What is a pellet feeder?
A pellet feeder is blocked at one end so you can squeeze soft particle baits, such as soft pellets, meat cubes, or even corn into the open end. They're not a new innovation as such, but have been around in the UK for a couple of seasons now. Nisa make some good ones along with companies like Preston and Middy who have brought out models designed for feeding pure particle baits, or particle baits mixed with some groundbait.

My initial feeling was that these feeders seemed a bit silly. Blocked at one end, open at the other so particles stay held in the feeder... fair enough. But these feeders are all designed so that the open end hangs down when you cast! Now I feed a lot of particle baits, like chopped worms and prawns in the winter for big perch, as I featured a few months ago in Declic Peche magazine. Because of this I felt that the setup was all wrong so I simply switched the end round by adding a small 'O' ring to the open end. This way, the open end would face UPWARDS for casting, so you could really punch it out, full of particles, without loosing any to the casting pressure... perfect. I bought plenty of these pellet feeders, notably the Preston model's, which are particularly well made, ideal for feeding pure worm, and simply modified them so they would hang MY way up when casting.

However, I came to realise that I was actually missing out on the real advantages of these feeders. It was not the people who designed these feeders who were silly, because they had the feed coming out the same side as the hook, it was in me, for not realising just how the principal of these feeders worked! But before I explain why I now rate pellet feeders so highly, here is some background to the sort of summer feeder fishing most anglers do in the UK.

The trouble with method feeders
I've been fishing with method feeders for many years and enjoyed a lot of success with them. The 'method' is definitely a summer technique which comes into its own once the water has warmed up and fish are feeding properly. However, as many of you who have fished the method will know, line bites can become frustrating.

On a lot of the venues I visit you have to cast direct to a feature, an island or weedbed in shallower lakes. The best feeders to use for this sort of fishing are the flatbed models as they will always land the right way up and will not slide once they hit the bottom. But there is one basic problem. Your feeder lands and the fish come straight to the noise to investigate. What they find is half a ball of some fishmeal based groundbait lying there with your hook in it. You can see it on your tip, the line will twitch and jerk around. Now the first fish onto the feed will break it up and particles will drift off in all directions, including back towards you. Before you know it, fish are swimming all round the feeder as they feed on the groundbait and it's this which causes the line bites we all know and associate with method work.

Some of these liners are so fierce that you could'nt help but strike on them. The worst were sudden drop back bites when the tip just springs back. You had to strike at these also, but they too were usually liners. This is where the real problems start. Once you start striking at line bites, the feeder will keep getting pulled through the feeding fish with nothing on the end and this generates two problem areas:
  • After every strike on a liner, you're forced into putting more feed back in the swim, which only pulls more fish in, making the liner situation worse.
  • You can easily bang into several fish on the way back, without realising  and this can be enough to spook a shoal. Think about it, if a fish gets whacked by a method feeder as you drag it back, then the fish is more than likely to spook, but you won't feel anything through your rod. But it often happens when you are 'method' fishing that you get a few bites quickly then a few liners, then the fish back off for a while. I'm convinced that these quieter spells are caused by fish being spooked by missed bites.

Which brings me back to the pellet feeder

The pellet feeder solution
As as the weather got warmer this year, we all got back to catching fish next to features on the 'method'. However, the 'liners' persisted so I started looking at alternatives. This is why I began to think that maybe the pellet feeder was not such a bad idea after all. So why the change of heart?

Well, a pellet feeder is meant to be fished with a very short hook length, (just like on a method feeder), which should hang just below the open end of the feeder. The idea is that when the feeder hits the bottom, the pellets fall out of the open end (the other end is blocked of course), and drop bedside your hookbait. The advantage of this type of feeder over the method variety is that the feed can only exit the rear of the feeder,  which effectively means that there is less chance of line bites as your line will, by definition, be behind feeder and line! However, I'm not naive enough to believe that the feeder drops to the bottom without ANY feed falling out! Some feed will undoubtadely drop out on impact with the water. Although in shallow water especially, I do not believe this is much of a problem, as any contents should always fall to the rear of the feeder drops.

I could see the logic in this. The idea of any feeder spilling content directly onto your hookbait was extremely appealing. I decided therefore to give the pellet feeder a thorough workout and can claim them a success, having caught plenty of fish on them. I'd been using the Preston models because I quite liked the solid body and the good quality end-grill. However, I had to make some practical changes to them in order to be comfortable with their use.

Making the pellet feeder 'Safe'
The Preston feeders are sold with a short length of elastic running through them. I didn't really like this for a couple of reasons. First, it didn't look that strong and I'd heard reports of a number of anglers breaking the elastics off on big fish. Secondly, this is illegal on many UK waters, because if a big fish were to break the line above the feeder, it would be then tethered to it and could probably be injured, or even die, if the feeder got tangled in some weed or hidden snags. To make the rig safe, I wanted the line to run through the feeder and then let me fix a small swivel to some tubing. This is how the Fox and Drennan method feeders are made, free sliding, so that the mainline passes through the short section of soft tubing and then attached to a swivel which stops the feeder falling onto the hooklength. In this way, if a fish breaks your line, the feeder can easily drop off the end, so avoiding any unecessary injury to the fish.

