Swan mussels as fishing bait

For a long time swan mussels have been a traditional tench bait. Recently, though, they seem to have fallen out of fashion with tench anglers – who prefer to use baits they can buy from tackle shops. However, nobody appears to have told the tench – they still take these freshwater bivalve molluscs with the utmost confidence. Swan mussels aren’t just a tench bait. They are excellent for many other species -including carp, roach, perch, bream and chub. Specimen hunter Jim Gibbinson even recommends them for catfish.

Where to look

Swan mussels thrive in lakes and rivers with a higher than average pH value, and tend to be found in the margins on shallow silt near weed beds or reeds. Sometimes they are found on shallow silt beds in open water.

Once you have found a mussel bed, the molluscs are fairly easy to collect – provided the water is shallow enough. You can use a large rectangular net to scoop them off the bottom, or a rake to drag them clear. Mussels are very slow-growing so don’t take any more than necessary. About 20 should be enough for a day’s fishing. If you have any left over, return them to the water to preserve stocks.


Open the mussel by inserting the point of a sharp knife into the joint of the shell and working it round to cut the hinge.

Although a single shell contains a fair bit of meat, most of it is too soft for a hookbait. The bright yellow muscular foot, on the other hand, makes a small bait that is tough enough to stay on a size 10 hook. The remainder of the meat is cut up and used as an attractor.

Mussel tactics

If possible it is best to prebait a swim a least two days before fishing. Although you can use chopped-up mussel by itself, it is more effective when fished over a bed of hemp. Catapult about a quarter of a pint of hemp into the swim and then drop four or five chopped mussels on top. The hemp is a great attractor – bringing smaller fish into the area. The activity of the smaller fish then arouses the attentions of bigger specimens which move in to suck up the hemp and the larger mouthfuls of mussel.

Because fish aren’t particularly wary when it comes to mussels, this means that you can get away with fairly heavy tackle. A line of 4-5 lb b.s. fished direct to the hook is not too heavy for tench, chub and small carp, and if you are expecting to encounter bigger carp then you could go even heavier. Float fishing tactics work well on still waters, while a legered mussel seems to work best on rivers.