Balling In

by David Ewing
The one thing you notice about watching professional anglers fish, is how easy they make it look. Yet we all know that it only looks so simple and smooth on the bank because of the years of practise they've put in. Each action they perform is thought about and worked on until it becomes instinctive and natural. From the way you put a rig in the water, to how you cast a waggler... from the way you use a pole roller, to how you play a fish. In our new series, we'll be asking a 'Top Professional' to break down one particular part of his angling technique and explain it in depth. The series kicks off with French star Alain Dewimille guiding us through the BASICS of balling-in, surely one of the most vital 5 minutes prior to the start of any continental competition!

Initial Preparation
Successful and accurate initial feeding needs careful preparation. Alain talked me through his routines to getting it right:

1) The Target
To feed accurately at 11.5 or 13 metres you'll need a good target to aim at. Many anglers use their cupping kit to aim at, but Alain is not a fan of this method. Pole cups are big and if a ball hits one directly, it could damage pole joints. Alain prefers to use a small foam pear, which slides about 20-25cm down from the tip of the top kit you're actually going to fish with. This ensures that you are always aiming just slightly short of the maximum length of your pole.

2) The Rests
Alain uses two rests for balling in, one on the back leg of his box and the other on the front of his foot-plate. Being right handed Alan sets the rests up on the right hand side of his box. Alain adjusts the height of the front rest to set the pole up so that the foam target is just hovering on the surface of the water. Make sure that you use properly padded rests to support and protect your pole.

3) The Groundbait
If you are going to feed a series of groundbait balls, one after the other, then they should ALL be prepared before you throw them... and ALL of a similar size. Once you get the distance right, you want to be able to repeat the same throw as quick as possible, rather then have to stop and squeeze another ball together, or adjust your throw because a ball is not the same size. That's why it's important to prepare all your balls in advance of feeding. Here are some do's and don'ts:

...make sure your groundbait is properly wetted before you make any balls up. In preference, it should be wetted several hours beforehand so that all the particles in the groundbait are fully moist and will therefore bind securely.

...use your hands to mould the feed balls into the same consistent shape.
...shape the balls just before you are going to feed them, before any live bait in the groundbait, like pinkie or joker, can start to loosen the mould.

...wet your hands for the final shaping, especially when feeding a heavy groundbait on a river. This effectively puts a 'sheen' on each ball, allowing it to break through the surface tension more easily and remain intact until it reaches the bottom.

...make the size of groundbait ball according to the distance you are feeding. The further out you are feeding, the smaller the ball needs to be. Alain will feed a grapefruit size ball at 11.5 metres and one the size of an orange at 13 metres

...feed a groundbait that is too dry, or too sloppy, as it will either break up in the air as soon as you throw it, or disintegrate once it hits the water (below). The final outcome will be that your groundbait will be spread into places you don't want it to be!

...put too many live baits into your feed, in particular pinkies and maggots. These help break up feed balls as they start to crawl out, which could then disintegrate in mid-air. If you need to introduce a lot of live feed, adjust the balance of your mix by using more of a binder, like soil or Bentonite, to make the ball stickier.

...put all of your joker into all of your groundbait mix at the start. Separate what you require for the initial balling-in and what you'll need for top-up feed later on. This ensures that your joker will remain alive for as long as possible, as 99.9% of all groundbaits contain salt... which kills joker dead! You can then add small quantities of joker each time you prepare your top-up feed, thereby introducing a fresh supply of live bait into the swim.

These simple rules make common sense, but it's amazing how many anglers get it wrong and spoil their match by not getting the groundbait mix right for that initial feeding. Having worked with Alain for a number of years, I've always been impressed with the care and attention he takes over the consistency and action of his groundbait. In particular the only time I have ever seen Alain mix up groundbait on the bank was for this feature, when I asked him to knock up a few extra balls for me to photograph! He always mixes his groundbait several hours before a session and, like many French anglers, will quite deliberately, overwet groundbait so that each particle of is properly soaked. Even though the mix will gradually dry out, it will still hold together much better than groundbaits mixed by adding water a little at a time.

Preparing to feed
How you position yourself to feed groundbait is very important and there are several things you need to consider.

First, you need to be able to get to your groundbait balls easily, without bending or stretching down. Once you release the first ball, the others should follow as quick and smoothly as possible.  Secondly, nothing should be in the way of your throwing arm. It must be able to swing arm freely without fear of catching on anything. Finally, you need to be able to see the line of your pole clearly to make sure that every ball follows the correct angle of flight.

