Taking the lid off groundbaits

There are now groundbaits to suit virtually every type of fishing that you can think of. Although many of these have been derived from Continental recipes, their ingredients are a closely guarded secret known only to the manufacturers. Top anglers have demonstrated that many of them work extremely well, but it should be remembered that many of these anglers receive free groundbait to promote their sponsor’s products. One is apt to wonder whether similar results could sometimes be achieved using less sophisticated, less expensive baits.

In fact many top match anglers still swear by plain breadcrumb when it comes to certain types of fishing and in the early 90s liquidized bread used as a groundbait has enjoyed considerable success with matchmen all over the country.

Many French and Belgian anglers stick to their own tried and tested recipes which they assemble from relatively cheap, bulk- bought raw materials. So there is still plenty of room left for experimentation.

Why use groundbait?

The basic idea behind groundbaiting is to encourage fish that are already in your swim to feed – ultimately on your hookbait • and to attract others into the area. There are two ways in which it works to achieve this.

As a carrier Here the groundbait is used as a medium to take loose particles of feed -such as maggots or casters – to a certain spot in the swim.

Roach, perch, chub and eels are among the many species which respond well to loosefeed but there are occasions when loosefeeding can prove difficult. For example, there’s a limit to the distance you can fire loose maggots and casters with a catapult. And if there’s a strong wind the range is limited even more. If the fish are out of catapult range and reluctant to move closer • which is often the case – then groundbait may be the answer.

If you are trying to reach fish near to, or at the bottom of a swim with a fairly strong current – or even one which has only a moderate flow but is very deep – then the feed may be washed away before it gets to the fish. A swimfeeder or bait dropper may solve the problem but you can add ground-bait to the list of solutions.

In some swims hordes of small fish such as roach or bleak can be a problem, intercepting loosefeed before it has a chance to reach the larger fish beneath them. Groundbait as a carrier to take the bait past the little ‘uns may be just what’s needed. As an attractor/feed Although the groundbait particles may be so small that fish barely benefit from eating them, the groundbait is nevertheless as much a source of food or attraction as any loosefeed which may be present.

In fact, even when groundbait is used to carry loosefeed, it is likely that small fish peck at particles of groundbait. Certainly skimmers and big bream are fond of breadcrumb groundbaits which can even be moulded into a paste and used as a hookbait for them. Bread mash is underestimated and often works well for such fish as tench, bream and big roach. Specialized ground- baits like liquidized bread and punch crumb are a highly effective feed for roach.

Many ingredients added by manufacturers to their secret recipes are attractors -meant to encourage fish into the swim and keep them interested by virtue of their taste, smell, and particle action.

Bread groundbaits

In one form or another the basic ingredient of most groundbaits is bread. Mash and white and brown crumb are some of the commonest forms. Bread mash Make an excellent ground- bait simply by taking a few slices of white or brown bread from a loaf, soaking them thoroughly and then mashing them to a pulp -the more thorough the pulping, the smaller the particles produced. If you are after big fish – bream tench or carp – then you can leave a few coarser particles. For smaller fish – roach or rudd, say – you can pulp the bread to a fine grade, and if you want a very fine mash with no large particles, remove the crusts before soaking and force it through a maggot riddle.

By squeezing out more or less of the excess water after pulping you can alter the consistency quite considerably. A sloppy mix of white mash produces an enticing white cloud in the water – making an excellent backdrop to a slow falling breadfiake hookbait for roach. A well-squeezed mix produces a stodgy, fast-sinking bait that goes straight to the bottom. Fish a piece of flake or paste on top of it for tench, bream, carp and chub.

White and brown crumb Perhaps the most popular commercial groundbait is pure breadcrumb. White crumb -produced when white bread is sliced – has a higher starch content than brown crumb and makes a much stodgier mix. For this reason it is rarely used by itself, but is put with other groundbaits to stiffen them. Brown crumb – produced when brown bread is sliced — makes a much lighter, spongier mix. Used by itself or with white crumb, it makes an excellent groundbait for small or medium skimmers and big bream.

You can use breadcrumb as the basis for making up more specialized groundbaits by adding ingredients such as crushed hemp, grilled hemp, ground peanuts, maize, sticky binders and clays.

