Pop-ups or bottom baits: is one more effective than the other?
We asked two longtime friends, Julian Cundiff and Brian Skoyles to discuss.
Julian Cundiff: “I must admit that when Joe asked me to do this, I felt slightly confused, as for me it’s not about pop-ups versus bottom baits, but hook points off the bottom versus hook points on the deck. I guess timeline is everything and bearing in mind I started ‘proper’ carp fishing in 1986, THEN - and probably 90% of the time thereafter - the waters I have fished have had plenty of bottom weed to get to grips with. I would watch lads chuck out a bottom bait into the stuff and they either got a run pretty quickly or generally struggled and even then, if they did get a run, they would often drop it. I maybe wrong, but I was absolutely convinced that the hook point was to blame. If the hook dropped clear and it got picked up early on, no problem, but once the carp or nuisance fish moved over the area and didn’t pick the hookbait up, potentially weed would impede its entry into the mouth, hence dropped fish. So, whilst the head-to-head is about bait types, for me it’s hooking effectiveness that really matters. I am obsessive about hook sharpness and to put that lovely point in the weed… Well, shoot me now! That said, when I fish with Brian he has no problem with it at all, and neither do many that I fish with. Maybe it’s just me?”
Brian Skoyles: “You and I have often disagreed on hook sharpness. I want a sharp hook, but I also think there are occasions where a hook point can become too vulnerable to damage from debris on the bottom, so I’m happy to compromise a little on hook sharpness to ensure it stays viably sharp in all conditions. It also gives me the opportunity to wind you up when I regularly reuse hooks if I think they are okay!
“Back to Joe’s question, pop-up v bottom bait? If I could make a boilie I could bait up with, that sank, but then hovered a couple of inches off the bottom, I’d be a pop-up fan, but at the moment all my favourite baits sink and settle on the bottom, so where possible I want my hookbait to behave in the same way. I accept that carp will feed throughout the water column, but the bulk of their feeding is on the deck, so that’s where I want my hookbait. That said, there are always the odd pot of pop-ups in my tackle bag, because I will concede they have their uses. Nearly all my carp fishing is based on a very simple philosophy… that carp can quickly recognise a good food source, therefore much of my fishing is about applying a good quality bait and waiting for the fish to find it, try it, and look for more. The more of my bait a carp eats, the more they become confident in it, and the easier they become to catch. If I was always fishing over a weed-free, clean bottom, then I would happily always fish standard bottom baits on my Hair.”
Julian Cundiff: “I hear what you say mate, but I just don’t think even the most balanced of hookbaits ever behave like a free offering if that’s what you are aiming for. The tethering element of a Hair will make it behave differently, even when the Hair is long and supple, perhaps like the original Hair rig. As soon as you accept that the two CAN’T be the same then surely something that is more effective hooking-wise becomes a better choice?
“I do accept carp learn from experience, but they don’t have hands, they don’t read books and they do need to feed to survive. I believe in using quality bait too, to get their defences down, but I genuinely think that once they are feeding strongly, that little pop-up just off the deck does not alarm them at all and is a far better hooking arrangement. How many carp have I caught in almost thirty five years? Probably tens of thousands to be honest and if you compare pop-ups to balanced or bottom baits it must be a 95% to 5% ratio… That said, most of my waters have had a degree of weed to them. When I fished Willow Park and Catch 22 it was bottom baits as they were rock hard bottoms. Mind you, I bet if I would fish them now and had that point just off the bottom I’d catch just as many, if not more, than the bait on the deck. That needle point hook point makes all the difference all things being equal.”
Brian Skoyles: “Have you only been carp fishing for 35 years? It seems like a lot longer. It’s not just about presentation, it’s about fish behaviour. If you put a reasonable amount of free bait in your swim then you are encouraging the fish to focus on feeding on the bottom, not off it. I accept as soon as you attach a hook to a bait it will behave differently but at least it’s laying where the fish expect to find it. Following on from what I said earlier, I don’t always have the luxury of fishing on a clear bottom, so this is why I have the pots of pop-ups with me, not to fish on their own, but to aid presentation of my bottom bait. I am a big fan of critically balanced double bait combinations. This achieves two things, it stops the bait sinking into any bottom debris and it counters the weight of the hook.”
Julian Cundiff: “Don’t get me started on that mate. I have watched carp on the surface and on the deck and the movement of water they create makes the balanced bait waft all over the place which really is a danger sign surely? Way back in the ‘Tiger Bay’ days (go look it up you modern keenies), it was an advantage but now it has the potential to spook them, can cause foul or poor hooking and is the kiss of death IMO. I want that pop-up NAILED down and I use at least an AB or sometimes AA shot to pin the pop-up down. It becomes an anchor point for the hook and hookbait to pivot around and when the carp suck it in the mechanics of my overshotted pop-up come into play. The ultra-buoyant pop-up wants to go up but as soon as the hooklength ceases to move, that shot pops the hook point in. Of course, getting the length of hooklength right is important but I’ve never had an issue with that. Think about what carp suck in and I assure you a little green shot aint gonna spook them.”
