Martin, how long have you been looking into carp bait yourself?
“Since the mid-1970’s. There was no bait available at that time and you had to go hunting out all of the flavours/ingredients and so on from supermarkets and delicatessens. One of the best things I ever did was nick some ‘esterised’ flavours from the chemistry lab at school and they were excellent. In fact, many of the Solar flavours to this day are Ester-based.
“At the time I was fishing on Brooklands Lake in Dartford, which was a hot bed of bait-making/bait experimenting. The various results from the anglers fishing there highlighted exactly what difference a good bait could do, which I’m still convinced to this day is the biggest part of the puzzle. The first ingredient I came across that really made a big difference was a banana flavour, however, getting hold of it involved a train and two buses to get to the shop that sold it.”
What in your mind is a good carp bait?
“One you can use year-in, year-out, which catches the most fish in good conditions and still puts you in with the shout of a bite in the worst of conditions.”
How do you go about formulating a carp bait and has the thought process changed much over the years?
“If I told you that I’d have to kill you! But seriously, over years of experience of using ingredients, enhancers, liquids and so on you build up a huge portfolio of knowledge about which products work with each other and at what levels. Therefore, each time we produce a new bait, the bulk of the work has already been done in that respect as we know what’ll work well and what won’t. I have always said that bait is an evolution rather than a revolution, and where we’re at now with Solar bait formulation and production has taken the best part of 30 years to achieve.
“On the food technology/ingredients side of things, there are far more bits and pieces available nowadays and you can get anything from anywhere in the world. So, with respect to whether formulating a bait has changed over the years, yes, in that we have access to far more bits and pieces nowadays.
“The only other change in how baits are formulated, from my point of view at least, is that a lot of the pieces of the jigsaw are already there thanks to years of experience, and so we’re not starting from scratch every time, and that goes as far as having the right contacts and using people in other industries to achieve the end
result we’re after.”
How do you recognise a good ingredient?
“Years of experience is the simple answer. A lot of it has been trial and error over many years, using myself, my close friends and the team of Solar anglers we’ve put all sorts to the test. The ultimate test is how well it catches carp and so there’s no better telling of a good ingredient than getting out on the bank with it.
“That said, I still have many close friends that started out with bait and bait ingredients at the same time as I did and occasionally one of them may give me a ‘nudge and a wink’ as to a great ingredient they’ve come across. Also, on occasion there is a gut reaction when you open a bottle/bag of a certain ingredient/flavour whereby you just know it’ll work: ‘it just smells carp’.”
What about flavours and liquid additives? What line of thought goes into designing these?
“In the early days I was sitting next to somebody who was using ester flavours. He was catching three carp a day in mid-winter and my mates and I weren’t, so I made it my mission to get hold of those, which is where the long journey to the shops for the banana flavour mentioned previously came about.
“We can’t send out neat flavour combinations for use as boilie soaks and dips – they’re just far too concentrated. Wanting to give anglers the versatility with all of the bait ranges, we engineered a way to get those flavour profiles out into the hands of anglers in a user-friendly format – i.e. Solar Big Shot liquids. So the idea behind the liquids were giving anglers versatility with the Solar bait ranges.”
There is a mass of work, research and development that goes into creating the next blockbuster of a boiled bait, but what about pellets?
“Pellets are bought and then ‘tweaked’ and so there’s nowhere near as much development as with a boiled bait. There are only a few, very big manufacturers of fish-feed pellets in Europe and their resources far outweigh anything that any fishing company could ever get close to. They’re the experts in their field and we’re the experts of boiled baits, enhancers etc. So, introducing our flavours, enhancers and feed stimulators to gain a quicker feeding response than the ‘basic’ pellet gives us the best of both worlds.”
Do you fish with pellets a great deal yourself? If so, have you found there to be any particular methods of fishing them that out fish other ways?
“In recent times I haven’t been on waters that suit pellet fishing and it’s also very easy to confuse matters by adding pellets into the equation along with boilies, seeds and other baits. However, there is absolutely no doubt that PVA bags of hi-attract pellets are absolutely devastating on certain waters, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that they are going to catch you the biggest fish in the lake… unless you can see him and put the bait on his nose.”
What would you say to those anglers that feel the need to change foodbait every year, regardless of whether they’ve had a good previous season?
“From the experience of our baits I’d always say to stick to what you have most confidence in. With baits such as Club Mix, we know that even the world’s biggest carp get caught on the same bait time and time again, so don’t let the fact that a bait’s working ‘put you off’. The proof is in the eating. Even though an angler might jump onto a new bait, by the time it’s on the shelf and available to everyone, all of our baits have been tested extensively, so there’s no ‘risk’ in doing so; any new bait we release will be quality.”
Have you got any advice on how our readers can get more from their chosen foodbait? Soak it; add a powder additive; wash it out?
“Following on from above, the baits are just about as good as they get straight out of the bag… that’s what we strive for. Something that works well for me though and is an improvement, although not to a bait’s profile, is crushing the boilies. It gives the fish more ‘bits’ to sift through of varying sizes and shapes and, importantly it stops them from rolling down any bars/slopes.
