The Moving Feeder
The following chapter is as fresh and as relevant today as it was on the day I wrote it. Few anglers have ever, or will ever, master this technique. It is a crying shame really because the technique because most cannot be bothered with the little bit of extra effort involved. More fool them. I have put it to good use on the Trent, Severn, Wye and Thames to name just four of the UK’s biggest rivers.
Today I use this method whenever an opportunity arises but with a different rig. I’ll describe it at the appropriate time.
During the mid-1980s I was reasonably successful using the static, critically balanced, swim-feeder on the River Trent. For several years the river had been dominated by the ground-bait, caster and hempseed combination in open-ended feeders, but this method was losing its stranglehold grip on the match scene. I was not alone in recognising this, and those anglers who did and switched to bronze maggots in a block-end feeder, generally did very well as a result.
The fact that a particular technique can be very successful on a variety of venues and then inexplicably can begin to lose its effectiveness, not just on one river but right across the country, is a puzzle. Mysteries like this add to the fascination of angling – each time you get close to some of the answers, the fish change their habits without warning. Even today, the ground-bait method has not recovered its effectiveness on the River Trent. Perhaps one day soon the wheel will turn full circle and once again fish like the chub will respond to ground-bait, but at the moment, bream apart, it has the ability to kill a swim stone-dead.
Although I was pleased with the way things were going, one match in particular stumped me. The winner was a novice drawn in a poor area on an equally poor day. Why or how he could have won from there had me bemused – it didn’t add up at all. When I talked to him later, he was more than pleased to have an opportunity to recount his tale to a most attentive listener.
Rudyard Kipling once said, ‘I keep six honest serving men (they taught me all I know). Their names are why and what and when and where, and how, and who’. I, too, have used Kipling’s friends to learn many of the secrets of match fishing, rarely missing an opportunity to chat with winners and pick their brains. Even the most modest winner finds it difficult not to talk about his luck, but the answers I was getting from this match winner didn’t add up. He was obviously telling me the truth, but his description of the successful method beggared belief.
Apparently, he had simply thrown a feeder out into the river without adding any trim weights whatsoever. Failing to hold, the swim-feeder had bounced around in the current until it found a place to rest. Whenever it did so, he didn’t get bites at all but occasionally, as it was bouncing along, a suicidal chub would grab the bait. This had happened often enough for him to win the match against much more experienced anglers.
However, I looked at the facts before me, I couldn’t work out why he had succeeded. The temptation was to write the episode off as a one-off, inexplicable incident, until shortly afterwards my eyes were opened to one of the most devastating techniques swim-feeder fishing has to offer. The pieces of the jigsaw revealed themselves in a series of coincidences that left me wondering why no one else had discovered the method. In truth, I suspected that other anglers had done so, but were keeping the secret to themselves.
Of all the features that I have written in various publications, not one has provoked as much interest from fellow anglers as the one I wrote revealing the method. Two years later a stranger came up to me and shook my hand. ‘Bob,’ he said, ‘let me shake your hand. That article on “The Method” has won me more money than I care to think about. I’ve been waiting to meet you for ages.’ It was a flattering experience and one I treasure because not everyone is so generous with their praise. However, the same article drew more than its fair share of sceptical comments from anglers who either didn’t try the method before criticising it or who simply failed to get it right when they did use it.
The next piece of the jigsaw fell into place on a club match that was fished in the famous Nelson Field at Burton Joyce on the River Trent. There had been no rain for weeks and as a result the river was very low and in a dour mood. The Trent can be a heartbreaking river in these conditions and on that particular hot August day it was in no mood to give up its fish easily.
Two hours into the match I was struggling along with the rest of the field. Although it was only a club match, the field contained some very talented anglers, one of whom went on to win the individual crown on the next National Championships held on the river and no less than half-a-dozen others who won gold medals in the team event for three different teams in subsequent years. If these anglers could not catch, then surely the fish were not feeding.
It seemed that my critically balanced feeder was not the answer – either that or the fish were not present on the line I was fishing. In desperation, I threw the feeder a few yards further out on the next cast. This time it failed to hold and began to roll. Before it had moved very far, the tip sprang back and I caught a small chub. Pleasantly surprised, I lobbed the tackle back to the same spot and the bait was pounced upon again as soon as it began to move. Another cast, another chub: this was getting silly.