There are 3 positions you can to feed from:
1. Standing behind your seat box
Many good anglers, like Diego da Silva, favour this method. You put the groundbait bucket containing the balls you've made up, on your seat and you stand behind it. The plus side with this method is that you can throw each ball along the line of your pole quite easily, as your arm will be swinging on the same side of your box as your pole. On the negative side, you have to throw each ball slightly further than you would need to, because you are standing a further back from the bank. Also, if you use side trays on either sides of your station, then your throwing action could be hampered.

2. Standing on your foot-plate
Again, the bucket and balls are placed on the seatbox behind you. You're closer to your pole tip than the previous position and, importantly, you are higher up because of the foot-plate. This gives you a better view thereby helping with trajectory and accuracy. The possible downside is that you must have total faith in the strength and stability of your foot-plate! If you feel at all uneasy standing this way, then you will not be able to throw properly as you'll be more concerned about keeping your balance!

3. Standing to the right/left of your seat box
With the groundbait placed on the seat again, you stand to the side of the pole in its rests (either left or right side). Alain is quite happy to feed from this position in competitions because you are completely free on your throwing arm. At the side of the seat box nothing can distract you while you ball-in. On the down side, you will not be able to completely follow the line of the pole with your arm as you will be throwing at a slight angle in order to hit the marker each time.

It's important you pick the feeding position most comfortable for you. Bear in mind that you want to be concentrating on throwing and hitting the target and nothing else. To make sure that you are totally relaxed in the position you choose, try a few air throws to reassure yourself that nothing is going to get in the way of your throwing arm. Once you are happy with your position, you can get down to the business of actually throwing your feed in!

How to feed accurately and smoothly
If you've followed all of Alain’s advice you should now have made sure that:

  • Your groundbait is properly wetted and will hold together
  • You have not put too many pinkies/maggots/joker in the mix
  • You have made all your feed balls to the same size and they are in your bucket ready to feed.
  • You are comfortable with your throwing position

In a competition you should have all this ready prior to the start of the feeding signal and be standing with that first ball ready to feed on the signal. Top class anglers like Stevie Gardener consider it imperative to get that first ball in, ahead of the other competitors. One thing is certain, you should not be running around trying to do things at the last minute. If you have a pleasure session, take your time and just make sure you have everything right before you start the feeding.

This initial feeding can, to a large extent, determine the success or failure of your session. Get it wrong by feeding badly and you will not be able to make up the deficit over the remaining hours. Here's Alain’s guide to that critical initial feeding procedure:


The first ball you throw in, is always the most important. Look on it as a 'ranging' ball, so don't worry if you are a bit off target with it. Simply adjust the force of your action or angle accordingly. Everyone gets a little nervous when throwing the first ball and anglers from the top down, have thrown a bad first ball at sometime or another. Just make sure you don't throw the others in badly too!

Step 1 Aim the ball in your hand directly at the target, with your arm in front of you. Keep your eye on the target from this point on

Step 2 Keeping the arm straight, bring it back behind you to a position of about 4 o’clock

Step 3 Still keeping the arm as straight, bring it forward to about 7 or 8 o'clock and release the ball. The exact position of release will depend on the size of ball you are throwing. A larger ball should be released earlier so it flies lower and a smaller ball later and higher

Step 4 Having kept your eye on the target, your arm should follow through in front of you to about 11 o’clock

Repeat Steps 1 to 4 for remainder of balls

Don't put any feed in the first ball you throw. If you are off target, then little damage will be done and you will not have created any live feed particles outside your main area for your fish to wander off to!

Tolerances and exceptions
Our guide so far has seen Alain aim directly at the marker on his pole tip with relatively large balls of feed. When aiming at the tip Alain trys to be as close as he can. Watching him feed, he is usually within 30cm either side, and this is about the acceptable level of tolerance you want. Alain is however very good at distance and tends never to feed short of, or passed, the pole tip. You will often here some anglers say that it's better to feed short than long, because if you feed past your pole tip you can never quite fish over your feed, especially when fishing under CIPS rules. But to be honest, feeding too short can be just as ineffective because without the fixed marker of your pole tip, you're likely to spend ages trying to find exactly where some of that feed landed. So in general terms you are looking to feed on the same target point with every ball, accepting the odd deviation.

Of course there are some exceptions…
I asked Alain about a specific set of circumstances, which illustrate clearly how you have to adapt your basic approach:

Q: Fishing in deep water where the balls may go offline as they are thrown in at an angle, do you throw the balls higher so that they enter the water at a more direct straight angle, rather than at an angle where they may drift offline?
A: Absolutely. I fish a lot in large canals where the depths are between 4 and 5 metres. Here I also feed smaller heavier balls which I've squeezed much harder together. I do this to try and keep the feed in as tight an area as possible.

