Englands world conquering team have built up a formidable reputation in their expert use of leams to target, and select, better quality fish. At World Champs level, topping-up with the deadly 'double leam', has been part of numerous successes over the last 15 years for Drennan Team England, therefore who better to talk us through all the intricacies of using this under-exposed method, than the world's most successful team angler... Steve Gardener. With a record-breaking nine team gold medals under his belt, Steve is rated by many in the sport as perhaps the finest technical angler in the world today!

Leam is a vehicle, NOT a time-bomb!
I think there's a lot of mystique surrounding leam fishing, especially the use of 'double leam'. Leam fishing simply involves using the different characteristics of soils to create a medium that will deliver pure feed into an anglers swim, precisely where he wants it. It is ONLY a vehicle for feed, nothing more complicated than that. Once you understand how different soils work, in terms of their weight, binding powers and can pick the right combination to get the feed down where you want it in your swim, you’ve cracked it!

Soil, the perfect vehicle for transporting 'precious cargo' down to the bottom!Soil, the perfect vehicle for transporting 'precious cargo' down to the bottom! Leam has several advantages as a vehicle. One is that it will not degrade your feed through contact. Soils have a negative effect on bait, therefore you know that joker, caster, chopped worm etc., will stay in good condition within it. Soils also have no inherent attraction to fish, exept their ability to cloud or puff slightly if disturbed on the bottom. This means that the attraction of what you are feeding is the feed itself. This is also a vital element in understanding why double leam is, equally, so effective when fishing venues that experience a lot of intensive pressure from pre-match practice sessions and the various groundbait mixes deposited. Come the weekend of an international most swim will have been fished at least FIVE times. Fish tend to respond well to groundbait at the start, but by the end of the week, their enthusiasm for cereal groundbaits often diminishes. This is why feeding with leam as a carrier, can prove so deadly, as the attraction is focussed just on the feed.

What you are NOT doing is controlling the release rate of your feed in the water with some sort of mysterious alchemy! There is a very fine line when mixing leams together, between that of getting... something to work and break down properly, or something that ends up looking like a sticky clay ball that could be turned into a pottery dinner plate! Leam is used to get feed down to the bottom fast, then break up fairly quickly and release its contents. As Steve will later explain, how fish respond to that feed and how long they will stay over it, does not depend so much on how the SOIL breaks up, but on how the FEED behaves in the soil. So to start with you need to look at your leam choices as a vehicle, rather than a complicated time-release capsule.

The basic components!
Always riddle your grey leam first to ensure there are no lumps present.Always riddle your grey leam first to ensure there are no lumps present. Grey leam A fine grey plaster-like soil which, as its description suggests, becomes a strong binder when added to wet and damp soils. It is important to get the right fine grey powder for English style leam mixes and Steve was quick to insist that it has to be Sensas' Liant a Coller. This holds the soil ball together until it reaches the bottom and works because the fine particles in the grey leam clog-up the coarser damp particles in other soils, thereby helping it to bind together. You can see this as you start to mix the grey leam into other soils, because the damp soil particles then become coated with the dry leam, effectively creating a larger particles. When squeezed together, the grey leam acts on these larger particles, much like glue, holding them firmly together in a ball.

Another great property of grey leam is its weight. A kilo bag of Liant a Coller is relatively small, compared to that of a kilo of groundbait, or even Terre de Somme. This is because of the grey leams' fine and powdery nature, which is quite dense. Therefore adding grey leam not only helps to bind soils together, but also adds extra weight and thereby help the descent of the feed ball. Steve does not generally vary the amount of grey leam he uses in his double leam mixes, but rather plays on the nature of the second soil in the mix to modify a feed to suit a venue. He keeps it fairly simple and only uses one of three other soils to make up double leam, these are:

Terre de Somme
The fine soil found in the upper Somme region of Northern France and also in Belgium. Used mainly on stillwaters, Terre de Somme is a quick dispersing soil with fine particles that will hang in a cloud. This clouding property does not apply when used in conjunction with grey leam, because the grey leam clogs the finer soil particles together and stops them clouding. Steve uses Terre de Somme as his base soil for most stillwater mixes and can change its colour by adding Tracix powder to the dried soil. Tracix will not cloud once it has been clogged with grey leam!

