One of the most important aspects of successful angling is bait and its application, and in Carp fishing it will be the deciding factor between success and failure. The best rig and presentation is totally useless if the fish won’t eat the bait you are applying. I do accept that most fish will pick-up most edible and in some cases placebos type baits out of curiosity, but not to an extent I would rely on as a means to ensure consistent success. The secret to any consistent success is getting the fish to accept and eat your bait in the circumstances that suit you over a full season. The question is, what is the right bait and how do you apply it to ensure consistent results?
In the last twenty years most Carp angler’s experiences of baits are based on what the many bait companies are trying to sell and not on any of their own formulation or experimentation. Even hemp and tiger nuts (which to me are mainstream, non specialist) are being marketed as wonder baits. Let me inform you they aren’t. They have their place, but generally have short life, specific methods of application and aren’t consistently reliable. In my experience I wouldn’t even consider their use between mid September and late June. To me they fall in the floater type approach, ‘can work well if the weather is right.’ Not a reliable method for consistent success, but a tool or method you can apply given the right circumstances.
The only consistently reliable bait is the boilie and its many derivatives. I formulated and rolled my first boile in 1977. Since that date the ingredients may have changed slightly, but the process of making and formulating hasn’t. Thirty years of practical application, experimentation, recording results, corresponding with specialists and hours of discussions with like minded anglers has brought me to that conclusion.
The reality of the current situation is you have many different choices. The last time I tried to list all the bait companies in a discussion with one of my friends we arrived at over twenty five and I’m sure we will have missed some. Given that each manufacturer may produce anywhere up to ten different mixes all of which can have an infinite number of additive combinations, the choice becomes mind blowing.
So how do you choose the right bait? I know these days most anglers work on a recommendation basis from other anglers or advertisements in the angling publications. This may suit some, but not me, for a start I have seen this abused so many times it’s amusing. For example, last year one of my mates brought one situation to my attention where one well known northern angler had, in two different publications, claimed to have caught the featured fish on bait supplied by two different companies. What is even more comical about this situation he actually caught it on neither. The problem of the word of mouth and baits that seem to become popular through this process is if everyone starts to use the same bait, how do you know it’s the best if you don’t have any comparison? I call this the sheep approach.
I choose all my baits through knowing what they are made from and the quality of the ingredients. I wouldn’t use any bait, never mind buy one if I didn’t know its formulation. I now, regardless of water type always opt for the highest quality bait made from ingredients which suit the season. I can’t see why all companies don’t disclose the basic details about a product to help the angler make his decision. Some of the better companies are now doing this and to be honest they aren’t giving away any big secrets. Anyone who knows anything about bait will tell you the secrets are in the levels of ingredients and any additives. For example take the product, Spirulina. If you read all the supporting nutritional information regarding this product you would think it was some kind of wonder ingredient, which it is, but the secret to its effective use is both inclusion level and seasonal application. It took me nearly three years of experimentation to find the optimum level to use this product in 500g of bait mix and the margin of error between success and failure was less than plus or minus 2g. They are the secrets the bait companies need to guard, not basic information. On the other hand they may have something to hide.
Once you have decided on your bait the other consideration is consistency of supply and its applicability over a full season. I’m sorry to say I don’t know of any bait which can fulfil both those requirements unless you have the ability to change the mix to suit the season. To ensure you have a constant and reliable supply its best to use one of the long established bait companies who have the right credentials. To ensure its applicability, without getting greatly off the subject under discussion Carp have a seasonal changing nutritional requirement i.e. what may be perfect for the warm summer months can be totally useless during colder water conditions. If you are going to apply bait to its maximum potential you need the ability to change at least parts of your baits formulation.
Last year I gained access to a new venue, but one I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with due to some past investigations. The lake was now completely different the stock had been reduced to a fraction of its original level due to a pollution incident back in the 1980’s. Consequently the few fish that had survived had since done quite well, probably due to lack of pressure and a dramatic increase in biomass. I was originally only allowed to fish the last few months of the autumn and that was on a very limited basis, but I took the opportunity to do my home work.
The lake was not a typical gravel pit, most of the bars had long since weathered away and the lake was completely devoid of weed. What the lake bed consisted of was a complex mixture of hard gravel areas and silt pockets of varying depths. These areas of soft ground also varied. This was due to the lake being largely fringe with a dense tree line. The silt pockets contained a composition of decaying tree debris and dead alga. In with this was the densest concentration of blood worm I have ever seen and obviously prime Carp feeding areas. The further the silt pockets were from the bank the more fertile and decomposed they seemed to be. However, this was already autumn and the leaves had already begun to fall making the margins heavily contaminated with fresh leaf matter.
