Seed baits are apparently baits of fad and fashion. Those in current vogue with nonspecialist anglers are sweetcorn, tares and as an enticer or feedbait, hempseed.

Most seeds will tempt fish and most are prepared for the hook in a similar way. It pays to soak seeds overnight in cold water after first washing the hard grains. Then they are placed in a saucepan and again covered with water which is brought to the boil and left to simmer gently for a particular length of time, decided by the kind of seed.

Correct timing is very important. Undercooked seed baits are too hard for any fish to mouth. Overcooked, they become too mushy to use at all. So do not just put them into a pot and leave them. They must, as in all cordon bleu culinary arts, have close attention.


Can hempseed pollute a water? Of course it can, as can any substance deposited in excess over long periods. Massive mounds of rotting hemp have been found at the edge of waters, left there by anglers who took too much with them. It is best to take any surplus home and not risk spoiling a swim for other anglers.

Acclaimed by the match fisherman and other anglers as a ‘superbait’, banned by some clubs as unsporting, condemned for years as a water pollutant, suspected of drugging fish—controversial hempseed has been all of these.

Good quality hemp, available at a reasonable price nowadays from most tackle dealers, is big, black, and should be free from dust or husks. A pound is ample for a normal day’s fishing. Before use it should be washed carefully in cold water, immersed in a clean pan of cold water and then brought to the boil. To emphasize its blackness a large lump of household soda can be added, together with two teaspoonsful of sugar to hide any acidity. Having boiled, allow to simmer and carefully watch until one side of the seed opens and a white kernel protrudes slightly, showing that it is fully cooked. Boiled beyond this point it will disintegrate and become totally useless.

Now sieve the seed and wash it under a cold tap until thoroughly cool, otherwise the cooking process will continue. Finally—and vitally important—store the seed in an airtight, watertight box, keeping it sealed until it is required. If you fail to keep hemp wet it will float on the water, bring fish up to the surface and eventually, as it carries downstream, take them with it out of the swim.

Hooks for hemp

Hooks for use with hemp should be small—from size 10 downwards—and made from fine wire. Special hooks, with the back of the bend flattened to allow a single hemp grain to be easily mounted were available at one time; some anglers today flatten their own with a small hammer and a fine punch. The effort taken to do the job is amply repaid with time saved in rebaiting the hook while fishing.

Hooking hemp

Select a large seed, hold it between finger and thumb, then squeeze it and push the bend of the hook into the open side through the white kernel. Gently done, this should hold the seed on the hook. If the seed drops off, it will indicate that the hemp has been overcooked. With each cast it will probably be necessary to rebait the hook, a tiresome procedure that, as will be seen later, can be avoided by the use of artificial hemp or alternatively a suitable substitute.

At every cast to the head of the swim, throw in no more than 810 loose grains, aiming them right on the tip of the float. Once they hit the water, tighten any slack line between rod tip and float and prepare yourself for some of the fastest bites imaginable.


Haricot beans—small and hard skinned —make an excellent bait after being soaked for at least 24 hours, then boiled gently. They can be improved by being stewed in a pan of milk for a further half hour after they have been boiled.

Tinned buttered beans can be expensive if used in bulk. It is far better to use the haricot beans as groundbait, reserving the butter beans for the hook. The tin should be opened the day before they are required and the liquid content thrown away. The beans should then be soaked in a mixture of sugar and water or honey and water, at a ratio of one teaspoonful to the pint, before being drained and packed.

Any hookable seed can be tried. One never knows how a hungry fish will react.