Going back to my early club days, I remember an older and wiser member spending most of a coach journey moulding some cheese into a big ball of bread paste. He went on to win the day with a top catch of quality roach, making my basic pint of maggots look a bit sad. Years later, when I ran a tackle shop, must-have flavours and additives came and went. People continued to catch fish with them and without them. There was always a big mystery factor, and I suspect much of it was sales hype. However, I began to change my mind a little when a carp angler gave me a bottle of sweet liquid, which smelt like a tangy cross between pineapple and pear. He told me he was fed up with catching everything but carp when using it! I tried the mix on maggots and won a winter league section by a country mile, while nobody around me got a bite. I caught loads pleasure fishing with the flavour too, also enjoying a runaway match win with it.
Thinking I was going to clean up with the fruity cocktail that caught everything (except the carp it was intended for) soon came to a disappointing end. When I asked the chap who gave it to me if he could make up some more of the liquid additive, he sadly declined, saying he couldn’t remember all the ingredients that were used. My visions of cashing in at the draw bag quickly evaporated. At the time I was discovering other bait tricks that made a difference. I got into bread punch fishing, after finding the method worked particularly well on several favourite canal stretches. The fish loved small pellets of fresh white bread on the hook, but could be fussy about what was fed with it. Plain tackle shop crumb worked okay, but when I experimented with some gear I made myself, I caught loads more and the fish got bigger. My groundbait smelt like new loaves from a bakery, while some commercial crumb was bland and even sour in comparison.
GOING TO SEED
I remember when hemp seed made a huge difference. These days hemp is probably used more by carp anglers in their spod mixes, but that wasn’t always the case. There were places where hemp was fed so regularly, you were wasting your time without it. I don’t think it was addictive as many believed, but more to do with fish becoming reliant on something that was constantly available to them. This trait has become apparent with other types of popular offerings like pellets, which currently dominate so many fisheries. Hemp isn’t used as a main line of attack by many general coarse anglers now, in these fishmeal-orientated times, but it’s still a big ingredient in a lot of groundbaits. This oily, nutty smelling bait vaguely resembles tiny water snails and occasionally it still works wonders for me, being handy in convenient ring-pull tins. Not so good on carp puddles, but still has the potential to be highly effective on wild venues.
IN THE BAG
We all have our favourite groundbaits, whether originally attracted by fancy packaging, clever marketing, or hearing about effective products through word of mouth. Many of the long-lived recipes have proven track records, but the most effective way of finding the best ones is to use them as paste on the hook. This quickly eliminates duff stuff, and there have been a few mixes I’ve tried over the years that were swim killers. Two great concoctions that stood out were milled expanders and Special G Green. Apart from carp, milled expander pellets attract lots of fish, not just on commercials where fishmeal and pellets have become an important part of the food chain. Add some of this potent powder to any groundbait and skimmers in particular love it. It’s already an important ingredient in many recipes anyway, because it works so well. The same applies to Bait-Tech Special G Green, one of the very best fishmeal mixes.
Pellet and fishmeal don’t work everywhere, I’m almost pleased to say. Any products that contained these ingredients used to be the kiss of death on many carp free venues, but that trend gradually began to change as more anglers began feeding these products. But there remain wild venues where anything with a fishy aroma doesn’t work that well. Natural or sweet groundbaits continue to be far more effective, along with using good old favourites like maggots, casters, sweetcorn, hemp, bread and worms. A pellet-free zone is not a bad thing occasionally! On venues that hardly see any pellet feed, I’ve experimented with fishmeal and natural groundbaits. I quickly discovered high fish content had a limited impact, pulling fish fast but not for long. Less potent mixes worked so much better and for greatly extended periods. I found skimmers, bigger bream and tench the first species to switch over to fishmeal, while roach tended to lag way behind.
While big roach are sometimes accidentally caught on baits like pellets, boilies and the like, they only show up occasionally. I think most of the time they learn to forage on the smaller bits and pieces of grub carp anglers heavily spod or chuck in. I’ve also discovered when targeting carp, bream and tench with pellets and fishmeal groundbaits, that very few big red fins turn up. Yet, feeding with proper roach groundbait on the same venues, along with natural baits they prefer, roach can show in big numbers. I’m talking about fin- and scale-perfect fish, many well over the pound mark, that have obviously never been caught before. These big boys are marvellously clever, but with extra guile they can be fooled, even on the busiest of day ticket venues. It becomes a game of cat and mouse, carefully looking for overcast wintry days, fishing on until it gets dark, using small hooks, light lines, well thought out rigs, and feeding ultra-carefully.
