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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Lee Wright explains why margin fishing needn’t always be about big baits and piling the particles in!
Do you ever find yourself fishing a certain method or tactic without putting much thought into it? Do you fish it the same way every time and then if you don’t catch simply put it down to there being no fish in the swim? Well, Lee Wright gives us an interesting insight into thinking more about your fishing.
I guess I’m what you’d call a thinking angler. I’m super critical and always looking to rationalise my fishing and work out why some things work and others don’t.
One area that I’ve put a lot of thought into recently is my margin fishing. Now it’s no secret that I’m possibly best known for my exploits on natural waters, rivers like the Soar, but I think a lot of the things you learn on natural waters can be transferred to commercials.
The one big thing I always think about is how and why fish feed and this is one area a lot of anglers fishing commercials could improve on. This style of thinking is not exclusive to margin work but that’s the area I want to look at.
So how do YOU fish the margins? I’d guess that, were allowed, it would normally involve potting in big pots of groundbait or bait and then fishing over it. Is this wrong? No! After all, go to most big matches and the majority of people will be fishing the same way. However, just because everyone does it doesn’t make it the best way of fishing.
One in the net!
I like to alter my feeding depending on the type of venue I’m fishing. On big, large, open-water venues potting in big pots of bait does work. On these venues, the fish are out in open water and only move in at certain times. If you don’t have the volume of bait to hold them then they can eat and quickly move on.
On smaller venues, especially snake lakes such as here at Makins, the fish are never going to be too far away and I think they naturally patrol the margins much more than the fish in larger lakes. In this instance, I don’t think huge piles of bait are needed. In fact, I think they actually put the fish off. On this type of venue I’ve found that feeding smaller particles and less quantity will actually produce more fish.
The baits I use are pretty similar to those I use on the rivers – maggots, casters, hemp and worms. I always carry a few pellets but I find that natural baits always work better for margin fish. Although I don’t feed masses of bait through a big cup I do still carry quite a bit for two reasons.
Attractive, yes? The ultimate bait when all else fails.
Firstly, when the fish arrive in numbers I’ll feed a small amount after everyone to keep them in the peg. This can result in getting through a decent amount in a five or six-hour session.
Secondly, I love feeding casters regularly by hand. I believe the noise of them hitting the water draws fish in better than any other bait and it also creates a larger area of bait for the fish to graze over. Potting in small amounts over this area helps the fish to home in on one area and find your hook bait.
I mentioned earlier that I don’t like to feed big pots of groundbait on smaller venues, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feed groundbait. I still have faith in it but I think that it’s always best to feed small balls that will go down and quickly break up, leaving a very neat pile of bait rather than a big area of loose groundbait. The mix you use is down to personal preference but one aspect of groundbait that is massively overlooked is colour.
Fish in snake lakes can be hard to catch and can spook easily and I like my feed to attract them but not ring any alarm bells.
Small baits don't mean small fish.
My thinking is that a pile of bright, obvious groundbait will spook some fish. So, much like we do on rivers in winter, I try to match the colour of my bait to the lake bottom. I do this by grabbing silt or clay from the margins, either with a pole cup or my hand if it’s fairly shallow, and then use various colours of groundbait to match the colour of the bottom. Using dark mixes, greens and bright orange I can match most bottoms and I also have an extra little trick. Most banks have molehills and I like to grab a few handfuls of the soil and add it to my mix. This not only helps match the colour of the bottom but also adds weight, getting it down to the bottom and keeping it there while the fish feed.
I also mix up a bag of Old Ghost Specimen Mix but I keep this separate and will often feed it with a bit of hemp and casters when I feel I need to kick a swim into life.
I can’t talk about margin fishing without mentioning rigs. For some reason, a lot of anglers fish with rigs that they wouldn’t dream of using in other areas of their swim. You’re fishing for the same fish but just in a different area of your peg, so why do people fish with massively overgunned tackle? I’m confident that I can land anything I hook on 0.14mm Matrix Power Micron and a size 18 or 16 Carp Bagger hook. You’ll get far more bites than you would on 0.18mm and a size 12 hook. I also balance my tackle and use a fairly light size 10 Stay Fresh Hollow elastic and a puller kit, which still gives me the control to land everything I could hook on a snake lake.
I’ve picked a peg in the middle of the bank on Phase 3. It’s nothing spectacular but it does have an attractive looking margin. I stake out my nets as I always do when margin fishing and prepare my bait and rigs.
I’m fishing to my right, and after potting in a small amount of maggots, casters and a ball of groundbait I have my first look with a bunch of maggots.
This mix should kick-start any swim into life!
As expected, the first half an hour is pretty slow, mainly due to the disturbance of setting up. I keep feeding casters by hand and top up with a very small amount of bait every 15 minutes.
I get my first bite after 40 minutes. A quick lift of the pole sees several feet of bright orange elastic stream from the pole as a carp makes a bid for freedom. It doesn’t take long to get it under control, though, and a nice 4lb carp is soon beaten.
I top up my swim and keep the casters going in. I like to feed a decent amount every five minutes; feed too regularly and the fish will start to come off the bottom, making them difficult to catch.
It takes around an hour and 15 minutes to get the fish coming regularly but I’m soon catching well and I manage a couple of big fish over 5lb. Unfortunately, the swim dies off around three hours into the session and I’m not sure exactly why. It could be something to do with a clumsy, heavy-footed photographer trying to sit next to my float!
Following a biteless 20 minutes, I decide to pot in some of the Old Ghost mix. It’s a really strong flavour and with a few casters added and some hemp I’m sure I can draw a few fish back.
I’ve also switched to fishing the head of two worms. They’re not much bigger than a couple of casters but I’ve found it to be a bait that works when all else fails.
It takes just 10 minutes to start getting a few indications and pretty soon I’m back into the fish. Worm seems to be working well but a switch to just two maggots on a size 18 ups my catch rate even further and I end the session with a flurry of activity.
Lee has learnt not to follow the crowds. Feeding casters by hand creates a lot of fish-attracting noise.
I’ve had close to 75lb and it’s been a great session. Feeding the smaller particles has certainly worked and with additional attraction of the casters fed by hand I’ve managed to get bites most of the day from just one swim, which isn’t always the easiest thing to do.
I think this has shown that if you put thought into your feeding and don’t just follow the crowd some great fishing can be on offer.
Feeding Tips -
Groundbait Tips -
Hook-Bait Tips -
Mixing Tips -
Name: Lee Wright
Sponsor: Matrix Nemesis
Lake: Makins Fishery
Location: Wolvey, Warwickshire
Day Tickets: £7.50; concessions £5.50
Contact: 01455 220877