Here's my step-by-step guide to safely converting any elasticated Preston type feeder, into a free-running inline model.

This simple modification gives you a fish friendly feeder in seconds. Nisa also have a ready made 'in-line' feeder with a tube already running through them.

Getting the pellets RIGHT for feeding
The problem with a pellet feeder is that you need to be able to put baits in the feeder that are stiff enough to let you cast out without them falling out of the feeder, yet soft enough for them the come out of the feeder quickly once on the bottom. This is actually quiet a lot to ask of a feed, as I discovered!

My first try with the pellet feeder involved using hard pellets that I soaked on the bank. I used a mix of 3 and 4mm. micro pellets. The problem here was that the pellets varied in stickiness from when I first wet them, to them gradually drying out during the day, when they became a bit crumbly and dry. In the end I used some method mix and blocked up the feeder with that.

My next attempt was more successful. I wetted down some hard pellets the night before then drained and left them in the fridge overnight. By morning they had slowly absorbed all remaing water and become soft, but were not too dry. These could now be squeezed easily into the feeder. However the feed still felt a bit sticky and I was not quite sure whether it was coming out on the bottom properly, or when I struck. The method did seem to work though and I caught a fair few fish, but it was not quite what I wanted.

After thinking about this a little longer, I decided to try a much softer pellet, one that could be tightly squeezed in for casting, but would definitely come out because it was so soft. I decided to try expander pellets. This to my mind seemed like the best feed to use.


I started with some 4mm expanders, any decent expanders would do, and prepared them as follows:

What you get are very spongy pellets, which will hold tightly in the feeder, but come out easily once in the water. They almost pop out when squeezed because they are still a little springy.

The Shotgun Feeder
The advent of fishing pellets in the feeder has spawned several derivatives in feeder designs. One company which has moved the re-designed concept up several notches, is Middy, an English tackle company who have never really seemed to catch the imagination of many european anglers. But recently the company has been working hard to come up with more innovative product designs, and their Shotgun Feeder must surely be one of them. They'd been working on the idea of making the bait empty quickly once the feeder hits the bottom. They achieved this by developing a spring loaded feeder.

Called the Shotgun, it's a feeder with a free running in-line central tube and a spring inside the feeders body. To fill the feeder simply you pull the spring back, fill the feeder with pellets and put your hookbait in the end too if you want. Once in the water the force of the water and the spring work together to shove all the bait, and your hookbait, out in a sort of cloud.

You do have to fiddle a bit with the stickiness of your feed mix and my pumped expanders were much too soft for this sort of feeder. The best thing I found was to mix pellets and some groundbait together, mixing the groundbait just on the dry side. This way it was much easier to control the stiffness of the feed mix.

I think the idea is brilliant, but I do feel the finish on these feeders could be a little more well thought out. The simple plastic tube system is a little rustic and again I used anti-tangle sleeves to fix my swivels. The feeder I used was quite large (28gr) and I would have preferred to use the smaller 14gr, which regretably was not available to me at the time. They look like a re-hashed maggot feeder (which in essence is what they are) with a spring inside. Personally, I would have liked to have seen smaller holes, or even narrow diagonal slits in the body. Perhaps a stronger, neater spring and push mechanism would also prove more effective, but I understand there may be financial/technical constraints on these. The larger 28gr size seem more suited to river or carp fishery use, while the smaller 14gr looks ideal for the more compact mixed fishery, such as Godalming's Marsh Farm complex, where most of my testing was done. Nevertheless, I must applaud Middy on what is an ingenious idea, and one which actually does work!

Fishing deeper waters
A pure pellet feeder is perfect when casting into relatively shallow water. However, deeper waters requires that you adopt a slightly different approach. Because of the depths, you cannot assume that your pellets will remain in the confines of the feeder for the 'drop' duration! One obvious solution would be to block the end with groundbait, or, mix the pellet in with the grondbait. This would probably ensure that you got the bait down on the deck before it broke out. I shall be looking in greater detail at this approach when I visit to some stunning Alpine lakes (notoriously deep), during my holidays! The idea of keeping your feed pellet coming out the feeder, right next to your hook, is such an attractive proposition that I can't see it not working in deeper areas.

Hooklengths for pellet feeders
The principle of emptying your feed next to the hooklength can only mean one thing... a short hooklength, preferably with a hair rig. I've been experimenting, quite a lot recently, with different hair rig systems and shall be looking into how they compare against straight-hooking later in the season.

