For a number of years now I've used whitebait extensively and the list of species I've caught on it is: barbel, carp, chub, eel, perch, pike, tench and both brown and rainbow trout. Having said that, like others, I don't find sea deadbaits any good for perch - for some reason perch don't seem to like the taste, or maybe the baits have to be ultra-fresh.
However, I'd certainly be confident using deadbaits for any of the other species on the list, especially after pre-baiting. Yes, including, or perhaps particularly, for carp!
Back in the early 80s I spent three seasons after stillwater chub in a small Kent reservoir. At first whatever bait I tried produced skimmer bream - even floating cat biscuits! I'd already had a fair few big chub from local rivers on whitebait and, as much in desperation as anything else, turned to deadbaiting, first with freshwater fish and then for the sake of convenience with whitebait. By fishing two rods with different baits and switching positions at regular intervals, I soon established that, on this water at least, deadbaits outfished everything else for chub by a long way.
These chub patrolled the extreme margins, which were deep, and rarely did they seem to venture into the open water, except perhaps to bask in the sun. It turned out to be important to groundbait the swim to stop the chub moving on past, but even so I never managed a big bag in a half-day session.
However the carp were a different matter altogether, with anything up to half a dozen coming out on a summer's evening, especially after I made the mistake of pre-baiting with whitebait. In fact the carp turned out to be a bloody nuisance, as just one carp invariably meant no chub that day, and many a time I was reduced to giving the carp slack line to try and lose them. Having said that, the attention I received from the local carp anglers was most amusing, with a number watching me through binoculars, and another "accidentally" knocking my bait box over!
Unfortunately, I never did count the number of carp I had on whitebait, but it must have been getting on for a hundred. So for what it's worth, here's a possible new bait for the carp boys.
The chub were much more interesting, both because they grew to specimen size and also because they were so much more difficult than the carp - especially to hook! The first improvement came after I persuaded Bruce Vaughan, who was then at Ryobi, to order me some dacron from the States in 6lb. (At that time, the lightest available in the U.K. was 12lb). The remainder of that winter, I fished the dacron on one rod and nylon on the other. Despite the fact that at 4lb. b.s. the nylon was lighter, I had 7 chub on dacron and just one on nylon.
However, I was still missing more than half the bites and so there was still a lot of work to be done. At that time Stewart Allum often fished with me, and on one occasion he missed so many takes that he actually threw his rod into the bushes in frustration! Watching Stewart one day when the water was very clear showed the reason. The chub were picking up the bait right on the edge of their lips and very slowly backing off.
Up to then I'd been float fishing in an attempt to minimise the resistance, and often the float would slowly travel 10 yards or more across the surface. A strike to these slow runs was invariably unsuccessful as all that was happening was that the bait was being pulled out of the chub's mouth. On the other hand fast runs were no problem, but they were always from flaming carp!
After a lot of experimenting, I found that the solution was to increase the resistance; but not using a conventional bolt rig, as this would again simply have pulled the bait out of the fish's mouth. Instead I took a leaf out of Graham Marsden's book and put the extra resistance in at the indicator end. Graham had written many years ago about having a similar problem with big bream, and found that increasing the resistance in this way provided the answer.
Further sessions showed that the amount of resistance was critical. In fact quite by chance I got it right first time. I had discarded the float and had turned to a flipstick type of indicator weighted down with a swanshot. I think, but I'm not certain, that the force required to lift the flipstick off the line just happened to be more or less the same as to start the reel backwinding, and thus there was a definite but more or less constant resistance. I later discovered that without the swanshot on the indicator the resistance increased too much when the reel began to turn, and usually this resulted in a dropped run. However, with the weight right the runs became churners, with a coconut nearly every time. These days with swinger type indicators such adjustments would be very easy especially in conjunction with a baitrunner type reel.
A couple of other points are worth mentioning. Firstly, the colder the weather the better these chub fed. Indeed the best time was invariably after dark in winter on the frostiest of nights. Cold days were good too; on one occasion I even smashed a hole in the ice and within half an hour had 2 chub to almost 5lbs. on whitebait. Secondly, deadbaits didn't work so well during warm spells in winter when we found that particle baits were more successful, with whitebait then producing just constant twitches.
I'm convinced that stillwater chub, and for that matter chub from slow deep sections of river are particulary predatory. Although there's not much that a chub won't eat, I think that such chub actually prefer to feed on fish, and also that they are normally nocturnal. I've had some correspondence in the past with Peter Stone on this and he's in agreement, pointing out that some huge chub have come from both the Thames and the Lea to anglers fishing deadbaits after dark. However, daylight fishing with "normal" baits in these areas rarely produced a chub over 4lbs. It would be interesting to see what results fishery scientists would come up with on slow, deep waters, as all the surveys I've read about had been done on fast, shallow sections (which are easier to test), and have shown that such chub have a very varied diet.
Talking of fishery scientists, one told me that whilst growing on baby chub, a very small percentage turned predatory even as fry, and these grew at a very much faster rate than normal. Of course this phenomenon has been widely documented with other fish - notably trout, some of which turn cannibal and pack on weight.
Nowadays, I've returned to my first love, the perch. It's interesting that the same situation also occurs with them. Indeed I've recently read a very interesting scientific paper* about some big perch in Lake Windermere. Researchers had already found that nearly all Windermere perch grew to a maximum length of only
180mm (7"). However, there was a very small but distinct population of perch that grew very, very much bigger - to a maximum of 463mm (18"), or over 2 1/2x longer! Scale readings showed that the early growth of these "mega" perch was identical to that of normal perch, but at a certain age, which varied from 1 to 8 and averaged 4 years, growth sharply accelerated. Analysis of the stomach contents of these perch showed a very much higher proportion of fish than normal.
The scientists reasoned that the surge in growth was due to a change to an almost exclusively fish diet. They pointed out that other studies had shown similar results on other waters.
Here then is evidence of the "double population" that a number of anglers have already written about. For instance, it is well known that many small ponds contain a super abundance of small perch, each competing for what little invertebrate food there is. However, these ponds sometimes contain a mere handful of specimen perch, which presumably have grown fat on a diet of their smaller brethren.
Of course perch, and to a lesser extent chub, are at least partly fish eaters. Could it be though that a few individuals of other species also develop a taste for fish, and therefore grow much faster? In which case, would deadbaiting be the best way to catch these "super specimens"? A 5lb predatory roach - now that really would be interesting!
* "Exceptionally Big Perch & Their Growth" by E.D.Le Cren of the F.B.A. & published in Vol. 40 of the Journal of Fish Biology.