The Boring Bit
While living in Canada, I had developed an interest in trout fishing and the first few years of living in Ashford I spent the spring and summer trout fishing and the colder months fishing the Kent coast for cod, I also developed an interest in big roach. The trout fishing was so absorbing that it very quickly took precedence over everything else. I learned to tie my own flies; I also learnt a bit about entomology. I knew exactly when to use which flies and at what depths they were best fished. I could never cast with any style but I could cast a whole line whenever the need arose. The last thing I learnt about trout fishing was that it was all a con, for most of the time the fish you caught had only been in the water for a few days, prior to this they had lived in a tank where they had been hand fed on pellets. If you pull a fly through a given stretch of water often enough it will appear as a lot of flies to any trout in that area. Sooner or later one of them will either be made to feel angry or hungry and will attack the fly. The anglers that consistently catch more trout than others are those who know where the trout are thickest in the water.
The above only relates to still water trout fishing or put and take fisheries but wild trout are not very different and will eat almost any fly cast to them as long as you approach quietly and don't frighten them. Once I had learned that I could catch more trout by using just three patterns of fly, I lost all interest in trout fishing and sold all my tackle.
I started fishing a large gravel pit in the early eighties, my first session on there produced the largest roach I had ever seen, it weighed one and three quarter pounds. I spent the whole of that summer fishing for the roach in this pit and managed to catch eleven fish over two pounds, the best being two pound nine ounces. On several of these roach trips I hooked small common carp of about six or seven pounds, on the light roach tackle they could take anything up to twenty minutes to land. I eventually started to use barbless hooks so I could let the line go slack and let them drop off, this prevented them from disturbing the roach, it also saved them from a prolonged and very tiring fight. I had no real wish to land these carp, Over the preceding few seasons I had caught lots of carp up to about twelve pounds from waters all round the Ashford area and was no longer as enthusiastic about them as I had once been.
All this was about to change; it started to happen on a roach fishing trip in the autumn. I was fishing a small bay near the entrance of the pit, the roach were very spooky and the carp angler fishing across the mouth of the bay was starting to irritate me. Every time he moved about, my swim would die. Eventually he fell asleep and I started to get roach quite regularly, that was until he got a run. I watched him playing the fish and he seemed to be taking a long time, he was holding it quite hard but it slowly swam all over the bay. I walked around to his swim and he asked if I would net the fish for him, his landing net was enormous it weighed a ton. The handle was actually made from a section of scaffold pole and looking at the way his fish was fighting I thought the size of the landing net was probably a bonus. The fish suddenly popped up under his rod tip and laid on the water quite exhausted, I dipped the net and the fish went straight in. We carried it to an area of soft grass and laid it down, I unhooked the fish and noticed a piece of thin line tied to the bend of the hook. I again remembered the peanut paste at Pokfulham reservoir and asked if this bit of line was to hang the bait on, the carp angler just grunted.
The fish was a mirror of twenty-two pounds and at the time the largest carp I had seen on the bank. I didn't fish anymore that day but sat and drank cups of tea with the carp angler. He told me about other carp in the lake and as I listened I wondered who I could sell my roach tackle to. This happened shortly before the original hair rig was publicised in the Angling Press. I have been told subsequently that details were only given to the press by its originators when it was virtually common knowledge anyway.
Later that season I was fishing a lake near Ashford for pike when I met Brian Edwards, he was also pike fishing. In the ensuing conversation I was to learn that in the warmer months he fished for carp, the told me that he knew about the new baits and rigs and that he also knew the location of many large carp. I became very enthusiastic, I had in the past caught low doubles when they were considered good fish but I had never caught a big carp. I had read about the bait revolution in the Angling Press but had felt that my paste concoctions were equally as good. I became very friendly with Brian over the next few weeks and we decided that when the next season come round we would fish the pit for some of the big carp in it.
