Historically, paste fishing is normally deemed a 'bag-up' technique, reserved solely for when carp are the main quarry. Although not always the case, less finesse is normally required when using paste, over other forms fishing. That doesn't mean to say that you can 'heave' anything and everything into your swim, far from it. However, as with all forms of fishing, an initial conservative approach can set you on the road to success. Always remember the old angling adage... once in, you can't take it out!

Bite recognition
Quite an awkward one this, but one which is linked directly to feeding, so we'll tackle it first!
When you watch a fish feeding in an enclosed environment you notice one particular attribute... the fish sucks in the bait and then sometimes spit it out very quickly. Yeah yeah, so we all know this... but do we understand what it actually means? Rob does and explains his basic philosophy:
“Paste fishing demands total concentration on the float and I judge what's happening below by reading the speed of the bite and movements on the bristle. Fish knocking the bait and creating liners will show slower movement on the bristle than a fish actually sucking in the paste core. Just swimming into the line, or even blowing on the bait, can be enough to take the bristle under, but if I start striking at these all I'll do is disturb the other fish present and waste time. What I'm looking for is the float to go under fast so I can then strike immediately” he explained. This made a lot of sense and watching Rob strike at bites, we could clearly see the difference between fish knocking the bait, a line bite and that sudden and final burying of the float as it sucked in the bait.

However, for many, recognising bites on paste can prove more difficult than other baits because of its general association with larger fish. That's why they show a lot of float tip, which is fine when carp of all sizes are the target as they will 'bury' the float very quickly, making the decision to strike much easier. But paste fishing isn't just about carp. Skimmers, bream, F1's, crucians, tench all love a piece of paste and can play their part, depending on what type of water you're fishing! These fish don't always bury the float, so you need to read and recognise the difference between what species are present and their size.

Those anglers using floats with an inch or more sticking out the water could be missing out. Rob has much less than that, around half to a quarter of an inch. When a fish sucks in any bait, particularly smaller ones, there's normally float movement as it travels the short distance into its mouth, but although its register on the float may be minimal, by having less of its tip showing the bite becomes readable and thereby strikable! Paste is no exception. If you have an inch plus sticking out of the water, you will not see this and consequently miss an opportunity to catch!

But let's reiterate once more what Rob expects from paste. This is not simply a bait for one species, it's a bait for ALL, so being able to optimise your bite/strike/hook and catch ratio in a match is central to winning it! Rob believes that ALL fish from 8ozs upwards can form the basic 'winning strategy'. Fish around 1lb+ are the prime targets and can be the weight-builders on many waters, so it makes sense to be able to recognise when they are present and available. By showing too much float tip, you are effectively limiting your options of a healthy weigh-in, so don't blinker yourself in believing that your only quarry is a large carp!

Another benefit of dotting the float down, is when many small fish are present. The bites, or float movement, tend to be more readable than those on a bristle which protrudes further out of the water, so your knowledge of what's in the swim can become much clearer and you can manage the area more effectively. Remember, if you only have 8oz to 2lb fish in your swim and nothing else, what would you prefer to do? Sit there looking at a wavering float tip, or optimise your presentation and capture what's in front of you... rather that what may or may not arrive?

Several of the sessions we completed with Rob, during the building of this series, were formed basically of fish between ONE (1/2kg) and FOUR (2kg) pound. So it's important to recognise the potential of your swim and get the most out of it.

The same goes for liners, although plenty of movement on a float tip sitting well out of the water will easily be seen. On a dotted down tip, these movements can constitute what looks to be a bite and you will probably strike. The thing to do is to watch carefully at how the float reacts... is it moving slowly under and then bobbing back? Is there some sideways movement? Recognising the difference between a bite and a liner may not always seem that clear cut, but constant use of the method will gain you more insight into it.

A common problem linked closely with 'liners' and not always one fully understood. The basic consensus is that you get some sort of liner and then strike into a passing fish. Rob has a different view, "what can happen when several fish are milling around the same area, at different levels, is that one fish can suck in the paste core off the bottom and spit it out just as you are striking, then as the bare hook (because the paste has come off) travels upwards it connect into a passing fish swimming above on the next level."

Many will view Rob's principle of setting the float down in the water as a major problem in recognising a proper bite. However, if you think more carefully about this, it becomes relatively logical as to how and when you optimise your strike. That doesn't mean to say that you will be right every time, far from it. What it does mean is that you will understand more clearly what is going on below your float.

