Any angler who has fished tidal waters will know that tide times and height are of paramount importance. When we headed off to fish the tidal Seine at Cleon, near Rouen, this was the tide information we had with us... High tide at Rouen: 09.58... Tide height: 0.70 metres.

So why the tidal Seine? A subject we get asked a lot at Declic is how to tackle feeder fishing on very fast, powerful rivers. The tidal Seine is just that, big, fast and powerful. Add to this the added spice of a tidal river with its differing flow rates and the problems posed by having to shift fishing position constantly and you have a proper tough fishing situation. There are few anglers in Europe who have a lot of experience on these type of waters. Luckily we know one of the very best. Who better to show us the intricacies of the big feeder than Dutch team manager and old friend of Declic, Jan Van Schendel.

Species Profile
Ide - Leuciscus idus - are not a native fish in France. They originate from Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The fish has no real food value and has been introduced into western European countries as an ornamental fish. They are easily recognisable by their long body, relatively small upturned mouth and pronounced forked tail. In English the fish is also known as orfe and occurs in a golden form which is valued as a garden pond fish. Once released into the wild the golden ide will revert to more natural silvery colorations.  Accidental release from garden ponds probably explains how the fish found their way originally into the Seine. The fact that they can tolerate brackish water probably explains why they have made their home down on the tidal reaches of this mighty river.

Reaching a maximum weight of 4 kilograms the ide is closest in its habits to the native chub. The larger specimens are happy to prey on smaller roach and silver bream and the fish will feed even in very cold weather. Ide mature after 4 years and spawn in the spring. What makes ide so special is that they fight hard and look really handsome fish.

The reason why the Seine at Cleon is unusually fast is that the bank on the Cleon side of the river is not deep. On the pole line you have only 2 to 3 metres of water and the river bed shelves gently out so on the feeder line you still only have short of 4 metres. This helps to funnel the flow as the tide drops and creates much faster flow conditions than at Rouen, say where the water is deeper straight away of the quaysides.

Jan was excited too. He had never fished the Lower Seine before and the prospect of fishing heavy feeder on fast water for beautiful fish like ide really excited him. Jan is no stranger to fishing big tidal rivers. There are a few venues in Holland where he has perfected the skills needed to catch on big tidals but the target fish in Holland are always big bream. The moment I mentioned ide to Jan his eyes lit up. Jan just loves the chance to target fish he is not used to catching back home because you can always learn something new from the experience.

Tackle for feeder fishing a tidal river
The real challenge of a tidal river is that you will have to cope with a variety of flow conditions during the same day. You will need to cover a variety of flow situations in the same day from standing still at high tide to pulling hard and fast as the tide starts to drop. What you CANNOT do is start fishing and assume that you can fish the same gear all day. On our day out at Cleon Jan had to fish with a range of feeders from 40 grams at high tide to a massive 160 grams as the tide pulled its hardest, all to fish the same spot out in the river!

Jan’s Tackle:
Rod: JVS 3+3. This is the heaviest rod in Jan’s + collection of feeder rods.
Reel: Dutch surf reel. These are the large surf reels Jan has been using for many years now.
Line: You simply cannot mess about on big rivers with big feeders using fine line. The weight involved in casting a 160 gram feeder empty alone is huge – never mind one loaded with groundbait! Jan uses 0.30 Tubertini Gorilla line for this sort of fishing.
Hooks and hooklength: Jan uses fairly strong gear when fishing in these fast flows. Today he was using a 0.18 hooklength of about 50 cm to a size 12 JVS feeder hook. It is important to remember that on snaggy bottoms like at Cleon that it is usually the hooklength and not the feeder itself that will snag up (provided you feeder is heavy enough and does not roll at all). So Jan uses strong hooks but with a slight bit of give in them,. This means when he pulls for a break he can sometimes pull the hook straight and recover his rig without losing the hooklength! So look for a medium wire hook with a bit of spring in it for this type of fishing,
Tips: Jan used a 4 oz. carbon tip. On these big tidal rivers the fish have to be fit and active all the time. They are opportunists – following the state of each tide and looking to feed when they can. As such bites tend to be positive and most fish hook themselves against the weight of the swim feeders so even if a 4 oz tip may seem too heavy for some of the flow conditions the fish are largely self-hooked anyway so are not feeling the tip before they are hooked.