As the new season approached I became more and more involved with the new type baits, I read anything I could get hold of and tried to digest what had been written, everything was protein! I made myself a milk protein mix and also an animal protein mix, I then made a carrier mix and finally bought some hemp and tares. I thought that with this I would have something that the carp would be prepared to eat, I knew I would be able to catch some carp on my old pastes but I really wanted to experiment with the new baits. Brian told me I would do better to choose just one bait and stick with it, I could easily observe his results and as I wanted to experiment with several types of bait I didn't really take any notice.
The season started and we both blanked on our first session. We did get a series of short pulls and twitches but no runs. We decided that the twitches were small fish showing interest in the bait but it could have been carp. The hair rig was new and supposed to be very positive but the next session I had was for an evening on a water where I knew there was a good head of smallish carp. They liked my boilies; I had twelve runs and missed all of them! Something was wrong with the basic set up, no matter how I adjusted it I missed every take I had. The next evening Brian came round and showed me a new rig he had been shown, it is now known as a through the eye rig but at the time was quite different from anything previously seen.
I went back to the easy water with the new rig and tried again, this time I caught carp, I had about ten of them up to fifteen pounds. It was fairly obvious that the fish in this lake were quite keen on the bait but they didn't ever show any real preference for a particular base mix. The rig Brian showed me was totally effective, if the optonic bleeped it was because a carp was hooked. The new baits were certainly an improvement on the old pastes, not only because the boilies were impervious to attacks from small fish but also because the carp couldn't break them up with their lips and had to suck them back to their teeth, making it difficult not to hook them. I now had complete confidence in the bait and rigs, Brian suggested that I should get back to the pit but I had heard of another lake that had fewer but larger fish in it. It was much harder than the easy water but was small enough to be able to monitor what was happening with the bait, the pit would have to wait.
The first time I fished this new water I caught two low doubles, one on the particle and the other on milk protein. I continued to fish this water for the rest of the season and caught about forty doubles in total, the best fish was a common of nineteen pounds fourteen ounces. I spent a little time on other waters and was beginning to realise that what was happening with my baits was not what should have happened according to articles that were appearing in the Angling Press. I had read all that Rod Hutchinson had written about bait and found it to be very accurate and informative but some of the new articles about bait were obviously being written from a commercial aspect and seemed to be based on nothing more than supposition. Some articles would use Fred Wiltons' theories as a reference, I managed to get hold of the articles that he had written for the B.C.S.G. magazine and found that quite often the people writing the articles had either misquoted or misunderstood his writing. Fred Wiltons' articles proved to be extremely informative but I had the feeling when I read them that he was only telling half the story, he also made one or two cryptic remarks that suggested he didn't really want to tell anybody too much. One of these remarks being that if you could smell the flavour in a bait, there was too much in it. If you put any flavour at all in a milk protein you can smell it and I therefore concluded that he was saying that flavours should not be used. I tried milk protein baits without any flavour and found them to be at least as good as the baits with flavour in them. Jim Gibbinsons' articles on baits were also very informative and accurate. He suggested that if two ounces of semolina were added to a milk protein mix the profile would be improved. An idea scoffed at by many bait buffs at the time, but I eventually found out how this worked. Carp get their carbohydrate requirement from the conversion of protein and fat during digestion, if you increase their carbohydrate intake you will give them an increase in energy, this in turn will cause them to eat more food. Easy when you know, isn't it?
I became extremely confused over bait, but having an inquisitive mind I set about getting copies of books or papers on fish nutrition. It took several years to collect enough information to get a clear picture of what really happened when carp ate bait, eventually the penny dropped. My first ideas had been correct; some of the articles appearing in the Angling Press were definitely based on supposition at best and in the worst cases commercial interests. Between the two extremes were articles based on personal preference, ill informed prejudice and well meant bulls**t! No wonder everyone was getting more and more confused. No one ever tried to simplify the situation and the whole carp angling world had an enormous choice of bait components to choose from, most of them expensive and according to the articles, essential for success. From a fish catching aspect, very low food value boilies will work on a water for quite some time, but in the long term they will become poor bait, no matter how often you change your flavour. Incidentally flavours were originally used to change the taste of a base mix that was slowing down, no one ever suggested that a bottle of cheap flavour was an attractant. Nowadays, they are sold as attractors and there is very little in most of them that will attract carp. In some of them there is quite a lot that carp find repellent.
