Hemp was introduced to British coarse fishing by Belgian refugees during World War I. Based in London, they used it to catch large numbers of good-sized roach from the tidal Thames.
By the 1930s, hemp was so popular and successful throughout the country that many angling clubs banned it. Some people said it drugged roach into a feeding frenzy, others that it took root and grew underwater! Fortunately, common sense prevailed and there are now very few places where hemp is banned.
You can buy hemp ready cooked from most tackle shops, but it is much cheaper to buy it raw and prepare it yourself.
Simply put about four parts water and one part raw hemp in a saucepan. Bring to the boil. Then turn down the heat and leave it to simmer. After about half an hour the seeds will start to split, and white shoots emerge from many of them.
Take the saucepan off the heat and strain off the water into a container. Keep the oily, hemp-flavoured water to use the next time you mix groundbait.
Hold the strainer under a running cold tap for a minute or so to cool the hemp and prevent further cooking. If you cook hemp for too long it splits open too far and becomes too soft to stay on the hook.
Stored in the fridge in an airtight container, cooked hemp stays fresh for up to a week or so. allowing you and to keep end of each bags for ooked hemp also freezes well, to prepare batches in advance whatever you have left at the outing. Use airtight polythene freezing.
Fishing with hemp
Once cooked, hemp is ready to use and needs no further preparation at the waterside. The only thing you have to remember is to put it in plenty of water at the start of the day, because it floats if allowed to dry out – and you want it to sink. Roach Hemp is a supreme summer and autumn hookbait for floatfishing for roach, attracting bites on the hottest of days when other baits fail. For some reason it rarely works as a hookbait in winter, though it still pays to feed it then.
Use a single seed on a fine wire 18 or 16 hook. Squeeze the seed gently to open the split and insert the bend of the hook, leaving the point exposed.
To prevent false bites from roach mistaking split shot down the line for hemp, pair the shot up or use cylindrical Styl weights instead.
A pint of hemp is usually enough for a day’s roach fishing. Loose feed a dozen grains at most each cast, and be prepared to wait an hour or two for your first bite. When the bites do start, though, they can come every cast, with the fish often rising up in the water to intercept the free offerings.
Many anglers complain that roach bites with hemp are too fast to hit. The secret is to ignore the first fast dips and wait for a more definite bite.
It is worth taking a few tares as a change hookbait as well, as they often attract the bigger roach. Tares are large, brown seeds that swell and soften when cooked, but don’t split. To prepare them, soak in cold water for 24 hours to help swell and soften them before cooking in the same way as hemp. To fish a tare, use a 16 hook nicked through the skin.
Dace and chub Hemp is rarely used on the hook for dace and chub, but it is common to feed it with your chosen hookbait, especially in summer and autumn.
Barbel, tench and carp all love hemp. A large carpet of hemp on the river or lake bed gives off an enticing, oily smell, which attracts the fish into your swim. Once there, the fish become preoccupied with picking up the seeds and stay until they have eaten them all. So top up the swim with more hemp from time to time to hold the fish. On the hook you can either fish 6-12 grains of hemp threaded with a needle on to a hair rig, or stuck to the hair with instant glue. Alternatively, try a larger, more prominent bait such as a piece of luncheon meat.
It was once thought that fish mistake hemp for freshwater snails. Actually, they simply like the smell and taste of it. This is borne out by the fact that ground hemp is an excellent groundbait additive. Hemp can be bought ready ground, or you can grind it up yourselfin a food processor. Half cook it first to soften it so the processor doesn’t take too much punishment.