Traditional baits which have fallen out of favour include a few archaic ones which have vanished for ever — good riddance! Nobody in their right mind would consider using some of the mumbo jumbo baits of old – cat cut small or any bait anointed with the marrow of the thigh-bone of an hern as Izaak Walton advises.
But while some earlier baits were certainly based on hocus pocus, a few old favourites were popular because they actually caught fish. Two of these almost forgotten baits – wheat and barley – remain potent and are worth considering as cheap and effective alternatives to maggots and other more usual baits.
Wheat’s a cracker
Wheat especially was widely used in the past and remained a popular bait right into the 1960s. After a period of being left on the shelf it now seems to be making a slow come-back. It could well be that, as the cost of conventional baits continues to spiral, the cereal is due for a big revival.
Choose the biggest grains of wheat you can find and avoid kernels that look wrinkled and cracked. When you find a good supply of fresh, large wheat grain, buy a fair bit because it lasts a long time if stored somewhere cool and dry.
There are many seed and corn merchants around the country where you can stock up on wheat and pearl barley. It’s always cheaper to buy grain in bulk if you’re going to use a lot of it, but it costs more if you buy from health stores and corner shops.
For a typical fishing trip, three or four cups of wheat are ample. To prepare it first wash it thoroughly to get rid of dust and chaff. Then soak the washed kernels overnight in a bowl of cold water.
Next day put the wheat in a saucepan, cover with water and bring to the boil, adding a teaspoon of sugar or honey for extra flavour. Once the water has boiled, turn down the heat and let it simmer for about 30 minutes or as long as it takes until the grains split to reveal the white insides.
Keep clearing the scum from the surface and do not overcook the wheat. If it splits too much it becomes stodgy and good only for loose feed – not as a hookbait.
Once cooked, wash the wheat thoroughly in cold water to prevent the grains sticking together. Leave it to cool before putting it into a bait box or a plastic bag.
When it comes to fishing with the wheat, use one grain on a size 14 hook or two grains on a size 12. Loosefeed the swim but not too generously as wheat is quite a filling bait. Most coarse fish take wheat eagerly but they are slightly slower to respond to it than to maggots. Once they turn on to it the bites are unmistakably bold.
Tench like wheat but they adore pearl barley. You prepare it by washing it, then simmering it gently in milk until cooked. When it is soft but not mushy, strain the barley and transfer it to an airtight container for storing until needed.
Two or three grains on a size 10 or 12 hook sort out very good individual specimen fish. A single grain on a size 16 is superb for dace and river roach.
Barley is also a filling bait, so feed sparingly, especially for dace. A dozen kernels every ten minutes keeps the fish foraging. into the area – and they last much longer on the hook. This makes them an excellent bait for summer and winter. Slow sinkers When loosefeeding in deep, steadily flowing or shallow, fast water, dense – fast-sinking – baits such as large maggots usually score because they reach the fish quickly. But light baits such as squatts and pinkies, unless they are introduced in groundbait, tend to get washed out of the swim and, by luring the fish away, do