Bait preparation and presentation are among the most important elements of angling. The baits are the active components of the fisherman’s equipment, and their effectiveness is crucial to success.
There is no doubt that maggots are the most popular and widely used of all freshwater baits. They are easy to obtain or to breed. and all the freshwater fishes can be caught by using them as hookbait.
Maggots are the larvae of ordinary houseflies, bluebottles and greenbottles. Housefly maggots are called squatts. These are sold in their millions by tackledealers. often in small quantities, but sometimes in bulk. Specially treated bluebottle maggots, called gozzers, are soft and fat and as hookbait they attract more fish than do squatts. The greenbottle’s eggs develop into maggots which anglers call pinkies. These small, thin ‘wrigglers’ have plenty of movement and are often used as loose bait to encourage fish to begin feeding. Then the angler uses the larger squatts for hookbait.
Until recently, maggots were sold in various colours- red. yellow, even bronze and green. But the colouring matter used to give them a red tint is now suspected of being responsible for skin disease, and retailers are beginning to be reluctant to sell any other than uncoloured maggots. Dyes can still be obtained, but it is recommended that red colouring agents, such as Chrysiodine R, should not be handled at all.
Below: Mealworms need no preparation, and make a useful change bait on a slow day. They should be hooked through the middle.
Despite their small size, maggots are able to attract the biggest of fish. and even on a very small hook a single squall has been known to catch pike and carp. When big fish are hooked. of course, the problem is to land them on the fine line used in conjunction with small hooks. This is where the skill of the angler is tested!
Because maggots are livebait, they have to be hooked carefully so that their’wriggle’ is maintained to attract fish. The correct way to hook a maggot is to nick the fine point of the barb into the blunt end of the maggot where two dark spots (they are not eyes | can be seen. When hooked lightly at this end the maggot will retain plenty of movement to tempt fish.
Above: Good presentation of hookbait is essential. A large lobworm should be hooked twice, making sure the ends are free to wriggle. A maggot (centre) is best nicked with a hook in the broad end. To bait up with a single caster insert a small hook through the end, work it round, then push it right into the bait, out of sight.
Single maggots act best on small hooks bin as hook size is increased maggots can be attached in bunches of up to five, or even more.
The next stage in the fly’s life cycle is the chrysalis, known as a caster to anglers. These are very attractive to fish and can be used either as hookbait or as loose feed.
For some reason, a can full ol casters contains some that float and some that sink. The floaters can be discarded because if they are thrown in the water they will lie on the surface and be carried downstream, probably taking the fish with them. The sinkers are kept and used asgroundbaitoron the hook in the same way as maggots.
Given a few warm days a tin of live maggots will turn into casters, soil is not necessary to buy them. Make sure. however, to inspect the tin at regular intervals to remove any dead maggots.
Above: Casters are easily obtained and an effective hookbait. They are also useful for mixing into groundbait, or for loose feed.
The worm has been known as a lively and successful bait for centuries. Anglers use three species of worm. By far the most popular is the garden, or lobworm: second is the red worm and third the brandling, which is similar to the redworm but distinguishable by yellow rings round the body.
The lobworm grows quite large- it can be up to Sin. (20cm) long and over V-iin. (6mm) in diameter. It can be used whole, hooked double or single. and will attract hetter-ihan-average barbel, chub, bream, perch, eels and even zander.
Above: Maggots may be fished in the natural state or dyed various colours. Yellow maggots are dyed with annato, used to colour butter.
Tench can be lured to just the flattened tail-end. and small perch will hurl themselves at pieces of worm on a small hook.
To collect lobworms, search grassy areas in the early morning, or even at night by the aid of a torch. Your chances are improved if there has been a heavy downpour just before dawn.
A well-tried method of ensuring a supply of worms is to leave a large wet sack on the grass for a few days. Make sure it is kept moist, and when it is lifted there are sure to be a number of worms on the surface. Speed in collecting them is essential for once exposed, they will slither back down below ground very fast.
Not as large as the lobworm, the redworm reaches perhaps 4in. long. It lives in compost heaps and among rotting vegetation, so your garden may well hold plenty of hookbait.
The brandling is very similar to the redworm but the yellowish rings make it easy to pick out. It is found in compost-heaps and under the bark of fallen trees. Since both the redworm and the brandling are smaller and lighter than the lob they make excellent baits for float-fishing.
All worms can be fished whole, hooked once or twice in the middle to allow the head and tail to wriggle attractively. A limp and lifeless worm may well be ignored, even by feeding fish, but it is a rare fish which can resist the sight and smell of a juicy. writhing worm in front of its nose. When using the tail of a lobworm. insert the hook-point through the broken end. and be sure to leave enough tail to wriggle.
