Bait And See
I'd never carried out a bait test and I had no intention of changing that fact, until Single Tone began to catch far too many fish. We're best carping mates, Tone and me, and we do most of the best-mates stuff like sharing gear, rig ideas, grub, views on girlies, a deep and abiding love of Rosie Barham's spicy sausage rolls, plus the occasional beer. In fact, we've always shared anything that's proven successful as far as carp fishing goes.
Here's what started it all - Single Tone catching far too many of these.
Then, Tone saw an advert which asked him if he fancied being a field tester for a bait company. Tone fancied being one of these quite a lot and, like a proper mate would, told me all about his new venture and its half-price boilies option as soon as he'd signed up. In true best-pal style, I decided to let Tone (he's single, remember, whereas I've got three designer kids that eat like hippos) spend his money and see if it was wasted, before joining him in the new sport of half-price bait testing. It was shortly after this that Tone began to seriously out-fish me.
The only thing Tone had changed about his approach to the venues we fished together, was his new, half-price, field-tester bait. The rest of what Tone was doing, I was doing, too, and until the arrival of the new boilies our results had been all but identical. One week-end Tone had 25 runs - no monsters but a run's a run - whilst I, untruthfully claiming to be â€˜only fishing for 20's, Mate', had to fish my bivvy slippers off to produce six pick-ups.
Manfully, I stuck to my alleged whacker tactics, my Delkims resolutely muted by lack of action as spiders weaved holiday homes around my static indicators. All the while, my rig-tying, rucksack-sorting, toenail-clipping diversions were interrupted by Tone's buzzers, usually followed by the furious splooshing of yet another carp entering a permanently wet landing net. Every non-jealous glance over to Tone's swim would reveal areas of bubbling, fizzing and occasionally thrashing water, as carp scrabbled like my missus and her mates at the January sales, to get a gobful of that new bait. It was when I noticed that the water adjacent to Tone's hookbait and freebies actually had a head on it, that I really had to have a word with the lad.
With Tone's swim a-foaming merrily behind us as we chatted, he and I examined the bait he was using. Yes, it had a bit of a decent smell about it, but that's no guide at all. In my experience, carp will feast upon everything from Strawberry Isotonic, the scent of which could grace any house-freshening aromatic oil burner, to the gut-twisting stench of Monster Crab and Secret Agent, where only the burning of the entire house will get shot of the smell. So, for me at least, sniffing boilies has never been a sure indication of their potential as carp bait. For the record, Tone's half-pricers smelled a bit fishy, with a tang of fruit and around 25 indecipherable somethings that didn't quite match anything in my nasal catalogue.
Visually, the 20mm boilies he was using were reddish-purple, blushing to a reasonably sickly pink after immersion of an hour or two. To observe the effect on these baits of being under water for long periods, I had to study a couple of Tone's successfully discarded hookbaits as they lay at the water's edge. As Tone pointed out, with hardly a hint of smugness, his baits didn't get much of a chance to soak over that week-end.
Mercifully, the session ended and Tone announced that he'd put a sample of the new boilies (all he dared spare, he said) in my bait bucket, and he suggested that I admit defeat and give them a go at my cherished local venue, the Mill Pond. I was due there the next morning for a four-hour hit â€˜n' run session before work, so I shrugged and told Tone that I might lob one or two in, â€˜If I can be bothered.'
Next morning at twenty-five to first light, I was at the Mill Pond and peeling the lid off my bait bucket, ready to catapult half-a-kilo of Tone's new wonderstuff in front of a snaggy feature that I knew held carp. Peeling back that lid revealed that Tone's magnificent bait donation amounted to 24 boilies and no pop-ups. Cheers, Tone. I'm going to mount a massive baiting campaign with that lot, then. OK, no sweat. I just swapped to a single hookbait approach, with a PVA bag and trout pellet back-up if it was required. It wasn't.
Didn't weigh it - didn't have time...buzzers kept squawking.
I caught four carp on that first trip, from a water that had been fishing like a pig until then. Over four short trips, and by committing the cardinal sin of re-using hookbaits, I caught more Mill Pond carp on that meagre handful of boilies than I'd managed all season. By the time the last hookbait crumbled off my hair rig, I extracted no fewer than 16 carp for 24, 20mm baits. Awesome? Fluke? Coincidence? Who knew? There was one thing I did know. I had to get hold of a parcel of this bait and do some more testing.