Over the next three hours, more than sixty chub graced my net from a swim I would have sworn was empty. It was uncanny. All around me were experienced anglers struggling to get a bite while I slaughtered fish. These fish, that avoided all float-fished baits and would not even look at a static bait, were falling over themselves to take one rolling across the current in a seemingly most unnatural fashion. Surely this wasn’t right?
The events of the day occupied my mind for some while afterwards. Why did a clumsy method like this work? And was it not similar to the way in which the novice fished only a few weeks previously? A few experiments were in order. Could the same success be repeated? Further trips to the river were inconclusive. Sometimes it worked, but more often it failed. Long tails, short tails, casters and maggots were all given a fair trial, but still nothing concrete developed. I felt that something was staring me in the face, but I could not grasp what it was.
The answer came to me when I was on a visit to the tidal River Trent at Collingham. An angler from the Scunthorpe area was fishing for bream, with some success, on a peg in the seventies. (Sadly, I failed to get his name and have never met him again.) He was fishing in a manner I had not seen before. After casting a swim-feeder three-quarters of the way to the far side of the river, he placed his rod parallel to the bank, facing downstream, and allowed enough line to peel off his reel to form a bow that went fully three pegs down-river. This puzzled me, so I sat down to watch and, remembering Kipling, brought out a few ‘friends’.
‘Why are you doing this?’ I enquired.
‘If I try to tighten up, I’11 need too much lead. The bigger the bow, the less lead is required. You can’t do it in matches, though,’ came the reply.
‘How on earth can you see a bite?’
‘Watch and you will see.’
Sure enough, although his tip was only fractionally bent forwards, it dropped back a fraction of an inch to indicate that something had taken the bait.
I watched, puzzled, as he picked up the rod and simply began to reel in with no attempt at striking whatsoever. What was he playing at? After several turns of the reel, the rod bent, kicked, and the fish, a 21b bream, was on. I then realised what had taken place: the fish was already hooked when it dislodged the feeder, and the angler knew that he had no need to strike. Despite his unconventional technique, he knew exactly what he was doing. I stayed a little longer, fascinated, but did not learn anything else. I didn’t need to. He had helped me more than he could ever know and much more than I realised at the time.
It’s a strange old world, you know. Last weekend, on a bitter cold, wet and windy February afternoon, I paid a visit to Messingham Sands, an eight lake complex near Scunthorpe that is owned by match angler Kevin Johnson. I was there to shoot a day ticket feature for the Angling Times and on arrival I parked my car behind the first angler I saw with a bent rod. A match was in progress and, after shooting off a few frames with the camera, I asked if the angler knew where Kevin Johnson was pegged.
“That’s him, right next door.” He replied, indicating in the direction of the angler in the next swim a matter of yards from where I stood. Pleased with my good fortune I approached Kevin and introduced myself. Pleasantries over, he turned his attention away from his quivertip and said, “You know that book you wrote on legering, the one where you mentioned an angler fishing the feeder at Collingham. That was me!”
Stone me! I had finally discovered the man who had unknowingly, yet dramatically influenced my fishing, a full quarter of a century later and it was the first thing he mentioned. Spooky, or what?
I’m certain that the next time I return we will talk about feeder methods in some detail.
Only later, when I was mulling over the events that had recently occurred, did I make a connection between the separate incidents. The germ of an idea had been sown and almost by accident the answers were falling into place.
Chub that seemed at first uncatchable could be provoked into snatching at a bait if it was made to move. These chub were not simply attacking the bait in an act of aggression, because clear evidence could be seen in the backs of their throats that they were eating plenty of free offerings. Only those baits nailed to the bottom were being ignored.
If these fish were feeding, they would not swim far out of the killing zone to intercept a single maggot. For that matter, the killing zone was hardly tight if the feeder was on the move diagonally. There had to be a better way, a way of creating a tight feed pattern. Logically, if a method of presenting a bait that moved downstream in a straight line could be devised, it had to be more effective.
By utilising the fine adjustments of critical balance to create the situation where a feeder would just move and by employing a large bow as well, the hook-bait could be made to travel down the swim in a straight line. Furthermore, the speed it moved at could be controlled by the size of the bow. In addition, the feed pattern could be kept very tight and a perfect killing zone be prepared.
