But the plain truth is, no, I’m not holding anything back. There is no Holy Grail out there; there is no top secret rig that only the most successful anglers use. What I described is exactly what I used for the vast majority of last summer and very effective it was, too, although it is not the only rig I use. You should remember that.
Just put away your distrust for a moment and try to believe me when I say simplicity is best. If your rig is tied up with multiple fancy gizmos and trinkets then the chances are it is unnecessarily complicated and will probably let you down when you least expect it to.
But let’s move on. A rig in isolation is NOT the key to success. A good rig will convert more pick-ups into hook-ups but location and correct feeding is far more important and if you think otherwise then you are wrong, plain and simple.
Around a year ago I appeared on Sky TV’s Tight Lines show and caused quite a stir because I stated, live on air, that I didn’t think barbel anglers introduced enough feed. Boy, did that light a fuse up the backsides of certain individuals on the web forums, so I’ll say it again:
MOST BARBEL ANGLERS DO NOT INTRODUCE ENOUGH FEED!
Did you get that?
When I made that statement on air it riled Graham Elliott in particular so much so (although judging by his comments it’s clear he didn’t watch the programme) he actually wrote a complaining email to the show’shost, Keith Arthur, who it must be said gave him very short shrift. Apparently, he claimed, the anglers who fish his piddle had begun piling in kilos of pellets and his pet poodles were now proving impossible to catch, or words to that effect.
Of course, any statement I make about baiting is subjective. It is completely dependent upon prevailing circumstances but within the constraints of a live TV show you are there to provide concise statements, one-line replies rather than eulogies, because it’s not your show and frankly no-one really cares about one man’s piddle. You are there to speak about your own experiences rather than make generalisations on the subject being discussed. On average you get about 30 seconds for an answer and you must use it wisely.
You certainly do not start making exceptions or apologies for rivers that you have never even seen, never mind fished, or ever have any intention of doing so. To even contemplate that would be ludicrous. No, you tell it like it is, as I am doing now, based on personal experience of the waters you have fished.
Perhaps you now see what those two humorous cartoons in the December Blogs were all about – yes, I was taking the Mickey out of his reaction!
Of course it’s different if you are fishing a piddly little stream that only contains one or two recognisable fish that get caught repeatedly but we try our best to give the viewer credit for having the nous to understand that your scenario may be different to the one I describe. Even so, the notion that a kilo of pellets here and there makes a whole lot of difference is actually quite ludicrous.
What proof is that statement based upon? What evidence is there to support the case that introducing a kilo of pellets is damaging other than hearsay and speculation? Can anyone back up this claim with a single shred of factual evidence?
You failed to catch a fish, therefore it is someone else’s fault.
I rest my case.
I’m sorry but that is a theory based on paranoia rather than proof.
Extensive filming underwater has given me all the evidence I need to be able to state categorically that pellets break down in water, the resulting mess is swept far and wide on the current and it is eaten by all manner of living creatures from crustaceans to bugs, minnows and even tiny fry. Very little of the food we introduce is left after an hour unless the swim borders on being stagnant and that’s without the arrival of a single barbel.
I’m sorry if that upsets some folk but I like to deal in facts rather than fanciful theories.
Anyone who has attended one of my live shows recently will be under no illusions whatsoever as to what happens to the bait we introduce to flowing rivers. Few anglers in history could ever lay a claim to have been as successful as Phil Smith in recent seasons. What did he catch? Double figure barbel from something like 17 different rivers in one season? That’s the kind of mixture of success and wide ranging experience that no-one can seriously contradict.
Phil attended a recent show given by Stu Walker and myself to the Barbel Specialists AGM. In the show we revealedunderwater footage of how pellets behavein a river, how quickly they dissolve into mush, how every living thing in the swim including tiny minnows eat them, how they absorb water and then roll away, never to be seen again, how the wafting of fishes fins lifts pellets off the bottom causing them to be swept away on the current, too. This isn’t theory, it’s fact. We provide evidence. What you see is not fanciful notions, it’s not something I’ve dreamed up, it’s categorical physical evidence that you can see with your own eyes.
After the show Phil came up and thanked us for having ‘changed the way he will be fishing in future’.
That’s what you call impact. If Phil Smith can be convinced I rest my case.
So how have I applied this to my own fishing this summer? Take the Tidal Trent, a river that is wide, swift flowing at certain stages of the tide, and full of barbel. Apparently they only feed in the dark and if you want to make a good catch you should turn up as dusk approaches and erect a bivvy.
What utter bunkum!
