Pole Feeder

One of the most under-rated rivers in the south, the Adur, has long been viewed with a degree of ignorance and animosity by many anglers. Perhaps it stems from their inability to get the best from the water, who knows. What is certain though, is that the river is teeming with fish and if you don’t believe me, then ask the anglers who live in the area.

An angler who is more than aware of the rivers potential is Ben McGrath, one of southern England's many gifted anglers. Ben has been pleasure and match fishing the Adur for over 20 years and one of his principle weapons when tackling this river is the pole feeder. On past results it seems hard to fault when you take into account the prevailing tidal problems. The river has a powerful incoming surge and equally pacy ebb, not well suited to normal tactics.

We’ve chosen a section, controlled by Pulborough AS, just upstream of Streatham Bridge, a noted hotspot were Ben hopes to put his winning method for big fish to the test. It’s fair to say that those who know Ben will be aware of a certain lack of tidiness on his part when it comes to fishing. This however has no reflection on his outstanding ability to catch fish from just about any venue he visits.

We arrive at the chosen swim just as the incoming tide nears its peak and Ben quite literally proceeds to spread out and set up. Pole feeder fishing requires certain pieces of equipment not necessarily in most anglers bags. Standard issue is normally a 6 to 8 metre Connoisseur whip, which Ben usually favours, however today his sponsors, Preston Innovations, have issued him with a 7 metre Red Power Margin pole, which Ben reckons will be spot on for this method.

The first task on arrival is to convert the hollow top section into a robust flick tip, which Ben accomplishes in a matter of minutes, despite breaking the first tip, lucky there was a spare one then!  I ask Ben why he uses a flick tip with a heavy groundbait feeder in such a strong pulling river. “With a flick tip you hit a lot more bits because of the positive contact of the line to tip, unlike one which has been elasticated” he says. “It’s different when you’re fishing long pole and short line, it’s not a problem, but when you are fishing to hand you need a positive, firm and direct contact immediately in order to hook the fish”, adding “although this margin pole is not a true whip, it’s incredible strong and light and when I’ve converted it I will have power to deal with any of the rivers lumps, which should pass by”.
Place a drop of super glue about 1 inch down from the top of the tip. Take a piece of silicone rubber and slide it over the tip and position it over the super glue. Seal the ends of silicone with more super glue ensuring that rubber is firmly fixed with no air pockets and allow too dry thoroughly. Attach the twisted line by threading through loop and pulling tight. Thread another longer piece of silicone onto the line and push over the tip down to the glued rubber. Make sure the silicone you use fits tightly over the tip.

Ben attaches his line to the prepared tip by spinning it to form a strong, yet supple bond from tip to rig line. This is then attached behind the glued silicone and another silicone is threaded through the line and then onto the tip to form a neat and flexible attachment.

Check out Animated Knots

“The reason I twist my line is that it gives me extra security while still retaining a degree of flexibility”, Ben explains adding, “I tend to use PI Powerline line which are robust and quite supple. I also use the same line for hooklengths”. I always use a figure of 8 knot to tie the twist off because I’ve found this has better holding qualities over the more conventional double over-hand knot”. The loop formed at the top of the twist then makes attaching to line or swivel much easier”.

Having secured the flick tip Ben now delves into his float box to find a suitable model, “I’m looking for something that’s small, slim and strong which will stay fixed and visible on the line through constant striking and river flow” he says and plucks out a Preston Chianti 4x14. “Perfect, that’ll do the job nicely” Ben says as he attaches it to his 0.19mm mainline.

While Ben sets up, I glance round at the river to find it’s slowing up ready to turn and there are numerous fish topping all around. “We really need to be fishing now as this is the best time, just as the tide starts to slow and turn” Ben says and starts to explain what happens next. “As the salt tide starts to flood in, all the fish get pushed upstream. As they follow up this incoming water they’re constantly feeding so there are not many places better than another as they are moving throughout the whole length. Then, during the last hour of the run, when the tide starts to slow, you see fish topping and everyone gets bites along the length… then the river stops. The fish are still biting while it turns and as it starts to ebb. I believe what happens next is that they all turn round and follow the flow downstream, head first. They don’t want to stop and feed so its no good just chucking a feeder out or balling in because it doesn’t hold them, so you need to maximise your feeding strategy.

To do this effectively here means either constant feeding with small hard balls of crumb while fishing whip to hand, or constant casting with a feeder. The pole feeder, however, is something in between these two. By adopting this method you get feed placed directly on the deck, thereby maximising your feed to fish ratio, something no other method achieves so effectively. However this is not a method for the lazy angler. The routine of filling, casting, striking, unhooking and then repeating the process, usually twice in one minute, over and over again can take a toll on your arm muscles. It’s quite common to get through 4-5 kilos of crumb in a five hour match, as opposed to 7-10 kilos when fishing a running float on whip to hand which is a common tactic here”.