Little did I realise that this was only the briefest blueprint for a way of catching fish that was to become known as ‘The Method’.
Refinement of The Method
Before long, the skeleton of an idea suddenly became a devastating practical method. Once the principles of this technique were established, everything else fell rapidly into place, but not before I had met an angler who seemed at first to be using a totally incorrect technique.
Our club was due to fish a match at East Stoke, near Newark, on the Trent, and as I happened to be working in the area, it seemed a good idea to eat my sandwiches there and have a look at the stretch, which I was not very familiar with.
There was only one angler fishing the pegs we had booked, so I sat with him and passed the time of day. He was feeder fishing and his rig was quite novel. The feeder was on a 4in paternoster, as was his hook. Apart from the inevitable tangles that this would cause, it seemed to me that no fish was going to come that close to the feeder.
Obviously, no one had told the fish that they were supposed to be afraid of the feeder, because the chub were queueing up to literally hang themselves on the hook. Whenever a bite came, the fish was already hooked as a consequence of the short tails.
All the elements of the technique were now in my possession and all that remained was to piece them together. And, from the very first match that I had the opportunity to use the refined method, it was a winner.
The Method in practice
To fish a moving feeder is very similar to float fishing. The feeder is cast out, worked down the swim, reeled in, refilled and cast out again, over and over again. It is hard work and certainly no ploy for the lazy angler. Total concentration is also demanded, because often the bites are only tiny indications.
Obviously, it is vital that the feeder empties its contents on the journey downstream and not while it is being reeled in. For this reason the obvious choice of bait is the maggot. Maggots will escape from a feeder quicker than other baits.
The size of the feeder is governed by the number of holes it contains rather than by the volume of bait held within it. Remember, too, that it is not necessary to fill a feeder if you so choose. Indeed, it is a commonly overlooked tactical ploy not to fill the feeder on every cast. Does the successful float angler feed exactly the same number of maggots on each cast, or does he step up and ease back to suit the behaviour of the fish in front of him?
Consider a half-full feeder with two clip-on leads attached to it laid on the bottom. Bearing in mind that the maggots rarely travel upstream against the current to escape and that the uppermost holes are beyond their reach, how many unhindered holes are left available to them? The answer is, not many on a small feeder. It was this reasoning that led me to choose the medium-sized Thamesley feeder in the first instance. Another important quality was its robustness. Many of the swimfeeders available would not have withstood continual recasting. The holes could be enlarged without seriously weakening it and even if two clip-ons were employed, utilising four of the holes in the base, a further two were left clear of any encumbrance.
A major departure from the norm was my choice of reel line. In normal practice, choosing the lightest line you can safely get away with is desirable because it reduces the amount of lead required to hold a feeder stationary. Here the aim is to have a feeder that moves rather than holds, but the weight of that feeder has a significant role to play in actually hooking the fish for you, so it pays to increase the strength of the line. The consequential increase in line diameter creates a greater resistance to the flow and therefore allows the use of sufficiently heavy trim weights to do the hooking while retaining the ability to move the feeder along in flow situations that are often fairly steady due to low summer levels. As light lines do not give this flexibility, I chose a 61b breaking strain Maxima.
A point worth making is that the method works particularly well in summer and early autumn. After the first frosts a static approach is more likely to succeed. However, there are days that begin with fish responding to static methods but then changing as the temperature rises, so do not lie out the method even in winter. Winter inevitably sees stronger flows and higher river levels, which dictate that not only is the strong line approach not necessary, but that it is positively undesirable. A 31b line with a shock leader might be the most suitable.
There is little room for compromise where the choice of hooks is concerned. Knowing that the fish is in immediate contact with the feeder, there can be no excuse for using fine wire-hooks. Should you choose to ignore this point, the first decent-sized fish to take the bait is likely to straighten out the hook against the weight of the feeder. Hooks have to be strong, preferably forged, micro-barbed, sharp, and as big as you can get away with. Unfortunately, big may well mean only a size 20s! While barbless hooks might give better penetration, chub, one of the main target fish for this method, have the capacity to spit them out and avoid getting hooked. Micro-barbs certainly have the edge over barbless hooks.