I was late getting into using krill, thinking this additive was just another sales pitch. I don’t really like the smell of krill groundbaits and pellets anyway, but have to admit there’s something about these products that works particularly well. Simply feed this flavour in crumb or micro form, or catapult out some larger pellets, and you are almost guaranteed a busy day on many venues. Most species respond, even perch surprisingly. I’ve caught quite a few perch on krill pellets, so I now add some of these in micro form when using chopped worm for that species. A few local lakes I fish don’t allow groundbait, but pole cupping some krill micros is just as effective for skimmers and roach, with bonus tench, crucians, rudd and carp often turning up. Apart from combining krill feed pellets with baits like red maggot, casters and worms, I like using Dynamite 4mm Krill Durable Hook Pellets (which are nearer 6mm) and Drennan 4mm Crab & Krill hookers.
Krill has completely changed my tench fishing tactics, after finding both red groundbait and pellets steeped in this flavour score heavily. Most times I use krill, I enjoy a busy day. When I don’t use it, sport is less hectic. In warm weather a mixture of krill groundbait and micros is often enough to get tench fizzing clouds of bubbles. I once added chopped worm and casters, but found those baits pulled in too many nuisance fish like rudd and small perch. A 6mm soft hook pellet is normally large enough to bypass these and find tench, although I like to try large dollops of krill paste on a big hook at some stage. One lake I fish has lots of bream and they respond well to loose fed 4mm krill pellets, switching between double red maggots and similar flavour hook pellets. The big perch in another stillwater, respond to krill groundbait, laced with similar flavour micros and a bit of chopped worm in a cage feeder, using prawn or worms on the hook.
I was out of the habit of using meaty flavours and baits, until I went back to the River Trent, after moving closer to it. Many barbel anglers on the stretches I visit use pellets these days, so I tried some with a strong meat aroma, using similar groundbait to hold them in a feeder. I was getting blitzed by small dace, roach and bleak, so I tried banding a 6mm hard pellet and to my amazement started catching quality roach and the odd skimmer. This gave me the idea of experimenting with a pellet feeder when I went for a couple of days’ fishing on the River Wye. Using a mixture of micro and 4mm pinkish red Polony feed pellets, simply banding a 6mm version on the hook, soon provoked some savage takes. Big chub responded almost straight away and I think I might have had a barbel attached at one stage, but it came off. It makes sense to me to use meat flavoured pellets, because of the way baits like luncheon meat work so well.
For many years I wasn’t totally convinced that bait flavours and additives made such a huge difference, trying to tell myself that anything I caught with them would have probably happened anyway. But gradually, some of the experiences I’ve previously mentioned here have begun to change my mind. I still believe there’s never going to be a magic formula that will catch everything in your swim, but I do think certain baits can be enhanced to increase their attractiveness. This big brute of a chub responded almost instantly when I started feeding meaty pellets, after several hours flogging a river swim with my usual hemp and caster attack. Those baits can still work, but weren’t finding fish this big, also having trouble getting through teaming shoals of minnows, dace and bleak. Some flavours and recipes appear to be superior to others in some situations. If nothing else, they boost your confidence, using something you like and trust.
Of course, it had to happen. Just as I was getting my thinking straight about flavours, a mate hit me with a curve ball. When he first turned up with chocolate orange pellets and matching groundbait, I thought things had gone a step too far. I laughed, the bailiff had a good chuckle too, but we were both quickly brought back to earth when he emptied the lake. He did the same thing again a few days later, on the water next door. To help underline this wasn’t a fluke, I was given a bag of the new stuff and went back where I had struggled. It was completely different and I bagged up all day. A couple of years later, back on the same venue where it all kicked off, my pal gave a bag of the sweet chocolate orange groundbait to the bailiff. He later used it next to me, combined with a cage feeder, adding just a few red maggots to the mix. Crazy action followed, with skimmers and other quality silvers waking up in the freezing cold conditions.
Another friend is a bait disciple with Tommy Fisher products, made in Sheffield. Whenever I go fishing with the other Dave, he is always showing me interesting stuff, whether it’s pellets, groundbait or various hook offerings. He is a very accomplished angler, but also has great faith in what he uses and nearly always bags up big time. I watch all this closely and I’m convinced the quality bait he uses (and believes in) provides an important edge. I will never forget the time when the editor of an angling publication I was working for received a big box of groundbait samples from a new company. He would have a fish nearby, while I got my act together before we started a photo shoot for each feature. Suddenly he was struggling everywhere we went. I was bagging up and he couldn’t buy a bite. He tried to offload some of the groundbait on me, but mixing some up, it smelt like the contents of a dustbin. That’s where it ended up.