Carp Bait – It’s all in the mind!

Seven years ago, I penned a beginner’s guide to carp fishing for Anglers' Net, the third part of which was going to be about bait. For various reasons, I never got around to finishing it; much of this, I suppose, was down to the fact that if ever there was a subject that’s been done to death a thousand times, then surely this must be it, yet so many of us still find it such a hard subject to get our heads around. It’s little wonder really, you can’t pick up a magazine or go onto a fishing tackle shop without being bombarded by hundreds of different products, each apparently that bit better then the rest, but logic dictates that they can’t all be the best – so how do you choose?

More importantly, what makes a successful bait? The latest glossy advert might imply that by selecting a particular company’s type or brand of bait that you will be guaranteed instant success, but how do you know before you part with your cash? Should you believe everything you read?

Bait is such a complex subject, not least because you can’t simply say that ‘x’ bait is good, or ‘y’ bait is not. I don’t profess to know it all when it comes to bait, far from it, but I know enough to know that sometimes the worst bait in the world can catch you a fish if you put it in the right place at the right time. Yet on the other hand, I think it’s safe to say that you will have better long-term success on a campaign water by offering a constant supply of a high nutritional value bait, as opposed to a ‘crap’ bait; so termed because it offers little in the way of nutrition but is loaded with flavour & attractants. So how can this be, that both good baits and bad baits can catch fish?

And what about the types of bait? Are only those that cost ten pounds a kilo capable of catching carp? And is it boilies or nothing? There are so many aspects to carp bait that you could easily fill a book on this one subject alone – and many have. However, I strongly believe that if you want to ‘see the light’ in relation to bait, then you need to understand a little more about the fundamental principles. By understanding more about the carp’s dietary needs, combined with its feeding characteristics, things become much easier to understand, and in general, it’s not really about what you put in, it’s how you put it in that counts.

Boilies - Carp BaitOn the boil
I suppose we may as well tackle boilies first, as rightly or wrongly, it’s what most carp anglers use on the bank. When selecting a boilie, my advice would be to look at the actual ingredients, rather than the packaging or the magazine adverts. That said, fishing is much to do with confidence - if you can’t stop catching on the boilie you are using then don’t change - but the moment you see other people fishing in the same manner and catching more, you should always ask yourself why?

That said, confidence is one thing, blindly following the masses is entirely another. You only have to take a look at how often some sponsored anglers switch companies to guess that for some, it’s free bait or perks that might dictate which jacket they wear on their back, rather than the effectiveness of a particular bait overall. As with any industry, there are good companies and bad - the trick is in making sure you select products from one of the better suppliers. But how do you pick out the best, as it’s sometimes difficult to cut through the advertising blurb and get right down to the facts? There’s no easy answer - if you want to be a really successful angler, then you need to take the time to work things out for yourself.

To be blunt, aside from what you have read in the magazines, what do you actually know about the exact ingredients that are in the bait you are using? And by that I don’t mean what it says on the packaging - I mean the actual ingredients in that specific bag you have picked up of the shelf? I would say that 70% of anglers don’t really know the specific make-up of the bait they are using - no matter how much they may wax lyrical on the bank about how good it is and how many waters its ‘taken apart’. The simple truth of the matter is that if you want to go forwards you must first go back. Learn all you can about ingredients and what effect they have on a bait - do you know what different types of fishmeal are out there, and what each type will do to a bait? And what the addition of birdfoods, milks, or proteins will do? If you don’t, then how can you know which is the best bait to use on your water?
The X-Factor?
The point I’m making is that I would never buy any bait without first taking a great deal of time to research the company, ingredients, and manufacturing processes. Even then I would still want to (and do) speak to the person behind the bait before using it. Do you seriously think that all Green Lipped Mussel Extract comes from the same supplier, in the same tin, at the same cost? Of course it doesn’t! There is good stuff and there is bad stuff - and I know the additives in the bait I’m buying are of the highest quality available – and I even know which country they come from - and yes, that does make a difference, too! How about your bait? Do you know what grade it is and which suppliers the ingredients come from? You may think I take things to the extreme, but what I do is ensure that when I have chosen a boilie to use, there is then no need to dabble with any others - I have the ultimate confidence in the bait I’m using so have no need to mess about.

I see anglers constantly trying bait after bait, comparing one rod fished to another, a different bait on each rig, or mixtures on all! To me this is crazy, constantly trying different types will only take your eye of the ball in other areas. Some might ask what happens after a few seasons when the bait ‘dries-up?’ Well, if it’s a good bait, it won’t, simple as that. I’ve only used two different boilies over the last five years, and on any water where I have applied them en masse, the opposite has happened; the more that went in, the better the results got as the fish realised here was a food source that gave them much of their required intake of nutrients - to a certain extent they can’t help but eat it!

That said, they will soon wise up to the areas where it is offered, and so swims fished in the same way time and time again may drop off in effectiveness, but to be honest, in my eyes much of that is down to watercraft as the same bait offered elsewhere will be gobbled up just as readily - outwitting specimen carp is a constant endeavour, a never ending battle of wills - simply having a good bait on your hook is no guarantee of success!

