followed by “how far am I hoping to cast?” Throwing a 120g feeder, loaded with bait, to a 100m mark, requires a very strong mainline, particularly for the first few metres off the reel. It is not unusual to have a ‘shock leader’ (a short piece of heavyweight line tied on to the end of your reel-line) that exceeds fifteen pound breaking strain. Your reel-line might only be rated to six pound breaking strain and this will cast much better than a thicker line, assisting you to reach longer distances. Without snags, and with a correctly set clutch, a six pound reel-line will land even a twenty pound carp. Use a shock leader approximately twice as long as the length of your rod.
Do I need a special reel for feeder fishing?
In a word, no. Reels today are increasingly superior compared to early offerings, and they have strength and pure ‘winching power’ that was just not available a few years ago. Providing you buy a half-decent quality reel with a few ball-bearings in its construction, and it works well for you as a float reel, I would have no hesitation suggesting that you also use it for light to medium feeder work as well. However, if you plan on throwing long distances, or if you feel that large heavy feeders are required to achieve the distance or counter the flow of a river, then a recognised ‘feeder reel’ should be considered. A reel with a bigger long-cast spool will hold more line and achieve greater distance. Multiple bearings will increase the smoothness to cope with the extra weight and a higher gear ratio will increase the retrieve rate making it quicker, and easier, to wind back in.
What quiver tip do I need on commercial carp waters?
Unfortunately there is no straightforward answer for this question and carp will very often give such strong indications that the size of the quiver tip is unimportant. Smaller species such as skimmers and roach may need a little more consideration. Selection of a quiver tip has more to do with the conditions than the species being caught.
On a still water, if you were aiming to cast 50m or more, a 2oz or even 3oz tip may bring advantages, being strong enough to resist breaking on the cast but still soft enough to show a bite. Less than 30m and a ¾ oz tip may be suitable. However, if there is a heavy wind creating a large ‘tow’ on the water then you may need to step up the quiver tip to one of higher test curve.
Ultimately the quiver tip needs to take up the pressure that the conditions are exerting on it without locking up. If it still has some flex left in it then that is what will give you the bite indication. Another consideration is whether you are using a shock leader. Quiver tips with big eyes will allow you to cast further than one with tiny restrictive eyes.
I have heard anglers talking about finding the ‘critical balance’. What does that mean?
On a river there is always a pressure being exerted on the line by the flow of water. Weed and other detritus will also gather on the line and potentially pull the tip round further. The deeper the water the greater the pull on the tip and fishing with heavier line also increases the surface area of the line in the water, once again creating more of a bend. On a really strong and deep river, it is quite possible to require a 4oz tip or stronger just to counter the flow. It can consequently be very difficult to see anything other than a massive pull-round when using such a heavy tip.
To retain sufficient finesse to see all bites the best way is often to ‘fish the bow’. By letting your feeder hit bottom and letting out a bow of line it is possible to let sufficient line out until the force of the flow overcomes the grip that the feeder has on the river bed, and dislodges it.
By then tightening up again to reduce the size of the bow it is possible to find the point where the feeder stops moving. By allowing there to be just enough line in the bow it is possible to hold the feeder stationary. This is when your end tackle is ‘critically balanced’, ie. the pressure of the water flow on your line is almost sufficient to move your feeder… but not quite. It is only the additional tiny tug from the fish taking your bait that will dislodge your feeder. This is the point of critical balance.
The beauty of fishing this way is that the bite indication does not rely upon the heavy tip being pulled even further round, rather it relies on the fish dislodging the feeder so that the tip drops back. Getting to the critically balanced point can take a little practice but is extremely effective and just as sensitive as a straightforward pull would be on stillwater.
Why does my feeder keep moving when I fish the river?
To keep the bait steady on the bed of a river is very often a desirable way to improve your chances of catching. The weight and shape of the feeder are important factors. A heavier feeder will be more stable as will a lighter but flat shaped feeder. Line weight can also have an effect too because a thicker line provides more resistance to flow and can drag the feeder off line. A common mistake that many anglers make is to have the line too tight to the feeder. If line is released to create a downstream bow a lighter feeder can often hold bottom more successfully than a heavy feeder on a tight line.
If I only have large feeders with me, but don’t want to feed too much, what is the best way to overcome this?
You may have selected your feeder because of the weight it carries, wanting the extra weight to enable you to reach the distance. Just because you have a large feeder on your line does not mean you have to feed large amounts of bait. It is perfectly ok to only partially fill your feeder. Equally, if you want to put no bait in your feeder and just put a fresh hookbait out you can alternate between full and empty feeders as required. Another method is to tape up some holes which will slow down the release of bait. (See below.)
My maggots keep escaping from my feeder before I have cast out, how can I stop this?
I have several possible solutions for this, which usually happens in summer when the sun has made your maggots warm and extremely wriggly.
I always carry a roll of black electrical insulation tape with me when fishing. It comes in useful for blocking off some of the holes in your maggot feeder, slowing down the rapid exodus. The other thing I do is ram the maggots in tight, squeezing them in as I put the cap on. This sometimes sufficiently restricts the maggots’ freedom to wriggle and again can reduce the number that escape. Another way is to first wet your maggots, sprinkle them with the bedtime drink Horlicks and they will become sticky to the point where they can be rolled into a ball and are unable to break away. A ball or two of maggots in your feeder will not be able to escape at all until the Horlicks is dissolved, which occurs slowly after the feeder hits the bottom of your swim.
My final solution is to use dead maggots. Maggots can be killed by being sealed into a polythene bag, squeezing out all the air, and then being put in the freezer. They can be stored for months like this and defrosted before use. I can assure you they will still wash out of the feeder in flowing water and the fish don’t seem to mind eating dead maggots at all.
I have seen anglers fish the feeder close in at their feet, why is this?
Dropping a feeder in close is becoming more common since the introduction of feeder only matches. It allows anglers fishing these matches to target the great big ‘munters’ that come to the nearside margins towards the latter part of the day. It still follows the rule of fishing only with a feeder.
Another reason is that it is simply great fun. There are no restrictions in pleasure fishing regarding what method you use and how you catch fish, so as long as you are respectful of fish welfare the question is… why not?
Feeder fishing has developed incredibly from the ‘garden shed’ technology that existed at its genesis. Today there is a rod for every venue and every distance, a design of feeder for every bait at any depth, and possibly the greatest choice lies in the groundbait and pellets to be put into your feeder. It is a potentially bewildering discipline to come to terms with but providing anglers begin with getting the basics right then it is a very rewarding and enjoyable way of fishing.
Newcomers to the sport should not be put off with all the options on the shelf. Providing you don’t immediately expect to cast a 100 gram feeder out to 100 metres distance pretty much any feeder rod, paired with any reel, will get you started. I hope this article has removed some of the mystery behind the new tackle developments and empowered anglers to choose their tackle and mix their groundbait with the greatest ingredient of all… confidence!