Winter Groundbait Tricks Revealed
Matt Godfrey explains what’s happening beneath the surface as he explores the fishes’ feeding habits and describes how to adapt your groundbaiting tactics to make the most of every swim.
A conversation with Des Shipp almost five years ago totally changed how I think about using groundbait. I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to draw next to him in the Sensas Challenge Final at Packington Somers Fishery. We both fed our pole swims and started the day by catching a few fish on a waggler. After an hour it was time to try the pole swim. I dropped in and caught three big skimmers immediately. Des only caught one in this time.
However, my bites stopped, while Des proceeded to catch another and then another. In fact, he caught at a steady rate for the rest of the match. I caught an odd quick spurt of fish before my bites stopped for long periods.
At the end of the day, I was convinced that Des had fed some sort of special groundbait. Perhaps he fed fishmeal compared to my Lake and leam mix? Walking over to have a chat, he kindly showed me exactly what he had fed. It was identical to mine. Our mixes had the same feed in them and they were the same colour, made from exactly the same ingredients. So what had he done differently?
I found out when he told me how he had fed the mix. At the start, he simply potted in five full pots of the loose Lake and leam mixture. I had potted in five traditionally ‘squeezed’ balls of the stuff. He explained how he once watched fish feeding in clear water on the River Nene after he had thrown in a bucket of leftover groundbait. Obviously, this was loose and settled on the bottom in a huge carpet effect. Des then explained that the fish suddenly settled over this and stayed there for hours. This is where his strategy of feeding this loose groundbait originated.
Quick-Fire Groundbaiting Tips!
In cold weather; try using 50/50 leam and groundbait mix, Wary fish seem to feed much more confidently over this than standalone groundbait mix
Try having different bowls of your mix with various amounts of feed in to experiment with.
Try adding dead fluoro pinkies to the mix. These attract and hold fish and make a great hook bait!
In deep water, topping up with walnut-sized balls full of feed helps draw fish to the bottom.
After creating an area with the loose mix, set a trap to catch the fish over by feeding feed-rich balls like this.
It is absolutely vital that your top kits and cupping kit are exactly the same length.
When feeding loose groundbait, lightly press it into the pot to prevent any wanted spillages!
What Is Loose Groundbait?
Loose groundbait is basically your mixed-up groundbait, as it is in your bowl. To feed it loose, you can simply scoop it up into your pole pot and feed it in the lake!
Why Make A Carpet?
Thinking into the theory deeper, why would the fish settle over loose groundbait rather than balls of it? The answer is very simple – because both offer totally different effects on the bottom. The carpet effect of the loose groundbait spreads out over a wider area and totally covers the bottom. Balls stay together and break up over small round areas on the bottom, depending on how compact you make them.
The important thing to understand is how fish feed over loose groundbait compared with balls of it. As Des had explained, over a carpet created from feeding a loose mix, fish graze. They seem to hover around over it, picking up an odd particle, and almost treat the even bed of feed like the natural lake bed. When feeding over a ball of groundbait, fish seem to dart in, take a mouthful of bait, and swim off with it. Because there is an obvious ball of feed on the bottom it’s much more unnatural and any fish that are not in an aggressive feeding mood might shy away from it. When targeting quality fish, you can also fit more of them over a carpet of feed than you can a ball. Imagine how much more room 10 1lb skimmers take up when feeding on the bottom compared with 10 2oz roach?
Always pick a far-bank marker to line up with when you're cupping in bait.
The Theory In Action
Reflecting on the day I drew next to Des, this was a textbook example of the fish feeding differently over two different mixes. The fact that I caught in spurts and baited for long periods without bites fully backs up the theory that fish were darting into the swim before I would catch a couple and they quickly spooked.
Conversely, Des had spread his feed over a larger, carpeted area and had the fish grazing, spread over a wider area. It may have taken a fish slightly longer to find his hook bait, but when they did and he hooked one the other fish weren’t spooked. You can relate the theory very much like you would to humans. If you were in a huge restaurant and someone was dragged out a long way from you, you’d probably not notice. However, if you were all eating off a single packed table, the chances are it would disturb you and you’d leave!
The Right Mix
Since that day with Des, I’ve enjoyed a lot of success by feeding loose groundbait. There are a few little pointers that can make a difference too. The first is all about how you mix the groundbait. I get it as wet as possible without making the mix sloppy or stodgy. I want it to remain as groundbait but having fully absorbed as much water as possible. This way the mix is as heavy as possible and goes to the bottom, lying dormant as a carpet. For a very similar reason, I also like to make up at least 50 per cent of the mix with leam.