Terre de Riviere
This is heavier soil with more clay particles in it and is by nature non-sticky. You can get some idea of the weight of Terre de Riviere, compared to Terre de Somme, by looking at the packets. A 2 kilo bag of Terre de Somme is the same size as a 3 kilo bag of Terre de Riviere, making it approximately 50% heavier. Steve uses Terre de Riviere on deep-flowing venues where the extra weight ensures feed gets down fast and relatively straight.

Local molehill soil
Steve will not hesitate to use this type of soil, if found on the bank of a particular venue he's visiting, as the basis for a double leam mix. This is particularly the case on deep clear venues where he's sure that the bankside soil will match closely the colour of the natural bottom of the venue. Molehill soil has the added advantages of being free and requires no transporting, particularly important if you are travelling for a couple of weeks practise and cannot fit untold kilos of soil into a van.

The correct ratio/proportion of soil to grey leam should ALWAYS be followed.The correct ratio/proportion of soil to grey leam should ALWAYS be followed.Preparing double leam
The first thing to get right when preparing a double leam mix, is the quantity ratio/proportion, which is:

4kg soil to ½kg grey leam

We will look later at how you can modify this mix to add extra joker and create feed rich balls, but for general double leam feeds this ratio is vital. Steve mixed up two kilos of Terre de Somme for our session and was careful with the grey leam packet to measure out a quarter of it in order to keep the proportions correct. If you stray from these proportions, preparing double leam becomes almost impossible, particularly if you over-do the grey leam! It will then bind too much and stick the soil together like clay.

The essential tools of Steve's trade!The essential tools of Steve's trade! Here's a list of essential and required tools for mixing double leam:
  • Two groundbait buckets
  • A standard groundbait riddle (maggot mesh size)
  • A decent quality power drill
  • A wide, flat bottomed whisk
  • A pump atomiser
  • and last but not least... a friend to help with the mixing, because it's a job best done with two people due to the critical nature of the wetting!
Here we have a step-by-step of the mixing stages, accompanied by a slideshow below:
  1. Riddle off your measure of soil, straight from the packet, to knock any lumps out
  2. Riddle out your measure of grey leam into the same bucket
  3. Mix both leams quickly with your whisk
  4. Now get your friend to come and help. He needs to be using the atomiser whilst you control the mix with the whisk
  5. Set the atomiser to a fine mist and point it into the middle of the bucket at all times. Do not let it wet the outside walls of the bucket as soil will stick to it.
  6. Whisk in phases... add a bit of water and whisk, then check the mix for consistency
  7. As you whisk, make sure you run it all around the bucket to thoroughly blend together all the components
  8. When you start to see soil sticking on the bucket's side walls, can stop adding water until it's been blended into the mix
  9. Keep checking the mix for correct consistency.
  10. It's a fine line between the pefect double leam mix and a bucket of clay mud!!!
The main points to remember when mixing your double leam are:
  • Two people are better than one
  • Set atomiser on fine spray, rather than direct jet
  • Aim atomiser at the CENTRE of the bucket, not the sides
  • Blend any splashed soil on the sides back into the mix with your whisk
  • DO NOT OVER-WET. Recovering an over-wet leam mix is almost impossible!
After this careful mixing process, you can then run the mixture back through a riddle to complete the basic leam mix. Steve often knocks his leam up at home then bags it, pointing out that by sealing it in a plastic bag, it will stay perfect for weeks, provided you keep it cool. Any mix not used on a session/match will be kept for the following week. There is nothing in the leam itself to go off, provided it's kept cool and you don’t get any water condensing on the inside of the plastic, which could ruin the leam.

Adding joker
The joker Steve brought along to our feature was already a week old and had been tanked at home, then separated using some Terre de Somme. Steve’s own view on joker is that you don't want it too lively for feeding in a double leam mix because as a general rule, if it's too active, it will 'ping' out of the soil too fast and not have the same holding attraction as slightly dormant joker. In general he prefers Northern European joker to Russian, but is not as dismissive of the Russian as some other top anglers, especially if he's after skimmers, then it has a definite role to play along with frozen joker. However, Steve was targeting roach and perch, as well as skimmers, so his preference was for joker that was not too lively, but would come out of the soil at a steady rate.