Jan's Top Tip
Jan explained why total accuracy was important on tidal like this:"You can never get enough feed through a feeder to properly hold big shoals of fish all day. What you need to do is keep a constant stream of feed going into exactly the same spot all day. The idea is that the fish will stay because of the promise of more feed. You MUST make sure that your feeder keeps landing in the same spot on the river bed every cast – no matter whether the tide is pushing upstream or down – no matter whether you have moved up or down the bank. Fix a marker straight in front of you and keep casting to the same spot all day. If you get this wrong then you will really struggle to catch fish!"
One or two rods?
It would sound that you should set up two rods for this sort of fishing, one to cover the heavy end of the conditions and another lighter rod for when the flow is less ferocious. But this depends on how much you have to physically move your position during the day as the tide rises and falls. The true secret to feeder fishing on tidal rivers is to keep casting to the same spot on the river bed all day, no matter what the state of the tide.

The banks at Cleon were gently sloping so it looked as if Jan would have to move up and down the banks as the tide changed. To keep his casting accuracy constant Jan preferred to fish with just one rod, a heavy feeder model. He knew that to try and keep two rods clipped up accurately during frequent tackle moves would be impossible. He couldn't guarantee to keep two rods tight on the same spot all day. On the other hand if the banks had been different, such as on a quayside, Jan wouldn't have needed to move his gear as the tide changed, he could then have two rods clipped off at the same distance. You need to make this decision based on what is practical to do given the swim you are fishing.


The feeder selection

We first got a look at Jan’s heavy feeder selection at Gien when Jan tackled the Loire for the Declic cameras. There Jan used feeders up to 120 grams. Well the feeders he brought out to fish at Cleon were even heavier still!  When Jan started fishing the flow was pretty fierce so he brought out feeders between 140 and 160 grams to hold (see above). These feeders are not the biggest Jan uses, he has them up to 210 grams, but they are as heavy as any feeders we have so far featured in Declic. The build of these feeders is simple. It all lies in the size of the lead. In Holland these feeders are made in small artisan workshops where the different lead moulds are used to make heavier or lighter feeder. The idea behind these very heavy feeders is to make the lead as dense a block as possible. Ultra heavy feeders are used on fast waters where snags are a feature. You need these heavy leads, 150 grams plus, to get down and not roll at all. The theory is that if they roll they are likely to roll into a snag of some sort.

This makes sense when you think about it. In ultra fast and powerful flows you are not likely to get a lot of silt building up on the bed of a river. This was certainly the case at Cleon. The river bed was hard and a mixture of finer gravels and largely stones. These stones would catch a rolling feeder easily so Jan had to make sure that whatever state the tide was his feeder got to the bottom and stayed put.

feederprongs.jpgfeederprongs.jpgThe prongs – a fine tuning tool
Last year we presented Jan’s heavy river feeders with the wire prongs attached. Jan makes these feeder prongs out of either soft steel or copper wire. The prongs serve several purposes. These are:
  1. They grip the bottom and help stop the feeder rolling.
  2. Should the feeder get snagged it will tend to be the prongs which snag at the front of the feeder. Because the prongs are made of relatively soft wire they can bend and allow you to pull the feeder free from the snag.
  3. The prongs enable the front of the feeder to sit proud of the bottom so the food escaping from the feeder is washed down the current slightly above the bottom itself. This is important as a river feeder works principally on creating a constant slick of groundbait particles and loosefeed which will wash downstream and pull fish up along the slick looking for the feed source.
  4. Finally the prongs themselves let you fine tune how the feeder sits on the bottom.
This last point fascinated me in particular. As you watch Jan fish, he's constantly adjusting the angle of the prongs at the front of his feeder to the changing flow and conditions, allowing him to set the feeder so it holds bottom correctly.

With the prongs you can vary how a feeder sits on the bed of a river. You can take the same feeder and push the prongs flat against the feeder weight allowing the feeder to roll a bit if you want. On silty bottoms it is a good idea to have the prongs facing backwards on the feeder, rather like a downhill skier. These help grip the silt and stop the feeder rolling. On stony bottoms, like today, you need the prongs in front of the feeder. But you can play with their position, ie, wider apart, further in front of the feeder, in order to create subtle differences in how the feeder sits on the bottom.