One system of hair-rigging that I would recommend, which incidently is really easy to use, is the Korum Quickstop system. Here's a quick guide on how it works:
    The Quickstop is a small plastic peg which is hollow and has a small hole halfway. This is where the 'hair' should be threaded through and attached, either with a small loop or tied directly. Ideally, the 'hair' be about 2-3cm long. One problem I sometimes found, was when you got the fish in the landing net the Quickstop can get caught in the nets mesh and I've had a few snap off on me. Tying the Quickstop within a loop seems to ease this problem.
  2. To attach bait, place a baiting needle into the opening of the Quickstop. If you don't have a baiting needle try using the stem of an old float or piece of thick wire... they will do the same job!
  3. Push the pointed end of the Quickstop through the bait. This could be a grain of corn, cube of meat, a drilled pellet or a mini boillie.
  4. Pull out the needle and leave the Quickstop lying on its side, holding the bait neatly in position.

I prefer these Quickstops because they are really easy to use, much less fiddly than using boillie stops.

With the 'hair' set up, all you need to do now is tie the hooklength, anything from 5 to 15cm long, with a loop. To attach the loop to the swivel I use another small baiting needle, this time with a hook on it. All I do is to pass the baiting needle through the swivel and pull the hooklength back through... simple yet effective!

Fishing with a pellet feeder
Filling the feeder
Take the feeder and run it through a bait tub filled with your chosen soft pellets. As I mentioned earlier, I will plug the feeder with some groundbait in deeper water, but always put the particles in first. I found with the expander pellets that a simple squeeze was enough to hold them in place without any problems. You can also decide whether to put your hookbait in the feeder itself, or leave it hanging outside. With the smaller pellet feeders I prefer to leave it hanging, but it could be worth experimenting. On a larger feeder it's quite easy just to squeeze your hookbait inside with the last little pinch of pellets.

Casting a pellet feeder
Because the feed is pointing out of your feeder it is a good idea to cast with a gentle lob rather than a full flown chuck if you are not fishing to far out. I like to have the feeder a long way from my rod tip for this sort of fishing, about 1.5 metres is right. Swing it straight back and lob forward to a clip. If you need to fish further out then a plug of groundbait becomes vital just to hold the bait in place. You will soon know if your bait is not holding because it will fall over your head on the cast!

Positioning the rod rest
One of the key things to get right with this style of fishing, like the method feeder, is that you must not move your rod once the feeder has hit the water. For this reason I often fish without too much of an angle, so I can point the rod at where the feeder lands and put it straight on a rest without having to pull the rod back to the side. This sounds a bit confusing, but it is actually very simple and makes sense. If you move the feeder even slightly after it settles, you loose all the benefits of the bait spilling out over and around your hookbait.

Hitting bites
Bites are usually unmissable. The rod will either fly round out of the rests or it will drop back. Either way you do not need to really strike, but rather hold on! On drop backs, simply wind in on the fish, they will be hooked against the weight of the feeder anyway.

The pellet feeders I use are not that light for their size and this extra weight is handy because the fish have to hook themselves for the method to work properly. I use 20g tiny feeders and 30 or 40 gram big feeder. If the feeder is too light then the fish will spit the hook and you will get missed bite after missed bite. I have already told you that the pellet feeder cuts down on line bites over a method feeder, but you still might get some, especially after you have been fishing for a while and a lot of fish are in your swim. Once again the advice is simple, sit on your hands and wait for the rod to fly round. However, I certainly find that liners are greatly reduced fishing this way.

Playing fish
One thing I noticed about the pellet feeder, is how hard the fish fight, even harder than with a 'method' it seems. Part of the reason is that the feeder itself is right in front of their noses. You need a rod that is fairly forgiving because you can easily pull out of big fish, especially bream, if you have too much poke in your rod. I know because I have had to change rods simply because of a couple of 'bumped' fish, as it was all down to too much force in the middle of the rod.

Also you will find that to fish too light in hooklength terms will lead to disaster, and I am not talking just of carp. Big bream and tench will make short work of 0.14mm short hooklengths believe me, so get 'tooled' up right from the start. The fish are neither hook, nor line shy, when they are sitting right in front of that feeder eating. Once they pick up your bait they will not be able to drop it as they will get hooked against the weight of the feeder and they will not like that!

Something new to try
So there you have it. A surprisingly simple yet effective way of fishing, which is just as effective as method feeding, but is more discreet and cuts down on the number of line bites you get. It works for bream, carp, tench and crucians, in fact any fish which will take big summer baits like pellet or corn. I am using these pellet feeders a lot now and can thoroughly recommend them to you. I will let you know how the short hooklengths work in really deep waters when I try them in the summer. If you go to venues where fish like pellets, then give the pellet feeder a try and if you have never got on with hair rigging try and get hold of some Quickstops, they're SO easy!