Tactical Feeding when Feeder Fishing
Thu 23 April 15
The way in which fish is certainly a fascinating subject and as match anglers, it’s in our interest to try and understand how and why fish feeding habits change. As I’m sure most of you will have experienced however, we don’t always find the answer to why these changes happen but any level of understanding of them can us make us better anglers and hopefully give us an edge when competing in matches. By trying to gain and understanding of why and when changes happen, it allows us to prepare and make adjustments to our match plan before and during a match.
We are however, dealing with Mother Nature and nature has a habit of changing in ways we may never understand so in order to plan tactically we can only rely on the physical aspects of our peg which we know are factual and then gauge the best way to approach the peg gained from past experiences. The temperatures and weather will change and that’s out of our control, but our peg and its physical appearance will remain the same. We also know that certain ‘trends’ seem to happen on certain venues as a match progresses and how fishes habits change during a competition. With an understanding of these counter measures we can formulate a tactical approach to a match which will be our best attempt at catching the maximum possible from our peg.
Here we look at the different categories that influence the way fish feed and what solutions and tactics we can prepare for in order to tackle these situations.
Former World Champion Will Raison once said “The best preparation is done on the bank” and whilst preparation at home before a match is essential in today’s top level match fishing, it’s the preparation you do once you get to your peg that can make all the difference. Most venues have a wide variation in pegs and even when some venues look reasonably uniform, the features which lie beneath the surface of the water may make the pegs very different from each other! Here in the UK, we have many man-made lakes which have taught us many important skills which have been transferable to other, more natural venues.
One of these factors is how important it is to understand what the bottom is like where you’re fishing. As you can imagine, when your feeder fishing your constantly presenting your bait on the bottom so the type of bait you’re feeding, the feeder you’re using and what the bottom is like are all details which can have a huge impact on how many fish you’ll catch. Soft, silty bottoms are generally not very good at all for catching fish over as the feed can easily get lost in the silt and this will also make your feeder rig work differently from how it’s intended. Hard, solid or even gravel bottoms are very good for catching bream and carp over and these are the areas you should search out once you arrive at your peg. This applies to lots of natural ‘bream’ waters and it’s something that we’ve learnt from specimen anglers.
Finding harder bottomed areas of the swim takes a bit of experience but by simply casting a 1-2oz bomb around the swim and dragging the bomb along the bottom and holding your rod at 90 degrees, you can watch the tip as the bomb is pulled along the bottom. Slow, smooth indications on the tip show a soft bottom but quick, jagged ‘bouncing’ moving on the tip indicate a hard area. By clipping up at that point and by taking note of a far bank marker you’ll have marked the spot of the hard area. By feeding on the hard areas you can be confident that the bait you introduce is staying there and it also means your feeder and rig will be sitting correctly on the bottom.
Underwater filming and experience has shown that when you introduce feed over a silty area, the fish have to dig for food which can lead to line bites and the feeder won’t empty properly making the whole approach inefficient. If you are faced with this scenario however, try using a flat bottomed feeder as light as you can possibly get away with, feed lighter small baits and try emptying your feeder off bottom which will all help encourage your loose feed resting on top of the silt where fish can easily find it. One word of warning when looking for gravel however, gravel can usually indicate shallow areas so make sure you know what depth those areas are in relation to the rest of the swim.
The contours of the swim are also very important and you should always have a good cast around the swim with a bomb to get any idea of any changes in depth. Deeper areas can be the best to target but experience has shown us that the shallower areas can be just as important. Shallower areas are warmer at certain times of year and they can also be ‘patrol’ routes for bonus fish. Also, later in the match as the light fades, fish can move to these shallow areas to feed so it could well be in your match plan to target these areas in the last hour of the match. Steep slopes and shelves are other features which are appealing to feeding fish but only once you’ve located these features can you plan your match around them so take the time to find out what lies beneath the water before the match starts.