Jan’s fast water groundbait mix
Given the sped of flow on the tidal Seine Jan opted for a mix which would get his bait down quickly. He mixed up one kilo of JVS Feeder Bream with one and a half kilos JVS Carp Express. The carp groundbait is rich and sweet and binds together well. As always with a feeder groundbait Jan riddled off the big particles after he wet his groundbait, to make sure that the groundbait was uniformly wetted, then he added them back into his mix. These larger particles of corn and TTX get washed out of the feeder by the strong flow and waft downstream, again pulling fish up to find out the source of the feed.

Jan on wetting feeder groundbaits
Even last year Jan would have said that it was OK to mix a feeder groundbait up on the bank, on the morning you are fishing. In fact Jan has been advocating last minute wettings of feeder groundbaits for many years now. However he has had something of a change of heart recently. Talking with him he explained why he now tends to wet his groundbaits up the night before. Jan feels that by slightly over wetting the groundbaits the night before fishing and letting them slowly dry out all night he makes better use of each of the elements in his feed. Jan mentioned TTX in particular. These are hard particles of pressed maize cake which take a long time to go soft. By allowing the TTX to soak up water overnight it crumbles easily throughout the groundbait and helps to add to the bonding power of the overall mix. What Jan finds is that if you fish with the groundbait wetted this way it seems dry on the bank but once you add some casters or chopped works to it the groundbait holds perfectly and gets the feed down to the bottom even better than if you mixed it on the morning. And, of course, you make full use of all the elements in your groundbait by softening them up properly.

Jan’s rig
Jan always travels with his feeder rods all set up ready for fishing. For today’s session Jan was using the same rig he showed us on the Loire. Jan had come to France directly from fishing a two day festival on the River Ijssel, a fierce flowing river where a lot of these ultra heavy tactics in Holland have been developed. Jan’s rig is both simple and direct.


Jan's 3 or 4 knotted of twisted mainline
These rigs are simple to tie but are best tied in advance. Here is how I tie a fast flowing feeder rig: Start by sliding a link swivel and a micro swivel onto your line.
  1. Trap both swivels with a double loop knot in a loop about 30 cm. long.
  2. Hold the link swivel at the top of the loop and let the micro swivel slide to the bottom of the loop.
  3. Twizzle about 20 cm of the loop, trapping the micro swivel in the bottom of the twizzled line.
  4. Tie off the twizzled section of the line with anther double loop knot.
  5. Tie 3 single loops along the twizzled section to stiffen it.
I like to carry all my feeder rods ready made up in a special rod holdall taped up with neoprene protection bands. It saves time on the bank, which is obvious, but also when it comes to fiddly operation like a twizzled hooklength it is much easier to do this at home. Whenever I have to re-tackle up on the bank I have noticed that the rigs are never quite as well done. So get into the habit of preparing your rods at home. It will save you time and your rigs will be better!

Fishing tidal rivers – it's all about accuracy!
With Jan ready to start fishing at Cleon he explained his basic approach to tidal rivers. “You need to make sure that you keep the feeder going into the same place on big rivers like this” explained Jan. “Just think of what the fish here do every day to survive. They have to cope with the different tides, the different salinity levels and flows. These will be fit, mobile fish. Now look at the amount of groundbait I can get through in a feeder session, maybe 3 kilos, plus a litre or two of bait. Compared to the number of fish out there this is nothing – a drop in the ocean!” Jan explained that the reason the feeder works is that if you can keep fishing to the same spot every time the fish will end up finding it and will stay around hoping to find more. It all works on creating that trickle of feed washing downstream and pulling fish up to find the source. If you are not accurate at this sort of fishing then all the fish will find are small amounts of bait washing downstream from different points across the swim.

All this sounds fine but how do you keep total accuracy in a tidal river when the flow may go in either direction and you will be forced to move fishing position at various times during the day?

Lets start with direction. Jan’s advice is simple. Pick a far bank marker straight in front of you and keep casting to it. Although your feeder will fall at different speeds depending on the flow and will end up at different positions on the bottom, again depending on the flow, there is no real way to compensate for this whilst fishing. By keeping to the same point straight in front of you, you keep the feed washing either upstream or downstream of you in the same line. This does help to stop spreading fish across the river.

Much more complicated is distance. On a tidal you do NOT want to keep fishing the same distance out all day. Remember on a tidal river you will be forced to move up and down the bank yourself depending on the level and height of the tide.  What you need to di is adjust your distance so you keep fishing the same spot on the river bed all day.  These moves could be only several meters or, if the banks of the river are shallow, tens of metres. Making sure you are always fishing the same spot on the river bed whilst you are physically moving backwards and forwards is a challenge. Jan explains how he copes:


Incoming (rising) tide
These are the most awkward tides to fish as you have to move tackle and place more often than a dropping tide. The reason is that on a down tide you can let the water wash away from you a fair way before each move but on the up tide you have to move every time the water reaches the feet of your box or the wash of a boat will swamp your tackle!

