Big River Fishing: The Swimfeeder
Patrick Mills, Trevor Burgess, Bob Davenport



Ask any bank angler which type of venue is the most challenging, then "big rivers" will likely be the most common answer. Simply stated, although large rivers are often brimming with fish, strong currents coupled with deep water often render such venues a difficult proposition for the novice angler. How can these obstacles be overcome and the resident bounty of fish then be plundered? The answer lies in the use of a simple, yet ingenious, device known as a swimfeeder.

This Photo Feature details how members of the JJC Anglers Club used a variety of ‘feeder (swimfeeder) based methods to catch good numbers of buffalo, carp, catfish and sheepshead from the Illinois River at Ottawa – read on to find out how this was achieved….

With the river still pushing through strongly after flood, an area just beyond the marginal shelf ('x' marks the spot!) at ~10 yards out was targeted for fishing. Dry groundbait, consisting of bread crumbs, cornmeal and other ‘goodies’ (details at the groundbait page) were added to shallow round container. A small amount of river water, or flavored ‘groundbait water’ brought from home, is slowly added to the dry groundbait ingredients.
The groundbait and water is mixed vigorously to a fluffy consistency. Some hook bait samples are then added, in this case corn. The finished product – note the light / fluffy texture of the mix, interspersed with a good helping of corn hook bait samples. Options: a groundbait feeder (left) or a method feeder (right). Both work well, with the groudbait feeder more suited to the fluffy mix prepared.
The loaded feeders. The groundbait feeder (left) is better suited to carrying a fluffy mix to the bottom on rivers. The classic running river feeder rig - very similar to a standard catfish rig, but with the sinker replaced by a feeder (courtesy Trev’s rig: Similar to the classic rig show in the diagram, except the added beads and swivel form an anti-tangle boom, to which the hook leader is attached.
The loaded rig. The hook leader is 2.5 ft of 8 lb test mono to a size 10 hook holding two grains of corn. The mainline is 10 lb mono, with the feeder a medium size 1 oz model. The loaded rig is gently swung to the fishing area, touching down just over the marginal shelf and slightly down stream of the angler. The line is gently tightened to the feeder with the rod held high and angled slightly upstream – this creates ~90o angle between tip and line, better for detecting bites.
Watch the tip for takes – a couple of quick taps followed by a steady pull usually indicates a take. ‘Swirling’, slow indications are due to the current and should be ignored. The first fish of the day, a small channel cat, came on the first cast – only 15 seconds after the feeder had settled! IMPORTANT: Recast with a loaded feeder every 10 – 15 minutes to continually attract fish. Bigger fish will quickly 'bump' out the smaller specimens.
A ‘stamp’ Buffalo of ~2 lb comes to the net. These abundant shoal fish were the most frequently caught on the day. Bob elected to sit it out on the ‘method’ for larger fish. The ‘method’ feeder is a dedicated big fish tactic that is especially good for carp. The method rig: A stiff groundbait is molded around the cage – this approach works best for larger fish, which ‘attack’ the feed ball (picture courtesy
Bob was rewarded the biggest fish of the day – carp to 8 lb, plus action from a few ‘subs’ that snapped his line! I swear one of them had USSR painted down the side! Sport slowed later in the day as both light levels boat traffic increased. Switching to a smaller size 14 hook and a single grain of corn quickly brought the fish back. The end result – three very happy anglers with a 40+ fish (~90lb) haul of buffalo, carp, catfish and sheepshead.

Pat’s Notes

The river had been flooded over its banks for the previous week, but had now returned to near normal levels. Since the main channel was still pushing through quite strongly, we elected to target the base of the nearside shelf with our feeder attack. This made sense, as the ‘L’ shaped bottom contour would afford the fish some shelter against the higher than normal flow (pic. 1).

