Although meat baits and meat-based groundbaits are no longer a rarity, many are deterred from using them by problems of cost, hooking and presentation. Here are some of the solutions.
At the turn of the century the angling press was astonished by the report of a man who had caught a fish on a sausage out of his luncheon pack. It was, the experts said, an exceptional happening. No one should consider catching a fish on a meat bait. There was only one form of bait used at that time with any association to meat, and that was greaves, a waste product of tallow obtained from candle manufacturers and used both as hook and groundbait at Thames weirpools to catch barbel.
Today, meat baits—pure meat and not merely by-products—are commonplace, and barbel, roach, bream, chub, tench and carp are regularly caught on them throughout the year. Much of the present day angler’s success is the result of the modern preparation of meat pro- ducts which are packed with a con-sistency that not only allows easy mounting on the hook, but also a slow break-down in the water allowing flavour and smell to remain around the lure.
The best known and most used of the meat baits is undoubtedly lun-cheon meat. The tinned types are easily carried and provide a hefty chunk of meat from which substan-tial sized cubes can be cut. Blind buying of the first tin on the shelf is not advised. There are many cheap varieties of luncheon meat which have a very high fat content, and this means a soft cube of hookbait that will either break away from the hook during the cast, or fall apart within a few minutes of lying in the water, especially if the swim lies in fast water.
A few extra pence will purchase a good meat mix that should be kept refrigerated until required, and thereafter kept as cool as possible while the angler is fishing. Once the tin is opened, keep the contents out of the sun and packed away in an airtight box. Drop any unopened tins held in reserve into the shallows at your feet—probably the best refrigerator on a warm day.
Mounting the bait
Mounting cubes of bait onto the hook requires care. Choose a hook too big rather than too small—sizes 8-4 are usual—and push the point of the hook slowly into the centre of the cube before threading it round onto the bend, making sure that the barb shows. To prevent the bait from jerking free on the cast use a small portion of green leaf or fine clear polythene folded double. This should be pushed over both point and barb to act as a platform behind the cube, and into which it will press during the thrust of the cast. It will not effect the hooking properties, and will save endless re-baiting.
There are variations on the lun-cheon meat theme, such as Spam,
Prem and liver sausage, but avoid Continental processed meats that are highly seasoned, usually with garlic. Corned beef is excellent, but tends to shred quickly unless you cut the cubes beforehand and fry them to seal the fibres.
Sausage meat is another excellent meat bait, but it should be stiffened with breadcrumbs or, better still, sausage rusk, until it assumes the consistency of putty. Another deadly bait is sausage meat mixed together with rusk and soft cheese with a little plain flour to harden the balls once they have been shaped into bait-sized pieces.
Tinned pet food, especially cat foods with a high proportion of fish in their ingredients, hit the headlines a few years ago as a deadly carp bait. Preparation of the bait for the hook is messy, and requires a little trouble, but results are usually worth the effort. Ideally the tin should be opened at the bank, hook-sized lumps moulded, and these dipped into boiling water to form a hard glaze over the surface which helps hold them in place during a cast. Obviously some soap and a towel are essential items when using this method, otherwise the whole of one’s tackle smells very strongly by the end of the day.
The use of pork rind or strip has been in vogue for some years now in America, where it can be purchased uncooked, vacuum-packed and ready for the hook. The strips are hooked into the treble of a spinning lure, and it is claimed that baits treated with this addition of two or three worm-like strands towed astern really tempt the big fish.
The other way of using bacon strips is to hook-mount them as one would a worm, on a single large hook, and slowly reel this without a float and with the minimum of lead through areas where predators are found. The method is well worth some experiment, especially during the winter months.
For a number of years, and some species take it more willingly than others. Probably the natural place for its use is when fishing for barbel and chub in a weirpool, where luncheon meat is best.
A solitary piece flung just anywhere into the pool and left is hardly likely to be effective. Back up its use with groundbait. Fast water that washes away free offerings or bait from the hook, is a dead loss.
Choose an edge of the pool, preferably as close to the sill as possible and at one side of the main flow of water. Depth is decidedly useful, and if there is an undercut to the structure so much the better— an eddy will probably be created holding the bait in one place. Make several trial casts and search for the slack water that always lies at the head of a pool before baiting.
Other places where meat will often do well are above the weir—where the river and navigation channel divide producing deep water under the rod—and where erosion has taken a bank away, leaving a deep cut and slow stream. Lock cuttings are worth a try, but there is always a risk of too much attention from eels, especially in the autumn.
Other natural places to try are where human food is most readily available—such as near boatyards and houseboats moored along the banks of a canal.
To use meat on its own as a groundbait would obviously cost a fortune. The solution is to use a little, and to eke it out with cereal bait to give bulk. Raw mince is a good, cheaper, substitute. A pound left uncooked and thoroughly mixed in with pulped bread, sausage rusk or even bran, can go a very long way.
Corned beef can also be ‘flaked’, then mashed into a cereal base to provide a taint of the whole hookbait. Ideally, the mixing should be done on the day you fish, in order to avoid the bait becoming rancid.
In recent years, a number of cereal mixes with dried meat in them have appeared on the market as dog foods. These are cheap and effective and need only be soaked overnight before use. In an emergency they can be rehydrated immediately before use by covering with boiling water, then left to cool before packing. Kept moist at the bank, this bait will sink naturally and is par-ticularly useful for swimfeeder work.
The cheapest meat additive to groundbait is blood. A pint bottleful from a local abbatoir, refrigerated until needed, can bring most coarse fish that are gross bottom-feeders into the swim. Mixing before arrival at the bank is not recommended. Use a plastic bucket, tip the cereal base into this and then add the blood in the same way that water would be added. A thick porridge consistency should be aimed for, and the bucket should be kept covered with a damp cloth to prevent drying out.
An alternative, especially with sausage meat, is to roll a large supply of very small balls that can, if necessary, be catapulted into a dis-tant swim.
Fish that accept meat baits generally do so avidly, and the angler should always be prepared for the bite. Rods left in rests are in danger of being pulled onto the bank, and floats left unwatched can lose the angler fish after fish. By far the best way of using meat in all of its forms is with the ledger, and the rod should be hand held, with one rest only giving support along the upper third of the rod itself. Watch the tip of the rod carefully: when you see it bounce you should then strike immediately.