Simplicity has to be the watchword for this rig. Not only has it to withstand the rigours of continual casting and the subsequent strain involved, but it has to be as tangle-free as possible. To achieve this, a compromise had to be made. The hook length is attached direct to the main line with a water knot. The advantage of this is that there is only one knot between the rod-tip and the hook. The disadvantage is that the hook length is free to rub against the feeder and its protruding trim weights. The line at this point must be examined frequently and problems should not arise, provided that a new hook length is substituted at the first sign of damage.
In keeping with my current views on safe rigs I feel I can no longer support the rig used back then. However, the Korda Lead Clip solution, described in the last chapter, offers an ideal solution. The rigidity of the clip goes some way to holding the hook link away from the feeder, but additional security, and protection against the line rubbing on the feeder can be had by pushing a short section of silicone tubing over the swivel at the top of the hook link.
Although this rig is virtually tangle-free, nevertheless tangles can occur. The prime culprit is multiple baits. Using double or treble maggots on the hook is a certain recipe for disaster. Some trouble can be avoided with a double-maggot bait simply by reversing the second maggot on the hook, but this only reduces the problem it does not eliminate it.
When retrieved, hooks with large spade ends can act like a propeller, so consider your choice of pattern very carefully. It is impossible to be too specific when advising which brands to choose because even individual batches of the same hook can vary. Unfortunately, the size of spades can vary even inside the same packet. It is best, therefore, to shop around until you find a shopkeeper with a batch that suits you and purchase his entire stock of that size or pattern.
In my early trials with this technique, my first choice of line for the hook length was one of the hi-tech varieties. Believing that the greater strength to diameter ratio gave me some extra insurance, I chose a stronger breaking strain than I would normally. Subsequently, I have altered my thinking where this rig is concerned, because much of this strength is achieved by pre-stretching the line. As a result, there is no give whatsoever between the fish and the weighted feeder. It is impossible to prove with any degree of certainty, but I strongly suspect that more hooks are pulled out as a result and occasional avoidable crack-offs occur. High-tech lines are also notoriously prone to twisting and kinking, something that the continual casting and retrieving will only exacerbate.
Ideally, incorporating a length of power-gum would provide the best solution, but in practice this only leads to more tangles unless the rig is drastically altered. If you feel that a shock-absorber of some kind is essential for practicalreasons say, barbel move on to your feed simply revert to the double-loop rig and tolerate the few (if any) tangles you might suffer.
Getting organised for fishing the method
Because this method is more labour-intensive than any other legering technique, it is vital that you set your tackle out in such a way that eliminates as much bending and stretching as possible. It is easy to end up with the hook out of the swim longer than it is actually in it, if you are not careful. The use of either a bait- waiter or bait-apron is essential and accessories such as disgorgers, scissors, spare hooks, trim weights and replacement feeders must all be close at hand . The positioning of the rod-rest is not as crucial as many would have you believe. What is important is that you can bait up, cast, put your hand on the rod blindfolded, strike, pick up the landing-net, unhook a fish and put it in the keep-net, change a hook, and perform all the other necessities without having to move your feet. Every movement costs time and those seconds add up. If you match fish, you should consider these requirements carefully, because simply by organising your peg, you can actually increase the effective time you spend fishing. That is the equivalent of being allowed to fish an extra fifteen minutes longer than everyone else.
Getting the balance right
Before you start to fish, it is vital to ensure that your chosen line of attack is clear of weeds or obstructions. If this is not established, you are faced with a miserable day which will be spent pulling for breaks or, worse still, losing tackle and fish.
Have a few preliminary casts just to establish whether the line is indeed suitable and then follow exactly the same guidelines for commencing balanced feeder fishing. When the feeder is somewhere near balanced, cast
out and feed a large bow into the line. This may be 10 or even 20yd of line. It is essential at this stage that the feeder holds, so some extra weight may be necessary.
Assuming that you have a feeder that is now critically balanced, drop the front rod-rest by just an inch at a time until you get the firt indications that the feeder is beginning to move. This will be seen clearly on the quiver-tip as small but deliberate vibrations and tiny drop-backs. You are now fully in control of the terminal tackle. By lifting the front rod-rest only slightly, you can stop the feeder dead; by lowering it you can speed up its progress down the swim in a similar manner to a float angler who can vary the behaviour of his tackle. No other legering method gives this degree of control over the tackle at a range that is virtually impossible to feed and fish with float tackle.