A question that no one ever seemed to ask was how did a carp know when it was hungry? It doesn't have a stomach, basically it has a tube for digesting its food. The Japanese and Americans have done a great deal of research into all aspect of carp nutrition and in simple terms a carp is equipped with several sets of receptors. Each set can be stimulated by different substances, but if the carp's body has no requirement for a particular substance, then the carp's brain will not tell it to feed. From this it is reasonable to assume that any part of the carps required diet, if included in a bait in soluble form, will work as an attractor if the carp's body requires it. It is therefore obvious that when a bait is formulated it is beneficial to include as many of the carp's requirements as possible.
After Fred Wilton started the ball rolling with his bait articles, the carp angling world started to place great importance on the protein content of baits, to prevent confusion baits were made in ten ounce mixes which facilitated simple calculation of the raw protein content. A little later biological values were quoted and anglers believed that they could calculate the amount of protein in their bait that the carp could utilise, it was of course complete nonsense. The biological values quoted related to digestion either in human or animal terms and not in fish terms at all. In simple terms it is like trying to feed a lion on lettuce, rabbits eat it so it must be good for all animals. Load of old b*****ks, isn't it!
After a carp consumes protein its digestive system breaks it down into simpler compounds such as amino acids and peptides. The amino acids are then either used to make up the body proteins of the fish or broken down further for energy. The digestible protein level of the bait is entirely dependent on the first limiting amino acid, this means that in the protein supplied the amino acid that is most deficient to requirement dictates the amount of protein utilised. For instance a carp's requirement for leucine as a percentage of the protein is 3.4%. If this amino acid was in a carp bait at 1.7% it would prevent the carp from utilising any more than fifty percent of each of it's amino acid requirements. Assuming of course that leucine was the most deficient amino acid, within the bait.
When the expensive milk protein baits were out-fished by much cheaper and simpler baits it was suggested that they were perhaps better winter baits. This I also found confusing because everything I had read on fish nutrition suggested that the fish had a lower protein requirement in the winter. In actual fact I had caught very consistently on milk proteins in the summer but others had failed dismally with them. Someone had written in the Angling Press that they believed that the milk protein "de-natured" in some way after having been in the water for twenty four hours but became effective again after seventy two hours. A trip to the library and a bit of text book reading revealed that protein and warm water make ammonia, so it wasn't the bait that was at fault but its application. I had caught fish on it because I had used it in small quantities for fish that didn't take very long to catch. Anyone who used it as a bed of feed on a hard water would have most certainly been on a hiding to nothing in the summer. In fact if they topped there swim up every twenty four hours or so fish could only have been interested in their bait for about the first eighteen hours of fishing after that the baited area would be repellent. This ammonia thing happens with all bait, the more protein in the bait the more ammonia will be produced.
For a carp to make full use of its protein intake it must also consume the correct level of fat, it needs the fatty acids contained within the fat or oil in a bait as an essential structural component of cell walls. A very small percentage of a bait's fat content is used for this purpose the rest is either used to provide energy or is deposited in the fishes body as stored fat. The fat content of a bait is critical; too little fat and too much of the protein is used for energy. Too much fat and the fish will store it, believed by some to be a cause of poor winter fishing.
A number of vitamin supplements are available in tackle shops but as boiling and freezing will damage vitamins they are of little use in boiled baits. Of the available supplements any that can be made into a liquid and poured over the bait after it has been boiled and if frozen defrosted, will at times be a useful addition to a bait.
