Perhaps one of carp fishing's most contentious areas, along with rigs, is bait. There are almost as many theories as what there are flavours and that is saying something. Over the years a multitude of products have been available to all and sundry and in the last few years some very good baits have been around in a very convenient form. In a complete about turn to the initial secrecy that surrounded carp baits, nowadays the more publicity a catching bait can acquire, then so much the better. Especially for the bait company!
It's a commercial carp-fishing world in which we live and I think that every carp angler has gone through the period of struggling to get takes and seeking to find confidence in a bag that, after reading all the hype, is apparently working for someone else. The fact that the someone else may be putting in lots of time, may be a good angler fishing a water he knows well, may be part of a bait team that is putting large quantities into a water or simply someone who had a run of luck where a few takes resulted in a few big fish, can slip your mind when faced with the onslaught of competent advertising.
Whatever, the reasons for his success on bait 'A', it may have little relevance to the angler about to buy it. You may get it, try it, and if not an immediate success then you are back to square one, only lighter in the wallet. And so to bait 'B' and onwards. I don't know so much about a fool and his money being easily parted but certainly a desperate carp angler and his can be levered apart with a grass blade. It's a classic mistake and one I've certainly fallen into.
More experienced anglers realise that there is no magic formula, some baits may well have the edge on others but if you were using a bait from one of the big bait companies as compared to another on any given day, the angler who could actually locate feeding fish and cleverly present that bait to them would be more likely to catch than another who was just relying on bait 'pulling' qualities alone.
So what is the answer to getting a bait that you feel confident in and that will give you a leg up in catching terms and a supporting crutch to lean on when times get hard? Times do get hard, it is all part and parcel of carp fishing, but if you are sure of your bait and its ability to catch when things are right, i.e. fish feeding and you on those feeding fish, it is one thing less to worry about. A faith in bait and your rig (the things I call the pre-determined side of carp fishing) can leave you to concentrate on the variables of the fishing on the day. True, there are the odd times you have a radical change of terminal tackle on the day, but I think they're quite few and far between.
The answer, I think, is to choose a reputable company, give them a ring and ask for their advice. Explain your fishing situation and see what they come up with. Although the mass of bait ads can be confusing, I think it is fair to say that most of the bait firms are genuine and will help you as much as they can. There is hardly any yardage in them selling you bait that you will struggle to catch on. The carp-fishing grapevine would quickly have them marked down as no-hopers. All their baits are very well tried and tested, in fact you could simply just ask them for their most popular fish-catching boilie. The only choice you need to make is whether to go for ready-mades, which may restrict your choice, especially if you want a shelf-life bait i.e. one that doesn't need freezing. Alternatively you can make your own from their ingredients.
Once you have made your choice and have the bait give it a chance, the best bait in the world will not catch if other things are not right. Perhaps the best idea is to get onto a heavily stocked water and catch some fish on the bait to make you feel happy with it. If things don't go great look at other aspects of your fishing but above all don't get sucked into the chopping and changing routine.
So what about the choice of type of boilie? Ready-made or recipe mix, either bait company or your own concoction? It all depends on a lot of personal choices. To be honest, I've gone past the stage of getting any additional satisfaction from making my own boilies and now consider it a real pain in the neck and a drain on time that I cannot afford. I have mine made up for me by a bait company, an increasingly popular line of attack as you can acquire individuality without compromising the convenience of the ready-made. It'll certainly be cheaper, although you may have to buy at least 5kg and have a separate bait freezer to keep them. If you carp fish only occasionally, then picking up the odd bag of ready-mades is a sound choice. If you're a regular, then once again a purely subjective opinion as to how you see effectiveness, satisfaction and convenience will determine your choice.
If you decide you want to make up your own, choose a recipe and when you have all the ingredients at home follow the procedure as below and remember to stick rigidly to the quantities, especially flavouring, that the bait company have told you to use. If you want to go right out on a limb and devise a totally unique formula (something that might be harder than you imagine, although you won't know it of course) good luck! You will have to be either very experienced or have a lot of inner confidence. If you use a bait company recipe, you'll at least know that it has been successfully field-tested and has caught carp to a greater or lesser degree simply by virtue of the commercial repercussions of selling a duff product. Your killer boilie will have no such backup if you are unfortunate enough to start grinding out the runless hours. Any new bait has that high anxiety factor, but something that has no track record makes it worse.