Again, we have folklore traded as fact when it isn’t even the basis of a good theory. Last summer I only fished daytime match hours. Not once did I require a starlight or head torch. Each session spanned the so-called worst part of the day and I paid no attention to the tide tables, yet I have caught fish after fish. The average catch fell as Autumn kicked in but overall it was pretty close to ten fish per trip. I call that good fishing and suggest to you that I must be doing something right.
So, what exactly am I doing?
Well, having filmed the fish’s feeding reactions to all manner of baits Stu (Walker) and I have developed a barbel mix based on a variety of different sized pellets bulked out with equal proportions of cooked hemp. If you only feed large pellets they are mopped up quite quickly by feeding fish. These fish return to the swim seeking more food but when they determine it’s not there the return visits become infrequent and then non-existent. In other words, they may be stupid but they see no point in turning up to a restaurant that is closed.
When we’ve fed small pellets they are effective for as long as it takes for the pellets to break down which is often a lot quicker than you imagine. They are also more attractive to nuisance fish and get washed straight out of the swim in anything like a decent current.
Hemp in isolation can stimulate positive feeding but the risk is pre-occupation. Hemp also washes away.
For your feed to be effective it helps tremendously if the riverbed is made up of pebble and stones. Fine gravel and sand will not hold bait.
Through trial and error we have arrived at a mix of mostly small to medium pellets of different types which have varying breakdown rates. This combined with the hemp will lodge in the gravel, behind stones and other obstructions. We’re not only happy to accept that some of the pellets will float off downstream, we positively want this to happen. Adding an oil based glug to the mix encourages this, as does pre-softening with a little water.
My opening attack when I arrive at a swim is to put out 15 to 20 droppers of bait, sometimes more, in an area about the size of a dining table. I have the line clipped up for this so as to ensure I am baiting accurately.
Trent anglers are the world’s worst, I reckon, when it comes to accurate baiting and casting. They THINK they are keeping the feed in a tight area but beyond ten yards out they haven’t a clue. As for placing their rigs on the money, it gets worse. I know this from regularly watching anglers on the opposite bank and around me with their scatter gun approach.
When the initial feed has gone in I always lay out the dropper line on the bank and mark out the distance from dropper to rod tip. That then enables me to place both rigs exactly where I want them to be, allowing a little extra distance for the downstream casting angle.
This is not rocket science! It is simply the belt and braces of fundamental accuracy which can be recreated with ease should you lose a rig or maybe realise your bites have dried up because you’re actually casting onto the wrong line.
Place your rig on the right line every time and your catches will increase significantly. Place it three yards away and you are reducing your chances to luck and wasting money on bait.
Of course, crashing a dropper into your swim 20 times causes a lot of disturbance and this will frighten any fish within 50 yards, won’t it? No it bloody doesn’t! In fact it will frequently attract them.
We’ve filmed fish that have sat in shot while a dropper opens and they then approach the feed before the dropper has been removed. Clearly we must have terrified them into feeding.
On several occasions this summer I have hammered in a load of feed, cast out a rod just downstream of the dining table and it’s hooped over before I’ve even got the second rod out. On one occasion I had three fish before managing to get two rods in the swim at the same time.
Now one or two of you will be wondering where this swim is that I’m fishing but it isn’t one red hot swim, far from it. I have been fishing different swims on each visit as I search for the mythical sweet spot, because somewhere out there I reckon there must be a really hot swim that contains a few bigger specimens, so let’s rule out the idea I’m targeting one particularly good swim. I am not.
It has been the norm for me to get some quick action but there have been occasions when I haven’t caught a fish in the first hour. This tells me that they are not in residence and will have to be drawn towards me. If I don’t catch within 90 minutes I re-bait with half the opening amount but I don’t really know what the next option is because it’s never happened yet.
What does tend to happen is that I’ll get into a nice rhythm of catching fish at steady intervals. It’s not uncommon to catch two or three fish in thirty minutes, then you get a rest for an hour before the next group arrives but if I go much longer than an hour without a bite I will reach for the dropper and give them ten droppers in quick succession.
Two weeks ago I had 7 fish in a short session, four came immediately after the initial baiting, then the swim died. Only when I put in another 15 droppers did I catch again.
Don’t forget the feeders are constantly topping up the swim, too. Each rod is recast after ten to 15 minutes without a bite. I time this on my phone because it’s easy to lull yourself into a feeling that you’re doing okay. You’re not. There are more fish to be caught but to catch them you need to work harder.