Obviously, the feeder can be allowed to make progress downstream only within the confines of your own peg, so try to judge this distance early on. Remember, too, that it is essential that all the bait contained within the feeder has to come out during the run downstream, so be prepared to enlarge the holes accordingly.
Interpreting bites and striking
Bites on this method are many and varied, depending upon the mood of the fish. Drop-back bites need no explanation and many bites will indeed be indicated in this way. Another common bite is when the tip pulls gently forward, perhaps an inch, and holds there. Don’t expect every bite to show dramatically many will be no more than small rattles and vibrations. Simply look for anything that appears slightly different and the likelihood is that a fish has caused it.
In order to understand why bites vary so much, try to imagine what is happening under the water. Different fish take baits in different ways. Some pick up a bait and rush across the current, some go downstream and some don’t move at all and are only indicated when the feeder passes them on its downstream journey. Others may pick up a bait and, because of their shape, lift vertically for example, imagine a large bream feeding as it tilts down to take an item of food and then straightens up again.
Striking has to be a very controlled action. Never strike wildly at bites. Every indication that shows on the tip is the result of a fish tightening the line in between. Long before this happens, the line between itself and the feeder has already tightened and the micro-barb hook should be lightly hooked somewhere in its mouth. It is only necessary to push the point home firmly to have a securely hooked fish on the way to your net. This is achieved by gently lifting the rod upwards and over your shoulder, feeling for the point of contact. As soon as you feel that bump, the strike stops and the fish is safely hooked.
Benefits of The Method
Without doubt, this method adds an additional weapon to the leger angler’s armoury. One great advantage it can have is to revitalise a swim that appears to be dying. Every angler will recall days when, after starting well, he finds his catch rate slowing down to the point where bites dry up completely. Naturally, he imagines that the shoal of fish has deserted his peg, but in reality this is rarely the case. Often the fish have recognised that the splash of the feeder is associated with danger, as is the area into which it falls. By dropping further down the peg, they realise that they can continue to feed in safety as the loose feed is washed down with the current.
Casting downstream to the fish is rarely the answer because you simply recreate the danger they are already aware of and cause them to move even further downstream and probably into the next angler’s peg. By switching. to the moving feeder at this point, it is possible to remain in contact with the shoal for much longer as the feeder works its way down to their place of security. One major breakthrough with this method is that it sorts out those infuriating fish that take a bait and stay put. No other method gives any indication that this has happened, but here the feeder works its way past the fish and hooks it for you. The rod-tip simply shows that the feeder has stopped moving.
When fishing this method in a match, the angler up stream of you will be under the impression that you are catching fish directly in front of you. He is within his rights to throw a swimfeeder anywhere within his peg, and that includes the point immediately upstream of where he imagines you are catching your fish. This is a common occurrence, so, you have to be aware of what can happen.
First, he is unlikely to benefit from his actions because the fish are some way from the point he imagines them to be. However, his actions have doubled the amount of feed entering your swim, which can have a detrimental effect. Be prepared to cut down on the volume of bait in your own feeder to counteract this and monitor exactly what effect this has on the point where bites occur in your swim. If they come higher up the peg, increase the feed; if they are pushed lower, decrease it.Try to take command of the situation and dictate to the fish, otherwise you may lose the initiative. Actions of this kind may be unwelcome, but they are within the rules of the game.
This technique puts the tackle under more strain than usual due to the continual recasting involved. The line between the feeder knot and the reel suffers considerable stress as each cast is made. Inevitably, this will cause weakening. Expect to replace your lines much more frequently when you use this method. If the tackle becomes snagged and you need to pull for a break, the last few yards of line must be checked very carefully for signs of damage. At the slightest sign of wear, discard that section of line and retie the rig. Failure to do this will prove costly sooner or later and no one wishes to see fish trailing feeders about with them unnecessarily.
Should you find yourself with several feet of line to dispose of, do not be tempted to throw it away. Wild birds die every year as a result of becoming tangled up in discarded line because of the reckless actions of unthinking anglers. There is no need to take the line home if you wrap it around the fingers of one hand and then cut through it all with a sharp pair of scissors. This will create numerous pieces of line about 6in long which, far from being a danger to wildlife, frequently turn up woven into the nests of the very birds they posed a threat to in the first instance.