THE BAIT IN QUESTION
Right, here's the bit the carpers will have been waiting for. The boilies I've been testing come from Stour Valley Baits, a small family firm from Kent. There's a company profile panel at the end of this article (there goes most of my readership) which contains contact details, prices etc. and for those who wish to probe further, there's a piece on Stour Valley Baits, by Rosie Barham, in the October issue of Carpworld.
Jude Carpenter happy in her work - or is it the fumes?
At the beginning of my tests, I contacted the owners, directors, workers, accountants and sweeper-uppers of Stour Valley Baits (who all happen to be Phil and Jude Carpenter, assisted by their amazingly capable children) and I was warmly welcomed into the bait-tester fold. They had closed the applications for bait testers the day before I'd applied but I must have sounded sufficiently pathetic, so they let me in. Righty-ho, that's me on the firm - now what should I be testing?
Tone was on Stour Valley's Plum And Shellfish, with which I'd mounted my 24-boilie, mini-blitz of the Mill Pond, so I had me a parcel of that in 20mm. Then, Phil asked me to try a new mix he'd been using - the entire Carpenter family are raving carpers - codenamed MX Supreme P. I bought five kilos of this, again in 20mm, with the intention of testing it at separate venues to the Plum And Shellfish, so as not to muddy my results. At this stage, I was determined to be desperately scientific. Sadly, science was never my strongest suit.
With the MX Supreme P safely stashed in the freezer, I began my testing campaign using Plum And Shellfish, which rapidly became referred to as â€˜Plum â€˜n' Shell', then, inevitably, â€˜Bum â€˜n' Smell', due to Tone and me being mature and sophisticated anglers.. "Ow's the old Bum goin', mate?", Tone would enquire, "Are they avin' it?" I would then tell Tone that the carp were, indeed, enjoying my Bum, and we'd have a right larf, as classy blokes do.
Phil prefers to work in the nude when he's 'creating'.
My system for testing was simple - one rod on the test bait, the other on an established bait. I concentrated on the Mill Pond, a local water I knew well and a place where, along with Chicken Jimmers and Gay Dave, I'd established a going bait. Between the three of us, we'd had well over 100 carp the previous season and had spent many hours in sweet indulgence at the Mill Pond, learning its moods, quirks and the occasional foible. I know the Mill Pond and I knew what our established bait could do, so that was enough for me to use as a comparison.
The only spoiler, here, was the fact that the Mill Pond was proving hard going at the time I began my tests. I'd caught, but not with the regularity of the season past. There's a full close season on this venue and for the first time, Jimmers, Dave and I had launched into a serious pre-baiting campaign to ensure a fine opening week, come mid-June. Our plans were of the â€˜best-laid' kind and boy did they ever gang aglee, or whatever the saying is. A month into the season, things were picking up, but my catch rate was still worryingly slow. Oh well, with a 50/50 spread of test bait and established variety, at least conditions would be equal for both contestants.
'The Yooman' from the Mill Pond. We love this fish, even if he is a little'un.
From my initial sessions, I gathered such an imbalance of results that I seriously considered giving up on the testing and just getting on with my fishing. If I hadn't promised Phil and Jude that I'd do a proper evaluation on their bait (or near offer), then I would have taken my boilies and run. The fact was, Plum And Shellfish was out-catching my usual bait by just over five fish to one.
I rotated the rods from session to session, placing each bait-type in the hotspots I'd discovered, and varied my tactics between single hookbaits, stringers, PVA bags and scattered freebies. Rigs were identical Snakebite / ESP barbless hook combinations, always with a 3-ounce pendant lead on a Korda safety clip. Mill Pond fishing is virtually all 100 yard stuff, apart from one very tricky cast parallel to a willowy margin and it was this marginal hotspot that received the PVA bag and 10-bait stringer approach.
