If you want a cheap, plentiful, easy to use and highly effective coarse fishing bait, try bread. Most species can be taken on it, and it’s especially good for caching carp and tench.
Bread is not only an old-fashioned bait but also a very successful one. In recent years, and on many waters, it has been neglected, perhaps because its uses are not fully understood. Four different baits can be made from a white loaf – flake, crust,. balanced crust and paste. The first two of these come from a new loaf, the fourth from an old loaf, the third from both.
Flake is the name given to the crumb of new bread. The crumb of a two-day-old loaf is difficult, if not impossible, to place on the hook. When removing the crumb from the loaf a light touch is essential. Take hold of the crumb and lightly pull it from the loaf: it should be like a sponge with one edge sealed between thumb and forefinger. With the other hand take the hook, push the shank into the ‘sponge’ and gently pinch the crumb over it. Both the bend – or part of it – and the point of the hook will be exposed. The two sides of the crumb must be joined together with the minimum of pressure. If the sponge falls apart the bread is too old: one light edge-pinch should be sufficient to keep it together. If the flake is pinched too tightly the bait will be hard and unattractive.
The size of flake, and therefore the size of hook, depends upon the fish you expect to catch, the water you are fishing and the time of year. Chub, barbel, carp and tench during the early part of the season, and big roach in waters not too heavily fished, can all be taken on a No 6 hook. For bream, chub in winter, roach in some waters, tench, grayling and crucian carp, use a No 10. For dace in heavily fished waters, or in winter, use a No 12; in exceptional circumstances, when for example, the fish are shy or in very cold water, use a No 14.
Many anglers dislike flake because it is difficult to cast. The cast must always be a soft one, smooth and unhurried. Generally a sideways cast is best, or when fishing close in, an underhand one. When proficient, overhead casts can be made without bait and hook parting company in mid-air.
An advantage of flake is that, whether trotted or ledgered, small particles constantly break off, thus attracting fish from downstream into one’s swim.
Crust must come from a newish loaf, not more than two or three days old. The loaf should be kept in the shade, because once hardened the crust is useless. Depending upon the species being sought, sliced and unsliced loaves can be used. For roach, dace and grayling, a cut loaf is best: where larger pieces are required for such species as chub and carp, an uncut loaf is necessary, especially when using floating crust.
The best way to cut the crust from an unsliced loaf is to insert the point of a sharp knife into the side of the crust. Cut through the crust in the shape of a square. When you pull the square of crust away from the loaf, a chunk of the soft flake beneath it will also come away.
Floating crust is very popular among carp and chub fishermen. The crust must be soft, so the baking of the loaf and its freshness are very important. Hard, brittle crust is useless. Some fastidious anglers order specially-baked loaves, but this should not be necessary if you choose a loaf which has been baked to a light brown colour.
Crumbly or too-hard crust from stale loaves is also useless, breaking up as the hook is pushed through it. A fairly large piece of crust, say lVfcin square, is often used with a cast of 20 yards or more. For distance-casting the corners and edges of the loaf are, for a given size, heavier than the flat areas and therefore cast better. When no floats or weights are used, however, some weight must be given to the bait, so just before casting the crust is dipped into the water for a moment. This is called ‘dunking’.
Hooking the crust
Opinions differ as to which side up the crust should lie. To make the bait hang crust side down take the crust and the hook, push the hook into the crumb side, out of the crust, then back through the crumb until both bend and part of the shank of the hook protrude. The opposite actions will make the bait hang with the crust up. About half the shank with the point and barb should always protrude from the crust. A hook slightly larger than the thickness of the crust must be used. If the hook is completely buried, the wet crust is liable to fall or cast off.
Crust will catch fish in all seasons but it is especially useful in winter, fished stationary close to the bottom. The distance it is presented off the bottom is determined by how far the weight is stopped from it: 6in from the crust and the crust will be fishing about 6in off the bottom.
In June and July crust is especially good for tench, fished either under a float, ‘lift’ style, or simply ledgered. It can be fished in rivers, trotted and ledgered, and floatless on a weightless line. In stillwaters, ledgered and floating crust has probably accounted for more carp than any other bait.
Ledgered bread crust is one of the deadliest of baits for chub, while smaller pieces of crust will take tench, roach and even dace.
Crusts tend to be buoyant, so for ledgering the weight should be stopped very close to the hook to hold the bait near the riverbed: an Arlesey bomb is ideal and should be stopped an inch away from the hook.
The size of the ledger depends on the size of the bait and the flow of the river. Ideally, the weight should be such that the crust should just stay held in position in the current.
Don’t be afraid of using really big chunks of crust for chub fishing, especially in summer. A chub will soon make short work of a wad of crust the size of a matchbox. Chub will often feed from the surface in rivers and when you can see fish cruising like this, a wad of crust floated down to them seldom fails. A large piece of crust will sink quicker if you dunk it in the water before casting. Avoid soaking too much, however, or it will soften and fly off your cast.
Although a soft bait, crust will withstand quite a hard, forceful cast – an overhead cast is best.