Start fishing a rising tide by deciding how far out you want to fish. Cast around first and make sure that you have a relatively snag free bottom, a mistake a lot of anglers make is to clip up blindly and start fishing only to find out as the flow increases that they are fishing in a snag pit! Also make sure that your fishing distance can be comfortably cast too. With a rising tide you may end up 10 or 15 metres further back than where you started. Here is a step by step guide to keeping your distance on a rising tide.
  1. Clip up on where you intend to fish too for the day and start fishing.
  2. With each move back up the bank you need to place a marker on the bank where your tackle box is.
  3. Quickly move your tackle back to your new fishing position up the bank.
  4. Return to your marker, cast out to the clip, take the clip off and walk back to your new fishing position.
  5. Clip up again and start fishing.
  6. Repeat the operation each time the tide rises to your new position.

This is hard work and you can see the potential for slightly losing your accuracy as you keep casting and walking back. Luckily fishing a dropping tide is much simpler.

Waning (falling) tide
These are the best tides to feeder fish. For a start a drop tide goes out slower than a tide comes in. On an average 12 hour tide from the English channel it will be 5 hours on the up and 7 hours on the drop. So you will have to move less quickly. Also because the tide is dropping away from you it is possible to keep your box in one position for longer, move your keepnet forward perhaps and walk down to net your fish, but keep your box and therefore your line clip and casting position in the same place. It is also much easier to keep clipped up accurately on a dropping tide. With each move all you need to do is cast out to the clip, move your gear forward to its news position then wind down your reel so it is sitting properly on the rest at your new spot and set the clip again.

flowchart.jpgflowchart.jpg Now Cleon is about 12 kilometres upstream of Rouen so we were expecting an hour or two difference in the anticipated tide compared with Rouen but what we had not told the French port authorities was that Jan was coming to fish. Many of the regular readers of Declic Peche will know about the 'Jan Factor', ie, if any angler is going to find a bed of zebra mussels in his swim it will be Jan. If there is going to be a great big underwater boulder in front of someone it will be…. Jan. I can remember Jan sitting in near darkness on the River Yonne after a day without a single bite trying to catch one fish to say he had not been beaten by the river. If it is going to go wrong it will be down to the 'Jan Factor'.

And true to form, here at Cleon, the 'Jan Factor' was in evidence too. As we set and chatted around 9.00 in the morning, we were so confident in the knowledge that high tide would be during the next couple of hours that we forgot to watch the river. It was only after half an hour or so when Fred, one of the local Seine anglers, said to us that the river was still drooping. Assuming that Fred had been drinking the local calvados with his coffee, we continued to get ready. How could the river be dropping if high tide was due before 12.00?

But the 'Jan Factor' was starting to exert its influence. Jan was fishing upstream of a small boat which was now well and truly beached on the gravel. Sure enough the tide was slowly dropping.

Jan's Top Tips
When you find your hooklength getting snagged up now and again remember to keep casting the feeder regularly. Today I had mussels taking the bait and occasionally the hook getting stuck in the odd rock. I did not keep a feeder in the water for more than three minutes at any point today simply because I could not guarantee that my rig was still fishing – on some casts it would wind in no problem but on about a third of the casts I had to pull the hook free or snap the hooklength off. So do not leave the feeder for too long in the water as you might be wasting your time of the hook is caught up!

Whenever you fish on tidal rivers you cannot expect to catch fish constantly. There are times on a tide when fish will feed and other when they will not. As a general rule a dropping tide is better than a rising one – there is less salt being mixed with the water for a start and the flow will be steadier. Both high and low tides are bad times for fish. Bites will often stop altogether only to pick up again as the tide runs again. I am not worried about the rising tide today as I expect to catch most of my fish on the dro

10.00 - Low tide
Jan started actually fishing right on the low tide mark, with the river absolutely belting through. This is never the best time on a tidal river and Jan struggled to get a bite. However he kept feeding through his swim to try to build up some interest ready for when the flow settled down a bit and the fish found conditions more comfortable. What we were wondering was how the tide was going to come up quickly. The given height of the tide (according to our local sources) was 70 cm which indicated a small tide, so maybe it would come up quickly then turn.