The procedure for making boilies is as follows: Firstly, always promise your partner that you'll clean up the mess afterwards. Believe me, it'll make life much easier and time in an A & E ward after spilling a pungent amino acid additive on the carpet and saying that it'll soon stop smelling on its own accord, is time lost. Have clean hands. Servicing the car's carburettor directly beforehand is not a good idea.
Crack required number of eggs into a large mixing bowl and measure fluid ounces if required. Add any kind of flavour to the eggs at this point and gently whisk them until completely blended. Weigh out all the dry ingredients into another bowl and blend together with fingers. At this point fill the largest saucepan you have with mains water, place on the hob and start to heat, if you have one that accommodates its own wire cage strainer (a bit like a chip pan) this will be helpful. If not an ordinary wire cage sieve that you can get into the saucepan will do.
Add the dry ingredients to the eggs gradually. Remember you can always add the mix into the eggs to make the stiff paste that you require but if you overdo the mix and it's too dry it's much more awkward to correct. Kneed the ball of paste until it is uniform throughout and place on a tray. Roll the baits by whatever method you want. Depending on how much bait you want to make you may have some bait making equipment. The bait mastic gun with various nozzle sizes is useful, as is a rolling table. Basically, the mastic gun is filled with the mix in paste form and squeezed out into a sausage
the same diameter as the size required to fit the rolling table. Moving the two halves of the rolling table converts the sausage into boilies. If you have the patience or a willing band of helpers (wife and kids. Fat chance!), you can just pick off lumps of the mix and roll between the palms of your hands.
You can get away with different mixes and their consistency more readily rolling by hand, but if you want a lot of bait it'll kill you. The rolling table tends to 'doughnut' a dry mix and if it's too wet it won't work either. The baits needn't be that spherically perfect but if you are going to be fishing at a distance that needs a catapult to get out free offerings then it can be very difficult to bait up accurately with hand rolled baits unless you can get them perfectly round.
Once you have rolled the first gun-full of the mix, place the boilies on a lightly greased tray (to stop them sticking) and keeping going. At this stage you might wonder what you've let yourself in for, especially if you've been a bit cavalier about the mount you intend to roll. Shoving an uncompromising mix through a mastic gun's 14mm nozzle requires the grip of a gorilla and if you're rolling by hand....oh dear! If you find it too much to do the mix in one go you can always freeze the ball of paste and do it later.
Once you have made up all the boilies, your pan of water will be boiling away if not boiled away! Keep it topped up and boiling. You can now add some of the boilies, the main thing to remember is that you must not put in too many otherwise you will cool the water down too much and there will be problems. Add about 15 - 40 (depending on pan size), stirring the water to stop them sticking together. As long as the water comes back to the boil almost immediately you're doing fine. Time each batch of boilies with a stop-watch. When the time is up, scoop them out with your sieve, shake them to get rid of excess water and then place them on an old clean towel to dry. Repeat this process until you have boiled all your baits.
Let the baits dry for anything up to 24 hours with a minimum of 4, the longer you leave them the harder they will be. Bag them up after the drying time and pop them in the freezer. When you're ready to go carp fishing, get them out 6 hours before and they'll be ready to use. You can re-freeze them several times with no problems.
Articles on bait are the fishing writer's dream, a never-ending source of magazine space fulfilment if you get what I mean. It can be a minefield with different anglers touting different theories all open to debate, with neither side able to really prove a thing. It can almost be a fashion thing, by definition the fact that loads of anglers get onto a particular bait is because if it's half-reasonable it will catch a lot because loads of anglers are using it. You will read about waters 'having a bait' and then someone else saying that they always try to be on something different to the rest. Quite often both types of alternatives can be successful. To quote a football cliché, at the end of the day it is what works for you. What you feel happy about doing and what you have confidence in. Forget about who's catching what and where, the type of fishing and time being put in by some of the people you read about may have little bearing on your type of fishing.
Get a good bait, someone else much more qualified can help you there, give it a fair chance and concentrate on what you do whilst actually fishing. You may well be pleasantly surprised.
Mark Cunnington - www.carpbooks.com