Preserving baits

Summer gluts, leftover deadbaits and the surplus from a day’s bait digging need not go to waste if you invest in a few mm containers and some inexpensive preservatives.

With so many tackle shops able to cater to an angler’s bait requirements the time and effort spent in preserving them may seem to be completely wasted. However, the arguments in favour of a certain amount of home preserving are powerful, not the least of them being the cost of shop items and the fact that certain baits are not available for many months of the year.

The idea that preserving is an involved, uncertain method which produces inferior baits is completely false; indeed, they can often be improved with keeping, depending on which preservatives are used. The process need not be messy or the results evil-smelling and bulky. Much of the work can be done on the kitchen table, and the results occupy only a very small space on a shelf.

Of the several preserving methods that can be used, freezing is probably the easiest, and there is usually a little space in most deep freezers for storing some dead-baits for pike fishing. Sprats, herrings and mackerel should be as fresh as possible, graded carefully for size, and damaged fish rejected.

Deep freezing

Sprats are best stored in packets of six or ten sufficient for a day’s fishing, and herrings in packets of three or four. Mackerel are better frozen separately and kept as straight as possible. If required for long distance casting, fins and tail should be removed to help keep the flight straight. Freshwater fish, especially roach, need to be carefully washed and de-slimed before being dried, graded and packed in the same way as sea fish.

Bulk freezing of hemp and wheat which have been pre-cooked is possible, providing that they are spread evenly and thinly on to trays and frozen for 24 hours. After this they should be packed into plastic bags. Prepared in this way the grains will remain separate and will not settle into a solid block, which is by far the most wasteful way of freezing since the whole bulk must be defrosted regardless of the amount actually re-quired for use. Elderberries, used for hookbait when hemping, do not freeze well—they tend to shrink and lose weight, and will not re-freeze, which wastes any berries which remain unused at the end of the day. Lugworms can be frozen for a short period when it is absolutely necessary. These provide the angler with enough bait to carry him over a period when tides are too short to dig for fresh supplies. They should be laid on short strips of newspaper and rolled so that no two worms are touching. Obviously, they will have to be removed and unpacked several hours before required.

Preserving in formalin

It is possible to preserve nearly any bait in a solution of formalin, or formaldehyde solution BP, but baits preserved in this way will have a peculiar and unpleasant taint unless they are carefully doctored after the initial processing stage is finished. Many anglers feel that this way of preserving is unnecessary and that the frozen bait is best, but there is no doubt that a deadbait which has had this treatment will be far tougher and longerlasting than its frozen counterpart.

Formalin is a poison and should be used for preserving fish baits only. It can be obtained cheaply from a chemist, who should be told the reason for its purchase. Items used in its preparation (jugs, jars and spoons) should be carefully washed after use, and the bottle kept well away from children.

Baits preserved in this way should be carefully sized and washed, then tightly packed into airtight bottles or jars. Kilner jars are ideal, and although rather expensive as an initial outlay, possess the virtue of being able to be used repeatedly. The jars selected should be carefully examined to ensure that the lids really do make an airtight seal, or alternatively, a little wax should be purchased to seal the lids and make them airtight.

One tablespoon of formalin should be added to a pint of cold water, and this preparation poured into the jars until they are completely filled, then sealed. Within 48 hours the baits will be adequately preserved and the mixture can be poured away and a fresh solution made up of one teas-poonful of formalin to a pint of water is used to fill the jars again.

Preserved in formalin, baits will keep for a year or more. To preserve baits without the formalin taint, proceed by soaking bait in the stronger formalin solution described, and then throw the solution away. Carefully wash the baits, scraping away any slime or blue film that may have formed; if this is difficult use salt to rub it off.

Now prepare a solution of one part sugar to four parts water by bulk, and pour it into an open tray (an old meat tin is ideal) when it has cooled. Lay the baits into this and leave the tin completely uncovered until the formalin smell has disappeared. Four or five days are usually sufficient and at the end of this time the solution can be drained off. The baits should then be re-packed into storage jars, another sugar and water solution poured into them, and the jars firmly sealed.

Baits treated by this method will last well and keep their original colouring. But there are variations to the procedure described, and some anglers feel that undiluted glycerine instead of sugar and water is a better preserving fluid, and that baits kept in this are softer and more attractive to fish. Certainly this is a more expensive method.

Yellow-coloured baits can be made by adding a very small quantity of Dylon golden dye powder to the final sugar and water solution. The deeper coloured baits are those obtained by removing the scales from the fish after soaking in the for-malin solution, which allows the colour to saturate right into the skin.


Elderberries are ideal when preserved by the formalin and sugar method and there is an added advantage—any baits unused can be returned to the bulk container at the end of the day. Hemp and wheat can also be kept in this solution, as can a crayfish, which can often be an admirable chub bait. Prawns for salmon fishing should be obtained uncooked, and then cooked with a little red Dylon powder added to the water. Great care is necessary during this period otherwise the prawns will boil to pieces. They are best packed loosely into small jars, and covered with neat glycerine.

Finally, one or two safety points. Formalin is corrosive, and if screw-capped jars of any sort are used to store baits, the lids should be rubbed with a little Vaseline before sealing S to stop them corroding tight. | Naturally, hooks and traces should £ not be left mounted into a bait overJ night, or they will suffer the same fate. Remember to wash your hands after a preserving session.

Salting baits

A rather more messy way of preserving bait than those described so far, but nevertheless an ideal method, especially for lug and ragworm, is to salt bait. A wooden box, preferably the size of a seedbox, should be used and drilled with small holes over the bottom and sides. The baits are then dipped into a basin of crushed salt and laid in the box close together, but not actually touching. A layer of salt about %in deep should be spread over them. A further row is added, covered with salt, and so on until the box is full. The top layer should then be thoroughly dampened and the lid fixed.

After 10 days or so in a cool dark place the lid can be removed and the box topped up with salt. Kept in this way baits last several months, although they do tend to shrink.

Sea worms that need to be kept only for a short period. They should be dipped in salt, £ laid on newspaper and covered with more salt, the paper rolled over them and another bait added until the paper is full. Kept cool and dark they will last for a month.

All fish baits that have been preserved can be improved if they are injected with a little pilchard oil by means of a hypodermic syringe before use. The oil can be purchased at a tackle shop in a small plastic bottle. Baits injected in this way will leak their attraction for some considerable time.