20 YEARS ON... EXPANDERS ARE BACK!
Steve looks back two decades to the creation of a bait that’s still deadly today…
THE expander pellet as we know it came out about by accident!
I was studying at Sparsholt College and at the end of a feed trial I’d managed to grab what was left of the pellets used. There was a match at Castle Ashby’s Grendon Pond, and I thought they’d be perfect for the resident carp.
However, on arrival at the venue I quickly discovered a huge problem – all the pellets floated!
I hadn’t checked what they were and just assumed they were hard pellets, which would sink. This, of course, left me with no bait to feed so all I could think to do was to soak them and see if I could make them sink.
After a while they had all swelled up, and after giving them a good squeeze they sank – thankfully!
I was back in business and went on to win the match feeding what would quickly become known as expander pellets.
From that point on my brother Phil and I had a great run of results feeding expanders on several different venues. Eventually, though, the secret leaked out and others latched on to the fact we had different pellets to everyone else on the bank.
With demand for the pellets being so high, Phil sourced them and began bagging them himself and selling them to local tackle shops. That was the beginning of Ringer Baits as we know it.
DAD KNOWS BEST…
The funny thing about those early expander pellets is that for probably three months we only fed them. It never occurred to us to actually put one on the hook!
Back then we would feed expanders and fish paste on a waggler over the top. Then one day my dad sat behind me at Castle Ashby when, despite having a peg full of carp, I was struggling to catch them on paste.
Dad picked up a 6mm expander and said: “Have you ever tried one on the hook?” I quickly reeled in and nicked a 6mm expander on. Straight away I remember thinking how easy they were to hook.
Out went the waggler and, as I went to sink the line, I nearly lost the rod as a carp hooked itself!
The transformation of my swim was unreal, and I went from nowhere to framing in the last hour as carp after carp sucked in a hooked expander pellet.
Looking back, I have no idea why I never hooked one on earlier but one thing’s for sure, their effectiveness on the hook has to be seen to be believed.
From that point on I did loads of waggler and expander fishing and caught a lot of carp in the process.
Then, for various reasons, the tactic tailed off. I think the biggest factor was the advent of fishery own pellets. All of a sudden you couldn’t feed expanders, which was a major part of the tactic.
However, times have changed and there are plenty of waters which allow you to do this again. If you get the opportunity, you’ll find it’s still a fantastic way to fish!
You need only one bait, a bag or two of 6mm expander pellets.
I’ve used loads of different types and sizes over the years but at the moment I’m using Ringers Ultimate Koi Expanders. Once
prepared these are a bit more rubbery in texture and lend themselves perfectly to waggler work. Preparing expanders to ensure they sink is dead simple – all you need is a pellet pump!
Remember, the less you pump the more compact they will be. Pumping pellets to excess actually breaks them down and will leave you with a pile of expander mush two hours into a session.
I like to put the pellets in the pump, fill it with water and give the plunger half a pull. I then remove the plunger, top the pump back up again with water (you’ll find the level has dropped), then give the pellets a single pump which should see them all sink.
To fish the waggler and expander I’d say you want three to four pints of prepared expanders, so you’ll have to pump six to eight batches of pellets to get that amount.
MY SIMPLE SET-UP
When I first started fishing the expander I used traditional peacock wagglers but now I’ve switched to Drennan’s more modern Loaded Peacock Glow Tip versions. Size of float depends on the distance I want to fish, but one tip I can give you is always to go a size bigger than you need.
A slightly heavier float makes casting that little bit easier, with less chance of casting the expander off the hook. The cast can be kept slow and smooth, which is the secret to keeping the pellet on. On the subject of casting it’s
worth mentioning that a low diameter mainline also helps, and it’s for this reason that I use 5lb Guru Pulse line.
I prefer a loaded float– first it casts a dream and second, it means I don’t have to put big shot on the mainline.
Instead I only have four No8 shot around the float.
I don’t put any shot down the line but do use a size 16 quickchange swivel. This not only acts as a weight, but also gives me the ability to change my hooklength quickly and efficiently in the course of a session.
On the subject of hooklengths,
I like to use 12ins of 0.16mm Pure Fluorocarbon to a size 12 F1 Pellet hook.
A size 12 might seem like a big hook, but I like it because I can thread the expander on to it and this helps it stay on when you’re casting – something that can’t often be said with smaller hooks.
Finally, when it comes to plumbing the depth, I always do so with a swan shot. Casting a plummet out is only likely to spook fish. I try to fish around 6ins overdepth too, and this way, if there any tow, I can still get the hookbait to trip and hold.
HOW TO FEED
As far as feeding goes, with expanders being soft I always feel it’s better to feed heavily.
All sizes of fish will eat expanders, even small roach, so you have to take this into account to make sure some pellets reach
the bottom and stay there.
If small fish are a problem I will simply up my feed even more to try and get to the bigger ones.
Equally, if I’m on a venue that doesn’t have small-fish problems, then of course I can cut back my feeding and tailor it to bites – but to start with it’s always better in my experience to be aggressive with the bait.
TOP FOR SHALLOW SWIMS
Waggler and expander is a tactic that without doubt suits shallow, silty venues - this is one of the reasons it was so effective at Castle Ashby.
Hard pellets sink into silt, whereas expanders tend to sit on top of it, so you don’t get so much
fizzing and the fish as a result are that little bit easier to catch.
It’s also perfect for Barston, on the big lake where I am today, as it’s a relatively shallow lake with less than 4ft of water on 80 per cent of the pegs on the waggler line.
Personally, I’d say anything deeper than 6ft and waggler and expander is a method that loses its effectiveness.
With the expanders sinking so slowly they can end up all over the place, taking your fish with them.
As for species, expander pellets were originally all about carp, but of course skimmers and bream love them too – and on some fisheries these can be great fish to target and build a weight with.
I use Drennan wagglers to fish soft expanders.
These are my expander pellets of choice – hardly surprising, really!
My ready-labelled 12ins hooklengths.
This swivel also serves as a weight. A soft touch? A good carp taken on an expander.
Two colours of expander offer more options.