So how do you feed a paste swim?
At the end of the day, this is what it boils down to, however, there's no simple answer to it. It is that perpetual problem and one which depends on a number of factors, not least of which is how many fish you think are in front of you! Then we have their size... are they actively feeding or not? Some days you may choose not to feed at all, simply relying on building the swim up by striking the bits of paste off the hook. On other days, you may need to lay a bed of particles, like hemp, to hold the fish. In short these are perennial angling questions to which the answer will be different on every day. Below, we look at all the factors which will hopefully gain you valuable experience and thereby add to your enjoyment of fishing paste.

Competitive feeding
An important principle when feeding for any fish, size or specie-wise, is to keep them feeding competitively. If you feed too much of any bait what can happens is they go mad, darting around and creating a frenzied environment... an ideal situation for liners! Paste fishing is no exception. It does helps to know what species, what size and how many are in the venue you're about to fish. Armed with this initial information, you can formulate what your initial strategy will be. However, if you are uncertain, it is best to 'Err' on the side of caution and feel your way into the session.

If the fish are responding well, then the time between real bites should decrease. What happens is fish start competing for the actual paste bait and inspect it less, knowing that if they don’t have it immediately the next fish will. If there are plenty of fish in the swim, you shouldn't wait too long for a bite, if you do it'll generally mean the paste's come off! You can also stiffen the paste up to give it some longevity, a useful ploy when there are lots of smaller fish present.

This category not only relates to fish feeding competitively, but also too anglers! As Rob wryly pointed out "how often have we all been tempted to feed when those around us are catching and feeding on a more regular basis? Don't try to compete with them, fish your swim accordingly. They may be on totally different baits with a totally different approach. They may over-feed their respective swims and end up catching very little in the last half of the match. They may be trying to draw fish up in the water. If you follow them, your fish may come shallow or you may overfeed them, which is not what you want. Stay focussed on your own game plan and don't be swayed into competing with those around you!"

Time of year
Not normally a subject that gets covered too well, but is nevertheless relevant. Rob's view is that paste is best used when fish are active on the bottom. This means that very hot days, when fish are cruising the top layers, are not an ideal time to fish paste on the bottom. While he adds that this is mainly confined to larger fish such as carp, there are other smaller silver residents which will still feed on the deck. The optimum start time of year, as far as Rob's concerned, is early season just around April/May time, depending on our erratic English weather patterns! Late season can see September/October and perhaps November also proving fruitful, but it's again dependant on our weather. Even after the first few frosts, Rob has caught on paste, so you need to be constantly aware of the changing climate.

The time of year will also dictate, to some extent, which flavour of bait will get a response. Rob's rule-of-thumb is non-fishy flavours during cold months such as garlic and curry. Even the odd sweet flavour can work. We all know that sweetcorn is a great winter bait so focus on that area of flavour with things like pineapple... but not strawberry as it's TOO sweet for some reason. Warmer months open up the flavour range to all fishmeal substances. Yorkshire Baits own Kopykat catmeat paste and pellets can be devastating on carp puddles. Prawn, octopus, squid are all acknowledged 'fishy' attractants along with the regular sweet varieties such as toffee, strawberry, scopex, etc. Just remember to match up colours and flavours!

Feed baits
Rob's normal technique is to lay a bed of hemp in the swim, perhaps 2-3 pots full along with a few tasty pieces of corn. This is not an exact science, as Rob frequently explained over the course of our sessions, it's something that you will gradually learn to do from experience. The theory with this approach is quite straight-forward, although it's not what you'd imagine would complement paste. What it tends to do is draw in fish which would otherwise have not been attracted to the paste and feed pellets. Now you may be thinking what good is that, why get fish into the swim which don't want paste? The best way to describe this scenario is look on them as 'decoys'. As we all should know, feeding fish attract other fish, curious to know what's happening in the area. By attracting fish to feed on hemp and corn, it induces more fish to come into the area and look at what's on offer, of which paste may just take their fancy! By attracting more fish into the swim, your percentages of catching more... and for longer, increase.

Pellets are always a good feed medium but care must be taken when using the smaller sizes like micros. These can have not only a habit of pulling the fish shallow, but also attracting swarms of smaller fish. While attracting the smaller residents is not always a bad thing, what you definitely don't want is fish coming up in the water when you bait is on the bottom! To avoid this, Rob gently squeezes a small ball of lightly soaked micros together and feeds it in a tip, or 'toss' pot, along with a sample of the paste he's using. This then sinks at a similar speed to the paste onto the bottom. Another problem which can rear up when using micros, is that the fish, especially smaller ones, can become pre-occupied with them and will consequently avoid anything bigger.