The quick and easy way to add an accurate amount of joker is to use one of the Drennan pole pots.The quick and easy way to add an accurate amount of joker is to use one of the Drennan pole pots. Steve prefers to measure out the joker so he can keep a check on just how much feed is actually being deposited into the swim. To prepare the main feed, he measured out 250ml of separated joker, using a Drennan feed cup as a measure, and mixed it into his prepared double leam mix thoroughly. Finally adding a few casters, he then had a mix that could be formed into heavy and compact balls, capable of getting down quickly and holding the joker for a long time.

Making joker rich balls
Steve was intending to feed only double leam for our session but wanted to create a feeding 'hot spot' with a couple of joker rich feed balls. Having held back part of the prepared double leam mix, prior to adding any joker, Steve then added 100ml of separated joker and mixed it in. He then liberally sprinkled the surface of the joker rich mix with more grey leam, which in weight terms, couldn't have been much more than 20/30 grams! The grey leam is quickly incorporated within this and his joker rich balls were made. Held side-by-side, you can see both the difference in the amount of joker in the feed rich balls and the colour change, just from adding that extra grey leam. Steve didn't attempt to add any water to this joker rich mix, but did mention that if the original leam mix had started to dry out a bit, then he would have used the atomiser spray, prior to adding the extra grey leam.

The joker philosophy
Steve spent a lot of time explaining how double leam works along with his philosophy on the joker he uses. "There is a misconception amongst many anglers that double leam is used purely to get lots of neat joker into a swim. In many matches it's not the amount of joker that makes a difference, but how the joker behaves when in the water." he said. In fact Steve couldn't think of any competition, during his vast international experience, were he's fed more than 500gr. of joker!

So, if it’s not the volume of joker that makes a difference, why should feeding joker on a lesser scale be so effective? Steve put forward a couple of very strong arguments:
  • The Holding Game. When balls of leam get to the bottom, they break down fairly quickly, quicker in fact than most anglers realise. What you are then left with is a small pile of leam on the bottom, similar to a pyramid of salt... you get the idea! Providing the joker in the leam is not too active, some will immediately burst off the surface of the leam, some will gradually be exposed as the leam starts to break down... and the rest will no doubt hide under the main pyramid. Steve is convinced that fish, like quality roach, sit over double leam, not because of the joker they can see there, but of the promise of the joker that lies within the pyramid mound. "They seem to instinctively know that there is more joker, within the breaking mound, than what they see coming away from its surface. Although skimmers and bream are more likely to start blowing on the pyramid itself, in order to release more of the joker, in which case more topping-up will be required," explained Steve. Once again there seems to be something about a soils ability to deliver joker over an extend time frame and hold fishes' interest longer, more so than if it was fed in groundbait. This seems to contradict many anglers belief that soil works better purely because it keeps joker alive and in top class condition, due to the absense of any salt. Yet this cannot be the only reason as Steve pointed out above. It seems to be more to do with the weight of the soil and its ability to hold joker on the bottom for a long period of time. Fish coming over double leam balls are only attracted by one thing... and it’s not the soil!
  • A pole pot is essential if you want to create a focussed 'hot spot'.A pole pot is essential if you want to create a focussed 'hot spot'.The 'Hot Spot'. One of the interesting aspects of using soil is how easy it is to vary the amount of feed in different balls. By using joker rich balls and a pole cup, it's possible to create feed specific 'hot spots' within the swim because the weight of the soil allows you to deposit a concentration of joker, very accurately, in any given position. Steve compared it to using a method feeder, whereby you can effectively place a bait on top of a very precise and concentrated feed spot. You can also turn this situation to your advantage when fish start to back off the feed spot, by fishing around the feed. This is quite difficult to achieve with groundbait, due to its lighter nature, which breaks up in a different way to soil and consequently spreads over a wider area (especially in drift and flow), rather than peeling of in one precise spot.
We include two videos below, taken in a special cold water aquarium which we have set up to produce shots of this nature. These are a FIRST for Matchangler which we hope to expand on during the year, we hope you will enjoy them. They give some insight into fish feeding habits and are directly related to the above paragraphs dealing with joker in double leam. The left hand video is the first 10 minutes of feeding, while the second video of 4 minutes duration, restarts after a 10 minute interval. The overall feeding time span covered was 24 minutes.

Double leam strategies

Steve has two strategies when it comes to using double leam. One is as a top-up over an initial ground baited area, the other is to use leam as the initial feed for an entire session.

