Loose feed vs groundbait

Here is a question for all you coarse anglers out there. What is your decision process when deciding to opt for loose feeding or ground baiting? As a newbie I am still confused about which to use. Due to the lockdown last year there were no other anglers around to learn off of so I have been trying to puzzle all this out on my own.

My coarse angling was confined to natural stillwaters and canals last year and my planned trips to fish the rivers for winter roach this month are obviously on hold due to the pandemic. My target species are roach, bream, hybrids, rudd and perch but being of easy virtue I accept anything that is willing to bite. Bear in mind we don’t have crucians, chub, dace, carp, ruffe or catfish here (Ok so there are a tiny number of carp fisheries in Ireland but none near me). My methods are normally one rod on the waggler and the other either touch legering in the margins or a swimfeeder further out. I don’t fish with the pole. Looking back the float probably catches 60% of the fish, a worm legered in the margins about 30% and a measly 10% fall to the swimfeeder. Maggot tempts most of my fish but the worm is very good too. To date I have found sweetcorn useless and have not tried other baits such as bread, paste or even casters.

Sweetcorn, the only thing I have caught on this was a bloody pike!

From the above is looks to me like I am very inefficient with the swimfeeder and too conservative with my bait choice. Watching videos by expert anglers has confused me more than anything. Do all these fancy groundbaits really make such a difference? Does some mush labelled ‘crab and coconut’ or whatever really drive the fish mad? I am deeply reluctant to fork out 6 or 7 Euro for such smelly delicacies on the off chance they will attract a few fish into a swim. But then again my brown crumb with some maggots approach is none too successful so far. I did reasonably well one day when I added some vanilla to the groundbait but have not had the opportunity to try that experiment again.

Up till now my typical approach is to fire in some balls of groundbait, usually brown crumb with a few maggots, while I am setting up. I will throw in some more balls for the first 20 minutes or so and if I start catching I will either loose feed a trickle of maggots or chuck in the odd ball of groundbait. I must admit this does not seem to work too well as I often catch in short bursts and can’t seem to hold a shoal in front of me. What am I doing wrong? It has crossed my mind that I am overfeeding but judging by the videos it doesn’t look like it. As a rough guide, half a pint of maggots and a small tub of worms will last me a 4 or 5 hour session, usually with some left over. I use a bag of brown crumb in that time too.

I like watching Greame Pullen’s ‘Totally awesome fishing show’, it is both entertaining and informative. He makes up a cheap groundbait based on bran and no.1 horse feed, something I might try this year. None of the tackle shops in the immediate area stock things like groundbait and I have no desire to buy that fancy stuff online. I want to make my own and the TAF recipe looks to be as good as any I have seen.

Watching all those videos I was struck by the fact they are often filmed on days when conditions are perfect. ‘It’s a lovely day on the such-and-such canal’ says the angler sitting on the banks of a picture perfect swim and the water is not the colour of oxtail soup or the wind blowing a hooley (my normal conditions). I am maybe just impatient and just need to stick to the basics and I’ll pick up the tricks of the trade. Any ideas from you guys would be deeply appreciated!

Just a quick update on what is happening here in Ireland. The level 5 lockdown is still in force and is being rigorously enforced by the guards. No travel beyond 5km unless you are travelling to work. That means for virtually all anglers there is no fishing. The death rate and rate of infection are both stubbornly high so it is unlikely the restrictions will be lifted any time soon. Here in Mayo we have some of the highest per capita rates in the country which is a bit scary. Areas like Belmullet have been particularly badly hit.

Stay safe out there!

A further update:

It is the autumn of 2021 and I have had a reasonably successful summer’s coarse fishing. My ‘normal’ ground bait now consists of roughly 40% brown or black crumb, 20% sweetcorn, 20% liquidised biscuits (custard cremes for choice), 10% hemp and 10% casters. This has been slowly refined over a few months and I am pretty happy with it. My coarse angling is on mixed, natural fisheries where roach, bream, perch and tench are the usual species encountered and sometimes rudd and hybrids show up too. My rational for the mix is the crumb provides the base, sweetness comes from the biscuits, hemp to attract the roach and caster + corn to provide particles. Trickling in a stream of loose maggots is my standard approach nowadays and I am finding much greater success than last year.