Trev elected to fish the groundbait feeder coupled with a reasonably ‘fluffy’ groundbait laced with corn. (pics 2-10). The groundbait feeder is ideal for this style of fishing, as it holds the groundbait in place for casting, but then allows it to be quickly washed from the feeder upon settling on the river bed. Since the hook bait is attached to a trace that sits directly behind the feeder (2.5 feet in this case), the released groundbait and free offerings waft enticingly downstream over the anglers bait. IMPORTANT: It takes between 5 and 10 minutes for the feeder to empty, so the feeder should be refilled and recast every 10 – 15 minutes, regardless of whether or not the bait is taken by a fish (pic. 11).

After casting out the rod is placed high in the rests pointing slightly upstream (pic 12); the line is then tightened to the feeder so a slight bow develops in the rod tip (pic. 13). This procedure ensures a near 90O angle between line and tip, which is best for spotting takes. Bites on the ‘feeder typically feature one or two sharp taps at the tip followed by a steady pull. ‘Swirling’, slow indications at the tip are due to the current and should be ignored.

Sport was instant - the fish were indeed concentrated at the base of the shelf! Trev hooked his first fish after only 15 seconds (pic 14). As more bait was introduced to the swim through frequent casting, the fishing got better and better as more fish were attracted to the groundbaited area. As is often the case, smaller fish were quickly ‘bumped’ from the fishing area by larger specimens (pics 15-16). IMPORTANT: This effect most often happens only when the feed is concentrated in one small area, thus the frequent casting associated with this method also needs to be accurate.

In contrast to Trev’s groundbait feeder approach, Bob elected to use a method feeder (pic. 17). The method feeder works very differently to the groundbait feeder. Instead of using a fluffy groundbait that slowly releases over time, a very firm ball of groundbait is molded around the cage of the method feeder (pics 5-7). The hook bait is attached to a short fixed trace, literally inches from the ball (pic.18). After casting, the method ball forms a mound of food on the bottom that bigger fish find irresistible! Typically, larger fish (such as carp) will attack the method ball – this results in firm pulls and taps at the rod tip that should not be struck. When the fish picks up the anglers bait, it hooks itself against the weight of the feeder and will bolt – the rod being wrenched from the anglers hand is a sure indication that a method fish is hooked (pic. 19)! Frivolity aside, the rod should not be left unattended when method fishing, as there is a good chance it will be pulled in if a large fish is hooked!

Clearly, the groundbait and method feeders both catch fish, but in different ways. The groundbait feeder is very versatile and will catch fish of any size; while the method feeder is more of a big fish technique. These facts were born out in practice by Trev and Bob’s respective results. Trev’s groundbait feeder accounted for a greater number or generally smaller fish; while Bob’s method feeder accounted for a lesser number of real whoppers!

While a fraction of my day was spent photographing Trev and Bob, I did manage to catch a few fish using a hybrid feeder rig of sorts (pic. 20). My rig featured a groundbait feeder, but with a short fixed trace. Thus, the rig caught fish of all sizes (like the groundbait feeder), but also promoted very positive takes (like the method feeder) – great for lazy anglers such as myself!

Our fishing session lasted from 8:00 am until around 1:00 pm. Later in the day, likely because of the bright conditions and increased boat traffic (it was Labor Day weekend – lots of speed boats booming 80’s pop at 120 dB) the fishing started to drop off a little. However, switching to a more subtle set up (size 14 hooks with single corn baits in place of size 10 or 12 hooks with 2 grains) brought the fish roaring back. Indeed, our most productive time was likely in the hour before packing up. The three of us totaled a final weight of ~90 lbs of fish (pic 21), made up mostly of buffalo in the 2 – 3 lb range and carp to 8 lb. A few small catfish and sheapshead were also caught on worms, with most of the larger fish falling to corn baits.

Feature Facts

Venue: Illinois River at Allen Park, Ottawa, IL

Date: September 2nd, 2007

: Sunny, with temperatures reaching the mid 80s. The river was coming down after heavy flooding - pace and depth were somewhat greater then normal.

: Trevor Burgess, Bob Davenport, Pat Mills

Words and Pictures: Pat Mills

Other Resources: Wacker Baits, Benwick Sports – both great places to buy dedicated feeder tackle; (of course!), our home website.

Questions? E-mail Pat (, or ask a question at the Bankfisher Forum.