11.00 - Rising tide
The tide had started to rise and the flow was moderating. Jan took off his 160 gram feeders and was fishing with about 100 grams now. He also caught his first fish, a good roach. This was an encouraging sign. Less encouraging was the fact that Jan was getting snagged up now and again, always in the hooklength. Once he pulled for a break and brought back a zebra mussel fully closed around his maggot hookbait. Jan was prepared to loose a few hooklengths today!

12.00 - Water keeps on coming!
By now we were expecting the tide to turn. Jan had moved back three times already and that grounded boat he was fishing near was well afloat. However we all felt things would settle. One of the local anglers said to Jan “That should be the last time you have to move. The tide has come up more that 70 cm now and that should be that.” The flow was easing too as the water rose, Jan was on 60 grams and had picked up an ide, a fish that brought a real smile to his face. Jan was still confident that once he got the tide right a big net of these ide was on the cards. In the meantime he kept plugging away on the feeder happy that he would not have to move again.

13.00 - The 'Jan Factor' starts kicking in!
By now we were all aware that things were not quite right. The tide was rising steadily still and had risen well over a metre. Jan had moved back two more times and was getting close to the wall on the roadside, he'd already moved over 10 metres back from his original starting point and the tide was showing no signs of turning! 9.58 at Rouen…. but WHEN at Cleon?  On the positive side, Jan had picked up another ide and was happy with his fishing despite the frequent moves. What made him even happier was that all the other anglers on the section, who were pole fishing, had given up for the time being. They had had to repeatedly move back and despite feeding at only 6 metres out initially they were all now unable to fish over their initial feed. This tide was making life difficult for us all! Definitely time for lunch.

14.00-15.00 -  Jan sees the funny side!
I would love to tell you that the tide turned and we got on with some proper fishing. But no, the tide just kept RISING. So much so that Jan ended up against the wall standing knee deep in water on his platform fishing. I had to get a stepladder to get him out of the water. We pointed to the spot where we had thought our blast move would have been. If Jan had stayed there he would have needed a snorkel to fish! This tide had come up easily 1.60 or 1.70. As Jan stood with one foot on a stepladder and the other on his platform he could not stop laughing about the situation we were in.

Final casts and it comes good!
Finally the tide turned. The Seine stopped flowing upstream and with a rush started flowing the other way. The first hour of the down tide was brutal, the river ran as fast as it had at the start and Jan was forced onto a 160 gram feeder. Still no regular fish, but after this half hour the river calmed down a bit. Suddenly things looked good and Jan was able to fish and catch properly. He put another 3 hard fighting ide in his net before we called a halt to take photographs with some light left. The real shame of it was the conditions as we packed up were absolutely perfect, the flow was steady and there were signs of fish activity all over the river.

We all knew that if we had caught this tide for the day then we would have had a very different experience. Jan only got an hour or so of productive fishing on the river and had caught 5 quality fish. If we had been able to fish the river on a full drop tide, we all knew that a big net of fish was on the cards, both for the pole anglers and for Jan on the feeder.

Not for the first time, during one of our French outings, had we asked Jan to fish in very difficult conditions and seen him triumph. Today was a day when the pole anglers could not cope with the tide or the conditions and only Jan was able to fish through the states of the tide and come up with some beautiful fish at the end. He always seems to do this with a good natured attitude and smile, an example to all in angling. Today Jan fished with some of the best and biggest heavy feeders I have ever seen and I was particularly impressed with how he played around with the feeder prongs to modify his grip on the river bottom. I was also fascinated by how this top angler constantly evolves his methods from year to year. Jan’s ideas on wetting groundbait for feeder fishing have changed since we met last year, but more than anything, I admire how he handles his fishing, even when conditions are really tough.

He had to cope with an unknown river... a tide that was not doing what we thought it would... a swim full of zebra mussels... and snags! Jan, predictably, had lost a fair few hooks throughout the day, yet at the end of it all he came out smiling and we all agreed one thing... we WILL return to Cleon and fish it again. The real shame of our day-out, was that we had not caught the tide right, otherwise we would surely of had a superb net of one of the most pristine looking fish in the river. Next time, we'll make sure that our tide information is for the following:


High Tide at Cleon... NOT Rouen or Le Havre... BUT Cleon!