Bloodworms are the larvae of Chironomids, members of the midge family that live in the mud of semi-polluted lakes and quiet waters. The adult midges swarm over water and muddy areas on summer evenings. The bloodworm – it is not a true worm -is bright red and makes a tiny bait, but it has scored big successes particularly in match-fishing on hard-fished waters, where the usual baits fail to bring results.
This bait is expensive to buy, which is understandable considering the messy business involved in collecting it. To obtain your own bloodworms, you will have to wade in thick mud and scrape the minute larvae off the surface, transferring them to a container of sieved garden peat. The bait is sometimes available in tackleshops, but do not rely on being able to buy it whenever you want.
Hooking bloodworms is a tricky operation. You must use fine-wire hooks, size 20 or 22. Lay the larva along the thumbnail and gently impale it on the tiny barb. When you have acquired the knack all the effort put in will be amply rewarded, for this is a very fine bait.
Bread can be used as a bail in several forms, and for most species of freshwater fish. The outside of a loaf provides cubes of crust; flake is the white crumb of new bread, and breadpaste is the crustless bread moistened and moulded.
Below: Bread crust is always a good bait. The bread must be fresh, however, or it will fall off the hook during casting.
Below: Bread flake is simply pinched on to the hook, taking care to preserve its texture.
To use flake, take a pinch from the spongy crumb of a fresh loaf and squeeze it directly on to the hook. The flake is best left ragged and looking natural, and is ideal for float-fishing a moving bait downstream.
Crust is obtained by cutting off a large slice of the brown outer portion, leavinga little of the crumb attached. Cut this into small bait-sized pieces in the shape of cubes. Make sure to insert the point of the hook into the crust, bringing it out through the soft crumb. Crust cubes must be kept fresh or they will crumble and fall off the hook.
The air in crust gives the bait considerable buoyancy, and this can be counterbalanced by pinching small shot on the line just above the hook.
Paste is made by cutting the crust from thick slices of bread, placing the slices in a clean towel or piece of cloth, and soaking the bundle in water. When it is saturaied, squeeze out all surplus water and knead the bread, still in the cloth, to the required consistency. If you mix in crushed hempseed it makes a paste that is attractive to barbel and sometimes bream. Paste is moulded on to the hook, covering the shank but leaving the point exposed..
When fishing fairly swift streamy water the paste should be made fairly stiff so that it remains on the hook; a soft paste is best in slow or Stillwater, and when only short-distance casting is required to reach the swim.
A balanced bail of paste and crust is often used by carp anglers, especially on lakes where the bottom is covered by a layer of soft weed or silt. After trial and error, the correct proportions of paste and crust are placed on the hook so that it sinks very slowly and comes to rest on top of the soft mailer.
Hempseed is a most successful bait. although it has had a chequered history, having been accused of drugging fish and also of being loo successful! Anglers fishing for roach, dace and barbel find hempseed a particularly effective bait.
To prepare hemp, soak as much ol the seed as you need for the day’s fishing in cold water overnight, and if necessary add a little more water to cover the seed in the morning. Bring to boiling point, and then allow it to simmer until the seeds begin to split. When this occurs, the while kernel starts to protrude from the cooked seed. It is this kernel to which the fish are attracted, and one school of thought recommends that the shank of the hook should be painted while too, to add to the effect.
There is no truth in the suggestion that hemp releases a drug into the water, thereby affecting fish. Any narcotic element in the plant does not form in the seed, which is the only part used by anglers.
Tares are cooked in much the same way as hempseed. They should then be tested 10 see if they are soft enough
by squeezing one between linger and thumb. When ready, wash them in warm water, not cold because it lends to make them split. When the tares have cooled naturally they can be deep-frozen for future use.
This seed is used in conjunction with hemp, and very often summer roach cannot resist either of the bails. Use lares as the hookbait and hemp Unloose feeding into the swim – but be very sparing with the hemp.
Stewed wheat grains are another first-class bail, especially for big roach. One simple method of preparing wheal for bail is to first wash the grain, then pui it in a saucepan,cover it with water and bring to the boil. Simmer gently until the grains start to split, then the wheal is ready for use. At this point the grains will have swollen and turned a golden-brown colour.
When bailing up, insert the hook through the protruding kernel. allowing the point to remain exposed. This increases your chance of hooking a taking fish. For its size, wheal is rather heavy and sinks fairly quickly, which is an advantage for it avoids the small surface-feeding fish and reaches the bigger specimen fish lying deep in the swim.
Below: Uncooked tares can be crushed and mixed into ground bait. Cooked, they are a very good hookbait for roach.
Most cereals make good baits and others worth trying are pearl barley. rice, and pasta in its several forms.