Hard or soft?
Another important point Rob made regarding the feeding of pellets, use the hard variety! Don't opt for soft hookers, thinking that they will match the soft paste's texture. What can happen is the fish become focussed on them and won't touch anything else. You can lightly soak hard pellets to make them sink quicker and it also enables them to be squeezed into a small ball, as explained earlier.

Size matters!
The size of pellets you feed also have a bearing on the fish you are targeting. For instance, if your fish are small (8oz-1lb+) then use micros up to 4mm, any larger you need to be using 4mm upwards.

Adding flavour
Glugs or liquids are an important addition to any session. Their use on pellets and even as a booster for your paste, mean similar flavoured liquid is an important link between all your baits. Because Rob may use hemp in some of his feeding strategies, that doesn't mean to say that he won't drip a flavour over it... even a sweet one like yellow toffee! It is always important to maintain an evenly flavoured pattern throughout your sessions. Fish can become suspicious and 'spooked' if you start mixing fishy flavours with sweet ones, so think before you add!

An occurrence usually associated with frenzied feeding, not to be confused with normal bottom feeding activity such as tench bubbles. Fizzing can be caused by several situations like over-feeding, feeding small baits, small skimmers (see Un-welcome visitors below) and the contentious terminology... gill-feeding.

Respiratory system
Most fish exchange gases by using gills that are located on either side of the pharynx. Gills are made up of threadlike structures called filaments. Each filament contains a network of capillaries that allow a large surface area for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Fish exchange gases by pulling oxygen-rich water through their mouths and pumping it over their gill filaments. The blood in the capillaries flows in the opposite direction to the water, causing counter current exchange. They then push the oxygen-poor water out through openings in the sides of the pharynx. Some fishes, like sharks and lampreys, possess multiple gill openings. However, most fishes have a single gill opening on each side of the body. This opening is hidden beneath a protective bony cover called an operculum or gill cover.(courtesy Wikipedia)
Now here's a bone of contention. Do freshwater fish actually feed through their gills. Having researched into this action it would seem that they DO NOT. Our freshwater fish are not filtration feeders... "their food is ingested through the mouth and then broken down in the esophagus. When it enters the stomach, the food is further broken down and, in many fish, further processed in finger-like pouches called pyloric caeca. The pyloric caeca secrete digestive enzymes and absorb nutrients from the digested food. Organs such as the liver and pancreas add enzymes and various digestive chemicals as the food moves through the digestive tract. The intestine completes the process of digestion and nutrient absorption." (courtesy Wikipedia)
The gill area have a separate function, as we describe below.
There are two types of gills in a fish... gills and gill rakers, both have different functions and clarify Gill Feeding, a term which I believe has been grossly mis-used within the angling world.
Fish CANNOT feed through their gills... "they are respiratory organs for extracting oxygen from water and for the excretion of carbon dioxide. They are not usually visible, but can be seen in some species, such as the frilled shark." (courtesy Wikipedia)
Gill Rakers... "are bony, finger-like projections of the gill arch filaments which function in filter-feeders in retaining food organisms and are generally confined to acknowledged filter feeders such as whale sharks, manta ray etc." (courtesy Wikipedia)
Despite several videos showing fish seemingly blowing bubbles out of their gill areas, this does not constitute a feeding action, but is more probably the consequence of extracting naturally produced carbon dioxides which manifests as bubbles, hence the misconception!

Un-welcome visitors!
While over-feeding and small baits can be remedied quite easily by either cutting down the feed, or using larger baits, small skimmers could be more a problem. Rob's solution is too cut right back on the feed, or try to feed them off. If that doesn't work he says quite candidly... we're in trouble!" adding, "my only other option is to start feeding in another area, either further out or closer in."

An optimum distance
Rob aim is always to try and draw fish closer in, so he can control the feeding more consistently. He rarely fishes long, that's to say 14-16 metres, unless the situation warrants its. His initial starting length would be around 8-10 metres and then he'd gradually feed small amounts closer and closer in, eventually settling at a comfortable hand-feeding optimum distance. This is achieved by introducing small balls of squeezed micros, every so often, a metre short of his starting point, until the fish move onto them. He then slowly works closer, a metre at a time, until he's happy with a certain distance. The initial starting line can then be ignored, as it's done it's job. If, on the other hand the fish decide not too move, you can return to your main line without too much trouble.