Impact of Fishing
How many times have you started the match and caught fish quite early on only for them to disappear? This happens all the time and quite often it’s usually down to the fish simply moving! Of course, during the summer months you may catch fish steadily all day and that’s obviously the perfect scenario. On many bream waters, it’s often a case of putting down a large bed of bait at the start of the match and then sitting and waiting for the bream to turn up where hopefully, if you’ve introduced enough feed to keep them there, you’ll catch enough bream so win the match! This approach works on many venues in the UK and Europe but we are slowly seeing a trend appear where especially during the winter and spring, fishing for one fish at a time is becoming the best approach. The idea behind this is simple, on pressured waters the larger fish are naturally more experienced and wary so become spooked easier when one of their friends gets hooked! When this happens, the rest of the shoal back off away from the feed. This could be further out, left or right and only when they have gained enough confidence will they return. When they return, if you had introduced a lot of feed it would take them longer to find your hookbait than it would had you introduced a small amount of feed.
England Feeder Team Manager Tom Pickering fished like this in a series of matches last spring in England. At the start of the match Tom would cast out his groundbait feeder and leave it there for 15 minutes. Only if he had a bite or hooked a fish would he reel in any sooner. By his calculations for a 5 hour match he would only cast in 20 times unless he was catching fish quicker. He went on to finish 2nd in the 6 match series tying on points with overall winner Mick Vials who just beat Tom on weight which shows how a negative approach really can be the best tactic when the waters cold and the fish are wary. In contrast, on some venues it can be necessary to ‘chase’ the fish as they back off. These venues tend to be the ones that are even more pressured and each time the fish back off, you have to add 2 metres to your cast. This will catch you an extra fish or two before you have to repeat. By the end of the match you could be fishing at extreme range so on these occasions it’s important to have another rod set up for fishing further out in order to keep in touch with the fish.
Constant and repeated casting of the feeder on pressured waters can be detrimental to the fishing but on some venues you have to cast frequently in order to keep fish in the peg. The constant ‘plop’ and falling of the feeder through the water can signal feed being introduced to some fish and this can be very effective on deeper venues. Skimmers and bream often spend a great deal of the time off bottom in water that is a comfortable temperature. This is evident on occasions when you catch fish just as your tightening up to the feeder. This happens because the fish has been sitting up in the water and followed the feeder down in order to feed. Once the feed has been eaten, the fish then rise again back to the middle layers of water. On these occasions you can introduce more feed in a bid to keep the fish down on the bottom for longer periods.
This often works but any tactic that involves piling in lots of bait is always risky. It’s more effective to simply increase the frequency of your casting. If over feeding is an issue, simply switch to a smaller feeder and only leave it in place for a couple of minutes before re-casting, if after a few casts you find this doesn’t work, then you can try the introducing more feed approach. A longer tail can also enhance this method even more as it give the fish more time to intercept the hookbait before it hits the bottom. A plastic NISA feeder can be effective in this scenario as it encourages the groundbait to only exit the feeder once it’s on the bottom rather than a cage feeder which may have particles leaving it as it falls which will further encourage the fish to stay off bottom.
Feeder fishing in deep water also means it’s inevitable that you’ll have some feed hitting the bottom past your main feed. This is because of the ‘arc’ created as the feeder falls back towards you as it falls due to the line clip. This detail can be a very valuable tool in your armoury and is something that should always be used to your advantage. As small amounts of groundbait and odd pieces of loose feed fall off the feeder as it falls, it can create a refuge place for fish to feed on just past your main feed area. Later in the match if your peg goes quiet, add a couple of turns onto your cast so that the feeder lands in this untouched area, you’ll be amazed how many bonus fish you’ll catch that have been feeding on the ‘free’ samples. As regards the arc, when you use braid or a non-stretch mono, your feeder falls back towards to you 25cm for every 1 metre of depth so by knowing the depth you’re fishing in you are able to work out how far past your feed the fish maybe feeding.
The effects of you catching fish and casting will always have some sort of effect on how the fish feed and a good way to keep catching is to fish 2 different areas. These could be at different ranges or they could be the same range but in slightly different directions. Another advantage to this tactic is that that you can feed the areas differently which allows you to have a positive approach and a negative approach. This is a good plan if you are unsure what to expect or if the venue is new to you and enables you to rest a line which can be really effective especially when the fish are mobile. Some venues will see fish settle on a bed of feed confidently allowing you to build a good weight. Other venues however have fish in them that are quite mobile meaning they swim through many pegs during a match just picking up the odd bit of bait before moving off again. This was evident in the 2012 World Feeder Championships on the rowing course at Ghent. Most of the bream which were caught were caught as single fish and the bites were extremely confident. This was because the fish were simply passing through each peg and when they picked up a bait they were already swimming off!
