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Introducing loose feed?

Rob Paylor

Senior Member
Hi everyone,

I'm going to ask this stupid question as feeding a swim with free offerings isn't something I'm skilled at, at all!

I'm OK throwing a few freebie boilies in every 20 minutes/half hour, but often left feeling that i'm missing a trick by not feeding more in the way of loose hemp/pellet etc. I lack the confidence to try through fear of introducing loose feed where my hook bait isn't!

I've had many recent examples of barbel I've caught crapping hemp and other stuff from my groundbait mix out all over the mat, but this only ever gets introduced in small quantities via a swim feeder. I'm left feeling that had I put a bit more bait out, it may have pulled an extra fish or two in.

So with the above insight into my total lack of skill to feed a swim, are there any tips to help me deliver loose bait to the same area i'm fishing? I've bought myself a small spopper which looks just the job, and I also have a heavy'ish bait dropper, but how do I know where to cast these to deliver bait to the same area I cast a feeder and hook bait to?

I totally understand that depth and flow make this an open ended question (stretches I fish are generally on the deeper side and reasonable to steady pace), but are there any general rules of thumb for how you would decide to feed a swim? I'd be interested to know and gain some confidence to do the same ;)

Thanks! :)

Richard Isaacs

Senior Member
I never throw bait in rob. It’s just far too inaccurate regarding where it’s going to actually get held up.
A bait dropper or spopper is definitely the tool for the job if your feeder or pva bag isn’t enough for you.
I fish to a line* in the river. *a particular part of the flow a certain distance out.
I feed the same line with a device that will put the bait on the bottom but I’ll always feed upstream from where I’m casting. With the best will in the world your bait is still going to move down stream before getting held up.
How far???? Depends on the flow
This time of year the nene is quite slow and I’m happy casting a dropper no more than 3-6ft up stream from where my hook bait will be, taking into consideration of a stretched out hook length.
If it’s powering through it could be much further. If I’m fishing a dead slack usually in winter then I’m pretty much on top of it.
As always ...... many ways to skin a cat.
Don’t forget though, you can always add a bit more but you can’t take it back. Feed accordingly to the activity you can potentially generate.
I’m never going to build up an active large shoal of barbel in the nene I’m fishing for single fish , 2 being a cracking session so my feeding is done very gingerly

Terry Simner

Senior Member
I don't see it as a "silly question" @Rob Paylor as it has no definitive answer ...and all we can do is muse over it. It's an age-old question but I do agree with the gist of Richard's approach .... I pick a line and feed it, not all in one place but for a short distance along that line. I'll feed immediately on arrival, wait 30-45mins, then cast towards to the top of that line (with usually a PVA bag, sometimes a feeder) and also well below it. Most, if not all, of your feed will be most probably eaten by fish which are not your 'target', but (for example) if barbel see chub happily feeding, then they'll (hopefully) feel more confident in doing so. And, if you can induce 'competitive feeding' then a lot of caution may be 'thrown to the wind' (or current? 🤪 )

Alex Constantinou

Senior Member
My baiting approach varies massively from venue to venue. It can range from a few broken boilies over a large area to a bed of hemp & pellet via a bait dropper.

In very general terms if I'm fishing a small venue with low stock I like to lightly bait a few swims by hand and rove between them, if fishing up to two rod lengths out/in deeper water/or if accuracy is required I'll use a bait dropper with anything outside of that being feeder or pva work. There will be times when things cross over, there are times when I won't introduce any feed, but whatever'm doing I always work on the basis that you can always put more in but can't take it out again.
The long and short of it is there's no simple answer to the question and everyone will have different ways of approaching the subject but I hope this is of some use at least.

Alex Gowney

Senior Member
One thing you need to remember when using a bait dropper in a faster flow. When the dropper hits the bottom raise the rod tip very slowly to release the bait. Any sharp movement will propel the bait high in the water and it will land a long way below where you want it to. I have observed this in clear water and it's surprising how a careless lift of the rod will spin the bait dropper up and disperse the bait everywhere, especially maggots due to their buoyancy.

Alex Warren

Senior Member
Definitely not a silly question. I’m looking forward to seeing other’s opinions here. I’ll second everything @Richard Isaacs said. Particularly the feeding a line statement. As you’ve said, there are a few variables involved regarding where to drop and where to cast, but with a bit of intuition, knowledge of depth and flow (and practice) you’ll get it right. It looks like you’re already catching a few, so you’ll be able to ring the changes.

A baitdropper was my preferred method before I got my Spopper made and delivered. I’ve found the Spopper advantageous in a few areas. Firstly, in spite of their bomb shape and slightly cumbersome appearance, they ‘go in’ with considerably less commotion than a traditional dropper. Secondly, they actually deploy exactly where they land. Having used baitdroppers in very clear water and seen a bit of underwater footage, they probably only deploy when they hit the river bed 25% of the time, the rest of the time, they land flat and deploy when lifted and dropped again. If that lift is not executed gently and/or you’re baiting a fast flowing swim, the payload is caught in the flow and it’s off. Still better than baiting by hand, but defying the purpose if you’re looking for a relatively compact baited area. Thirdly, you can fit a fair amount more in and still retain accuracy.