Fishing shallow
Unlike any other paste approach, this method throws previous conventions out of the window. The key here is to get the fish to feed between 1-3 foot deep... and keep them there. This is where we can use micros again, but not squeezed into a ball. They can be 'pinged' out using a catapult but don't soaked them as the added water will add to their weight and cause them to sink faster. You can 'glug' them up which will effectively put a flavour coating around them and make their descent mush more attractive. Also, a tip cup will be essential to keep a 'sloppy' version of the paste constantly going in each time you ship out. The resulting cloud with tiny flavoured pellets falling gently over your paste can prove devastating (see our next part on Methods).

Tip cups: Rob uses home-made tip cups using the caps of drink bottles.  Rob simply drills four small holes in the top of these caps and ties on two short sections of elastic tight to the caps.  Rob can sit these cups securely just short of the end of his pole tip allowing him to feed very accurately in the way I described above.  These tip cups actually held a fair bit of feed in them and Rob was able to empty them simply by rotating the pole a half turn to his left and tapping the feed out of the cup.
Tools for feeding
Little or Large? Much of feeding during paste fishing revolves around a pole cup, either large or small. As a general rule, if Rob expects to catch a lot of fish, he'll spread his initial feed across a wide area of his swim using a large cup. He believes this gives the fish some room to settle into and reduces the chance of them being spooked as the first few come to the net. If things look as though they are going to be tough, Rob may only use the tip cup to place smaller amounts of feed around the swim, which will hopefully increase his chances of hooking the odd fish. It's all about using your angling brain and thinking about what the conditions might produce and how fish are likely to respond.

As a session progresses and the fish settle, he'll slip into a feeding rhythm by keeping just enough tit-bits going in to maintain interest. For this purpose, Rob uses a tip cup which he'd specially made. It's smaller than many propriety models, but allows him to feed just enough each time he puts in. Remember, he wants the fish to compete, so the name of the game is to give them just enough for them to keep searching for more!

However, if Rob feels that larger fish are moving in and mopping up things too quickly, he'll increase his feeding rate by adding greater quantities from his larger pole cup on a more regular basis. Again, it's all down to reading what's happening in your swim and adjusting your feed patterns accordingly.

Recapping above, Rob highlights several important points that you need to keep in mind:
  • If you are going to feed micro pellets, in addition to paste, make sure that they are the same flavour as the paste. The pellets will break down and the fish feeding on them will then find the same particles breaking off the paste core. We asked him if he would ever mix and match, for instance, fish green paste over black octopus pellets. Rob looked at at us as if we were barking mad and shook his head, "NEVER" was his short answer!
  • It's a good idea to feed some bits of paste through your session, but remember to roll any freebie bits of paste into the same shape as the paste on the hook. If fish are in your swim this will increase their confidence at taking your bait.
  • Always try to adapt the colour and flavour of his paste to do one of two things. Either he tries to match what the fish are use to. On one of our sessions he used yellow toffee paste and pellets because the fish on this particular venue were use to corn. However, on a lot of waters, many anglers use only green or black pellets and paste. If the fish are getting wary of these colours/flavours, Rob may choose to try a different colour.
  • Use both bites and line bites as an indication of when you should feed. You need to get a feeding rhythm established, i.e., get a bite... catch a fish... feed again. Your angling sense tells you that if you start getting too many line bites to proper bites then you need to cut back a little on the feed. Equally if the spaces between bites starts to increase perhaps up the feed a little.
  • Whatever venue you're on, the basic feeding principle should always be: the more fish present the less feed goes in, the less fish present the more feed!
  • If you are uncertain of what's actually swimming in a venue... ASK!
  • ...and most important of all... once you put it in, you can't take it out!


When using a cable tie to support your rig as you ship out, make sure the tag end on your cable tie is lined-up straight with your tip cup. What you do, is hang your paste rig over the tag on the right side of the pole. As you ship out the pole, the tag and pot are in alignment facing upwards. To release to contents of the pot, simply turn the pole to the left to empty. Turning the pole back to the right, you can now safely allow the paste rig to gently fall off the tag for you to position in the swim and wait for a bite!

Our Final Part 4 instalment will deal with methods for fishing paste and may also include anything else we feel that may have been overlooked. We will also include a 'hot-email' line for you to contact Rob and ask him any question about paste fishing.

To find your way around our Rob Hitchens A-Z of Paste Fishing series, we have created this Index to make finding a specific subject from within the five part series more easy. Simply click the picture opposite to access.