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Hi all,

I am relatively new to fishing specifically for barbel, having fished for just about everything that swims in the past and now kitted myself out to have a serious go on the rivers this year.

My question is about loose feeding by hand, understandably you can create a concentrated area of feed on the river bed using a feeder or dropper but is it completely guess work when feeding by hand?

If I was fishing a river with say a good 6ft of water on and normal levels pushing through how far upstream would I feed? Different baits would have to be fed at different distances. It sounds like complete mine field to me and I feel I'd be more likely to spread the bait all over the river than feed where I want!

It depends on the bait used, the flow, the barbel population, the pressure on the fish, the way you intend to fish.

Large baits like boilies or heavish like pellets and hemp. Whether a pva mesh approach etc.

The differing flows by swim, the type of bottom eg mud or rocky or gravel etc.

The fact of whether there is a good head of fish or a hard water with big few fish

Whether you intend to ledger or float fish or freeline etc.

Bit more info needed from you please.


Joe Fletcher

No Longer a Member
It depends on what river you are fishing ? On a river like the Lower Severn where you would only fish a couple of rod lengths out ? I would use a bait dropper ?
Phil, what have you against using a feeder or a dropper? If you don't want to overfeed the fish, use a big cage feeder and pack your pellets/boilies in so that they don't come out. That way you are leaving a trail of scent which the fish may home in on and therefore find your bait on the way to it.

Alternatives: PVA stringers/bags.
Short answer is yes, it is guesswork which is why quite a few have recommended a bait dropper. You can adapt or make your own to suit your needs - I fish the Thames and use one that can drop over a pint on the river bed. I use my spod rod due to the weight when the bait dropper is full, but closer in or on smaller rivers I use a standard size dropper via my barbel rod.

It's the only real way to be 100% sure where the feed will end up.

Mark Swaby

Senior Member
Bait dropper if river is a normal level with small baits.Boilies and pellets can be thrown by hand,pva bag or droppered. Drop a couple of baits in the margin and see how fast they sink and feed accordingly if you want to hand feed.On flowing rivers it does not make much difference how far you feed upstream,the freebies will follow the flow, moving downstream on the bottom until they hold up, or keep rolling.Its more important to feed a line and put your bait/feed on that line,the fish will find the feed lane as they move upstream.If the river is up and flooded, stick to a large smelly bait and go and find your fish,unless you know the areas they hold in when it floods,they rarely change
Thanks for the responses.

I am based in the northwest so primarily the Ribble and on occasion the Dane so two very different rivers.

It's not that I had anything against using the feeder or dropper I had just seen people putting bait in by hand and I could never get my head around how they were sure where to feed. Also keeping disturbance down to a minimum was an idea I had while the rivers are likely to be low early season.

Thanks Mark, that has given me more confidence and makes sense ensuring that you are feeding in a line to concentrate the fish coming up the flow.

Think I'll invest in a dropper and take it from there.

Mark Swaby

Senior Member
Barbel are weird and what works one week can fail the next,they learn by their mistakes.Once in a while try feeding by hand but introduce your bait first.It can be a bit like ringing the dinner bell and can sometimes work.The bigger fish sometimes understand that when the bait goes in, its free until you cast in. I have seen them come into the baited area like rockets,eat like they were starving,until the lead (carefully)went in, then go from the swim without returning.
I often feed by hand (catapult) just to get some bait scent in the river, you don't really need to be too accurate as the fish will hopefully start searching out bait once they've got the taste.