By Mark Cleaver - 2004

How do they do it? Why do they do it? What pleasure do those little fishes derive from devouring something that resembles a brown piece of concrete? Maybe that’s the next IN bait, yes! pop up flavoured concrete. Or maybe we could hair rig a couple of flavoured Paracetamol. Or bait band a spangle. Do they still make Spangles? The mind boggles.

Seriously though, I am talking about the recent upsurge in the use of pellets in all their varieties and forms. My recent experience has led me to conclude that they are one of the most effective and convenient baits I have ever used. I finally got my head out of the sand, after dabbling with their use for ages. God knows I avoided using them for long enough. I refused to be convinced that they were more effective than traditional baits such as luncheon meat, sweetcorn etc. This all stemmed back to when I was fishing the Lower Severn during Autumn 2000. It was about that time that anglers were starting to use them more frequently on the river. Their increased popularity was co-incident with an Angling Times article featuring a couple of anglers, who had caught a number of big barbel up to 14lb plus. The successful technique was hair-rigged pellet fished method feeder style using fishmeal based ground bait. From then on, everybody seamed to be using pellets. However during this period I continued using large pieces of flavoured meat and between September 30th and October 28th I caught 63 barbel. Anglers using pellet were catching, but not to the same extent as myself.

Following on from my success on the Lower Severn, I decided to make a move onto the Tidal Trent. Anglers had been using pellets on the Trent for a couple of seasons. Several articles appeared in the press regarding the use of pellets for barbel. In particular Elips pellets proved to be popular. I persevered with meat, but did start to experiment with different types of pellet to supplement my usual mix of hemp, diced meat and corn in my feeder. I tried scopex squid flavoured pellets, luncheon meat flavoured pellets, monster crab flavoured pellets. There was no discernible improvement in my catch rate at the time. However I had not yet developed enough confidence to use pellets as hook bait. It was not until the beginning of the 2002 season that I decided to experiment with them as hook bait. Nutrabait had been promoting their new Trigger range of pellets, boilies, carpet feed, flavours etc. So I decided to give them a whirl. I used a mixture of 3mm and 6mm Trigger pellets in the feeder, whilst for hook bait I mounted a couple of Trigger Specialist Pellet hookbaits on a hair rig. I used the Trigger bait over several sessions and failed to get a single bite. So I decided to kick them into touch and go back to meat again. It was another couple of months before I summoned up any more enthusiasm for the pellet. During one session, I speculatively hair rigged a donkey choker pellet on a second rod, whilst fishing meat on the other rod. After about half an hour I decided to replace the donkey choker with a piece of meat. However before I could do so the rod caved in. Success at last! A nice fish graced the net weighing in at 9lb 5oz. During this session I struck up a conversation with another angler who was walking the bank. He said that he was catching on high oil trout pellets. He even drove home and came back with a few so that I could try them. Nice gesture I thought. However after my Trigger experience, I was still sceptical and only tried them as a change bait, without any concentrated effort.

It was not until the beginning of the 2003 season that I really decided to give them serious attention. My first session was on the Dove using sweetcorn where I duly blanked. So for my first session on the Trent I made myself a promise to persevere with pellets through hell or high water (hopefully high water). I purchased a range of high oil trout pellets. I used a mixture of 3mm, 4mm and 6mm pellets in the feeder, while bait banding two 14mm pellets on a size 4 Drennan Continental. What a success story! I had arrived on the riverbank at 5 30pm, and by 6 30pm I was putting the net under a beautiful 10lb 14oz whiskers. I took my young son with me the next session. He had been using flavoured meat all day and blanking. I caught an 8lb 9oz fish on double pellet, and suggested he bait band a couple on his hook. Within ten minutes of casting in, his rod zapped over and after a good tussle he placed a 9lb 11oz fish on the bank. This was his new personal best, and as you can imagine he was over the moon. Since then I have never looked back. As well as catching on high oil trout pellets, I am also catching on marine pellets. I initially experimented using boilies and HNV paste on a second rod. The second rod remained motionless, while all the action came with the pellet rod. There was an example recently, where I was fishing HNV paste on a second rod with no success. I replaced the paste with pellet, and within half an hour the second rod produced an 8lb 04 oz fish, which was followed later by a 10lb 8oz fish. I have reached the stage where I now use pellet on both rods with no inkling to try the likes of meat or corn etc. At the time of writing this article I have fished 19 sessions using pellets, and I am learning all the time. I am sure that many of you are far further up the learning curve than myself regarding the use of pellets, and I have read some fine articles on the subject. However during my initiation into the use of pellets, I have made some observations and discoveries that may be of value to the reader. I apologise in advance if some of the following is teaching you to suck eggs. Well I had to pad the article out somehow didn’t I?

