Boilies play a major role in the dietary habits of freshwater fish and this is especially the case with carp and barbel. There are now many fisheries throughout Europe where carp depend on angler’s bait. I believe we can make the most of this dependency. In this article I will be discussing why the use of advanced bait can lead to an improved catch rate.
To establish why fish eat anglers bait we might look at a simple example of wild animals that have come to depend on humans for food. So, let’s take the familiar birds, like finches, blackbirds and robins that regularly visit our gardens. If we place food for the first time on a bird table, particularly when there was not previously a bird table in the garden, then birds quickly learn to eat the readily available food. We can also use different types of food to attract different species of bird to the table. This phenomenon is likely because there will be periods when birds cannot obtain sufficient vital nutrients from naturally available food and they have the ability to learn that the food on the bird table has the nutrients their bodies need. They can do this very quickly and I must stress that these creatures only know to do this by instinct, but I do not know how they do it! We must also consider that their dietary needs will change as their environment does. For example, in winter, birds often require food with a higher fat content, which is likely because this nutrient may be lacking in their natural food and they need the fat as body-fuel for surviving the cold. In spring time they require proteins to help them ovulate, produce eggs and breed successfully. Contrary to popular belief, carp benefit from a digestible dietary fat in winter. Carp also require extra protein in their diet when the water warms. The additional protein assists in the production of eggs and gets fish ready for spawning. This event only coincides with a consistent increase in water temperature. During this time of the season we should be thinking about changing our bait formulations in order to provide carp with a higher protein food source they will quickly benefit from. This may go some way to explain why one type of bait recipe will not provide the best solution in all conditions.
Over the past 40 years, and particularly with regard to the use of boilies that contain good-quality ingredients, anglers have taught carp to seek out and recognise bait. We have only done this by taking typical examples from other areas of nature, such as the bird-table example I outlined earlier. This was the original theory behind the use of HNV (High Nutritional Value), bait and the original concept of the boilie which was developed in the early 1970’s. The main reason boilies have become so effective, is that they are more selective than traditional bait or shall we say, more effective than bait that has a low(er) nutritional value. It is important to understand that boilies and special pastes have evolved because we have the option of manipulating the ingredients to suit prevailing conditions. This point is very important, because it is only by using and understanding various food ingredients to make boilies and paste that we can completely control the true nutritional profile of the bait. With a relatively small effort, bait enthusiasts can seek to control the protein, vitamin, mineral, carbohydrate, and fat, content of their bait. It is also possible to control the, shape, size, texture, colour, smell, taste, density and buoyancy of it too. There is no other angling bait that offers this level of infinite versatility. Carp are the perfect quarry for us to implement this bait theory and many of us can then elect to go much further and reap the rewards by understanding it more. Reputable bait manufacturers and suppliers should always know the exact nutritional profile of their bait. It pays to ask a few basic questions of our bait suppliers and by doing so we should gain a better understanding of what bait works best and when to apply it.
Further understanding of what bait fish prefer to eat can influence the speed and effect of its attraction. This is known as ‘Short-Term’ and ‘Long-Term’ bait. Short term baits would be of little or no food value and are less likely to be nutritionally beneficial. They may perhaps contain a stronger level of key ingredients and additives to increase the smell, taste and overall attraction of the bait, with more emphasis being placed on instant attraction rather than food value. Ready-made bait with chemical preservative, plastic sweet corn or artificial bait is in this category, and we know carp can be tricked into eating these baits in spite of their make-up but not because of it. It may also be important to note at this point, that these types of bait would be even less effective were they not presented on a self-hooking hair rig set up. It should not be forgotten that before the hair rig was invented anglers buried their hooks inside the bait and actually had to strike-the-rod when they had a bite! Modern hair-rigs are actually self-hooking-rigs and this has eliminated a great deal of the angling skill that was previously required to convert bites into hooked-fish.
Bait that might attract fish quickly may be dipped or glugged in a liquid food additive or flavour-soak and made up in bright colours to help catch the eye of the fish. These baits are perfect for short-sessions, ‘Zig-Rig’ tactics, day ticket venues, ‘easier-waters’ and so on. These high-attract baits are not ideal for long term use, especially on more challenging and pressured venues, or when individual large fish that may be older and wiser are the target. Using over-flavoured, strong smelling bait can act as a major repellent and there is no doubt that the use of bait dips, glugs and bait soak liquids probably puts off more carp than it attracts.
Long term baits are formulated to contain more subtle levels of ingredients and are ideal for sustained use on all types of fishery. They key to any long term bait is the original formulation of the base mix recipe. It is not possible to make a long term bait by using cheap or inferior ingredients and then relying on a flavour or additive to provide the main attraction. The very best long term boilie recipe would start and finish with the main powders and ingredient recipe, and may not even require the addition of extra flavouring unless it is used at minimal levels and as a compliment to the overall recipe. A common error made by 95% of bait enthusiasts and even some bait-manufacturers is the over-use and inaccurate measurement of strong flavours. The most successful boilie-anglers in the country, are likely to be those individuals who either make their own bait or can guarantee their bait supplier knows what they ae doing.