“I’ve put my thoughts on washed-out baits in print before, but essentially in my experience I have not found that washing baits out prior to fishing to be an advantage. What does make a difference though, again, is time, and having baits in the swim for longer periods is definitely an advantage. So, if you have the time to introduce bait and let it ‘wash out’ in the swim then it’s definitely an advantage.”
Do you think the ‘single, high-attract pop-up’ has had its day? Have you any ideas what will be the next big craze… Greedy Pig Rig coming back into fashion?
“The single pop-up will never have ‘had its day’ because if that was the case then it would have done so by now. I have been using the Greedy Pig Rig in my own form, The Kebab Rig, for a number of years now. This is an extremely effective and underused method, especially when fishing over a mixture of baits, such as over a spodded area. The Kebab Rig allows you to use two or three different baits on the Hair and as a result, it’s also very difficult to eject and you tend to lose very few as the fish take it with confidence.”
Talking of bucking the trend, do you think it’s worth getting on the going bait or is it worth trying to establish your own foodbait, even if it’s you versus a baiting team of, say, five to ten anglers, all putting in the same bait?
“A lot of that is down to each individual angler’s time available and confidence. It’s easy to ‘jump on the bandwagon’, but if you only have limited time available, but having the confidence to do your own thing will ultimately add to your confidence to do your own fishing. Carp will exploit an easy food source, so don’t think that because you’re not using the ‘going bait’ that you won’t catch.”
There’s been an on-going debate for years about the quality difference between freezer and shelf-life baits. So tell me, in your eyes, how much difference is there?
“Traditionally us ‘old boys’ have always used freezer bait. However, with advancements in preservatives and the availability of human food-grade preservatives, the difference between the two is now negligible, if anything. Of course I can only speak from a Solar point of view, but I have no hesitation in using either freezer bait or shelf-life because I have always worked to the ethos of ‘if I wouldn’t use it myself then I don’t expect others to’.”
It’s always said by bait companies that their new wonder bait has been tweaked, adjusted and fine-tuned over a period of three years. True or false? How long does Solar take to come up with a concept for a bait, develop it, field-test it and then get it on to the shop shelf? Also, not forgetting, how many times on average is the bait changed before it goes out to the punter?
“We can only speak for ourselves and can’t comment on any other bait companies, but Solar baits are ‘under test’ for varying time scales, some for several years and others for far less. The Chinese Take-Away for example was a quick one to create and only took three test batches before we ‘nailed it’.
“With regard to the bait being tweaked, a bait is generally adjusted and ‘tweaked’ dozens and dozens of times from conception to it ending up on the shelf. Often, the very first batch of a bait is completely different to the finished article because we create a recipe for the bait we want to make, using our years of experience of ingredients and levels, and make an initial batch. Then it’s down to taste, smell and results on the bank as to how the bait gets changed, but it’s always tweaked from the initial recipe, because what works on paper is never exactly what’s needed in practice, but it gives a great starting point.
“What you need to consider though is that once one ingredient, enhancer, flavour etc. is altered, others need adjusting in-line with it to find that perfect balance that we need for the finished product.
“What you need to remember though, is that many of our baits are constantly ‘under test’ as the flavour/ingredient combinations that are in existing baits are constantly being used and results are being fed back to us, all of which adds to our base from which to design/develop the next bait.”
I’ve seen it written dozens of times, and I quote from your brochure: ‘whilst we don’t envisage these products changing too much between now and their launch date, there is still a bit of fine-tuning that needs to be done.’ When you say ‘fine-tuning’, what exactly is that? Adding another 2ml of the liquid, and 0.25 of a gram of Betaine, then testing it again? How does this ‘fine-tuning process work?
“That’s exactly right, fine-tuning is adjusting the levels of the flavours and enhancers by minuscule amounts so that once the bait goes into full production everything is at its optimum level. So, like the quote says, while the bait won’t change much in the eyes of most anglers we know that it’s perfect, and fine-tuning to us is a vital a part of the bait making process as any other.”
Why is N-Butyric Acid so good? We see that this liquid is included into single, high-attract pop-ups that are available on the market, but if it’s so good, why don’t you include it into your foodbaits?
“To our knowledge, until now, N-Butyric Acid wasn’t available as a powdered additive that can be easily incorporated into bottom baits, so adding it to a ‘food’ bait in a subtle amount rather than the hi-attract levels used in certain hookbaits, including our own pineapple pop-ups, hasn’t been possible. Obtaining a powdered N-Butyric Acid though, is the exact reason why we have changed our long-standing ‘The Secret’ bait to the new ‘Pineapple Secret’, which has a pineapple and N-Butyric combination in it. Make no mistake though. N-Butyric Acid is as good as everybody says and it is now available in a ‘food’ bait in the Pineapple Secret.”
What can you see as the next big craze?
“We’re working on it!”