1.0 Versatility

Pellets have got to be the most versatile bait I have ever used. Just consider the following,
a) They are not greatly affected by hot weather, as are luncheon meat, sweet corn, maggots, casters, worms, bread, paste etc.
b) They are less prone to the ravages of time. They don’t go off, and therefore they can be bought in bulk and stored. There is no need to freeze them.
c) They can be purchased in a range of sizes and flavours, which gives endless combinations of hook and bait presentation.
d) They do not appear to attract much attention from the dreaded eel, as they are probably too hard for them to chew on. The same should apply to you lads that are fishing waters inflicted with signal crays or mitten crabs.
e) As of yet the barbel where I am fishing do not appear to spook on them. Both my son and I have caught the same fish within a week of each other, and I have heard of other probable repeat captures.
f) They can be attached to the hook in a variety of ways including bait banding, hair rig, stiff rig, bait band hair rig combination, superglued, popped up, bogey, medusa etc.
g) They can be used for baiting up in any number of ways including the following.

  • Used dry
  • Simple hand fed
  • Catapult
  • Bait dropper
  • Swim Feeder (Either on their own or mixed with other particles)
  • PVA Funnel web system
  • PVA bags weighted with stones. PVA string can be used for donkey chokers
  • Spodding
  • Throwing sticks
  • Blowpipe. (Joke really! But you never know in those crawl through swims, I have been known to frequent)
  • Used wet: Similar to above apart from PVA techniques for obvious reasons, and forget the blowpipe!

Additionally the following can be considered for wet applications

  • Blanched and used with cage or method feeders
  • Ground up and used as a base for making paste
  • Ground up and used for ground bait
  • Flavoured.

2.0 Economy

I find them to be far more economical that other baits. They are relatively cheap when bought in bulk, which makes pre-baiting a less costly affair. Also there is no waste at the end of a session.

3.0 Hints and tips

While exploiting the use of pellets I have made a number of discoveries that should be of benefit to the reader.

Bait bands:

My preferred method is to use the bait band as opposed to the hair rig. I have had occasions when using the hair where fish have been very lightly hooked, and the odd fish have come off.

There are a number of different bait bands on the market and most are an absolute rip off. I think the best ones are made from Latex, which has a good stretch factor. I personally would not use the John Roberts band as they hardly stretch or grip. I broke the first three before I succeeded in actually putting a pellet on. At £1.60 for twenty you want value for money. The Drennan bands appear to be slightly better than the John Roberts, but again are expensive at 95 pence for ten. The best ones I have found are sold by Daves of Middlewich (their own brand) and are brilliant. You can get a hundred for £2.99. Stapley Tackle also does something similar. Of the main tackle suppliers Gardner sell a good band for a reasonable price. These come in quantities of 100 in a useful little container. It may be worthwhile cutting your own bands if you can find flexible tube with the necessary stretch. I like to wrap the band over the pellet as many times as possible, usually two or three times. As the pellet starts to break done the band still exerts a good grip and does not work loose as happens when stretched over the pellet once. This is particular good when night fishing, when replacing pellets can be a pain. I have caught fish on pellets that have almost completely broken down, with very little material left in the band. So the more wraps the better.


