Welcome to the final part in this surface fishing mini-series, in which we’ll take a look at bait. There’s countless types of baits available for surface fishing, many better than others, but before you make your decisions on which bait you are going to use I’ll give you some background on my own experiences when it comes to bait.
Having spent many years honing my own surface fishing approach, I’d say one of the most important aspects when selecting a hook bait is functionality. For me, it’s all about time. The longer your hookbait is in the water, the greater the chances you’ll bank a fish. I have a few friends who swear by using traditional dog mixers as hookbaits, but as they swell and take water on quite quickly, they spend as much time changing baits as they do actually fishing!
Likewise, you need to think about versatility. Hookbaits like bread can be deadly – but if you’re trying to reach fish at over fifty yards, there’s a good chance it’s not going to be attached to your hook when it hits the water, which again limits the amount of time you are actually fishing with an effective hookbait in the water.
Another crucial factor is buoyancy. You want a hookbait that will easily slip under the surface with minimal ‘slurping’ by the carp. I’ve seen people fish with baits so buoyant (particularly imitation baits) that the carp actually struggle to suck them under!
So, what do I use? Well, it’s horses for courses really. A lot will depend on the water I’m fishing. If it’s all free-lining in the margins then I may well use bread, or if there’s a lot of pads holding the fish I may use an artificial grub and maybe a maggot; tantalisingly dangled half off the edge of a pad leaf… there’s SO much more to surface fishing than dog mixers and controller floats!
Some of the best surface fishing you will have is often within a foot of the bank – and there’s no thrill quite as great as spotting a fish, selectively dropping down a hookbait, enticing the fish in and seeing it take the bait!
If the fish are further out and I’m using a controller and feeding mixer as freebait, my personal preference is for a whittled down boilie hookbait – but not just any boilie. Again, I’ve used hundreds of different types of hookbaits for surface fishing over the years and by far the best I’ve found are the cork dust wafters from MB Baits. Their Snail & Shell mix has a proper Masala kick, and I’ve found it to be quite devastating at times when used as a surface fishing hookbait. I’ll shave two opposing sides off a round bait and mount it with a band so the shank of the hook sits tight up against the lower flat side.
I also incorporate a tiny sight stop of some description to the flat top. This is purely for my benefit so I know which bait is the hookbait when it’s out amongst freebaits. If only I had a pound for every time I’ve seen an angler strike at thin air after mistakenly thinking a carp has taken their hookbait - only to spook all the fish within half a mile! What’s that all about!?
Just add a tiny visual indicator to the top of your hookbait (so that it can’t be seen from below) and you’ll never lose track of your hookbait again… It beggars belief that so few people do it!
In order to ensure my corkdust hookbaits can be sucked under with the faintest amount of effort, I always make them critically balanced. By this I mean that they only just float – the slightest suck and they go straight under... To effect this I will use whatever combination of wafter is required with the sight stop and hook to achieve perfect buoyancy.
The best thing about using my corkdust wafters is that one hookbait will usually last all session and remain firmly in place even after putting several fish on the bank. Many anglers swear by changing the hookbait after every fish, but I’m just the opposite. For me, effective surface fishing is all about speed and consistency, so the quicker I can get the bait back out the better. If I’ve got a load of fish taking confidently in an area and I hook one, I don’t bend the rod into full on battle mode the moment it takes in the bait. Instead, I apply just enough resistance to set the hook, and then I let it go whichever way it wants until it’s vacated the feeding zone. By doing this, other fish present are often none the wiser and remain feeding rather than spooking had there been a big commotion in the middle of the feeding area.
Once the fish is out of the area I’ll then start to play it out. On slipping the hooked fish into the net, I’ll often then fire out a few pouches of mixers to keep the other fish feeding whilst I then take time to carefully deal with my quarry on the bank. Once the fish has been dealt with I’ll then give the hookbait a quick check over and if it’s ok, give it a quick dip in my Snail & Shell glug and I’m good to go again with the fish still feeding confidently in the baited area.
I honestly could not count the amount of times I’ve then gone on to hook another fish within a minute of returning one; my personal best was once banking around twenty five fish from a local club water in just under five hours fishing early one morning. From memory I think I only changed the hookbait a couple of times, which maximised the time it remained in the water!
The only other thing I’d say about bait is take plenty of it! If you really get a big head of fish feeding, it can sometimes be difficult trying to keep up. Again I’ve seen it before where anglers have a tiny bag with a few hundred grams of mixers. Fine if you’re just looking to pick off a fish in the margin, but if you really want to get them going, then you really need to be talking in kilos!
My normal bait for a surface fishing session is a 10lt camo bucket filled two-thirds full with dog mixer biscuits, with the rest of my tackle on top. This way it’s nice and easy to move between swims and the bucket acts as a little seat should I need it.
The only other thing I sometimes do is glug the freebaits. If the water is quite pressured and a lot of anglers fish off the top, it can help to make your freebait a bit different. If they become a little shy, it can also be worth mixing up the sizes. You’ll find various types and sizes of floating pet foods suitable for the job in your local pet food shop… and half the fun is experimenting!