This is how double leam is used most often by England during international matches. Steve was quite specific to point out the importance of understanding how a venue changes over the course of a practise week and how to decide when and where to feed leam or groundbaits as top-up. He acknowledges there is no precise answer to this question, it depends a lot on the venue. For example, a large open venue where fish will constantly be moving in and out of a match length will take more groundbait than say an enclosed rowing course or canal, where the fish being targeted will always be local. As Steve explains "after a weeks practise, each peg will have had at least five anglers throwing FIVE different mixes of groundbait into it, with varying results. At the start of the practise period the fish generally respond positively to this onslaught, but then you sometimes notice weights decrease as the week goes on, which is generally a sign that the fish are becoming tired of groundbait. The same would be true of any venue which takes a lot of practise pressure. It's at this point that topping-up with just leam can play a more important part in any feeding strategy."

Topping up with double leam plays an important role, especially through late autumn and into winter. We've all experienced situations when fish will simply not take groundbait as a top-up, especially as water temperatures fall. This again is where topping-up with double leam can give you the edge. This takes me back to the first thing Steve said when we discussed leam fishing on the bank, “It's a vehicle for feed”. As fishing conditions get harder you need to strip your feeding approach back to the essential attraction... joker!

The advantages of topping-up with double leam can therefore be summarised as:
Accuracy Double leam gives a much heavier ball than groundbait, and will sink faster and straighter, allowing you to fish directly over it.

Slower release As a ball of leam breaks open, it will trap the joker underneath it. These joker will then take some time to break out, which seems to hold a fishes interest much longer than when you use groundbait for top-up. Several factors could be at work here. Groundbait particles are themselves lighter and will consequently wash/drift away faster, even in stillwaters; Joker does not like groundbait, so they will try and break out of it quicker; Groundbait breaks up in a different way and even 'inert' mixes will break down sideways as opposed to soils which have no actual mechanical attributes once broken up on the bottom.

More selective Topping-up with double leam tends to select better fish, particularly true where roach are concerned. Because soil/leams create a less busy attraction under the water there are no feed particles floating up and drifting away, the result is that bigger fish will often settle over double leam, whilst groundbait will simply attract many smaller species.

Stevie's TOP TIP
When making balls of double leam feed, take care to make them as round as you can. This stops the balls from kiting or aqua-planning in the water and drifting off course. The same care applies when releasing feed balls from your pole cup. Line up each cup of leam accurately, then slowly turn the cup over to avoid 'throwing' the ball out at an angle. Leam will concentrate fish in your swim, so you need to be 100% sure you know where it's ended up!

Across Europe many anglers think of double leam only as a top-up strategy, however, there are many occasions when Steve will feed ONLY double leam, both at the start of a session and during it as a top-up. In international matches this is unusual as Steve will usually start feeding groundbait then top-up with leam but Steve has fished leam from the start on the world stage too.

If starting a match with double leam is the exception, rather than the rule, on a world stage, it is the standard way to feed joker throughout the colder months on English stillwaters and canals. Today, for our session at Sumners Ponds in West Sussex, Steve has opted to feed pure double leam from the start. In fact in many winter matches he will feed double leam at the start and probably not top-up again. There will be enough feed and attraction held in those soil balls to last a full five hours. This is particularly the case when roach fishing and it gives you some idea of just how good soil is at holding feed in a swim.

Steve explained that our venue for the day was Sumners superb big lake, which contained a massive head of silver fish, dominanted by skimmers and bream. Matches here are usually won with 25kg+ of skimmers, caught on small expander pellets. Like many of the lakes in our area, pellets have taken over from more convential baits as the main method of catching just about everything that swims. However, no one had used joker to target other quality fish like roach and perch. Steve was keen to see just how they would respond to his joker approach. To kick off his session he fed around a dozen balls of double leam, including his 4 joker rich balls. However, he didn't just drop them all down the same hole to create a big stack of soil on the bottom, he took a slightly different approach:
  1. The standard feed balls were fed in a slight arc, across an area 11 metres in front of him, covering about a metre from one side to the other. “As we are only fishing a short distance out today, its not too tiring a process, but when I have to ship balls of leam out at 14.5 metres, it can get quite physically demanding” quipped Steve. Because leam balls are heavier than groundbait, they generally put quite a bend in even the stiffest of poles and take their toll of arm muscles!
  2. Then Steve took the joker rich balls and carefully lined them up with a tall tree marker on the lakes island, gently released each one into the same position. As he previously explained, knowing exactly where this rich feed is, can prove vital to getting bites from better fish later on in a session.
Steve didn't anticipate having to top-up again for some time after this initial feeding. In fact he only sprinkled a few casters over the top of the double leam to hold the interest of the bigger perch and roach that were pulled over his double leam arc. It would quite astonishing to see how 350 grams of joker and a few casters could hold fish in Steve’s swim for a good 4 hours!