I think a fair number of anglers also underestimate the effect that flow has on baits such as pellets, round/barrel shaped baits and groundbait and even hemp (the best at staying put, along with half boilies). Substrate type is more of a variable than flow, I think. On rocky bottomed rivers, baits will invariably get held up somewhere, but may travel a fair bit before they do and without going out with a snorkel or underwater camera, it’s guess work as to where that will be. Pellets will behave in the same manner, but once they take on a bit of water, they become more buoyant and less inclined to stay where you want them. These effects are accentuated the finer the substrate. There’s a section on the Barbel Days and Ways DVDs that shows this very clearly.

I will occasionally bait by hand, if I’m fishing a very clear run and can see where the pellets are dropping. This feeding application is normally in response to a fish that I’ve seen and is normally 2/3 pellets every 4-5 minutes until I’ve got the fish confidently feeding, which can take hours before I feel I’m ready to risk putting a rig in. I’m pretty rubbish at this though (impatient bugger).

Richard Parsons

Senior Member
I do feed by hand, and reckon (based on my catches) that it's not a wasted effort. Feeding a line is excellent advice and as we all know the flow on the riverbed is somewhat slower than it may appear on the surface - thus, once the freebies reach a certain depth they're likely to drop more vertically and stay put (not 100% of them, obviously). I don't use a feeder or pva mesh, but sometimes pva string with three boilies, attached to the bend of the hook. I must say that, based on your river report posts, Rob, you seem to be doing rather well already! :)

Edit: I should also add that I don't think the proximity of the hook bait to the freebies is as critically important as some may think. As well as directing the fish to the general area, freebies are also meant to encourage feeding, when fish may not be already.

Richard Isaacs

Senior Member
My opinion is a little different from that, but like I said...... many ways to skin a cat.
I’m speaking purely from my own preferred style of fishing (small rivers targeting single Specimen fish)
I’ve spent a bit of time Underwater filming barbel especially this year when I can find them and conditions allow.
I’ve collected a fair bit of footage which has had some influence on my own methods of loose feeding.
They don’t feed all day and they don’t feed all night!
They give you a window. It could be 10mins it could be 5 hours. The point being it’s a window of opportunity and the power of accuracy can offer a good edge especially if you want a daytime specimen when these windows are shorter and the distance they are prepared to move generally much shorter also.
We all agree loose feed has pulling power!
We all agree other fish feeding has pulling power!
So it makes sense in my mind to do the best you can to use that pulling power to encourage feeding Where you want it. Ie hookbait.
I personally don’t see any advantage in throwing loose feed unless you can physically see or know for a fact where it’s journey ends or you are following it down the line with a moving bait.

If I have a 12lb fish in my swim that’s prepared to kindly give me an hour of her time I’d rather that hour was spent with her nose routing round near my hook bait than watching the chub pick off my freebies above her head.
I don’t use feeders or bags and as above I do like a few half boilies lined up on a stringer. I love hemp seed as my pulling power. And I do everything within my capabilities to get it down on the deck exactly where I want it.
Rest the swim then place my hook bait in amongst it.
I’m certainly no casting king and mistakes happen, tolerances allowed n all that.

I’m a methodical person anyway. Not just in fishing but generally.
I like tactics, plans, reasons why, and because of this I like to go home thinking “I fished well today”. Even if I blank (certainly not uncommon 😳)
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Jim Mileman

New Member
Sorry to go off topic slightly but can I ask where you are getting your Spoppers from? I can't see them on the SFUK website nor does a Google search provide any useful results :(


Dave Quinn

Senior Member
Does anybody use balls of groundbait with pellets and hemp? If it’s mixed to the right consistency wouldn’t it get the bait down in the right place?

Richard Isaacs

Senior Member
Does anybody use balls of groundbait with pellets and hemp? If it’s mixed to the right consistency wouldn’t it get the bait down in the right place?
Yeah it think it’s a very popular method on rivers like the Wye where you can really build a bumper shoal on the right day but as terry said you’ll end up going home looking like a painters radio if those bream twig on to it.

Terry Simner

Senior Member
no need to overcomplicate it imo, a simple feeder rig does the job.
I agree, to a degree @Cliff Turner ... but you hear people say "To get a good bed of groundbait down I cast out a packed feeder 20 times before putting a hook link on". Now maybe that can be a more precise way of baiting up, but only if you're willing to wait a fair while (esp in slow water) between casts to make 100% sure that feeder has emptied its contents on the bottom before reeling in (especially if feeder is "packed") In some situations 'balling in' can be more precise, and a 'bed' can be established in a shorter time ... then maybe topped up via a full feeder every cast. IMO.