My current favoured presentation is to use two 14mm pellets mounted in tandem on a number 4 Drennan Continental hook. When using pellets there is always the danger of masking the hook. Ever had one of those massive bites only to strike on fresh air? Sometimes it is the fish taking the feeder, but also it’s when the hook has been masked. When using two pellets the danger is increased. In order to get over this problem I have developed a little technique. If you closely examine the typical high oil or marine pellet you will notice that there is a convex end and a flat end. Make sure you position both pellets with the flat ends facing each other. Then you moisten both flat surfaces and proceed to rub the surfaces against each other until they fuse together. This action holds the pellets together when casting, and more often than not they are retrieved fused together. I normally use saliva to moisten the pellet face (yuk). I will try superglue instead to see if that works. The combination of fusing the pellets together and multiple wraps with the bait band helps reduce masking.

Pellet Types:

As stated above I have dabbled with a number of different types of pellets, but my current favourites are the basic High Oil Trout Pellets and Marine Pellets made by BBPC. I have not tried the Elips or High Betaine HC1 as yet. I will undoubtedly experiment in the future, but I won’t be using Trigger pellets again. My motto is if it’s not broken don’t fix it. One thing I have noticed is that the High Oil Trout pellets do not crumble as easy as the Marine Pellets when drilling them. They must have a slightly different consistency. Also make sure you pick the nice round pellets for hook bait. A lot of pellets are not fully formed and flat in places on the circumference. I have noticed this more with the Marine Pellets as opposed to the High Oil Trout Pellets. I may have just got a bad batch, or it may be wear in the packet. I don’t think there are any sell by dates on the packets to tell you how long they have been on the shelf. One thing’s for sure, the longer on the shelf the worst the actual condition of the pellets will be due to man handling. Try and buy as new as possible.

Pellets and braid:

I am one of those anglers who like to use a braided hook length. This enables me to give fine presentation, while using heavy breaking strain line. Typically 15lb main line with 15lb braided hook length. For 5 years I have used Kryston Supanova, which is very subtle and does not catch on your fingers or the little indentation you get on the eye of the hook, which is formed during the manufacturing process. However since I have been using pellets I have changed tactics. I have noticed that the braid appears to wear about two inches above the hook. The wear is only slight but it definitely reduces the breaking strain. It has never happened before and only occurred since using the High Oil or Marine pellets. It took me a while to work out what the probable cause is. As you are manipulating the pellets when putting them on the hook, your fingers collect pellet dust, which is like sand. I believe that the dust on your fingers damages your braid. I have tried experiments, and it is surprising the damage it causes. This dust can cause microscopic damage to the filaments of the braid. In order to overcome the problem I have changed to using Kryston Mantis. This has a plastic coating that can be removed if necessary to expose an inner more flexible braid. I strip away approximately 15mm of plastic coating just above the hook thus giving it the qualities of normal braid. The area above no longer gets worn because of the plastic coating. Kryston Mantis also gives an added benefit of almost eliminating tangles, which can be an occasional problem when using pellets and feeder. The other option is to keep your hands clean but I am taking no chances.

That little bit extra:

None of us can resist it can we? I often soak my pellets in pure salmon oil to give it that little extra. It probably makes no difference what so ever as it will float to the surface. Who cares if it gives a bit more confidence. Occasionally I drill a couple of holes in each pellet and glug them in a flavour. The flavour soaks into the holes and you get extra attraction.

The future:

Probably the introduction of more designer pellets. All sorts of exotic flavours, enhancers, essential oils etc. I notice that Kryston have brought out a new product called Doppel-Ganger, which is an innovative type of halibut pellet putty, which is buoyant and can be used for moulding pop up pellets. The putty is supposed to possess all the same taste and attractiveness as halibut pellets. They do a similar product for sweetcorn. Its expensive but I may try some. I think the real future from the anglers’ point of view is the introduction of a device that enables the angler to make his own pellets of any size and composition. A bit like the situation with boily roller boards, bait guns etc. Go on! Tell me that something already exists. If there is something please let me know, as I would like to get my hands on one.


I did not realise that something as humble as a pellet could command so much of my attention. I may have been a little late getting on board the pellet train, but I am now making up big style.