Brian Skoyles: “If the fish are feeding confidently on my bottom bait, I see no point in having a hookbait that looks and behaves differently, but unfortunately fish don’t always feed strongly and this is the one situation where I will concede you have a point in fishing a little brightly coloured, heavily flavoured pop-up. You are fishing for casual feeders, fish that might just pick up the odd food item more out of curiosity rather than out of hunger. Modern rigs give you a chance to fish curiosity food items. They only have to suck it in once and they are hooked, that’s why you put so much store on your rigs and mega sharp hooks. I’ve never been a “rigs” angler, basic fluorocarbon hooklength and a flexible braid Hair serves me well and as I said earlier, I use hooks straight out of the packet. If I’ve got my baiting up right and the fish are feeding well, they will have dropped their guard and will suck in my hookbait strongly enough to give by plain and simple rigs an opportunity to hook up. Much of my fishing is on very weedy waters and I’ve never really got my head around the issue of baiting up a swim and then the most efficient tactic for fishing over it. So, you catty out several pouches of boilies, most will fall through the weed and settle on the bottom, what then? Do you try and get your hookbait through the weed, or do you settle on some sort of Chod variant that settles on top of the weed? Where possible, I want to get my hookbait as close to where the free bait ended up as possible, and I worry that the single pop-up on top of the weed is too obvious.”
Julian Cundiff: “I will go back to what I said earlier: I think a bottom bait or balanced bait will ALWAYS behave differently to free offerings. The tethering to a hook will do that. Of course, fishing a pop-up blatantly high in clear water will look obvious but I’m not doing or advocating that. It’s just off the deck and unless the bottom resembles a swimming pool (Carp Strikes Back anyone…) they don’t all sit uniformly. They sit in and on weed and no two seem to sit identically. Think about the position of a carp’s eyes and how it feeds. They do have a blind spot close in and anything other than clean bottoms on MOST waters they just can’t tell the difference. If I think the bright pop-up is TOO obvious, I will match the hatch but maybe 1:100 come to that approach for me. Bright pop-up, close to the deck, ultra-sharp hook and I know that hook POINT is fishing just as effectively from first cast to winding in.”
Brian Skoyles: “It’s worth coming back to the combinations I mentioned earlier. I might not be a “rigs” angler, but I do put some thought into fine tuning what’s on the Hair. I really like double bottom baits, but I like to use two different sizes, a 14 and an 18mm. I put the 14mm nearest the hook, which I think makes the double bait much harder to eject. The pop-up/bottom bait combination is fished standard snowman style, and I spend a lot of time trimming either the pop-up or the bottom bait to achieve as near as possible neutral buoyancy. I like to make sure the two baits stay together on the Hair and usually have a float stop in place to trap the two together.”
Julian Cundiff: “I guess when it comes to combinations, I am pretty simplistic. The little bright pop-up (11-13mm) over the top, occasionally a match the hatch one. Do I use bottom baits? Very occasionally. When the carp are clouding up (actually colouring the water muddy) I will use one. This is probably when the carp are head down into the bottom and it’s not that the pop-up is SCARING the carp, but it just is not going in like a hook flat to the lakebed. Funnily enough, I checked my records from the last twelve months and out of 900 plus carp from eighteen different waters, under 10 of those came on bottom baits. Now that would be easy to dismiss as easy waters, but I compare my results to others using bottom baits etc. You think I am going to put a pop-up out there when bottom baits are more effective? Not a chance! Think of all the carp Laney, Jim, Terry and co. catch on pop-ups on big fish waters… That blatant Stiff Hinge/Chod. You are not gonna convince me that my pop-up (hook point effective) set-up won’t out-fish the bottom bait most of the time when fished CORRECTLY…”
Brian Skoyles: “As usual, we’ve come to different conclusions, but that’s the magic of fishing, there is no right answer, and of course you catch most of your fish on pop-ups, because you fish pop-ups most of the time. I catch most of my fish on bottom baits because I fish bottom baits most of the time. We’ve fished together many times and sometimes one has out-fished the other and vice versa. There have also been times when we have tactically fished completely different and caught the same and there have also been times when we have fished totally different and both blanked. I suppose when it comes down to it, a lot of it is all about confidence, so let’s just agree to differ and go catch some carp.”
Julian Cundiff: “The amazing thing is, and I think it speaks volumes, is that I genuinely do not think you have ever out-fished me PURELY because you were on bottom baits and I was on pop-ups and as you said, you don’t feel that my pop-ups have been the reason why I’ve out-fished you. It’s almost always been because of location, timing or you being so bloody good at surface fishing and me playing at it! So, when it comes to pop-ups versus bottom baits, I guess we will need to agree to disagree, Bri?”
Brian Skoyles: “Why not, that’s what we’ve been doing for years.”