Minerals and trace elements are also essential in a carps diet, if a fish is deficient in anything its receptors, when they detect it, will inform its brain and in turn it's brain will tell it's body to eat it. So where possible any deficiency in the bait should be supplemented. The relationship between protein and fat is so important that bait manufactures should state very clearly the amount and type of oil that should be added to a base mix. Fish nutritionists do it all the time, so as long as the bait manufacturers know what they are doing there shouldn't be any problem, should there? Just as previously written the addition of carbohydrate to a milk protein bait will improve it, so will additional carbohydrates improve baits that contain correct protein and fat levels. This allows for a wide variety of tastes and textures to be used.
Anyone interested in making and using some of these nutritionally balanced, contain all type baits would be well advised to obtain a copy of "Nutrition and Feeding of Fish" by Tom Lovell and also a copy of an American paper titled "Reactions of Aquarium Carp to Food and Flavours" by Howard A Loeb, everything you need to know is contained within these two works.
All carp anglers should read Loebs' paper before investing any money in a large quantity of bait; it's a real eye opener. Some of the so-called bait buffs' have argued that you can't put to much faith in the results of tank tests, but the results in this paper are the results of thousands of exhaustive and thorough tests. One test on nutritional value of food involved feeding carp on a diet of low nutritional value, the longest a carp ate it was for seven days. Despite this food being available to them at all times, the carp then went twenty-six weeks without eating it. After this time a food of good nutritive quality was introduced to the tanks and the carp immediately ate it, so if carp in tanks can work out that it is a waste of energy eating some foods why should it be any different in their natural environment.
The paper showed that there is nothing that can be added to low grade food that will fool the carp and make them eat it and by the same token almost anything can be added to good quality food and carp will still eat it.
The list of additives found within the paper that are attractive to carp was quite short, nearly all of natural in origin. Three of these were molasses, brown sugar and saccharin, all sweeteners! The papers from Japan also show that carp have an affinity for sweet substances. Now sweeteners were used in the early days of boiled baits to counteract any bitterness in them but it was later found that carp cannot detect or taste bitterness, so the sweeteners were unnecessary. However the carp seemed to prefer baits with sweeteners in them. The anomaly with this is that it is believed that carp do not produce insulin and cannot utilise any of the sugar, so why such an attraction? The sweeteners do contain several vitamins, minerals and trace elements but even in baits where these elements are taken care of the carp still show a preference for a bait with a sweetener added. It might be that the signal that carp detect from sweet substances is a similar signal to that emitted by some of its natural food.
Synthetic flavours only really work in a bait if the PH of the flavour is between three and six, outside of these parameters they seem to repel carp. A few flavours do work much better than others, an example of one of these is maple flavour. Both Loveage and fenugreek are used in the manufacture of this flavour and both of these substances are attractive to carp. I now use flavour components and natural extracts that I know are attractive to carp in my baits rather than flavours or essential oils. Results would suggest that there will never be any need to use flavours or essential oils again.
Finally, a lot of research has gone into enhancers and those you buy in the tackle shops do work, baits are certainly better with them. At the moment better enhancers are supplied to animal feed and trout pellet manufacturers but will be supplied to tackle shops in the near future.
All the above relates to boiled baits but applies equally to pastes. When making boiled baits consideration for the nutritional content of the eggs must be taken into account. It has been a long held belief that the boiling of bait seriously reduces its protein content, however each amino acid is affected differently by heat, a soak in a liquid protein mix after boiling will help compensate for this.
Boiled and paste baits are only a small part of the baits available to carp anglers, there is an enormous range of particle or seed baits that can be used plus all the natural baits. My interest in bait formulation has caused me to neglect these other baits over the last ten years or so but they can be excellent when used correctly. The most sophisticated bait ever devised will fail if not used correctly. Any advantage you can gain with a bait is no substitute for knowledge of the carp's habits and more importantly not letting them know you are there. If you think that this is obvious just have a look at any water containing a good stock of carp on any weekend in the summer and you will see that it isn't obvious to everyone.
