Hempseed as fishing bait

Hempseed is possibly the best bait for coarse fish such as roach and dace, but many people have problems with it, if only because they can’t keep up with the speed of the bites

Acclaimed by the match fisherman and other anglers as a ‘superbait’, banned by some clubs as unspor-ting, condemned for years as a water reasonable price nowadays from most tackle dealers, is big, black, and should be free from dust or husks. A pound is ample for a normal day’s fishing. Before use it should be washed carefully in cold water, immersed in a clean pan of cold water and then brought to the boil. To emphasize its blackness a large lump of household soda can be added, together with two teaspoon-fuls of sugar to hide any acidity. Having boiled, allow to simmer and carefully watch until one side of the seed opens and a white kernel pro- trudes slightly, showing that it is fully cooked. Boiled beyond this point it will disintegrate and become totally useless.

Keep the seed damp

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Now sieve the seed and wash it under a cold tap until thoroughly cool, otherwise the cooking process will continue. Finally – and vitally important – store the seed in an airtight, watertight box, keeping it sealed until it is required. If you fail to keep hemp wet it will float on the water, bring fish up to the surface and eventually, as it carries downstream, take them with it out of the swim.

It is no exaggeration to say that half of the hempseed used by anglers is wasted. A large quantity thrown into the water for groundbait overfeeds the fish, drastically reducing the chances of hooking them. When a swim has been selected, start by covering the palm of the hand with seeds and throw them well upstream, and repeat the process once or twice while tackling-up. The float should be adjusted by trial and error until the hook swings an inch off the bottom of its passage through the baited swim.

Hooking hemp

Hooks for use with hemp should be small – from size 10 downwards – and made from fine wire. Special hooks, with the back of the bend flattened to allow a single hemp grain to be easily mounted were available at one time; some anglers today flatten their own with a small hammer and a fine punch. The effort taken to do the job is amply repaid with time saved in re-baiting the hook whilst fishing.

Select a large seed, hold it between finger and thumb, then squeeze it and push the bend of the hook into the open side through the white kernel. Gently done, this should hold the seed on the hook. If the seed drops off, it will indicate that the hemp has been overcooked. With each cast it will probably be necessary to re-bait the hook, a tiresome procedure that, as will be seen later, can be avoided by the use of artificial hemp or alternatively a suitable substitute.

At every cast to the head of the swim, throw in no more than 8-10 loose grains, aiming them right on the tip of the float. Once they hit the water, tighten any slack line between rod tip and float and prepare yourself for some of the fastest bites imaginable.

Why some species of fish take hemp – to them an alien food – is something of a mystery. Perhaps the most convincing explanation is that they mistake the dropping seeds for minute water snails. What is certain is that hempseed has a very high food value, so much so that, once accustomed to it, fish may reject any other offerings, creating the ‘one bait only’ water.

The smell and taste of hempseed are potent, and the use of a ground-bait mixed with water in which it has been boiled will often have roach, rudd, dace, chub, bleak, bream and the occasional barbel snatching frantically at the hookbait. Often, because of the nature of this bait, the float will have dived under and the seed be released before the less experienced angler has had time to strike. In this situation, you can continue using hempseed as a groundbait but with a larger hookbait, such as elderber-ries, both fresh and preserved, cur-rants, or tares, one of the seeds used in pigeon feeding. These larger mouthfuls usually succeed in per-suading a fish to hold on long enough to the bait to allow a strike that will drive the hook home.

Artificial hemp

These baits are easier to mount on the hook than a single seed, as is plastic hemp, an accurate imitation provided with a small loop through which the hook can be pushed. Some imitations are made of a short piece of electrical cable covering, black on the outside, white inside, looped over the point and held in place by the back of the barb.

Occasionally, the quick bite that is not followed through can be caused by the fish attacking the lead shot on the cast, which closely resemble hempseed. A ‘winkle’ of lead – lead wire coiled neatly around the line and stopped from slipping by a dust shot – will overcome this.

Another method of presentation involves grinding the majority of the seed in a mincer, or wrapping in a cloth and pounding it with a rolling pin before using as a groundbait. Not only does this make the whole grains retained for use as hook bait appear a relatively larger morsel and more tempting to the fish, it also makes the hempseed go further.

Hemp is also very effective as a ‘cocktail’ bait. Mixed with maggots, casters, wheat or pearl barley, or worked into a ball of stiff bread-paste, it is a very useful bait, mainly during the summer months, when the appeal of more traditional baits often flags.

Casters or hemp – sometimes a cocktail of both – are used as hookbait below a zoomer type float that carries the hook across the stream, fish generally being taken ‘on the drop’ when the bait sinks down. This is a style that needs practice before perfection is reached, and is especially suited to swims where the opposite bank is lined with trees, providing cover for fish who imagine themselves safe from the angler.

Can hempseed pollute a water? Of course it can, as can any substance deposited in excess over long periods. Massive mounds of rotting hemp have been found at the edge of waters, left there by anglers who took too much with them. It is best to take any surplus home and not risk spoiling a swim for other anglers.