Groundbait consistency

The time that it takes for your groundbait to disintegrate in the water is a very important factor. Simply by making a drier or wetter mix and squeezing balls of bait together with more or less pressure you can alter the properties of your groundbait quite remarkably.

Wet, dry or sloppy? Although it depends to some extent on the ingredients in a groundbait, a dryish ball tends to break much quicker than a wet one. A dryish ball is quite porous, which makes it act like a sponge – drawing in water rapidly as the air bubbles escape, causing it to collapse. A well saturated ball contains far less air and takes much longer to break up.

At the other extreme, the particles of bait in a very sloppy mix separate as the bait falls through the water – creating an instant cloud which may be ideal for attracting small fish on the drop. Squeezed tight or light? It’s unlikely that you’d want your groundbait to break up in mid air, so you usually squeeze it together so that it lands on the right spot in one piece. But just how hard should you squeeze it together? • The wetter a mix the less scope you have for varying the pressure. For example, if it’s sloppy then you can’t do any more than form a rough ball. A dryish mix, on the other hand, can be lightly squeezed so that it barely holds together – exploding either in the bottom layer of water or as soon as it hits the deck – showering bait over a wide area. A ball that is squashed into a hard lump plummets pretty well straight to the bottom and starts to break after minutes rather than seconds. If it contains sticky binders then it may take even longer.

Taking the lid off groundbaits

Once you have gained a firm grasp of groundbaiting basics you can move on to try some recipes of your own.

Where to start

If you’ve already tried a few experiments with pure breadcrumb groundbait then you’ll realise that even by itself crumb has a lot of scope. Just by altering the amount of water you put in the mix and the pressure you apply to squeeze balls of bait together you can alter a bait’s properties dramatically. Taking this as your starting point, you can now try adding some different ingredients to breadcrumb.

Shopping list

Each ingredient has its own unique properties but to start with it might help to think of them as belonging to these four categories: bulkers, activators, binders and flavourings/colourings.

These rather pseudo-scientific sounding names simply mean the following: bulkers – any cheap ingredient which increases the amount of groundbait without doing much else; activators – an ingredient which causes bait to break up, fizz or even explode; binders – ingredients which make the balls stay together; flavourings/colourings – the ‘icing on the cake’ – any safe additives and dyes used to enhance flavour and colour. Obviously some ingredients belong to more than one category.

Garden peat is a rather unlikely candidate-after all it is, if not inedible, certainly unappetizing- but riddled to a fine texture and used with brown breadcrumb it is excellent for producing a bulky, dark, open-textured groundbait.

A dryish mixture of about 70% brown crumb and 30% peat produces a spongy mix which, when squeezed into a firm ball, can be catapulted long distances but which breaks up very quickly in the water.

Peat has for a long time been esteemed as a good towpath groundbait when used in conjunction with bloodworm and jokers for roach, perch and other fish. It can also be used to beat groundbait bans but it’s a good idea to check first whether you are allowed to use it. Peat is sold in most garden centres. Molassed cattle feed is a sweet, dark brown, high-fibre meal commercially pro- duced for feeding livestock. It is rather coarse but can be riddled and added to groundbait to bulk it up.

Infinitely cheaper than other ingredients, it is worth considering if quantity rather than quality of food is what is required. Irish bream fishing is an obvious application but it could work well in groundbaits for early season tench, bream and carp sessions.

A medium dry mixture of 67% meal to 33% brown crumb produces a very spongy mix which has to be squeezed hard to keep it together. If you intend to use a loosefeed such as casters in the bait – which may be damaged by hard squeezing – then it is probably a good idea to use a slightly higher proportion of crumb. Some animal feed merchants are willing to sell individual sacks of meal very cheaply. Crushed, grilled hemp can be bought from most good tackle shops. Used in many commercial groundbaits, it has a strong but very pleasant nutty aroma. Unlike the previous two ingredients – which act largely as bulk or ballast – grilled hemp is more of an activator. If you make a medium dry mix of three parts brown crumb to one part grilled hemp and throw a tightly squeezed ball into a tank you can see what the hemp does.

At first the mix behaves rather like pure brown crumb but once the ball loosens the hemp starts to work. Air trapped under pieces of crushed shell and the natural oil within the hemp cause particles to break free and rise. On reaching the surface many particles sink slowly to the bottom again.

