TIME FOR A CHANGE
Pellet feeders have been around for a long time, but like many anglers I have drifted in and out of using them. In fact, I rarely see anyone fishing with this tactic. Method and in-line hybrid variations appear to be far more popular. But my mate Andy bucks the trend, continuing his uncanny knack of bagging up just about everywhere he goes with small pellet designs. Big open venues, confined commercials, even rivers; he makes it work. This has got me back into using the technique a lot more, especially when fish are backing off a groundbait approach. I was getting some strange indications while using my favourite open-end rigs for bream on this deep lake. My sensitive quivertip kept moving, but nothing was there when I struck. I suspect they were liners, caused by the fish being picky about what they were eating. I was also possibly giving them too much choice by adding chopped worm, casters and pellets into my groundbait.
BOX OF TRICKS
One possible reason pellet feeders haven’t dominated could be down to their design. I don’t think anybody has got this quite right yet, which is why I have modified many of these shovel-shaped models. After experimenting in a tub of water, it was taking too long for dampened pellets and buried hook baits to fall out, so I opened the bodies up even more. Apart from making it easier to thumb everything in one-handed, this made the contents release much more quickly. I wanted this because, after all, we are looking at teasing fish into feeding, casting regularly, and not putting much free stuff in. While regularly introducing small helpings of micro pellets, I experiment with different hook baits to find a winning combination. But there is something else I don’t like about many pellet feeders, and that’s bright silvery leads and shiny bodies. I hate having anything like this near my hook bait, so I dull everything down with a black waterproof marker pen.
To make sure my hook bait is amongst the pellets I’m feeding, I use a small connector bead to join the main line to a short four inch hook length. An eyed hook pattern is very important on such a minimal length of line, because spade-ends tend to cut through mono. This happens most as fish thump about next to the feeder after being hooked. The tight nature of this rig ensures the hook bait never strays away from each loading of feed pellets. After much trial and error, I’ve discovered the best attractor is 2mm micros. Bream, skimmers and hybrids absolutely love these, along with carp, of course. The connector bead is attached after being threaded through the feeder, and acts as a stop, making the rig free-running and safe. It also allows quick changes of short hook lengths, handy if a swop to hair-rigged bands or bait spikes is required. It’s a case of chopping and changing, to find which baits are best. More about the feeder design I’m using later.
TAKING A REST
It took me a while to sort out a suitable quiver rest for this way of fishing. I’m not keen on the type with over-large end ears, which in theory are there to prevent expensive tackle from being pulled in. Personally, I can’t get out of the habit of holding my rod, whatever type of feeder fishing I’m doing. I also don’t want anything that the blank can clash with when striking sideways, a movement that happens quite naturally. Another thing I don’t like are super-bright colours on rod rests, which are an annoying distraction when you only want to concentrate on watching a quivertip. The EVA Matrix multi-position quiver rest I use is a nice product, particularly now I’ve replaced the bright yellow buffers with foam disks, which are ample to stop the rod falling off. I’ve also added an angle lock, which keeps the rest well away from the feeder arm that supports it. This allows sideways adjustment, so the rod lines up perfectly with the channels.
DOING IT RIGHT
Big myths about pellet feeder fishing are that stiff 2oz to 3oz quivertips are needed, along with feeders that must be on the heavy side – to create a bolt effect. This is all twaddle. If I only want to cast a short distance, I don’t need 20g plus; in fact it’s a hindrance. I want to be able to lightly flick a feeder out, using a short, soft action 10-11ft quivertip rod, which helps to prevent hook pulls. 10-12g is often all the weighting I need, hence the reason I have started adapting different types of blockend feeders into pellet-orientated ones. I must thank ‘Crystal Bend’ on our chatrooms for directing me to a YouTube video by Ian Rowney, showing how to do this with Kamasan Black Caps. I found this very interesting, and have now modified pellet feeders into something much lighter and exactly what I was looking for. The fish still try to pull my rod off its rest, even with a sensitive 12oz quivertip. As you can see, this big skimmer smashed my hook bait to bits.
Something I spotted Andy doing with pellet feeders was capping off a small loading of micros with a smudge of groundbait. He starts with neat feed pellets but adds the groundbait if the going is slow, reckoning it helps to kick-start the action, pulling fish towards the main pellet loading. Another thing I do, if I want feed pellets to empty out of the feeder a bit more slowly, is stir some similar flavour paste powder in with them. This makes the main loading stickier and more binding, which can be useful if small fish are initially attacking the feeder as it settles. Another good trick is dusting dampened feed pellets with a handful of dry groundbait. This sticks to them, sending off lots of active fine particles after the feeder lands. Skimmers in particular respond well to this. I’ve also discovered krill flavoured pellets attract perch, so I sometimes mix a bit of chopped worm in with them, creating an unusual way of targeting this species.