This is a fashionable bait simply because it is successful, especially in summer stillwaters. It will account for roach.chub, tench, bream, barbel, carp and other species. Sweetcorn can be bought on the cob and cooked like wheat, or it can be purchased in tins. In this form it is ready for use – but remember to haw a can-opener with you in your tacklebox.
As bait, corn can be used singly or in twos and threes on the hook, depending on hook size. It can be float-fished or legered, and presentation depends on whether the species sought are surface, midwater or bottom feeders.
Above: Sweetcorn is an effective bait for stillwaters and rivers. A single grain is best presented on a size 16 hook.
Peas and beans Fish will sometimes take garden peas fished on float tackle. When they are available, fresh peas can be removed from the pod and used as they are or lightly cooked. Tinned peas are more convenient, as are dried or deep-frozen peas, but the latter two will need cooking before being used.
Beans, such as the haricot, butter beans, black-eyed beans, broad beans or runner beans may all be used, after being boiled until soft enough to be hooked properly. Another variety which can be used without preparation are baked beans. With all these baits, appropriate hook size is important.
Below: Green peas can be fished singly on a size 16 hook, or double on a larger size 14.
On fish farms, where trout are bred for release into fisheries or sold to the restaurant business, the trout are-reared on high-protein pellets. Since they are highly nutritious they make excellent hook and groundbait for most species of fish. But the pellets are hard, making hooking difficult, and a large proportion of them float, so for bail they must be soaked and mixed with breadcrumbs, especially brown bread.or sausage rusk.
This is not a natural bait, but like bread in one form or another it has led to the capture of many specimen fish, particularly chub and barbel. Cheese is a convenient bait which can be used without prior preparation and takes fish at any time of the year. In winter. very cold water tends to harden cheese hookbaits, which are usually employed as leger or laying-on baits. Most types of cheese can be used. cut into small cubes, moulded into a paste, or grated and mixed with breadcrumb into a paste. The strongly-flavoured blue cheeses make good bails for use when the water is coloured and fish must find their food by their sense of smell.
Par-boiled potatoes have for many years been a proven carp bait. For carp anglers, the main advantage of the potato over most other baits is that it is seldom taken by other fish. Potato is also heavy enough to be cast well out without the need for leger weights.
Select small potatoes, about walnut size, put ihem into a saucepan and boil until fairly soft. They should be firm enough to slay on the hook when easting. Use a fork to test if they are cooked properly. Remember, however, that although still in their jackets the potatoes can be ruined by repeated piercing, so use just one potato for your fork tests.
To mount the potato on the hook, thread the line through it using a baiting needle. Then a large carp hook can be tied on to the line and the bait pushed down on to the bend of the hook. At this stage peel the potato, and the bail is ready for use.
Elderberries are possibly the best of the fruit baits. The reason is not clear but it may be because the fruit naturally falls into the water while other fruits do not. This bait is often used in conjunction with hempseed and casters. One or two berries are set on the hook, wiih a few thrown in as groundbait. Take care not to throw too many in, just sufficient to attract fish into the swim. Elderberries are ol course a seasonal bait, but they can be preserved for use at any time of year.
Redcurrants and blackberries also make useful bails, but they must be ripe and soft. They are used in the same way as elderberries.
Pieces of banana can be used to try for chub, carp and tench. A firm banana can easily be cut into sizeable chunks or slices and mounted directly on to the hook. With round slices a largish hook is necessary and the barb must be pushed into the centre of the fruit; make a gentle swing cast to avoid flicking the soft bait off the hook.
You will be able to recognise ripe bananas by their skins, which carry a lot of black. Their flesh is too soft to go on a hook, so again mix it with breadcrumb to produce an attractive banana-flavoured paste, very likely to entice hungry fish.
Above: Blackberries are a seasonal bait best used for float fishing. They are particularly effective when used for chub.
Special baits Various recipes for many of these ‘secret’ baits are jealously guarded by lhe anglers who concoct I hem, and who swear by them. They are intriguing mixtures of high protein (HP) and high nutritive value (HNV) substances moulded into soft paste and hard forms.
When mixed, an HP/HNV bait can be used on the hook as a soft paste. To make hard baits (known as ‘boilies’) from the same ingredients, which are virtually immune to the attentions of small nuisance lish, a quantity of the prepared paste is kneaded to the required shape and size, lightly coated with a dry mix and boiled in water for a couple of minutes.
Tackle dealers and specialist bait suppliers sell packets of various bail mixes.
Ready-made boilies are available commercially for those anglers not wanting to go to the trouble of mixing their own, and these are probably the best choice for beginners using HP/HNV baits.
Above: Crayfish are best used whole when fishing for big chub or barbel, hooked in the tail so they are still able to move.