11 thoughts on “Loose feed vs groundbait

  1. I used to, unless bream were the target, feed loose bait on rivers and groundbait on lakes for no particular reason. Brown crumb is something I mainly use in feeders with worm or corn and has been quite successful. The fancy groundbaits do work when I’ve tried them and clearly work for those that know what they’re doing. I’ve seen ‘dead’ swims brought alive by them. When I’ve talked to decent match anglers their basic guide is a few balls to start with then top up when the bites start to die off.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like good advice. Here in Ireland the thinking is that you can’t over-feed but that is based on bream fishing on the big loughs where attracting a shoal of big bream and then holding them in front of you is the key to success. I just want to keep a few roach interested so I need to scale back from that. A few balls to start with then top us if the bites dry up sounds good to me. The next time I am in a good tackle shop I might invest in a couple of bags of the specialist groundbait, just to give them a try.

      Take care!


      Liked by 2 people

    2. Hi Jorvik

      Re ‘feed loose bait on rivers and ground bait on lakes for no particular reason’ I’ve often done the same and I think one thing with rivers is the fear you ground baiting a swim 20 yards up or down stream of where you are fishing!



  2. Hi Colin

    I’ll chip in some views later in the week (I’ve some running club admin to distract me in the short term) and may witter on a bit too long as ground bait versus loose feed flavouring and particles have been in my mind for a rethink for 2021.


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Colin

    Apologies if this goes on a bit too long, but I’d been thinking about my approach to ground bait, flavours and particles for the forthcoming year, so your question gives me the opportunity to think some things through. Inevitably therefore I will consider chub and carp which isn’t much interest to you in Ireland.

    I’ll start with my still water routine which is I set up the landing net, then the rod, cast out and then mix up ground bait and ground bait to my float. I think the pro approach (and see StevetheAnglers blog) is to ground bait first and cast to the ground bait. My rationale is mainly based on that I fish short sessions so want to get a baited hook in the water asap and that I think the float gives me a marker to aim at. One advantage of my approach is that I think it gives me the opportunity to see what is in the swim without causing a disturbance. I don’t like military analogies but in effect I’m sending in the snipers before the artillery bombardment. Especially if roach are the target I think it is worth a few casts to see what is already there before splashing ground bait in. Generally I’m leaning towards an exploratory 15 minutes or so before scaring any fish already in my swim off by lobbing in ground bait. However, if I was after tench I would still go in the same order but ground bait straight after the first cast as in fairness the experts say tench are attracted to disturbance (as a fly fisher you’ll struggle with that concept). The downside of my approach is that if you ground bait first, fish may be attracted in to your swim whilst you rig up.

    My default ground bait approach on still waters, especially for bream, tench and carp is to follow Ivan Marks’ advice, he was match angler in the 1970s, and initially put in four balls – one just beyond the float one to the left, one to the right and one just short. Any further balls should be smaller and right on top of the float. His principle was that you are trying to get fish in your swim generally rather than trying to get them in a square inch under your float. One other approach that has worked for me in the past, and bear in mind here I’m not an out and out carp angler, is to ground bait several margin swims quite heavily and flit between them over a short session. You need a lake to yourself or at least a fair few vacant swims. The serious bream angler would put in hours of research, plot the bream’s patrol routes and lay a ground bait ambush and wait patiently for hours to then bag up. For me, life is too short for that approach! On rivers there is the conundrum of where you ground bait is going to hit the deck, which is why I fear I resort oh so quickly to a cage feeder on rivers. Talking of which I’ve lost my bait dropper but should probably get a replacement.

    Moving on to loose feed versus ground bait, I think the first point is that the above is predominately aimed at the summer months and that loose feed is predominately a winter tactic. However, as with all statements there are exceptions and one of my better 2020 sessions was on a small pond where I just loose fed as I thought the disturbance factor of ground baiting would be counter productive. One thing I tried once this summer and need to try more in 2021 is to ground bait one swim and loose feed another and flit between them and see how they compare. There are two obvious swims at Mudeford Woods for me to try this (Pegs 6 and 7) which are either side of the same lily pad. One blogger (it may be Fishermanrichard) advocates using only particles for margin fishing and I’m a man of the margins so I need to check this out. Winter loose feeding has been forced on me on a local commercial complex as they have a ground bait ban and I think it has convinced me that I’ll only ground bait sparingly, if at all, on still waters in the winter. When fishing for chub I’ve had most success within a cast or two of settling in a swim, so I’m loath to pile in ground bait until I’ve given each new swim a chance. This is especially so as stealth is important with the wary chub. So I think loose feeding has a role to play on rivers too and if you can afford a gallon of maggot, the same of hemp and 4 pints of casters apparently you can draw chub into your swim!

