By Roger Whincup - 2005 

The inspiration for this article came mainly from the excellent article that appeared in Barbus 98 by Trevor King. Trevor went on to explain his theory, thinking and construction of the so-called “modern baits”, the vast majority of what was written I totally agree with, especially the concept of home made baits using cheap and readily accessible ingredients. Well-done Trevor!

I work as a Biomedical Scientist. I analyse things for a living and deal with proteins amino acids, lipids etc. on a daily basis. I was therefore naturally curious about some of the claims made by some of the bait companies at that time. During the early nineties I queried several local tackle dealers, bait suppliers and one or two well known carp anglers (bait experts) of the day about how and why these baits worked .The answers I received varied from plausible to damn right incredible! It soon became obvious to me that some of quoted reasons for the ingredients used and the rationale for the construction of some of the baits were not valid. This may have been due to ignorance or a deliberate ploy to tell me nowt!

Let me state now that I am a firm believer in the HNV theory in general. I also believe that most of the commercially produced baits of today will work well and generally contain the “right stuff” in the correct proportions, if you are prepared to pay for it, and you certainly do! However do we really need all those expensive ingredients and enhancers to achieve the same or better results? I believe not. It is also important to appreciate that the basic skills of watercraft are also essential to catching fish, not just the most fashionable bait of the moment.

Why go to the bother of making your own bait or obtaining the ingredients from sources other than the bait companies or tackle shops? Well it could be argued that there is no need, after all most of today’s “modern type baits” work well and are easily obtainable, which is true. The bait experts constantly tell us that we must always use fresh ingredients for our bait. The one thing I have yet to see on the packaging on most commercial baits or additives is a “best before or use by” date, why? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

My main reasons for making my own baits or obtaining them from cheaper outlets are as follows; lower cost (always good); often better quality (human grade). I know what I’m putting into the bait, I can easily change or adapt the bait to suit, and perhaps my most important reason is that I like to prove to myself (like Trevor, in his article) that I can do an equally good or better job myself. This adds to my enjoyment when fishing. Catching a fish, any fish, on your own bait adds to my overall satisfaction and enjoyment. We all go fishing to enjoy ourselves (hopefully!)

Where to go and what to buy?

The general construction of good HNV type bait (boilie, pellet, or paste) is;
Protein 30 – 40%, Carbohydrate 60% Oil 10%. Nearly all contain fishmeal to some extent along with ingredients such as: Soya meal or flour, (plant protein) Rice, Maize Gluten, Maize, Wheatgerm, (carbohydrate), and fish oil. This is reflected in the make-up of most commercial baits and “carp pellets”. Trout, salmon and halibut pellets have a higher protein and oil content.

The above ingredients can be readily obtained from several sources other than the bait supplier or tackle shop. Your first port of call should be to your local agricultural supplier, where you can buy (or order) a top quality 20 kg sack of fish meal (Herring) for around £25 as opposed to around £100 for supposed better quality meal from bait suppliers, with added enhancers of course! Maize meal will set you back the tidy sum of about 30p per kg, along with Maize and Wheatgerm at equally low prices. Soya flour can be obtained at most health food shops for £2 kg or cheaper if ordered from the agricultural supplier. Whilst in the health food shop have a look at the Hemp oil. This is obviously human grade (£5 for 300mls) the active component, the omega fatty acid family of molecules are essential to fish and humans and are only available via the diet. Hemp oil is one of the best sources of these fatty acids, even better than fish oils. Could this be why most fish like Hemp so much? It certainly isn’t because Hemp is often mistaken for small snails by fish!

The above ingredients will give your bait (food) the necessary balance of animal and plant protein and will also be highly digestible and palatable if used in the often-quoted ratio of 60/30/10 as stated above. What about milk proteins? I must admit to having my doubts about these proteins being necessary in fish bait. These are often used as the protein source in the so- called “high protein baits” which I also think are unnecessary for every day use. These powders are VERY EXPENSIVE, For this reason alone I would not advise using milk proteins in your bait, as I believe that a mix of fishmeal and soy meal is actually better generally, and far, far cheaper. The idea is to provide the fish with an attractive and digestible food source on which they can live without the need for any other supplements, and we use it as bait. The idea of a complete fish food in powder or pellet form is not new. If you go down to your local garden or aquatic centre you will see a vast array of pond fish (mainly Koi) food in various guises. Have a look at the contents of these foods stated on the box. You will see that the ingredients are very similar to those stated above. These pond fish foods are sometimes the sole diet of the fish in many ponds, and therefore they must be good enough to live on.