An area where Andy does particularly well with pellet feeders is on commercials when space is tight. Although these types of venues are often dominated by pole tactics, this doesn’t put him off one bit, confidently setting up a short quivertip rod as his main line of attack. Plopping a small pellet feeder over to a feature like an island is less hard work than holding onto a long pole all day. But there’s more to it than that. I think heavily pressured fish get used to poles waving about over their heads and back away from them. Why else would there be a current trend where anglers are using white top sections, which are obviously meant to be less obtrusive than darker ones? Another advantage with running line tackle is you can lean sideways into fish the second they are hooked, to help steer them away from the rest of the shoal. With a pole you are lifting upwards to begin with, which often sees anything big charging along a feature, not away from it.
BACK TO BASICS
Being dead simple, pellet feeder rigs only take a few minutes to set up. It’s always best to bury your bait when using just four inches of line between a connector bead and the hook, otherwise if left outside, it will wrap back around the feeder on the cast. An initial helping of pellets is followed by the hook bait, then more pellets are pressed on top of it. With dampened feed pellets you can compress the load quite hard, because once they are in the water they quickly expand and tumble out. Although micro pellets are excellent for this method, it’s okay to step up to a bigger 4mm size if small fish are a problem. As previously mentioned, groundbait occasionally has its place too, while I’ve also heard of river anglers using sticky maggots with this technique. I think that could also be worth a try when fishing for far bank chub on canals and small streams, especially with buried hook baits, which won’t snag up when casting tight to features.
The Ian Rowney YouTube video shows how to shape a small 10g Kamasan Black Cap blockend into a pellet feeder with just a pair of sharp scissors. It’s a great idea if you only want a light rig for fishing close range. I say close, but you can cast these modified versions anywhere between 10 and 30 metres quite comfortably. If you always bury your hook baits, there’s no need for a tail rubber; I simply use a sharp knot picker to drill a hole in the body for the line to go through. Other than that, you end up with a perfectly compact shovel-shaped feeder, which casts much better at close quarters than many off-the-shelf models, which are laden down with too much weight. The only other thing I do differently, is use much lighter quivertips. I tried 2oz, but it was too stiff because the feeder wasn’t heavy enough to create a bolt effect. A 12oz or 1oz quivertip worked far better, arcing around savagely on takes, just requiring the rod to be lifted.
Some commercials I fish hardly require any feed, otherwise the fish become suspicious very quickly. Pole anglers only use small Cad-style pots, to trickle in a few pellets or maggots over the float every put in. Because this tactic works so well, it got me thinking about even smaller pellet feeders, that would emulate this way of doing things. I found what I was looking for by cutting up a small Drennan Feeder Bomb, again into the standard shovel shape. This is just big enough to take a couple of thimblefuls of pellets and I can still sandwich a hook bait inside. After modifying and gluing the weighted end cap on, this leaves you with a 10g mini pellet feeder, perfect for enclosed commercials and short 9 or 10ft bomb style rods. It’s a brilliant rig for casting around features, hunting out where the fish are. Again, this is far from having a bolt effect, but if anything grabs the hook bait, light action quivertips whizz round and rarely is anything missed.
FOOLING THE WISE
I’ve experimented with many types of hook baits to combine with various colour micro pellets, finding banded or spiked wafters, sweetcorn and hair-rigged hard pellets attract lots of attention from carp. Two or three red maggots are generally the best bait to produce takes all session. Normally, dead reds are associated with bream and skimmers, but I’ve found that three live ones do a very effective job. The movement they create helps fish find them amongst a pile of inert pellets a lot faster. Wise old bream like this one are clever at mopping up free grub and avoiding what’s on the hook, especially if it’s a long way from your feed. But they are mugs for a pile of micro pellets tumbling out of a compact feeder, with three lively red maggots amongst them. I’ve experienced big fish like this barely creating any movement on sensitive quivertips when using open enders, but with a small pellet design, this slab belted a 12oz quivertip around.
It’s funny how methods come and go, along with tackle drifting in and out of vogue. Sometimes it only requires a slight adjustment to make a tactic work so much better. Since modifying some old redundant feeders into superior pellet designs, I’m bagging up big time on lots of venues. We all get pulled into new trends, such as trying to hit the horizon with modern, extra heavy feeders, big reels and powerful quivertip rods. But the fact is, we are probably casting over more fish than we will ever catch at long range. I’ve also enjoyed bringing some of my older and shorter bomb rods back into action, finding it’s a refreshing change plopping out a tiny feeder with them. It’s a lot easier to be accurate at close quarters too. Bringing some finesse back into my feeder fishing has made a refreshing change, creating unmissable takes despite going against all the rules. I’ve never liked self-hooking rigs anyway, enjoying having to work for the fish I catch.