Now I realise this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s hard work and you cannot keep it up indefinitely. Much easier to turn up at dusk, chuck out two bolt rigs and let the fish find you, or just sit back and read a book. Well, it’s each to their own. Before I retired I was in danger of becoming a lazy angler but times change and without the grind of the day job I’ve become more focused. To be a successful angler you can develop a match angler’s mentality or you become a time bandit. Either way you’ll do okay.
So let’s have a quick look at the hook bait presentation I’ve been using.
It’s hardly revolutionary but after sharing it on the TV programme I was accused on BFW, by Graham Elliott, of copying his ideas. Why he frequently tries to discredit me I don’t know. I’ve never even met the guy, never even read an article written by him, but he reckons he knows someone that I know so clearly I’m incapable of an original thought and that’s how I arrived at what we will now close with.
When competitive feeding is achieved in a swim, particularly on small baits, barbel frequently suck up whole mouthfuls of gravel and other food items. This can clearly be seen in our DVDs and it is evident that the fish are not selecting individual items of food. Somehow the food is separated from the gravel in the barbel’s mouth and the gravel is ejected.
Consequently I decided to replicate the small clusters of pellets that collect on the riverbed by gluing four, sometimes six small pellets to the standard hair. It has paid off handsomely when applied over our multi-pellet approach.
I first experimented with multiple particle baits on hairs over 15 years ago when fishing for carp on the St Lawrence River in Canada. Indeed I wrote an article revealing how I created two hairs, one from the standard knotless knot, the other a reverse hair emerging from the hook’s eye. The reverse hair was loaded with sinking particles of maize while the normal hair contained maize topped off with buoyant yellow rig foam which caused the hook to sit vertically, claw-like from the river bed. Hook-ups were one hundred per cent efficient in the lower lip.
But maybe that’s something for us to think about in the future…
Right now I see no reason to fix what is working remarkably well.
In a future article I will blow away a few myths about PVA. Again these aren’t theories, they are evidential truths, all of which will be revealed in the next two Barbel Days and Ways DVDs.
Let’s wrap this article with some further reading. There’s a thread on BFW begun by Mr Elliott called ‘Piling In The Bait’that you should read. It was launched in January 2010, straight after the coldest snap we’ve experienced since 1963, and Mr Elliott claims he witnessed an angler on a tiny river feed around 5kg pellets and a kilo of boiles prior to fishing. The angler was fishing a short session and following the advice of a couple of anglers who are known to ‘pile it in’.
Now I have little experience of using boilies for barbel. I’ve rarely used them because other baits have been remarkably successful. When I fished night sessions on the Trent regularly I used them on the hook because I quickly realised that pellet hook baits would melt and disintegrate after an hour or so, thus leaving me fishing with a bare hook most of the time.
I suspect the whole episode is the figment of a warped imagination. It simply didn’t happen and the thread was started maliciously. No-one in their right mind goes around introducing £30 worth of bait on a regular basis unless they are catching on it, do they?
But let’s for a moment imagine the scenario was true.
I can easily understand the dismay caused by witnessing someone doing it when you’re blanking, but has anyone really thought this through? Is it any worse than not switching on a car’s headlights in broad daylight?
You see, the fish aren’t even feeding. No one is catching, are they? The anglers out there fishing for barbel right now (January 2010), let’s face it, are going through the motions. In terms of rod hours, how many barbel have been caught this past month? One fish for each 200 rod hours, or 500, maybe a thousand? It could even be greater.
If this guy had stayed at home the chances are everyone would still have blanked. He had no impact on any one’s fishing, least of all his own. The idea that this bait lies around until it gets eaten is a complete fallacy, a myth. Within two hours there would be no sign of those pellets, they would have dissolved and washed away. It certainly isn’t a case that every barbel in the river would suddenly have switched on, eaten every last pellet and then not fed for another month.
Think it through. It doesn’t make sense. It is not logical.
It’s just a convenient way for some people to explain their own failings and if you want to disagree, at least come up with some factual evidence to support your statements. Facts – like pellets don’t dissolve. Facts – like pellets do stay exactly in the place they’re introduced. Facts – like you’re not simply feeding your own paranoia.
I’ve backed my theories up with irrefutable facts, with physical evidence, with film footage in real rivers – can you do the same?
And for the record, I am not, nor ever have been, paid a single penny by any bait company to promote their products.
If you enjoyed this article then you may also wish to read Part One.
Of course our four remarkable barbel films, full of technical and tactical advice are still available. Click HERE to purchase Barbel Days And Ways DVDs
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