In recent years many fisheries have introduced bans on certain baits – boilies and particle baits such as nuts are the most common. Faced with these restrictions, most anglers stick with the tried and tested substitutes, such as luncheon meat and sweetcorn.
Swan mussels and other natural baits can be very effective, but are often time-consuming and tricky to gather – and swan mussels are getting rare in some waters.
But there is a readily available, ‘freezer-friendly’ alternative – cockles.
There has been a lot of controversy in pike fishing circles as to whether sea or coarse fish make better deadbaits. Much depends on the venue, but there is little doubt that sea fish can work exceptionally well for pike, often producing bigger specimens.
A similar argument has been aired for cockles when compared with freshwater mussels – cockles catch better fish. One reason may be that the fish are attracted by the high salt content.
Cockles are not just another carp bait-they work well for tench, bream, roach, chub and barbel. You can buy them fresh from most fishmongers – they cost about the same per pint as maggots. Half a pint should be enough for a session. Fresh cockles have the advantage that they freeze well and can be kept for many months. You can also buy cockles in jars, pickled in brine or vinegar. Those in brine are best.
On still waters start by lightly loosefeed-ing with a quarter of a pint of bait over a bed of hemp. Special rigs aren’t necessary with cockles since most fish take them with such confidence. Traditional float and leger tactics work well. Use cockles singly on a size 10 hook or several of them on a size 8 or a size 6. Choose fine of at least 4lb b.s. — the fish are not usually line shy and a sizeable specimen may pick up the bait. It’s always best to be prepared for a big one!