Mention cocktails to most people and they’ll conjure up visions of expensive and colourful concoctions of alcoholic drinks – unless they happen to be anglers.
Fish are not known for their taste for the hard stuff, and you don’t often see a bream gulping down the aspirins saying ‘never again!’ But fish are suckers for anglers’ cocktails – baits that are every bit as colourful and intoxicating as a pina colada, but as deadly to fish as Indian firewater.
Crust and paste, worm and caster, worm and maggot, maggot and caster, corn and maggot, corn and caster… the combinations are almost endless.
Some cocktails are employed in a bid to cater for the fishes’ fickle tastes. Nobody knows why a size 12 hook crammed with two grains of sweetcorn and a single white maggot can sometimes be such a hit with the summer tench. Perhaps the tench just fancy a mixed diet – a sort of meat and two veg in this instance.
If you’ve got fish in your swim, but the bites are slow and fickle, it’s time to start experimenting with cocktail baits. The fact that roach will often tuck into a maggot and caster on a size 18 hook after ignoring either double maggot or double caster is one of life’s mysteries. Unless you are reincarnated as a roach on a hard-fished water you’re unlikely ever to unravel that mystery.
Other cocktail baits are used for the angler’s convenience. The caster in the bream angler’s worm and caster cocktail acts as a buffer on the hook to stop the delicate redworm disintegrating or flying off during a cast to a distant hotspot.
Cocktail baits can certainly provide a balanced meal – in both senses of the word. The late Dick Walker used a balanced bread bait to overcome the soft silt on the bottom of Redmire pool. It seemed to do the trick, as he was rewarded with his former record carpof44 lb.
Dick knew that a straightforward paste bait would sink out of sight in the soft bottom mud, so he added buoyant crust to give it a lift. It was a forerunner of the neutral buoyancy baits, so beloved of the modern carp fisherman.
Anybody can catch mug fish that would swallow a bare hook, given half a chance.
But it’s the experienced angler who starts ringing the changes to provoke takes. Cocktail baits can include colour combinations too. That’s why top matchmen are seldom seen in action without a selection of maggots dyed in various hues.
Maggots in particular are invaluable partners in many cocktail bait partnerships. Besides being an excellent bait in their own right, it seems that the movement of a wriggling, freshly-impaled grub provides the trigger the fish need to take an otherwise static bait.
Like the redworm and caster combination, the redworm and red maggot cocktail is another classic bream bait. The extra movement imparted by the maggot often gives this double act the edge over any other combination.
So when bites are hard to come by, give cocktails a try. Shake up your swim and stir the fish into activity for champagne results.