by Angling Times |

When you’re faced with a lot of fish to catch in your swim, surely you’ll need an equally large amount of bait to feed and keep what’s in front of you happy?

Well, that’s not entirely the case. As winter draws near, I’ve found that less is more. By using a more frugal feeding strategy, I can catch quicker, better-quality fish into the bargain. It’s all to do with giving the fish little choice as to what they eat.

If you pop your hookbait in among a continual stream of feed or several large balls of groundbait it’ll take the fish longer to find what’s on the hook compared to if they have only a minimal amount of bait to get stuck into.

Feeding regularly also seems to pull in more small fish, so if we’re talking quality, almost starving them on to the hook is best.

So, after bagging a load of rudd on the waggler early on in my session on the Stainforth & Keadby Canal at Wykewell it was time to have a look on the pole for some big fish – we’re talking skimmers, big roach, perch and perhaps even a tench – all for the price of just a few balls of groundbait and some chopped worm, casters and dead red maggots!

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We’re talking minimal feed, but how much goes in at the start?

My peg is always home to lots of fish at this time of year so I don’t need to ladle the bait in to pull those skimmers and roach into the swim.

Instead, two large balls of groundbait are ample. To these I’ll add a little finely-chopped worm, a few casters and some dead maggots.

From this point I will top up either when the bites fade or I begin to catch small silver fish or little perch.

This extra feed takes the form of a nugget of groundbait around the size of a large walnut, nothing more and nothing less. Feed more and those fish become harder to catch because there’s more choice for them to eat.

This way of fishing and feeding also rules out using a catapult to introduce casters, for example, over the top. I want the fish to be feeding on the bottom and over my groundbait to keep everything tidy and to be eating what’s already gone in, which is precisely where my hookbait will be.

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Groundbait is a simple affair, a 50/50 split of Mainline Match Pro Active and Sweet Marine. The Marine has some fishmeal in it, and although the jury is out with a lot of anglers as to whether skimmers on natural waters really like fishmeal, I’m in the ‘yes’ camp mainly because pleasure anglers on this canal do use pellets and the fish are used to them.

The next job is to be stringent about how many goodies go into the crumb.

Because I want the fish to find my hookbait, I need to limit the options available so we’re talking just a reasonable sprinkling of casters and dead maggots but a good pinch of chopped worm, as this is what skimmers like the most. Fill each ball with too much feed and it’ll take you longer to catch.



Feeding so little, I’m not creating a large area over which to run my rig, in fact, I won’t be running it at all. By having a far-bank marker lined up I know exactly where the groundbait is on the bottom of the canal and, as a result, where to lower my rig in and hold it still.

This catches the better fish on the canal, whereas I find that putting any movement into the rig only results in a small fish.

To keep everything tight, a relatively short length of line between pole and float is a must – no more than a metre.


Big fish on canals do like to live in the deepest water down the middle, but they’re also partial to moving slightly up the far-bank slope where you’ll find less in the way of weed or potential snags, so this is where I’d base my attack.

In my peg, this is around 13m out, a nice comfortable distance to fish and essentially where the main depth begins to shallow up from the middle, going perhaps a metre up the slope. I’m aiming to find around 8ft of water.


There’s little point in trying to catch quality fish with the wrong hookbaits, so this means maggots and pinkies are off the bait list. Instead, double caster is unbeatable, especially for big roach, while skimmers love a head section of dendra worm around a couple of centimetres long.

To further cut down on the chances of a small fish taking the bait I lower my rig directly down on to the feed. Laying it in to one side runs too much of a risk of a tiny rudd grabbing the bait.

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To try and avoid small-fish trouble, a sensible float is needed to get the bait down fast so for 8ft of water, a 0.8g or 4x18 Perfect Gloucester is just the job.

This is set three to four inches overdepth to keep everything still over the feed and is shotted with a bulk of shot set about 2ft from the hook and then two No10 droppers between this and the hooklink.

The droppers will give the bait a slow fall close to the bottom and, therefore, the chance of a big rudd or even a skimmer sitting off bottom grabbing it.

The rest of the rig is balanced stuff, light enough to get bites but with enough steel to land a tench or bream.

That means 0.13mm Guru N-Gauge mainline to an 0.09mm hooklink, a size 18 Pole Special hook and a No6 solid elastic.

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