My choice of bait as I said earlier in the text was always going to be high quality nutritionally available bait, but trying to establish anything so late in the year was pointless. I used what I intended to use in the spring with a slight enhancement in the form of milk protein content and fished for opportunities. My intentions were to start applying my bait in the spring with some degree of concentration and into the areas I thought would maximise my chances.
During March I had 100 kilo’s of dry mix rolled ready for action. I don’t like keeping bait even in a frozen state too long, my plan was to have dispensed with this by the end of May and be ready with my summer formulation once the Carp had finished spawning. My spring bait was bulked out with high levels of vitamins and minerals, but made without any bulk food oil content. The water temperatures increased rapidly during April so the fish started feeding heavily and earlier than normal. I had to adapt rapidly and start baiting-up heavily trying to concentrate all my efforts into the areas I believed they were more readily feeding. These being the silt pockets and in some instances they fed that well on one spot they actually increased the lake depth by digging up the silt.
When you apply bait correctly it’s not just about quantity, it’s knowing when to bait and where, to gain your maximum advantage. Lake temperature is very important when deciding on the quantity of bait to use, remember cold water usually means a lack of activity and thus a reduced requirement. You also need to work around other anglers trying not interfering with their approach. I eventually concentrated all my efforts on one area, basically because under the weather conditions the fish appeared to be spending more time in this area than other parts of the lake. At this stage I hadn’t yet fished so I was still baiting and not fishing. I believe this aspect is very important you need as many fish to eat your bait with confidence and consistency; it’s no good blitzing your first opportunities and scaring the fish before you have caught them.
It is also important to ensure you introduce your bait at the right time of day. I wouldn’t recommend spending long periods either spodding or throwing stick bait out into areas where fish might already be feeding. You need to find the times the fish are least active and then apply your bait. I was doing 270 mile round trips just to bait-up with that amount of commitment you need to ensure you are getting it right.
My first trip coincided with one of the days I was due to pre-bait, this was done on purpose. However, my first session was only an overnighter so I planned to only use low levels over two rods and none on the third. It was now late April and so far I’d used about 70 kilo’s of rolled bait and was fairly confident the fish were eating it with confidence.
I was settled, rods out ready for about 8.00pm, with two fished over the baited areas and one located down the margin to my right. My mate, Alex turned up on his way home from fishing another venue for a quick chat and a cupper. As usual the quick chat turned into 2 hours and he was just about to leave when my middle rod burst into life at a great rate of knots. It was now 10.00pm and Alex said, “I might as well wait to see you bank this, it’s going to be mid-night before I get home anyway.” The fish felt very heavy and was being rather stubborn. On its first run it had taken near 30yds without stopping, I tried to get a guide on its position from the lines silhouette against the night sky, it was moving towards the snags some distance to my right. I applied maximum pressure hoping it would turn, but it didn’t it stopped and by the sound of the crashing in the distance it had gone around the large over hanging willow, oh dear.
I now had a dilemma, I could pull the fish back and hopefully it would come around and back out into the lake and not dive into the roots or go in and try to land the fish from the bank beyond the willow. I also knew it would be too deep to wade so it was going to be a swim around the willow. I knew the fish was big enough to warrant the effort so in I went, Alex just said, “you must be mad.” The lake was also covered in the spring scum and wasn’t that warm, but these things sometimes have to be done. Somehow I managed to swim with rod and landing net, but also take up the slack line as I swam to the other side of the willow. I now had the fish directly in front of me and back under control. I stayed in the water to reduce the risk of missing my first chance of netting the fish. It went in first time and I said to myself, “you deserved this Moorey.” The next job or obstacle was getting the fish back to the swim.
I tried to get up the bank first with rod and landing net and couldn’t, the net was fast or so I thought. Peering into the net suddenly made me realise why I couldn’t the fish was bigger than even I had originally thought. I throw the rod up first and then bit through the line. I then did a bottom shuffle up the bank with the fish on my lap. Finding my way back to my swim was difficult, because there wasn’t a real path. Alex stood there waiting and as soon as I laid it down on the unhooking mat the thought did occur, this is probably over forty. The scales confirmed my suspicions and both me and Alex settled on a weight of 40lb 12oz.
Once we had done the photos and I found myself alone again the thought did occur to me, “It’s going to be a good season this year.”
Did I catch that fish because, I choose the right bait, made it to suit the carps requirements for the time of year and then, ‘applied it correctly,’ or was it just plain luck? I’ll let you decide.