Q: River fishing can be more complicated than stillwater angling because of the flow, do you always feed to the point of your pole tip, or downstream of it?
A: When river fishing I always feed downstream of my pole tip. I only ever fish the downstream part of my swim where I can control the line properly.

Q: You are fishing on a venue that is sloping away from you, do you feed deliberately short of the pole tip (even a pole section short), or at the legal 11.5 metres?
A: Some canals have very steep sloping beds and you have to feed closer in to avoid your groundbait ending up several metres beyond you. A good tip is to add some dry groundbait to the first ball you throw in and see what happens. This ball will open much quicker and the dry particles of groundbait will float to the surface showing you where the ball ended up. This gives you some idea to the degree to which your feed is being dragged off course by the sloping bed.
When the slope is particularly steep, I never make round balls. I prefer to flatten them slightly so that they don't roll once on the bottom. Just ensure you don't make them too flat or they will 'kite' badly offline as they descend through the water.
I never throw in feed a full pole section short of my pole tip because it's particularly important on matches not to be boxed in by your neighbours, who are fishing longer. I will usually evaluate all the conditions, as mentioned above, and adjust how far back I need to put the pole in my rests for feeding. I can then either squeeze the balls harder, make smaller balls, throw them in much higher or possibly flatten them.

The effect of balling in
If you look at the pictures here of the balls of groundbait actually hitting the water you get some idea of the impact this has in the water. These impacts have different effects...

Impact on the groundbait ball itself. Only when you see a ball hit the water up close, do you realise just what a knock the surface can give to the ball of groundbait itself. This emphasises how important it is to make sure each ball is properly wetted so that it will bind. When we photograph groundbait barrages for Declic you can sometimes see particles flying off the ball on impact with the water, but we are looking through zoom lenses at this. However, its difficult for the angler to see this with the naked eye, because of the commotion the ball creates as it hits the water at distance. In most cases anglers imagine that the balls are getting to the bottom, then breaking up, many simply don't realise the immense pressure the ball takes as it hits the water!

Look again at the photos of balls landing and you get some idea of the noise they are creating. Initially fish tend to back off, but they soon get over their fear and come to investigate the commotion, because they normally associate it with food!

Vibration. The effect of ground baiting under the water is felt more through vibration than actual noise. Initial feeding will be sensed by fish a long way off, more than it will be heard. English match anglers are more circumspect about the pulling power of this noise than French anglers. On wild waters where fish need to be pulled into the feeding area, like big rivers, then initial groundbaiting makes absolute sense. However all top UK anglers do NOT ball in when they think they have big fish, especially bream, in front of them. Just think of the effect that the vibration from balling in would have on these fish. They'll move straight off and may settle back to feed again, but often NOT in the same spot, so if you have fish in front of you and feed on them you will move the shoal and probably push them towards another competitors feeding spot.

Tapis de Terre
otherwise known as...
'The Carpet of Soil' or 'Soil Carpet'
One of the great mysteries surrounding Northern French anglers is the famous Tapis de Terre. If ever a term has been more mis-interpreted in angling, then it is this. A 'Tapis' gives the impression that you are going to carpet the bed of your swim with soil, supposedly to make a safe surface for your joker to sit and live in. Well this is simply NOT the case. You would need many, many kilos of soil to actually create an effective false bed in your swim.

Alain explained the main purpose of a Tapis de Terre is to create a persistent cloud in the water which will help pull in some fish quickly over your feed by offering some shelter. The cloud also helps to disguise the impact of your main groundbait balls arriving. Alain and many other top canal anglers believe that if you can get small fish feeding quickly in your swim, it will help reassure the bigger fish and encourage them to join in.

A Tapis de Terre is fed before the main groundbait balls go in. So you would need to have two separate buckets ready for the start of fishing, one for your soil, the other for your main feed balls. Here's Alain’s step-by-step guide to preparing and feeding a Tapis de Terre (click to start the slideshow opposite):

And that's it. The so-called magical 'Tapis' as explained by one of its master pratitioners, Alain Dewimille. It's not so complicated or mysterious as you would imagine and if you need further proof that it can make a difference when fishing canals or lakes for nets of roach, then try taking on Frances' crack Northern angling brigade and see where it gets you... they are simply awesome at this sort of fishing!

We would sincerely like to thank Alain Dewimille for his time and effort in compiling this feature possible.