The crayfish is a valuable natural food for chub, barbel, perch and pike-all of which find this lobster-like crustacean very appetising. Obviously, then, the crayfish must make a worthwhile bail for those species. Il is besl hooked in the tail. which allows the animal to jerk about naturally. The average size of crayfish is between 3 and Sin. (7-13cm)and the hook size must be matched to the animal. Both live and dead crayfish are capable of attracting lish. Crayfish have to be collected, and
one of the most effective methods is to use a drop-net baited with a piece of fish. They are mainly nocturnal feeders, so the baited net is best placed in position at dusk. A line of baited drop-nets should be inspected every hour or so. Raise each net quickly, before the crayfish can scuttle away.
The freshwater shrimp is another crustacean which all fish eat in large numbers. They rarely reach an inch (25mm) long, and spend much of their lives among weeds or moving about on the bottom while feeding on microscopic waterlife. By using a line-mesh net they can be collected as required, and are a very good livebait. When baiting up with shrimp take hold of the tiny animal between the fingers and gently insert the point of a small, very sharp hook into the hard shell ol its back. One or two shrimps may be used together on the hook and they work besl float-fished along the fringes of a weed bed.
Wasp grubs are a soft bail and so must be treated carefully. They are mainly used by chub anglers, because other species are for some reason not attracted to them in the same manner.
It takes nerve to raid a wasp nest and lake away lumps of nest holding the grubs, so most anglers play safe and purchase them from bail dealers who are able to obtain supplies.
This is a bivalve which lives in many kinds of freshwater. The larger swan mussels make fine baits for tench, but other fish species will also fall to this very tasty food.
To obtain the bail, use a strong knife to prise open the two shells and extract the fleshy ‘foot’ of the mussel. This has a firm consistency and will slay on the hook.
Small fish may be used as livebait or deadbait for pike, perch, zander or chub. The besl species are minnows. bleak, gudgeon, loach, dace, small roach and rudd. bin any small fish will do. Those with flashy, silvery bodies are the most attractive.
Fish which shoal in large numbers. such as minnows, can be caught in traps. Others are best obtained by rod and line, using single maggots on tiny hooks, fished with light tackle using float-fishing methods.
Any of the above-mentioned fish are suitable as deadbaits, but sea fish such as mackerel, herring, and sprats can also be used in freshwater.
For most kinds of angling, success depends upon groundbailting to attract fish into the swim. This means introducing small particles of food into the area where you are fishing, using an angler’s catapult. a baitdropper, or swimfeeder. There are three forms of groundbait: balls of compacted material, loose items of hookbait. and fine cloudbait.
The basis of most groundbait mixtures is brown or white bread. To prepare it, start by soaking lumps of hard or stale bread in water until it is soft. Then drain off as much water as possible and pulp the bread by hand. at the same time mixing in other ingredients such as bran, chicken meal, and boiled or mashed potatoes.
It is a good idea to include in your groundbait mix samples of the hookbait such as maggots, casters, sweetcorn and hempseed, and if you intend to lish with worms these should be chopped up before being mixed in. Be careful not to put too many samples of your hookbait in because the fish may find so much to eat that they become overfed and ignore the bait on the hook.
A really good mixture is composed of crushed casters or hempseed, with cereal to bind it. This creates handy-sized balls of groundbait which look like currant pudding.
The balls of groundbait are usually lobbed into the river well upstream in strongly flowing water, and for this tennis-ball sized lumps are best. As they sink and break up on the bottom the particles will trickle through the swim,attracting lish to the hookbait.
Below: The baitdropper is attached by threading the hook through the loop and lodging it in the cork. When the trip touches bottom the lid opens to release the bait.
When float-fishing, cast upstream loo, and as the (low carries the tackle down, the hookbait follows the same path as the particles of groundbait.
Sometimes, groundbait is composed of loose hookbail panicles, such as maggots, which are thrown directly into the swim. Be careful not to use too much for fear of overfeeding the fish.
If you are using potato as hookbait. the swim can be groundbaited with small par-boiled potatoes. Another method is to boil them until soft, then mash and mix them with bran or breadcrumb to bind (he mixture.
Cloudbait can be bought from tackleshops ready for use, but it can also be made at home to suit personal requirements. Cm a loaf into thick slices and let them dry out. Crush them and grind into a powder, using a sieve to remove large pieces. This can be taken with you to the waterside where it is dampened and squeezed into small balls which hold together sufficiently to be thrown into the swim. When ihey hit the water they break up immediately and a cloud of tiny particles will glide through the swim to attract lish.
Groundbait additives in the form of yellow custard powder, crushed hemp, trout pellets, sausage rusk. cheese and calfood will give taste, smell and colour to your groundbait. Don’t hesitate to experiment.