Some anglers have likened this constant rising and falling of particles to the behaviour of emergent insects. This may indeed be the case, but what is certain is that the Uvely particle action and ‘nutti-ness’ of grilled hemp is sure to attract the attention of fish already in the swim – and passers-by too. Mid-water feeders such as roach, rudd, and chub are likely to find it particularly to their liking.

Many anglers have lavished praise on commercial groundbaits for their ability to fizz. In fact there’s nothing very special about this. It is merely the effect of trapped air and loose particles floating to the surface. Even humble brown crumb fizzes to some extent when mixed dry. Grilled hemp increases the effect even more. One advantage of being able to see this effect is that you know exactly where your groundbait is and can drop your hookbait right on top! Crushed hemp – like grilled hemp – is sold in many tackle shops but behaves very differently. Because it hasn’t been cooked it is far more oily. A medium dry, 100% mix of crushed hemp forms a sticky white paste which holds together well when squeezed hard. If it is not saturated it sinks straight to the bottom in one piece and takes a long time to break up and in this form might make a good paste hookbait. Mixed with crumb, its natural stickiness tends to make it act as a binder.

Unlike grilled hemp there is very little particle action but crushed hemp does have a unique property in that it releases a slick of oil which floats on the surface. If there is a slight ripple on the water the slick actually creates a calm patch!

Ground peanut can be a very cheap ingredient if you make it yourself. Shelled peanuts are part of the staple diet of parrots and are also sold for wild bird feed. So you can buy large bags of nuts fairly cheaply from many pet shops. Pop the nuts into a liquidizer and give them a whizz for a couple of minutes. Soon you have some very finely chopped nuts and an excellent ingredient for your groundbait. Ground maize is used mainly to clean maggots but many Continental groundbait recipes contain it as an ingredient. A sloppy mix of 100% maize produces a wonderful cloud in the water. So you could use it to form the basis for a whole variety of cloud baits for mid-water feeders like roach. Furthermore it is a fairly inexpensive ingredient. Mixed with breadcrumb it provides good particle action and some of the larger grains of maize float to the surface. PV1 is a commercially produced binder that is used in a great many French ground-baits. By making a mix of just one part PV1 to four parts brown crumb you have a recipe which, when mixed fairly dry, can be squeezed into very hard balls. These sink straight to the bottom and take quite a long time to break up. This type of mix lends itself well to being catapulted long distances and for getting hookbait samples down to the bottom in deep or fast-flowing waters. By adding more PV1 you can increase the stickiness and the amount of time it takes for the balls to disintegrate. Clays and earths form the basis of many heavy Continental groundbaits. You can buy a selection of clays – learns – from some tackle shops. They vary in colour and density so you’ll have to experiment to find out which ones suit you best. In general they act like a binder, but because of the high density of clay, they also add weight to a ball of groundbait. They can be useful on deep flowing swims when you want to get bait to the bottom fast.

When it comes to an ingredient for heavy groundbaits some top anglers swear by soil from mole hills. The advantage with this is that apart from costing nothing other than the time taken to collect it, because of the mole’s handiwork you get a very fine soil, free from lumps. Of course the composition varies depending on where the mole has been digging, so you’ll have to choose your site accordingly!

Broken biscuits, wafers and ice-cream cornets are all worth considering as potential ingredients. Broken biscuits can sometimes be bought very cheaply in fairly large quantities. Plain tea-biscuits are likely to be of more use than the cream-filled variety but you’ll have to make your own investigations in this largely uncharted territory.

Crushed stale wafers and ice cream cornets are used in some Continental ground-baits. The light particles float on the surface and attract surface-feeders like bleak. Flavourings and colourings are largely a matter of personal preference. Powdered flavourings such as coriander, turmeric, vanilla and aniseed can be added but don’t overdo it – remember that you can spoil a dinner by adding too much flavouring! By the same token, a bait that tastes too strong might put the fish off.

Red seems to be a popular colour but there’s nothing to stop you dyeing your bait black or any other colour. Many anglers rely simply on the natural colour of the ingredients. Whatever you choose, experimenting with ingredients is very enjoyable as well as useful, and you may discover a superb new bait that gives you the edge.