Bait is one of those areas we're all guilty of being complacent with from time to time because we live in a world of convenience. With so many rolling companies now in operation it's easy to pick up the phone and order 10kg of the latest boilies, leaving your faith in whatever you've paid for. But there’s a danger that the more convenient choosing and buying bait can be the less care we can sometimes take considering what we are using and how well it is really working. Here are a few of the major lessons in bait that carp have inflicted on me over the years…
In the mix
I recently decided that sitting over just boilies on my syndicate water Woldview was perhaps the wrong way forwards after my close quarter observations told me the fish were definitely willing to feed more often than I perhaps thought they were. It was hard going on the bottom but whenever I saw a carp in close and fed it sweetcorn or mixers it took them, indicating that something wasn’t quite right with the way I was fishing. When I fed the fish boilies at close quarters I quickly realised exactly where the problem lay as they ignored them and just disappeared from view. The Woldview carp had simply become accustomed to round balls being dangerous and needed something different to help drop their guard. I adding some pellets and particles to my base feed, and whilst I still fed them boilies, I disguised them a little by crushing and halving them, mixing up the situation the fish were used to seeing all too often. On the first couple of mornings using the new approach the fish went potty and I actually struggled to keep a rod in the water! Sometimes the smallest change to your baiting situation can mean the world of difference to a carp.
Some of the most valuable bait lessons I've learned are from my overseas exploits when I cottoned onto how selective even the most virgin of carp can be. Carp can be very choosey when it comes to bait and anyone who ignores even the tiniest of detail will almost certainly fall short at some point. Colour is the classic example.
Don't let folk tell you that overseas carping is easy because the fish are exactly the same in foreign lands as they are in the UK and will only pick up food items they find attractive. I remember going to the St. Lawrence River in Canada and ignoring the advice of Canadian Carpin’s Paul Hunt when he told me the famous ‘easy’ fish preferred bright orange hookbaits to anything else. I refused to believe him thinking he was just trying to sell me his 'going bait' and it wasn't until I'd sat there for three hours with dozens of carp crashing over my dull coloured fishmeal baits without as much as a bleep that I realised my mistake. With my tail between my legs I reluctantly changed and started hauling one after another within minutes of swapping to the bait Paul had advised. Don’t ever ignore the difference a change in colour can have - it’s exactly the same principle as switching the colour of pop-ups and toppers around to see which colour is the winner on a particular venue or even from one day to the next.
The legendary Lac de St. Cassein in France was the setting for another major lesson in how different baits can be perceived by carp. I took a load of ready-mades on my Cassein trip, despite being told beforehand by Steve Briggs how picky the Cassien carp could be on bait, preferring fresh freezer rolled boilies to ready-mades.
Wondering how on earth a carp could tell the difference between fresh and preserved bait I decided to do my own thing. It wasn't until I watched a shoal of carp move through my swim one afternoon without a bleep when I realised I'd perhaps been a bit naive. I ended up blanking the whole trip having seen carp over my baits on several occasions and left the lake having had a proper lesson on how choosey those famous Cassien carp could be about what they picked up.
If that trip alone wasn't good enough to teach me a lesson, a short while later Steve himself suffered a similar fate when he had a different rolling company to normal prepare his bait for a long trip and it didn't look or smell as fresh as it was supposed to. Thinking it would be OK he stuck with it and two weeks later he hadn't had a bite whilst other nearby anglers were catching. Only when he reluctantly switched over to one of their baits did he realise his error when he caught a carp straight away.
So not the flavour
Ever considered that on some waters the carp simply do or don’t respond to particular baits or additives? You’d better believe it. One particular session I fished at Farlows Lake in 1990 I went armed with a bait I'd been doing well with on my syndicate water. When I took it to Farlows I had fish all over me yet I couldn't buy a bite. Meanwhile, the guy fishing next to me – Tim Spencer – had a multiple hit from spots that right next to me but using a different bait.
Being a busy day ticket water, initially I put it down to the carp being 'spotty' which is a common feature of those types of water. When I next went back to Farlows I’d been forced to change the attractors in the boilie because I was running low on liquids. Being a student on a tight budget at the time I fished the new bait next to the bait I'd used previously (one rod on each) and after 48 hours I left with a multiple catch on the newly rolled and differently flavoured bait without as much as a sniff on the other.
It was a valuable lesson since the base mix was exactly the same on both rods, I'd just dropped the Bun Spice flavour and swapped it for a Salmon which Tim had done so well on the previous trip. It was a classic example of one flavour just not working on that water.