I only use boilies for about fifteen percent of my carp fishing, so just imagine how much thought goes into my other baits! I’m not anti-boilie, far from it – I just choose to use what I believe is the best possible bait for that exact moment or session. Suppose you just happen to come across a big fish mooching along the margin and all you have is boilies. By offering one down right in its path there is a fine chance it might have a sniff and nail it, but what if you just happened to have a nice juicy lobworm, a couple of grains of sweetcorn, or half a brazil nut. These baits may not be as
trendy, and not as well written about as boilies, but my god, they can be just as effective – in many cases more so!

So why do we not use them more than we do? A good question really. Much I guess is to do with ease of use. A shelf-life boilie requires no special storage, can be applied easily, and needs nothing in the way of preparation, so it’s no wonder that they prove so popular with anglers. But that’s just my point – is our dependence on boilies more to do with what we want to use for bait, as opposed to what the fish actually wants to eat as bait?

There are many waters where my bait of choice is always a boilie, but I make this decision based on what the fish are more likely to take, rather than what’s easiest for me to prepare and apply. However, there are also waters where boilies would be the last thing I would ever use. The key is in understanding the behaviour and feeding characteristics of the fish you are actually trying to catch. Many natural baits have the nutritional value of a brick, many baits I use are not even baits at all, like the many types of artificial baits that have banked me countless specimens over the years – so how is it that if it’s all about high-attract this, and special additives that, I can waltz straight down to the bank and whip one out on a fake piece of sweetcorn made of rubber!?      

For me, it all comes down to what I call the two-C’s; conditioning & curiosity – nine times out of ten, I would say one of these two factors will usually determine whether the carp picks up the bait you have placed in front of it. So how do you know what to apply and when? Well, research is key, along with observations.

Sweetcorn as carp baitBe different
On waters with pressured or wary fish I will often go for a natural approach, as I believe the curiosity factor often outweighs any degree of risk which the carp may attach to a food item. On one water I used to fish, I would continually watch big carp shy away from beds of bait or boilies, and my initial results on boilies were nothing to write home about. I then switched to fishing half a brazil nut over a handful of hemp and my results doubled almost overnight.

We talk of carp 'wising up' to certain rigs, tactics, or approaches, but what about baits? If every man and his dog are using little round balls, might it not equate that they wise up to these also? For me, there’s no doubt about it. I have caught many fish from pressured waters simply by doing the opposite to everybody else. On one big fish water I fish where everybody uses boilies, the fish became super-cagey around beds of bait, so we switched to artificial corn, fishing quite literally one grain on its own. The fish just don’t see it coming; they are conditioned to ‘risk’ coming from big beds of bait and a nice little grain of corn simply does not register – bingo. The curiosity factor cannot be overlooked either. Carp, by their very nature, are inquisitive creatures, and even when they are not hungry will often sample objects and generally see what’s going on as they meander around the lake. Drop a free-lined worm into their path and it’s often just a case of when, not if. At times they seem almost unable to stop themselves just having a look even when they have no intention of eating. Floating baits can have the same effect – time and time again I’ve stalked fish with floating baits by prodding their curiosity, especially with moving fish. Cast just beyond their intended path with minimal disturbance and they will often deviate their course to come and have a nosey. When they do, if presented correctly, they often find it hard to say no to just one little piece of food all on its own, which just has to be safe….

Some of my best successes in recent years have come from fishing a worm over a specially blended particle mix. The mix contains all kinds of naturals all blended up into a creamy pulp, which when applied creates a lovely bed of different sized particles both on the lake bed and suspended in the water. The idea is that any carp passing over can’t help but have a few mouthfuls - the mix is designed to stop them in their tracks and draw them in. I only apply a catapult or so at any one time – less is definitely more, as the only purpose of the mix is to grab their attention. Then, on making a pass they will hopefully discover the nice juicy lobworm wriggling away amongst the particles. Again, I’m playing to the carp’s conditioning and curiosity. In the past, even on the most pressured of waters with extremely wary carp, I’ve played out the above trap and had fish literally fighting to get at the worm; such is their complete confidence that there is no degree of risk attached to the food source whatsoever.

How many anglers on your water are using worm over particle? Not many I’ll bet, and there’s your answer. I once had seven fish over two days using the above method on a water where the average catch is four or five fish in a season! I don’t think it’s any coincidence that those using big beds of boilies struggled more than those using naturals.

Ah, some might say, but you can’t cast a worm over a hundred yards. Which is indeed the case, however, never yet have I fished a water where despite what the regulars might tell you, the fish cannot be found patrolling the margins if you get your watercraft right, and besides, there are plenty of naturals you can apply at distance. There’s much more to naturals than hemp and sweetcorn alone!
Carp on an unhooking matTime and a Place
I think the key is in keeping an open mind about bait. Often the most simple and cheapest baits can deliver the goods – my particle mix costs me a few pence per kilo, but on many occasions it’s delivered results that I truly believe no boilie ever could, and likewise, there have been times when I’ve been baiting up with boilies like a man possessed, just to try and keep up with the amount of fish in my swim eating them like there was no tomorrow.

There is a time and a place for any bait – they key is in making sure you either know what’s required for the water you are targeting, or have a selection of baits at hand to effectively deal with whatever the fish may throw at you… or to be more precise, have the right bait in readiness to throw at them!

Happy baiting…

Julian Grattidge
January 2011