Eventually, it became obvious that the Mill Pond carp preferred the Stour Valley Plum And Shellfish boilies over the previously established bait. Identical placements and tactics yielded hugely un-balanced results, with the scales tipped firmly in favour of the all-conquering Bum. Out of 24 sessions of varying length, only twice did the established bait produce more runs than the Plum And Shellfish, both times from the PVA bag rig in the tight margin swim. The eventual score was 32 carp to 8 in favour of the Stour Valley bait. As far as the Mill Pond went, the votes were counted and the judge's decision was final. The question now was, would this stuff work on a water I didn't know? A phone call from a mate was about to give me the chance to find out.
When cousin Tom called to invite me to fish his syndicate water as a guest, I certainly put carping before testing. I've set myself a personal goal of landing a UK 30, and Tom's lake holds a superb selection of these fish. It's not an easy water by any means and runs are precious events, so, despite the success of the Plum And Shellfish at the Mill Pond, I asked Tom what the going bait was, took his advice and managed to land a 20 on my first trip.
Invited back, I duly blanked, doing so again on my third visit as a guest on this challenging venue. Upon the occasion of my fourth visit to Tom's lake I decided to offload the declared going bait and fish the new Stour Valley MX Supreme P, using that bait alone as my attack. I'd been told that the fish in this water prefer pop-ups and I had only bottom baits. The syndicate members were talented, thinking anglers, and had semi-countered the lake's prolific weed plantations by using trout pellet filled PVA bags rigged with in-line safety leads. I stuck to my pendant lead and stringer tactics because I had too many unfamiliar things going on as it was. Lastly, the members used a rowing boat to place their hookbaits and freebies, whereas I was too concerned about spooking everything on the lake as I sculled about looking for carpy features, so I relied on traditional casting. All in all, I was doing it differently from everyone else.
26lb of result, following my bottom bait-and-stringer approach.
On the week-end of that fourth visit, fishing MX Supreme P in double-boilie stylie, I had five runs and landed four fish, whilst in the adjacent swim, a far better angler than I'll ever be had no takes at all. My fish weighed 11, 24, 25, and 26 pounds and the one I lost was certainly a 20 . That level of action had been recorded on this venue only once before, ironically, by the angler who'd blanked in the adjacent swim. It should be noted that I caught those fish using just one kilo of boilies and no other attractant bait, and that the session I did was the MX's debut on that water.
Next week-end, I was there again (talk about a pest-guest) and this time, using the same tactics in the same swim, I had six runs, losing every fish to snags and weed. I still don't know why those fish came off, apart from one who'd wrapped itself around a visible underwater branch and went bonkers as I approached it with the boat. That fish was my Holy Grail 30, too, which stung like a bitch, but at least the runs had been re-generated by the MX P, so I was still in with a chance.
A CHANGE OF APPROACH
Just boiled - a batch of Stour Valley's MX Supreme P.
By now, I'd off-loaded the comparison deal (after talking to Phil and Jude at Stour Valley Baits) and had decided to go flat-out and see what a full-on, Supreme MX P approach would produce. The remainder of my Bum â€˜n' Smell I gave to a handful of anglers who'd agreed to test it on my behalf. More likely, they just wanted to get on it, but that was cool, as long as they reported back to me. Of those anglers, one was fishing a glorious venue right next door to Tom's syndicate lake, where some of the South's best carpers were lodged, so I knew it would be interesting to see how my prodigious Bum did there. As it turned out, he had a result on it, but it's a strict no-publicity water and various essential organs of mine would be forcibly confiscated if I elaborated further. Anyway, my Bum stimulated some action and that's what matters.
Meanwhile, back in my world, I thought that there was something â€˜right' about the Supreme MX P. Totally unscientific I know, but the fishy, meaty, yeasty smell of it seemed to my seafood-trained palette to mimic the after taste of the finest, lightly cooked mussels. I'd noticed that three of the fish I'd caught at the syndicate lake had expelled zebra mussel debris on my unhooking mat and with no heavy baiting regimes in place, I wondered if the Supreme was mimicking a major natural food resource. I didn't wonder for too long, though. I went fishing instead.