“You must realise that even if there’s a carpet of bait down there, the fish are not interested in staying over it, the only thing that holds them up is that initial deposit of crumb and pinkies emptying out of the feeder. You’ll get a small audience of fish who home in on it for a while before they move off. By constantly fishing the pole feeder in the same spot your targeting each batch of fish as they follow the outgoing ebb, a sort of feeding on the fin! These fish pass everyone lining the bank and various comments like ‘my peg was rubbish’ and ‘there weren’t any fish there’ are simply not true. During a match the same batch of fish have probably passed everyone fishing, it’s just that most of them have been unable to capitalise on that event! As the tide finally gets lower and the flow slows, the fish then tend to drop into specific pockets and bites can dry up if you’re not on one of them”.

Ben’s now ready to attach a small Preston .5gr feeder to a loop he’s made at the end of his mainline. A size 14 PR25 is hand-tied onto about 2 foot of 0.13mm line, in preference to the tying tool which he says leaves a small mark on the line where its been over the holding pins. The ends are twisted again and tied off with a figure 8 knot. Ben fixes the end loop of the hooklength to the feeder’s swivel so it acts as a bolt rig. “These rigs are made as strong as possible to cope with the strain, he says and adds “If I start missing bites then I can put it on the loop or even the line above. “I’m starting positive because I don’t see any point in approaching it differently, this is what this method is all about”.

fillingfeeder6141.jpgfillingfeeder6141.jpg An uncomplicated groundbait mix is knocked up, just a bag each of Secret and River Ace which will give him a sticky and damp mix. “I need it to come out of the feeder and stay on the bottom, if it was too dry then it would float up as it left the feeder, no good in this flowing situation” Ben explains.

The procedure of setting his kit out is a careful one. The banks here, as on any tidal reach, are muddy and you cannot always see the bottom, so Ben feels his way carefully until he finds a suitable hard area and then positions his box and stresses, “when fishing any sort of tidal river it’s imperative that safety is the prime concern, as well as tackle security, so always check your footings first before settling down”.

Having settled down, Ben plumbs up using the feeder as a plummet, it’s very quick and easy. The feeder is filled and two pinkies are hooked up. Ben swings the rig out, about halfway across the river, then sits down and raises the pole to tighten the line so that the float shows just above the waterline. He explains the reason for the float’s presence, as it’s certainly not being used as normal. “If I’m catching silverfish then I fish with the whole float just above the water, which is easier to see than if I just had the tip showing. If bigger fish are present then I will set my float about 18 inches overdepth and allow the float to fall back in the flow, taking up any slack line. Bites will either pull the float under or it will shoot out of the water as the fish dislodges the feeder, similar to when the rod tip drops backs when feeder fishing”.

After around ten casts, lasting all of 4-5 minutes, Ben eventually connects with a small fish, a dace of around 4oz. “I told you it was quick and positive”, Ben says with a smile on his face adding smugly, “normally I’d expect to catch a bit quicker than this but I think we just missed that sweet spot just before the tide actually turned”, he says. Another fish comes in on the next put in, even smaller, than the previous one. The next put in sees the float dink and Ben strikes to see the pole arch over before the rig returns with a large scale impaled on the hook with the pinkies still intact. “What was that,” I asked, “a big skimmer I think” Ben replies.

catching6093.jpgcatching6093.jpgSeveral missed bites and a few small fish later sees Ben express dissatisfaction with the way the feed is emptying from his feeder. “I’ll think I need to change to the more open cage model,” Ben remarks and with that swaps over feeders within a matter of seconds.

The river is dropping now at around 3-4 inches every 15 minutes and the bites are regular, but proving elusive to hit. Ben’s continually casting at a rate of two a minute, even when there is no bite forthcoming. As the drop and flow increases Ben starts to question whether his hooklength is too long, causing him to miss bites. He decides to reposition the hooklength above the feeder loop to take account of the fact that fish may just be sitting off the bottom. The ploy works and small dace, chub, roach and skimmers keep arriving over the next couple of hours. Things still are not perfect though with more missed fish than hooked ones.

“The river’s been in a funny mood all season, most matches are now being won with big carp, not the usual nets of bream”, Ben comments, adding, “maybe we’re just experiencing that changing cycle that affect all venues from time to time”. Believe it or not the two kilo’s of groundbait have almost been used up during the first two hours, testiment to the work rate Ben has put in, approximately two fills every one minute!

A brief top up of fresh crumb gives us another hour of small dace and skimmers before we decide to call it a day. Three hours plus have netted us nearly 8lb of fish, not a bad return for the session. The big skimmers and bream we’d hoped for have just not shown, however its been quite amazing to see how these small fish could register a bite on this method, given the fact that you are holding a taunt line down to a full feeder, on a flowing river!

Ben reflects on the days performance saying, “I think its probably been more a whip to hand day because the fish have been small, the running float may have been a better approach than the pole feeder, which is very hard to beat when the rivers pushing and big fish are around” he says rather disappointingly.

I’m not so sure though, even though Ben was disappointed at not turning in some of the river’s bigger fish I found it fascinating to see just how simple and effective this method was, even on fish smaller than our original targets. It proved incredibly precise by placing the bait and pinning fish consistently in the same area, cast after cast, remarkable given the fact that we’d been fishing a hard flowing tidal river.

This method is not just a quirky fad, I know for a fact it’s equally effective on another southern tidal river, the Kentish Stour so if you enjoy your river fishing then don’t dismiss this valuable technique. One important aspect for our foreign visitors is that this method would be ideal on many of their flowing rivers, like the Seine in particular.