Fish Feeding Habits
Depending on your target species, your past knowledge of the way in which different species feed will help you to plan your match and to be ready for any of the eventualities you may come across. When pole fishing, it’s common for top anglers at the start of a match to throw groundbait in onto a long pole line and then cup in loose offerings creating a ‘target’ area for the fish to feed over. It’s now also common for them to cup in particles of feed ½ metre past this main bed of feed which we now know can be a perfect tactic for skimmers so if these tactics work on the pole line, why wouldn’t you want to replicate it on a feeder line? Introducing loose feed just past your main line can be done with a closed end feeder or a window feeder and this is a good tactic on many natural venues in the UK.
On difficult days, the key to catching a run of fish can sometimes be about finding a ‘trigger’ which will get the fish feeding. Fish often respond to competition for feed and if you’re able to get fish competing for feed then you’re onto a winner. One of the best ways to create competition is to not introduce too much feed. I’ve experienced days when it’s best to not introduce any feed at all except the groundbait. Groundbait attracts fish to your feeder so once you begin to get indications that there are one or two fish around the feeder, start introducing one or two maggots or casters. This will give the fish a taster of what you have on the hook. On days like this, you’ll find that gradually, your bites will increase as the fish that are there start to compete for the tiny amount of feed you’ve introduced. If you begin to get lots of bites you can simply increase the amount of feed in order to keep them interested. Be careful though as it’s a fine balancing act between feeding enough to keep them interested whilst maintaining the competitiveness to keep the fish fighting for the bait. Other triggers may be introducing fine ‘juice’ type baits like chopped worm or a liquid additive. Changing the consistency of your groundbait can work or a change to a wetter mix.
Whilst it’s not so common in Europe, in the UK a strong, fishmeal mix can be draw fish into the peg and hold them in the swim for long periods without introducing any loose feed at all. When targeting skimmers and bream, Five times World Champion Alan Scotthorne and his son Oliver, often sieve out all of the larger particles in cereal mixes in order to regulate what exactly is in the swim for the fish to feed on. Bottom feeding fish can often get preoccupied with feeding on groundbait and one of Tom Pickering’s well known rules is “Don’t put anything in the groundbait that you’re not going to fish on the hook” which makes perfect sense doesn’t it?!!
When fishing with smaller baits like bloodworm and joker, small fish can a nuisance and can often frustrate anglers into changing methods completely. I once witnessed Will Raison competing in a winter league final on a deep river in the UK. All the way through the training sessions, tiny roach were a huge problem and many teams chose to ignore bloodworm and joker in favour of larger baits and focusing on bonus fish. However, as is often the case, tiny fish which have been attracted to a bed of groundbait and joker will often attract the attentions of large predator fish like perch. Will found that if he introduced the feed as normal in front of him at the start of the match, but then fished bunches of bloodworm on the hook 2 metres down steam he could catch bonus perch which were attracted to the tiny roach. Will and his team went onto to win this final and to this day, the anglers around him couldn’t really tell what he’d done differently. This tactic works in exactly the same way in feeder fishing and is certainly a clever trick to keep in mind. Let’s face it, how many times have you yourself or seen someone have a bad cast that has landed slightly off the target, only for the tip to go straight round and your immediately playing a bonus fish?!!
Understanding the Basics
Through the internet and ever increasingly easy access to information, features and articles we see a more and more anglers understanding the basics. This in my opinion is great for the sport and gives any angler a great foundation from which to make educated decisions during the match. On a personal level, the key to my results over the last few months has been understanding the basics and admitting when something isn’t quite right. Once you acknowledge and understand that your feeding, rig or approach isn’t quite right, it’s then up to you to make changes to find out how to improve it. Even the world’s best anglers get it wrong from time to time, but they are experienced enough to try and spot the error early enough to make the necessary changes.
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