GOING FOR IT
From here on in, I exclusively fished the Supreme MX P in 20mm and 16mm pop-up on three different venues, plus the occasional re-visit to the Mill Pond to get my carping fix between bivvy-ups. By taking notes, comparing results and seriously thinking about what I was doing, rather than simply fishing for a session then starting afresh next time out, I believe that I have gained the right to draw a layman's conclusion here and there. More importantly, this measured approach has certainly made me a more efficient carper.
Cammo-Man deceives a 25-pounder.
I have also started to try out ways of increasing the effectiveness of my new bait, by offering them alongside hemp, pellet, particles, maggots, chopped worm - you name it. There is a ton of â€˜baiting and seeing' left to do and I'm enjoying every minute of it. So far, with winter rapidly tightening its grip, the approach that yields best results is a simple double 14mm bait on the hair (semi-efficient, anti-bream tactic), backed by a ten-bait stringer, cast to where carp have been seen, known to visit, or show themselves. Nothing crutch-moistening about that, then, but them's the facts.
HERE'S WHAT I BELIEVE
My bait test is not and can not be cited as a scientific study. There are far too many potential variables, more than enough â€˜what-ifs' and all the â€˜yeah, but perhaps it's just...' permutations to turn what I've done so far into a document of fact. To create a thesis from my findings would be impossible, at least for a semi-domesticated country boy like myself. Besides, by the time I'd sifted through sufficient manure to grow my little allotment of practical findings into a forest of fact, every other bugger would simply be out there catching carp and not giving a stuff about what's supportable and what's not. When it comes down to it, the only thing I really want to work hard at supporting, is my family and a carp-filled weigh sling.
So, direct from my own small world of what I now believe to be true, here's what I've learned from this whole bait testing exercise.
There is no such thing as a â€˜miracle bait' that will compensate for poor angling. Although my results were extremely good (by my standards) I still had to have the essential elements in place, or I'd have been far less successful.
The Stour Valley baits I've tried are all eaten by carp.
Using the Plum And Shellfish and MX Supreme P, I regularly caught more fish than other anglers (more skilled than I) on the venues at the time. There could be several million reasons for this, but the fact is it happened.
On six out of ten occasions at one venue, I caught using MX Supreme P, when all other anglers on that venue blanked. Ditto second sentence above.
All anglers who were given samples of Stour Valley baits by me, caught carp with them.
Five of the six anglers to whom I gave samples caught more fish than they previously had using other baits on a particular venue.
The mix used by Stour Valley Baits for the baits I've tested has been designed as a long-term, high-nutrition food source for carp. I know this because I have seen a letter from an independent, fully-qualified expert on such things attesting to the make-up of the baits after analysis.
Stour Valley Baits work instantly, too. Every venue I've fished, first time, has produced carp on the baits.
Frozen and shelf-life baits have both proven successful for me and I'll be happy to use both as and when the situation demands.
The Stour Valley Baits company is owned and run by two very hard-working, approachable people who always find the time to listen to my needs regarding bait.
The most important product of these tests is the fact that I can now concentrate on the other carp-catching essentials, without worrying about my bait choice. I believe such confidence to be priceless.
I have no commercial or concessional deals with Stour Valley Baits and pay for my stuff like everyone else. Oh yes I do, Elton, you cynical git.
I published this bait test because I'd like as many carpers as possible to share in the potential of catching more carp. Maybe that will happen, maybe not, but at least I didn't go all girly and keep it to myself, ay? Plus I'd like more people to discover the benefits (and fun) of doing a bit of bait testing themselves. It's made me think more about what I'm doing and I think I'm a better angler for it.
If any of you do try the baits, please let Stour Valley know how you did with them - good results or bad - because they really are interested.
The Stour Valley Baits company is already getting very busy (due in part to the results of my mini-networking of bait samples) and the way it's going, I may well have seriously buggered my chances of getting a few kilos of bait delivered at short notice because Phil and Jude are too busy sorting orders. What an arse that will be.
That's enough writing - it's time I went fishing - and I'll leave you with the all-important Stour Valley Baits website address, where you'll find all the facts and figures that somebody with far too much time on their hands has gathered. Oh, and they do this 'secure online ordering' bit, too, which means that you can place your order right now. The address is www.stourvalleybaits.co.uk, or you can telephone them on 01227 722294 or 07971 324777. Email address is Auntymo@Tesco.net
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