    What to use as ground bait, well up until about 1990 I used to use simply a 50/50 mix of white and brown crumb and just loose fed hemp and maggots. Then I went through a phase of concocting my own ground baits and now I use fairly basic commercial packs (e.g. Sensas lake or river or what is on the shelf locally) thinned out with brown crumb and crushed Aldi or Lidl ‘weetabix’ with added particles (hemp, sweetcorn, pearl barley plus maggots if I’m fishing with them). One thing I’ve trellised that I’ve stopped doing in recent years is adding crushed hemp, which I think I’ll restart using this summer. If I had all my results to hand for the last 40 years and discounted all other factors I’m not sure there is a strong correlation between the type of ground bait used and the fish caught. If you follow theanglingrev, he does well with just brown crumb laced with maggots. Nor should liquidised bread be overlooked, especially for chub. If you search bjackson1’s blog you’ll find a definitive and thorough method of preparing it. So, am I discounting the salted caramel mocha and cream nut crunch type of ground baits? Not entirely, I’m sure they work for carp but I wonder if they really have an edge for general fishing over and above adding liquid additives to a fairly basic ground bait. I favour liquid sweet molasses or green betaine for ground bait but use predator plus on maggots when after perch. I’ve not tried it for years but turmeric on maggots is rated by quite a few anglers.

    The final conundrum is what to use for particles/loose feed. I lean towards hemp, sweetcorn, pearl barley (flavoured with tumeric) and maggots if I am using them as a hook bait. Basically over than hemp (too fiddly) all the particles I use double as hook baits. If bjackson1 and Stevetheangler join the discussion expect wheat to get a big mention. My use of pearl barley is based on some advice on a club forum and that we had some in the cupboard and it avoided having a rodent attracting bulk sack of wheat in the garage. I think Steve also uses rice and frozen maggots. In the summer I may be tempted to try orzo as a particle.

    Sorry I realise I’ve gone on a bit but wanted to get my thoughts down for my own fishing (it’s all about me) and I also realise my results don’t reflect the thought I put in!



    1. Hi Clive,
      Lots to digest there. I have got into the habit of slinging in a few balls of ground bait as soon as i arrive at the swim, thinking it would give the fish time to home in on it as I am setting up but the idea I could be scaring away fish with the noise makes a lot of sense so I might re-think that strategy. After all, these are essentially ‘wild’ fisheries so splashes from ground bait balls are unlikely to be the ‘dinner gong’ to the fish as they might on a commercial pond.
      Because I habitually use maggots on the hook I like to add some to my ground bait or loose feed them. I will try some other baits when we are allowed to go fishing again. And hemp is very much on my list of ground baits. My idea in using brown crumb was simply because the water and bottom here are very dark and i thought that white crumb would look to alien to the fish (but what do I know!).
      I have bought some turmeric and will try that added to my ground bait too. A lot of anglers seem to recommend it.
      There are a couple of tackle shops over on the east side of the country who specialise in coarse gear and I will visit them later in the year and get some fancy ground bait to try them out.
      The government here has extended the level 5 lockdown at least until the 5th March and are making noises it will go on much longer. No reason to suppose I will see the river bank until May!

      best, Colin

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Colin

        I did used to add black crumb to my home made mixes but a) it is quite hard to find these days and b) it struck me as illogical that I was worried about fish making themselves visible to predators over a white back drop if I also used liquidised bread.

        Although I wittered on a lot above I missed out some stuff – loose feeding to get fish up in the water and fishing on the drop for example.

        Covid is fairly grim here and although the vaccine is the way out of the pandemic, crikey even if we give it the full beans the roll out will take months.

        Stay safe



      2. Any experience with biscuits like custard creams for groundbait? I have seen guys whizzing them up and using them. I thought that would be a relatively cheap way of adding sweet flavour to a ground bait.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Colin

        Custard creams are a new one on me, but ground bait is the best use I can think of for one of my least favourite biscuits. When I was in my ground bait making phase I did use to make a winter cloud bait out of crushed biscuits (digestives?) but cannot quite remember the process. You’ve given me an idea though – my chocolate paste is still in the freezer so maybe adding crushed value bourbons to ground baits has legs.


        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s