Leam is very fine and helps achieve a carpet effect. It’s also heavy and means you can even feed it loose in deep water. I also think that fish feel more confident when grazing over leam than groundbait. When you think about it, leam is simply clay and that is a very similar material to what the natural bottom of the lake is made of. When fish are really feeding in the height of summer, loose groundbait is great because it offers a lot of feed content for the fish. However, in the winter months, feeding just groundbait might put the fish off. Making half the mix up with leam means the bed of bait on the bottom seems natural but still has the smell of some groundbait in there too.
My mix for today consists of a bag of Sensas Terre De Riviere and half a bag of Sonubaits Supercrush Expander and a handful of Ringers Dark to give the mix a green tinge. This is because the fishery pellets here at Makins Fishery are green and the stocks of skimmers are used to munching green baits!
"Making half the mix up with leam means the bed of bait on the bottom seems natural but still has the smell of some groundbait in the too."
The Killing Zone
When you feed four or five pots of loose groundbait it might spread out over an area of a couple of metres or so. With fish spread out over this area it could take them quite a while to find your hook bait. To get quicker bites I like to create a small killing zone. This is basically a small, feed-rich area of bait in the middle of the big carpet. I simply do this by feeding small, feed-rich balls. Any more aggressive fish hovering over the carpet of bait are highly likely to move over this zone. By being accurate when feeding, picking a far-bank marker, and making sure your cupping kit and top kits are identical lengths, you can present your hook bait right on this small area and get bites much quicker.
After hooking a skimmer guide it out of the swim gently to try and prevent it spooking the others that are feeding over the bait!
The great thing about feeding small walnut-sized balls is that you never end up with too much feed in the swim. This means that when you do feed a top-up ball, the fish are competing to get at it. Feeding the regular small nuggets is a great way to maintain the swim throughout the day too. When you’re catching fish like skimmers, bream and big roach, they often sit off the bottom, especially after you’ve caught a few at the start of a session. You regularly hear about people foul hooking fish just off the deck. I believe that if these fish become spooky, they simply rise off the bottom for a while. Nevertheless, a top up with a small feed-rich ball is normally enough to pull a couple of fish back to the deck. Be prepared to top up and then quickly dash out with your pole rig and drop your bait right on the feed nugget that the fish have followed down.
"A really effective way of creating a feed-rich nugget to top up is to finely chop up some worms and add groundbait to them until you can make a ball."
Do You Need Joker?
Joker has absolutely nothing to do with this method. You can use it with all kinds of baits! It just so happens that we shot this feature in winter and I was using it at the time. Most of the time I’ll add baits such as dead pinkies or maggots, casters, and chopped worms to a mix. In fact, a really effective way of creating a feed-rich nugget to top up is to finely chop up some worms and add groundbait to them until you can make a ball. This is full of scent and juicy particles and skimmers love it.
When Not To Feed An Area…
I definitely think that the carpet effect and creating a big feed area with loose groundbait is best for catching quality fish. So in what situation would you do the opposite and feed a small, tight area of feed?
One venue that I fish regularly is the Stainforth & Keadby Canal at Thorne, where anglers regularly catch 200 roach or more in a session. The venue is absolutely teeming with small fish from 1/2oz to 4oz, and to compete in the matches there you need to get a bite as quickly as possible from as big a fish as possible. Lee Kerry and I spend ages chatting and trying different feeding techniques but now seem to settle for the same style.
If you feed a large area of bait on this venue, you undoubtedly draw loads of fish into the swim. However, because they would be whizzing around over the feed and spread over a large area, it takes too long to get a bite in the first place. You also miss a lot of bites due to the scatty nature of the fish, and those you catch are often a very small stamp. When you think about it, why would a big, clever roach eat your hook bait when there’s a huge area of feed to pick his meal from?
However, when you feed just two very feed-rich balls in a tiny area, the fish are fighting to get at the bait because there are so many of them there. Because the roach are relatively small, you may have 20 mouths eating off the feed area. If the fish were bigger bream or skimmers, there is no way you could fit 20 into such a small area. This means there’s a huge amount of competition among the smaller fish and the bigger ones are happy to grab at any feed they can get to. When you lower your rig in, the hungry fish fighting to get at the feed will take your hook bait almost instantly and the bigger fish will normally get there before the smaller stamp ones.
Thinking about what fish you are targeting, understanding how they act and feed underwater and adapting your feeding to this will put more quality fish in your net!
With Matt's advice about feeding groundbait, you'll be bagging nets of silvers like this on your local venue!
Quality Bait -
Having excellent bait is a big advantage in any fishing. Matt got his bait for the feature from W.H. Lane & Son's Of Coventry. The shop's own bait farm means maggots and casters are absolutely top-notch week after week!
Angler File -
Name: Matt Godfrey
Pole: Drennan Acolyte
Venue File -
Venue: Makins Fishery
Location: Wolvey, Leicestershire CV11 6QJ
Day tickets: On the bank
Contact: 01455 220877
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