Know your stuff | Dave Harrell's top river advice Q&A

River maestro Dave Harrell has been inundated with questions from Angling Times readers. Here’s his pick of the best...

Question 1. I’m very confused about swimfeeders for barbel fishing. Should I choose blockend or open-end models? 

I can understand why there is confusion, as there are no hard and fast rules. I use open-end feeders with groundbait and pellets mainly in the summer months, as the fish are active and hungry and will soon switch on to the smell of halibut-type groundbaits and pellets, with pellets on the hook. 

In winter, however, I’ve had a lot more barbel success with a blockend feeder and maggots. Always make sure you’ve got a good selection of sizes and weights with you. There’s nothing worse that having your feeder rolling around in the current and no additional weight to hold it down.  

Question 2. I want to buy some new float and feeder rods for river fishing. What lengths would you recommend? 

Choosing the correct float rod lengths is always determined by the depth of water. Most anglers tend to go for a 13ft rod most of the time, and that’s fine as long as the depth is between 3ft and 10ft. For deeper swims you need longer lengths so I carry 14ft, 15ft, 17ft and 20ft rods to cover all eventualities. 

Try to use a rod that is at least 3ft longer than the water depth and you won’t go far wrong. For feeder fishing I use 12ft or 13ft lengths most of the time, but for close work I favour 10ft or 11ft models. For distance work, or in situations where I want a powerful rod to throw a fair distance and keep as much line out of the water as possible, I use 14ft feeder rods. 

Question 3. I read loads of articles about people catching good bags of fish from rivers on float gear, and it’s something I want to achieve. I get very confused about how to start off though. Is there a systematic way? 

This is a very good question, but there are no hard-and-fast rules about which rigs you should use – every river and every day is different. Add different levels and pace to that equation and the whole exercise can become a bit daunting. 

The good news is that there are short cuts to success for you. For starters, one of the best possible ways is to go along to your chosen river and watch others fishing. If the stretch is used for competitions, you’ll be able to tap into a wealth of knowledge and experience, as the anglers fishing there will be using the right gear. 

Never be afraid to ask questions at the end of the competition either, as most anglers are approachable and will help you.The time not to ask questions is while the match is going on as the angler will be deep in thought and won’t want to be pestered nine times out of ten. Think about where you are positioning yourself on the bank, as it’s easy to spook fish in clear water if you’re ‘skylining’ the angler. 

You will learn lots by watching a weigh-in. 

You will learn lots by watching a weigh-in. 

Question 4. Every time I walk into a tackle shop I see a vast array of groundbaits. Which mix would you recommend for use on rivers between 6ft and 12ft deep?

A lot of groundbaits catch more anglers than fish, in my opinion. I got involved with Bait-Tech a few years ago and worked closely with them on a new range of groundbaits for silver fish. The end result – the Pro Natural ranges – have been a huge success and are now used by anglers all around the country. 

My most often used mix is a 50/50 blend of Extra and Dark or Original with molehill soil. How much soil depends on the speed of the flow, but a good starting point is a bag of each, which gives you a 3kg dry mix. Once wetted, I then add one or two litres of soil. You can get a lot of loose bait into this mix in the form of casters and hemp.

Question 5. Every time I walk into a tackle shop I see a vast array of groundbaits. Which mix would you recommend for use on rivers between 6ft and 12ft deep? 

Too many people don’t spend anywhere near enough time plumbing up, and often don’t get the best from their swims as they end up using the wrong rigs or fishing in the wrong place. My advice would be to always try and establish the depths and contours of your swim before you choose a rig. 

I use a simple small waggler on the line with a heavy plummet tied to the end. This is then cast into the swim well downstream and across the river. Once the plummet hits the water, ‘feel’ it down to the bottom by lowering the rod.

When you feel the plummet hit bottom, slacken the line off. If you’re at the correct depth or overdepth, the float tip will pop up. If not, you won’t see it, as it will be under the water. Keep adding depth until the float pops up for a second or two and work the rig back towards you, slackening off every couple of metres. This way you will soon build up a mental picture of the depth and can then chose the correct float accordingly.