The only particles I have used for any length of time are chickpeas and tiger nuts, both are excellent bait. I have used hemp to try and hold carp in a swim for long periods of time but results were spasmodic and not good enough to warrant its use, it might however greatly improve the catch rate of an angler who has been using poor quality boilies. Tiger nuts are a strange bait, if you put a few in the carp crush them with their teeth, if you put a lot in the same carp swallow them and pass them whole. I believe this happens because the carp eat them for their oil content, passing them through for the oil on the skin when they are abundant and only crushing them when they are in short supply.
Jim Gibbinson wrote something that caused me to look a little deeper into particles, he wrote that on a particular lake he would catch carp on boilies on cold mornings but on warm mornings he would catch them on tigers. I believe he also wrote that his brother experienced a similar occurrence on a different water. I had fished a small lake in Sussex, where we could only get takes in the day on particles, so we used chickpeas and tiger nuts. At night we could only get takes on boilies. At the time I didn't think it was anything more than coincidence and forgot about it, but when I read Jim Gibbinsons article I realised that there was more to it. Despite a lot of reading I didn't really find anything conclusive just a short paragraph in a fish feed catalogue that said that the digestion of protein produced more heat than the digestion of fat. If this is the reason then it would suggest that these carp were selecting their diet not from a nutritional aspect but to make minor adjustments to their body temperature. This is probably entering the realms of science fiction,
although when food is abundant carp do seem to pick and choose rather than feed indiscriminately.
The research and experimentation with bait has held my interest for the last fifteen years; At times getting an idea right has been far more important than just catching fish, when I do get it right I start experimenting with other things. I don't know if I will ever stop finding things to incorporate into different types of bait but I will always be grateful to Brian for having the patience and for taking the time to help me sort it all out initially. I hope he catches all the fish he deserves.
Over the past few years I have become concerned about the quantity of boiled baits being thrown into some fisheries. It's not the bait itself, but with the popularity that carp fishing now has, any type of bait that is in vogue will form quite a large proportion of a carps diet. According to recent research up to seventy five percent of a carps food intake can be bait on a pressured fishery, this is far more than I ever imagined. There are only two real problems with carp eating large quantities of boiled baits; the first is vitamin deficiency. As previously stated if used in liquid form and allowed to soak into the bait shortly before use vitamin additives are viable. However this is only for attraction purposes, if the bait has been in the water for several hours the quantity left in the bait will be negligible. The bulk of the vitamins will be spread through the water to hopefully attract carp to the bait, so a method of putting fresh vitamins permanently into the bait after it has been boiled, frozen and defrosted needs to be developed.
The other problem is that of high oil levels, again in itself the oil isn't too harmful as long as it is fresh, but old oil can damage fish. The practice of glugging bait in oil is pointless; even if bulk oils were attractive to carp, they wouldn't attract many as they tend to float when released from the bait. To ensure that the fat content of our bait is fresh bait dealers must start to make base mixes with minimal fat content. Anglers can then add the right quantity of a bulk oil of the correct type and be fairly confident that they will not harm the fish. I cannot stress the importance of the correct amino acid and fatty acid profiles of our bait enough. When carp go through periods of not feeding, perhaps in adverse winter conditions or the close season on bait dependant waters, they still require energy for their basic body functions. This energy is acquired by utilising the fat deposits within their bodies, if none are present they utilise their own body protein resulting in weight loss. If fat deposits build up over a few years they can cause fatty liver diseases, sometimes resulting in death.
For years the arguments over what types of bait are best have been debated and if used correctly in the short term there is very little difference between any of them. In the long term the balanced type baits will always out-fish the others, even if this wasn't true as baits are forming a larger part of carp's diets than we previously supposed it is in both our interests and the carps to give them the best diet we know how to! I think that's probably enough about bait, if anyone wants to find out more they will have to do as I have done and read the technical papers and books, a sound knowledge of bait is not necessary for catching carp, at times it can be a hindrance.