As the day wore on, Steve continued catching at a crisp rate and although many of the fish were smaller than perhaps we would have expected on pellet, the encouraging outlook got even better as we moved towards the close, with better fish putting in an appearance. One eye-opener for Steve was just how many skimmers showed up over the feed, and he commented that he might have been better to top-up on a more regular basis in order to draw in even more of these weight-building fish. There was some disappointment that the anticipated larger roach didn't really materialise in any significant numbers. Steve had expected roach to be the main target fish because Sumners skimmer population had become pellet obsessed over the last couple of years! However, today’s test proved that while skimmers may have developed a taste for pellet, they are still suckers for a good old traditional feed of joker. Steve seemed genuinely surprised at the response of the skimmers and would certainly alter his feeding next time he used joker on the pond. But as always, Steve did not disappoint when it came to producing the goods for the camera... an impressive mixed bag of about 15lb, from a water where pellet rules!

Steve had managed to build a decent mixed bag of skimmers, roach and perch in front of our cameras with ease and style. He'd gone through the process of how he mixes double leam and de-mystified the preparation of this simple yet highly effective feeding vehicle. For Steve the two keys issues to mixing double leam are:
  • Always respect the proportion of grey leam to whatever soil you are using. This is vital to avoid the mix becoming over- or under-clogged with the grey leam. 4 kilos of soil to half a kilo grey leam.
  • Make sure that the wetting is done with a power whisk and a fine atomiser carefully, so as not to overwet the mix.
Get these basics right and you can adapt a leam mix to suit any venue you choose!

One of Steve's 'nifty' gadgets was the new Milo cupping kit, which are adjustable like the Garbolino ones, except in this case they work with a grommet inside the end section. This makes them slightly more flexible and streamlined than the Garbolino models. This may initially seem like a bad thing, but ironically, it's better for your pole to have a cup kit that flexes in line with the pole when shipping out leam, rather than one that is too stiff! The pressure on your number 4 section from cupping out heavy leams can become too great with an over-stiff kit!

Single leam to many, usually means dumping a few joker into some Terre de Somme, or Riviere! However, its application is a little more specific than that. Steve clarify's just what it consists of.

Mixing joker with just grey leam is a common tactic both in the UK and abroad. What you make is a feed ball that is not as heavy as double leam and will not get down quite so fast. By using just grey leam, joker will often start to break up on the way down in deeper water, so this can be used as a way of clouding bait over the bottom. This can be very useful when fishing over silty bottoms, where heavy leam balls might sink in. Single leam is also a way of delivering a quick injection of pure joker into a swim, without the slower release element you normally get when they emerge from ball of soil. Steve uses single leam most often on relatively shallow venues, like the far bank of many of our canals, where fish can seek refuge in little more than a metre of water, often 60 centimetres or less! Mixing single leam balls is relatively straightforward:
What you finish with is a ball that looks almost like pure joker, but is in fact held together by the grey leam. The joker will then sit in a ball like this for quite some time before use. The interesting thing about grey leam, is that once in water, it will break open fairly quickly and deliver a lot of joker in one hit. Single leam mixes are what anglers get by using products like joker fix, but of course they lack the subtle release and long term holding properties of a double leam mix. Single leam mixes however, can also pull small fish into a swim, but do not seem to have the same selective ability as double mixes. Like all good thinking anglers, Steve will always adapt his feeding strategy to the conditions on the day and feed whatever mix is required.

Once more we are indebted to Steve for his frankness and insight into a subject many international anglers regard as a real English speciality. So who better to have guided us through it, than the most successful international team angler in the history of the sport!

The video opposite is Dave Ewing's 'One 2 One' interview with Steve Gardener, directly after the session at Sumners Ponds on double leaming... we hope you find it interesting.


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