I nearly always add some vitamins, minerals and amino acids to my bait and hook bait pellets in the form of “Nutramino”. This is a “liquid food” and is often the only flavour / attractor I add to my bait. I rate it so highly I even buy the stuff, as I cannot better it myself, it is one of only three or four commercial products I now use. Another must have commercial bait is a tin of “Meaty fish bites”. The Meat chunks are very effective baits, but the oil in the can (Sardine & Tuna I believe) is a brilliant bait additive for all types of bait. You will also notice that there are “winter” and “summer” feeds for pond fish. All fish are cold blooded and their ability to digest and use the higher protein content of the summer food decreases as the water temperature falls. This is reflected in the lower protein content, often as low as 20% in the winter-feed. Pellets vary in protein and cereal (Wheatgerm / Maize) content Halibuts contain 60% protein. Carp type pellets contain around 30% protein and a higher content of cereal derivatives resulting in a more digestible pellet for Coarse Fish. The Carp type pellets, for example “Trigga Ice” pellets, produced for cold-water fishing, can be used in Autumn & Winter with consistent results. Mick Wood has demonstrated this with great success over the last winter. In cooler water temperatures I have started to use more digestible feed pellets eg. small Carp pellets, CSL and Hemp pellets as opposed to sticking with the high protein pellets all year round. You can still use the Elips & Halibut pellets as hook-bait but be wary of overfeeding these pellets, especially in cooler water as they may take the fish several days to digest them, making them less willing to feed during this time.

Other money saving ways

I now seldom use any commercial flavours in any form of bait .The main reason is that if the bait is good enough it does not require a flavour. It also avoids the tricky question of are we catching “because of, or inspite of” our flavour and its strength in the bait. The flavourings I do use are mainly the human grade supermarket bought ones (with expiry dates!).For example, Thai fish sauce at 60p for 500mls is an excellent booster for pellets, method ground bait and boilies. It has a rather salty taste. Salt is an extremely good and cheap bait additive, attractive to all fish. Thai fish sauce is available from your local oriental food shop. Garlic powder or better still those little plastic Garlic bulbs (Garlic oil), which are almost impossible to get hold of now, cost around 75p. This is a brilliant cool water additive, especially on hemp and maggots. One bulb will last all winter, except Mick Wood who gets through two bulbs! At this price it is too cheap for the carp anglers!

A few years ago I accidentally came across a source of Corn Steep Liquor (CSL) pellets at a fraction of the cost of those in the shops. I came across these via a farmer friend who feeds them to his sheep! I asked the farmer where he got his CSL pellets from, and was greeted with a rather puzzled gaze. ”No lad the’re Ewe nuts” he replied. I have bought several 25kg sacks (£5.50 a sack) Just to make sure I wasn’t kidding myself, I went to my local “fishing mega store” and bought a kilo bag of CSL pellets for £4.I got a tub and mixed equal quantities of these with my “Ewe nuts”, and then tried to spot the difference. I couldn’t, only the prices difference – about £70 a sack! They also seemed to break down in water identically .You can also get CSL pellets in 25 kg sacks for £64 (inc. pp.) from Hinders. I have noticed that there is some variation in colour and smell to small extent when purchasing Ewe nuts from different agricultural suppliers; depending on the brand you buy. I believe these pellets can be enhanced by the addition of a small amount (coating) of fermented molasses. This gives the feed a stronger smell and complements the pellets very well. Molasses can also be purchased from the agricultural supplier at £5 per 5 litres, as opposed to paying £5 for 500mls in the shops!

The future?

There we’ll all be in ten years time, fishing with our boilies, special pastes, and pellets all full of the latest “must have” ingredients and attractors. By now someone will have undoubtedly invented the “Barbel pellet”. Perhaps some enterprising chap will have discovered angling’s Holy Grail in the form of the ultimate bait – I hope not. In the midst of all this, one intrepid angler decides to try one of the “old methods” he stumbled across in a long lost fishing book from the early eighties. He studies the photos in the article showing multiple catches of barbel (they still used keep nets in those days!), and thinks to himself this “new” method might just work. He carefully baits his swims for a week or so before fishing with his new (to the fish) baits. On his first trip of the season he enjoys his finest ever catch and breaks all river records. He cannot believe how effective such apparently low HNV baits can be. He re-baits his hook with two pieces of corn and fills his feeder with hemp and mashed corn, and casts out to await the inevitable rod-wrenching take! He now realises that bait is but only one part of the jigsaw puzzle involved in catching barbel, it often pays to show a bit of initiative, and not just follow the crowd.

Think about it.