That was then... bait and baiting
Bill Cottam looks at the vast array of baits available to the modern-day carp angler whilst considering what the pioneers of yesteryear had at their disposal...
I have no idea how many bait companies there are globally these days, but I do remember, around 2015, sitting and having dinner with my then Benelux distributor and great mate, Hans Van Keijzerswaard. We were discussing how many euros of ‘folding’ we’d taken on the Saturday of the massive Zwolle Carp Show. I recall being slightly disappointed by our sales on the day, whilst Hans appeared considerably upbeat. It wasn’t until he pointed out that there were forty-nine bait brands at the show that I began to look at things a little differently. Forty-nine brands… at just one show!
When Tim Paisley and I founded Nutrabaits in 1986/87, the big hitters of the day - from memory - were: Richworth, SBS, Cotswold Baits, Geoff Kemp, Duncan Kay and a chap from Lincolnshire by the name of Rod Hutchinson. There were undoubtedly a few others, but not many, and certainly, overseas bait companies were virtually non-existent. Even that small group of companies represented and provided a vast choice compared to what was around in the early days of carp angling.
The true pioneers of our sport had their own ideas of course, and were restricted only by their imagination. The much-whispered-about life-changers in those days were basically bread in its various forms, the occasional worm and trusty parboiled potatoes. In time, sweetcorn, particles and the early home-concocted pastes followed. Yes carp tigers, believe it or not, there was indeed a time in the dark and distant past, when pre-digested boilies, high-attract pop-ups, critically balanced cork-dust wafters, pre-prepared shelf-life particles and even Korda Mangonana Supreme Goo were not available from every street corner, or online from your
local carping hypermarket.
I would never claim, by any stretch of the imagination, to be a carp fishing historian. I’ll bow and doff my cap at this juncture then, to the mine of information that is Kevin Clifford. Kevin’s astonishingly well-researched book A History of Carp Fishing lists details of getting on for 150 carp caught from venues such as Cheshunt, Mapperley Reservoir, Billing Aquadrome, the River Nene and Stoneham, between 1911 and 1971. Of those 150 fish, 51 were caught on bread in its various forms, a similar number on potatoes, 11 on honey paste and 3 on worms.
Sadly, even Kevin was unable to provide details of what the other fish listed succumbed to, but I would hazard a guess that it wasn’t generous scatterings of liquid-enhanced DNA Baits SLK Freezer Bait over SLK Stick Mix with added SLK Hydro Spod Syrup and more likely, a side-hooked cockle or something similar.
Having said all that - and for those of you that might be wondering - I’m not for second, being critical of DNA baits in any way. On the contrary in fact… I’m being completely honest when I say I hear very good things about them from several people whose opinions I value - hopefully that will see my northern bait-producing brethren remove my photo from their dartboard! No, my intention purely, was to emphasise the point that baits as we now know them, simply weren’t available then.
Incidentally, before I move on, I am a big believer that every carp angler worth his salt should have a fish or two under his or her belt that they caught on a potato. I for one, made it my mission to achieve just that about five years ago. Much to my amazement, I lowered a couple of Maris Pipers on a Hair Rig into the margins of one of my local lakes with a couple of handfuls of hemp and I was away within the hour! I have to say, although I haven’t totally ditched my boilies for the humble spud, but it certainly gave me a bit of a buzz.
To my mind, the popularity of particles such as sweetcorn, hemp and maples totally transformed carp angling and the way anglers viewed baits. At that point, for the first time, anglers were actually putting quantities of bait down in attempt to get them feeding in a competitive manner. The vast majority of us adopt a comparable approach today of course, and undoubtedly take it for granted. Until the efforts and exploits of the likes of Kevin Clifford, Rod Hutchinson and a few others became known though, it wasn’t a common tactic. Those using bread, potatoes and honey paste did, I’m sure, introduce a few free offerings, but they didn’t adopt the type of mass baiting techniques that the particle pioneers were reaping their rewards from.
What happened in the bait world in the years that followed must have come as a huge shock to even the most forward-thinking bait aficionado. Nobody could possibly have imagined that, in such a relatively short time later, the bait industry would become the commercial monster it is today. Of course, if truth were known, not all today’s bait companies are printing money and driving around in two hundred grands’ worth of super car; many perhaps, are barely scraping a living. That though, doesn’t detract from the fact that they all continue to play their part in building the unbelievable total that is now spent on bait globally, each and every year.
The quality and effectiveness of what’s available also varies enormously from one brand to another. The best advice I can give, is to try not to be influenced by the hype, and hang your hat on the baits and bait companies that have stood the test of time… very few bait businesses survive long-term by selling shite!
Freezer bait, shelf-lifes, paste, groundbait, pellets, Stick mixes, base mixes, spod mixes, glugs, dips, sprays, syrups, flavours, essential oils, extracts, pop-ups, wafters, particles and Goo… the vast array of baits available these days from any well-stocked tackle shop or online must, for some, be mind-blowing and confusing. There is certainly everything at hand that you could ever need to catch a carp, along with, it has to be said, a myriad of stuff you would never need in a month of Sundays.
I think it’s fair to say that the biggest, and probably most effective advancement in the last twenty years has been the development and availability of foodbaits. You know the type of thing: a seemingly simple recipe consisting of a base mix and 20 or so millilitres of complementary liquid food and away you go. Mainline Baits undoubtedly take the lion’s share of the credit for popularising this type of approach and it would be no exaggeration to say that their Grange and Activ-8 baits, and more recently Cell and The Link - to name but four - have changed the way many anglers fish for carp. Many simply buy a bag of the ‘going’ bait and throw it in of course. If truth be known however, each and every Mainline user (and there are a few!) has been a perpetuator of the effectiveness of the foodbait approach. It’s the same old story: good baits applied steadily over a period of time catch more than just about anything else you care to think of!
We’re also spoilt for choice these days in terms of how to get our free offerings of choice out to those ravenous carp. In the old days, I guess carp anglers were limited to throwing it in by hand, using a homemade catapult of sorts, or crafty blowpipe from a punt. The world in this regard though, has changed in a rather big way and we can now choose from dinghies, bait boats, throwing sticks, scoops, Mini Spombs, Midi Spombs, standard-sized Spombs, limited edition blue Spombs, Airbombs, spods, Impact Spods, Dot Spods, Spider Spods and any number of different designs of catapult… and to think I considered myself the proper kiddie when I scrounged a homemade spod from my old mate, Tony Baskeyfield. From memory, it was made from a Steradent tube and four dart-style flights about ninety-three years ago!
Personally I have always enjoyed using catapults and I do remember - as many fellow old-timers no doubt will too - getting my first Wrist-Rocket. The Wrist-Rocket opened up a whole new world for me; suddenly I could put a single boilie a million miles out with consummate ease - or so I thought! I happened upon that self-same Wrist-Rocket a couple of years ago on eBay and immediately I weighed in via PayPal in an attempt to bring back a few memories. Having taken delivery of my new toy, I proudly demonstrated it in front of a gathering of mates and much to my disappointment, what I recalled was a million miles all those years ago, was actually only about fifty yards… if that!
Heaven only knows where the world of tactical baiting up will take us in the future. I’d suggest it might involve a drone and perhaps GPS tracking of some description. I’d suggest also that Gatwick Air Traffic Control may have cause to get a little nervous… let’s see the seagulls suss that baby out!