Carp have highly sophisticated senses and they can detect changes in their environment in part-per-million. To put this in context, a carp can detect bait within minutes of its introduction. They react to stimulants that are equivalent to as little as one tea spoon of flavour in a volume of water as large as an Olympic sized swimming pool. It has also been proven that many older/larger carp are more sensitive to their environment. This means they are likely to be much more cautious when evaluating and eating bait. This behaviour has evolved, over thousands of years through genetic evolution and is a major means of fish preserving and extending their own lives. It is nature’s way of allowing selected and stronger fish to survive predation and then go on breed successfully.
I believe we may have greater success when fishing for carp by using bait that is as nutritious as possible since this this tactic is bound to improve the carp’s dependency on it. There are great benefits for those anglers who have already made the effort to use bait with a real food value and who also try to understand more about the ingredients required to make good quality boilies. Ultimately, this is why some bait recipes are noticeably more effective than others.
Carp need to eat throughout the year in all water temperatures and they will actively search for any easy-to-eat food, especially bait, which requires the minimum expenditure of energy to find it.
All bait, even if it is of little or no nutritional benefit, may still be eaten and this might include, particle baits, ‘spod’-type mixes, high oil content pellets such as halibut and salmon pellets, budget priced shelf-life boilies and other brands of bait that contains chemical preservative. Bait that falls into these categories will naturally catch carp, and admittedly, it is going to be cheaper to buy and it requires little effort to store or prepare. However, these types of bait are also used by 90% of carp anglers and it therefore follows that carp have become used to seeing the same type of bait. It is also vital that any bait of high-oil content such as halibut pellets should never be used in cold water. Carp cannot assimilate the rich oil and it upsets their digestive systems putting them off feeding for long periods of time. Anglers who use salmon, trout or halibut type pellets are not only likely to damage fish health but they are potentially spoiling the sport for others. Halibut pellets, for example, contain around 45% fish oil. The recommended oil content for carp feed or bait is 7%.
My original interest in making bait was born out of a desire to be different to others. I was just not comfortable in the knowledge that I might be using the same or similar bait and tactics as others. I wanted to be different and the only way to ensure I was going to be different was to control as many aspects of my own methods and tactics as I could. Bait was an obvious choice and I was fortunate to be around at a time when the boilie was first developed and when most carp anglers made their own bait and still find it difficult to get out of this habit. The most common error I made in the past was to try out too many different bait recipes. This sometimes involved taking several different baits with me on a session. At the time, I thought this was the best way to test out bait. Eventually, I realised that the key to successful bait is to make one practical recipe with a broadly nutritious profile…and then sticking to it! It is not a problem to make small or unique changes to a winning bait recipe and this can be achieved by using slight variations in flavour profile or minimal alteration to the main recipe. By adopting this policy we should all only need to use one or two trusted base mix recipes.
Most of my carp fishing these days is carried out during warm water conditions, in other words over 11 degrees Celsius. For summer use, I have to come to understand all the ingredients I use and how they can be manipulated to suit conditions. Those people that know me will also know that I have not changed my own basic base mix recipe for over 10 years. The only thing I might change from time to time, or to suit the length of the session, is the strength and level of flavour inclusion as an attractor or label. For example, during a short term session as a guest on a venue I may have not fished before, may mean I use bait with a slightly increased flavour level and I would do this to improve the chances of a bite in the short time I am there. I would however only use a small amount of free offerings and these would be free offerings that were considerably lower in overall flavour level that my hook bait.
It takes time to gain confidence in any bait and I would urge any potential bait makers, be they commercial bait producers or pleasure anglers, to take time in designing new bait rather that forcing it to work by adding extra ingredients which may end up conflicting with each other and not being of benefit. It would all be rather pointless if we did not learn from our mistakes and it would be even more pointless if those who seek advice then fail to learn from it. I really enjoy passing on what advice I can. When it comes to making bait, I have made most of the mistakes, so other anglers shouldn’t have to!
Much has been written about the dietary requirements of carp, yet most of this has been explained from a fish farming or aquaculture point of view and not in the context of bait. In my opinion it is only by trial and error that we can come to understand what carp prefer to eat and we can make the ingredients into practical and manageable bait. It would be pointless using the most exotic or excusive ingredients if they do not make into a useable boilie.
In simple terms, carp require around 35% digestible protein in optimum feeding temperatures; which would be 15-25 degrees Celsius. They do not need a higher protein diet than this and I would say that using a higher level is likely to be a waste of ingredients. Below this water temperature their relatively simple digestive system will take a long time to process any bait especially that which is too high in any single nutrient. So when choosing either a summer time or winter time bait, there would be two clear recipe guidelines. Summer bait is much more flexible since the protein content can be provided via a mixed up blend of ingredients derived from, fish, meat, milk, or vegetable compounds. The next most important ingredient is carbohydrate which should be present at a level of around 50%. So, perfect summer bait would be 35% Protein and 50% carbohydrate with the 15% balance made up of ingredients that provide a spread of fats, oils, minerals and vitamins. Winter baits, used regularly in water temperatures below 11degrees Celsius, need only be 5-10% protein and the rest almost pure carbohydrate. Ideally, there must be some easily digested oil content in the bait recipe. 4-5% oil is about the maximum required in any cold water bait. Fresh soya oil would best fulfil this role, but not fish oil. It should be remembered that carp will eat virtually all the bait they find, but during cold water conditions, even a small handful of a typical high protein (summer time recipe), bait might fill them up for as long as two weeks. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why winter carp fishing is more difficult than it used to be.