Lots of people ask me what is the best bait to use? Fish meals, meat meals, bird food, high protein milk baits – all are very good if made with the ingredients at the right levels.

Unfortunately there is not one formula, or not one that I am aware of to tell us that carp will eat a set combination of carbohydrates, proteins etc etc at a level of inclusion for us to work from. So it is the exact science of trial and error that we apply to formulate our baits. Sure I know from a lot of experience the key elements to make up the bulk ingredients, but to me it is the inclusion rate of what I call “the goodies” that will make the bait a mediocre one or a very good one. A lot of these ‘special’ products are very strong, whether they are liquids or in a powder form and are not produced for the fish industry. Therefore the information that is usually available with them regarding recommended quantities will be far too high and not relevant to what we are trying to achieve.

I can go back a few years to when I was fishing on Ringstead. I was doing quite well with my usual bait (the Hartford Mix) and catching fish consistently. But me being me had recently got hold of a new naturally formed additive that I was very keen to try. The information from the supplier was that this product being natural could not be overloaded and could (if required) be used at an inclusion level of up to 50%. I wanted this product as well as adding nutrition to my bait, to be the main attractor and not wishing to use any flavours at all in this mix. Not wanting to overload it I made up a mix that contained the ingredients at a level of 10%. My first trip I used the bait on one rod, not a thing I would normally do if I am going to use a new bait as I like to put it on all rods so it has a fair crack of the whip!  It is all too easy to put the ‘going bait’ on what you think are the better spots and the new bait is chucked up the margin on the third rod. Anyway, it is hard enough to get one run on Ringstead as anyone who has fished it will tell you, so I stick my faithful bait on two rods and with the new one I fished on a spot that I had already had takes on.

What a session that turned out to be!! I had seven takes in a three night session. I caught two fifty pound plus mirrors in the same day- yes the same day and three more good forties and two thirties also. Three of the takes were on the new bait! The next week I was back.  A different swim this time, but still with the new bait on only one rod. I had also given some to a friend to try and during that session we had four takes between us, three of them on the new bait. I caught one of the big mirrors on the new bait, they do not get caught very often just once or twice a year weighing 47lbs. So my confidence in the new ingredient was growing.

The next week I was back, this time the new bait was going to be on all three rods as you have guessed it!! Three nights, not a bite, despite having fish in my swim and then the following next week the same, not a thing. So within two weeks of introducing that new bait I had gone from something new that the fish would try to a bait that probably sent them to other end of the lake.

Let me think about this, I am fishing a lake where most anglers only get a few runs a year with a bait that I know they like and I am very confident with and more importantly catching my fair share on. Why am I using a new bait?? A lesson learned! Stick to the bait you are confident with, at least then you know if you are not getting takes then it is not the bait that is the problem.

So what DOES make one bait better than another?  From research by fish food manufacturers and fish farmers it is evident that carp can certainly detect various minerals and proteins that are in their food. It is the fish food area that I am mostly interested in. As an example, pellet production has become big business for the growth and welfare of various species of fish and they have all got special pellets that have developed to maximize their growth rates and welfare.

Carp will certainly eat most of these pellets with some gusto, but not all are food for them especially the ones made with very high oil content. These pellets in the colder months can lay in the carp’s stomach for quite long periods and can indeed affect their livers quite badly. Furthermore, I am sure can be the kiss of death on some lakes during the winter months when they are used in large quantities by misinformed anglers. “More” is not always the answer.

I have never been a great fan of pellets as they break down far too quickly for my liking and although I can see they will give off good attraction as they break down, they also become a food source for shoals of other species such as roach, bream, and tench which is definitely  not what I want. Not only that but as the pellets break down they turn into a ‘mush’ on the bottom which when ‘waffted’ by carp swimming over them plus roach and bream tucking into the feast will trigger the wrong kind of feeding pattern. In this scenario, the fish are just taking water born suspended particle and not going down on the bottom, staying up to six to twelve inches from the bottom sucking into the soup. If you are going to fish over pellets with a quick break down, use a semi buoyant hook bait that just sinks the hook.

In addition, make the hook links longer than normal, 10 to 12 inches which will allow the bait to be ‘sucked’ up by the fish that are just passing over the baited area rather than going down and eating individual baits. Introducing a few boilies with the pellets does not seem to help much, or at least not until the pellets have broken down and been eaten by the smaller nuisance fish. I suppose you could say that the pellets have at least drawn the fish to your swim but I would prefer to use a good quality boilie to do the same thing, and create a feeding pattern that I feel I am more likely to get a ‘take’ on.

Now I know there are a lot of carp caught feeding over pellets, however the type of water I tend to fish are generally not heavily stocked. I am only expecting the odd fish or two to be feeding over my bait at any one time and it would take a long time if these fish are very wary for them to start eating your baits confidently, just taking the odd one or two each time they visit your swim. So there is not the competitive feeding frenzy like you would get on more heavily stocked water when a shoal of hungry Carp turn up and are competing for food. This is where a good bait (or one they like) will start to out catch other baits. The fish will start to look for that particular bait and keep coming back until hopefully it takes the one on your hook.