Short Session Bait Application/Baiting Strategies in Europe

I’ve been asked many times in the past, and talking to lots of anglers whilst fishing abroad, that many are uncertain what to do to with respect to bait application and baiting strategy to the achieve best results whilst fishing a short session on the continent. It is certainly an area that is a continually ‘changing’ scenario, I won’t say controversial, but an area where many have their own preconceived ideas, maybe based on an article they’ve read, experience, what they’ve been told or observed, current trends, new bait developments (dissolving pellets etc) or just good old ‘gut feeling’.

Using the term "Short Session" in the title to this piece, I am referring to a session of say one to two weeks, which is realistic for most carpers who are visiting Europe to fish for Carp, specifically France. It is, therefore, the timescale that this piece is based upon and thus, you will find no mention of lengthy prebaiting campaigns, which is not generally possible on a session abroad but does, of course, form an integral part of bait application on many UK waters.

I need to also state that I am by no means a bait buff, I prefer nowadays to let the reputable firms who manufacture the stuff for a living do the field testing and let them mess up their own kitchens! I’ve done my fair share of field testing for various well known bait companies in the past and, as big Bill Cottam once said in a previous piece in Carpworld, "It’s not all beer and skittles!"

For the record, 99% of my fishing abroad now is done using readymades, which are available of such good quality that I am totally confident using them. It is essential you are 110% confident in the bait you are using abroad and, therefore, it must be thoroughly thought about before hitting the road.

We must also remember that bait application and baiting strategies are only a small part of a much bigger equation in catching Carp. If your angling ability is not up to scratch, you’ve zero watercraft and your bait is inedible, then forget it!!

Bait Application

We must firstly consider the pressure a lot of waters nowadays are under; there are not too many waters now containing decent size carp that haven’t been visited by the growing number of European Carp anglers. Certainly the popular venues with proven track records are under constant pressure from some extremely talented guys and novices to the overseas scene alike.

The number of fish present in the venue, which gives you a rough number of fish per acre, also needs to be thrown into the pot, as well as the size of the venue. Flinging 10 kilos of bait into Cassien will have totally different consequences than flinging the same amount into a small 1 acre pond – get my drift?

As more and more anglers visit Europe in pursuit of Carp, then of course more and more bait is going in and the carp themselves are changing their dietary requirements and thus, baiting application has to change to keep pace.

Many of the waters in Europe are very rich in natural food; the Carp have a big choice to fulfill their needs, hence the reason many attain such size. So why are they eating boilies? On many waters, especially the commercial venues, boilies have become almost a natural food source with continual quantities going in. An easy supply of tasty and mostly nutritional food, not too much hard work in foraging about for it, although some degree of risk getting a hook stuck in you mouth half way through a meal!

I generally start and end a session with single hookbaits. The reasons for this are twofold; firstly if I’ve done my location/observation bit right (which is of paramount importance), then there may well be fish already in the swim, which will soon depart if they are bombarded with a baiting situation. I’ve caught a fair quantity of decent fish whilst setting up my bivvy etc., just due to the fact that I’ve cast my baits into the swim as a matter of first priority. Secondly, at the end of a session I don’t want too much bait in a swim, I want my hookbait to stand a higher chance of being eaten than a free offering. In fact, I start to progressively reduce the amount of bait going into the swim about half way through the session to allow maximum effectiveness of the above principle.

I guess I need to state that in the main I am trying to catch big fish, the smaller fish may well continue to feed heavily on a big bed. This brings into focus another issue with regard to bait application, can we be selective in searching out bigger fish? I’m not totally sure is the answer. In my opinion I believe that fishing single hookbaits away from a bed of bait (15 yards or so) will often account for bigger (more educated, older, shyer?) fish than a bait in the middle of a big bed, of course there have been many exceptions to this so this theory is not conclusive. Why is this? I think it’s due to the fact that when the bigger fish are not feeding they often stay within the vicinity of the baited area and pick up odd baits they encounter. It may also be the fact that they are often solitary fish.

How much bait do we use then? As I’ve said, I always start with single hookbaits for the first few hours, than I will put in just a handful of boilies and a handful of particle mix for the first 24 hours to see how things develop. If I catch, I will bait as the situations detailed below. If not, and I haven’t seen any activity, I will move and start again.

In the summer months on a big limited pressure water with a reasonable head of Carp I will think nothing of putting in 5 kilos of 18mm boilies and 5 kilos of a particle mixture (such as pinhead oatmeal, hemp and flaked maize mixed to a slurry) at the start of the session (after 24 hours as above) and the same quantity daily if I’m catching until midway through the session when I will progressively reduce amount to zero for the last 24 hours.

For waters with a higher degree of pressure I tend to start (after 24 hours as above) the session with roughly 2 kilos of smaller boilies, say 14mm, and half the quantity of particle but with half a kilo of ball pellet added for good measure. I use this same application during the cooler months late/early in the year.

For mega pressured waters, then only a handful of bait or even a stringer and a handful of particle/ball pellet combination, immediately after the single hookbait period.

Bait application is a very difficult subject, for me anyway, to write on. Although I’ve had a number of ‘big hits’ using what seems now like ridiculous amounts of bait, I would always err on the side of caution before piling it in and possibly destroying your chances for your whole session.

Baiting Strategies

As we’ve stated previously, there’s no point
in ‘chuck it and chance it tactics’, you can have the best baiting strategy on the planet but you won’t catch if the area you are fishing is devoid of and not visited by our quarry. Location is a separate topic of it’s own and I will not dwell on it now.

By baiting strategy, I am referring to the positioning of both free offerings and hookbaits for interception of Carp. The better your baiting strategy, assuming you’ve got the rest of it right including baiting application, the better the catch rate will be.

For the purposes of this piece, I will base baiting strategy on lakes and reservoirs which is where most of us head when we visit the continent. We have encroached on the ground of baiting strategy in the bait application section already, such as fishing your hookbaits away from the main bed and single hookbait applications so I won’t repeat myself, other than to say these are definite advantages in my opinion.

Initially, after taking wind/weather conditions into account, I thoroughly go over the swim to ascertain if there are any features or not, such as snags and bars/gullies et cetera and to of course gauge the depth of water I am about to fish in. I am a great believer in fishing with a wind in my face, especially if there are no real features to hone in on.

If features worth considering are located, a hookbait and appropriate bait application will be positioned there. If no real features as such are found, as is often the case on the big open lakes and reservoirs across Europe, then I will adopt the following strategy which I believe in my experience helps to maximise returns.

I try to cover all depths of water, starting with the first bait in 6-8 feet of water, the second in 10-18 feet and the third rod in 18-25 feet. This is obviously dependent on the depths of water in front of you, but you can gauge it from above according to the situation you find yourself in.

These baits are positioned in a diagonal direction. I first started using this in France in the late 80’s and had some staggering catches, well above the norm at that time on the big venues I was fishing. Myself and my colleagues still use this approach on many big venues now, we don’t fare too badly!

Don’t be frightened to try the margins too; my Dutch friend outfished us all on Cassien last year by dropping one of his baits under an overhanging bush no more than 15 yards from his feet, I’m talking fish 40lb plus, too!!

Good luck with your next short session abroad, I hope this article will help in trying to put bait application and baiting strategy into a usable format.

Chris ‘Essex Man’ Woodrow