I will start by looking at canned meat balls before moving onto special home made flavoured meat balls. The later are an advanced bait that under the right circumstances can produce good results when other baits fail.
Possibly the most commonly used meat ball is the canned "Campbell's meat ball". They are convenient to use as they can be used straight out of the can and fished directly on a size 2 or 4 hook. It could not be easier. They are also a relatively cheap bait and of a similar size to a large boilie which is useful when seeking out larger species such as carp. Unlike boilies these are not a hard bait but, being round, they can be fired out to a fair range by carefully using a catapult. This is all relatively positive but don't forget to open the can and transfer the contents to a plastic bag - many fisheries have banned cans in order to stop litter.
Although canned meat balls can be used either with float or legering tactics on either running or still water, I prefer to float fish close in with them on still waters whilst legering them in rivers. In still water I use them with a powerful float road with a good quality centre pin loaded with strong line. I use a J.W.Youngs Purist centre pin for much of this work. I also use a Preston Innovations Tyson pole float with a small shot down the line which is tied directly to a size 2 or 4 hook when fishing a full-sized meat ball. Smaller or part meat balls can be fished with smaller hooks. I never attempt to cast with any force relying on the weight of the bait to aid my casting. I tend to gently swing the bait out into the swim.
Virginia and I used these tactics when we visited Clawford Vineyard in Devon this Winter. We had been told that the fishery could fish well in mid Winter and were determined to give it a try. Virginia headed off to fish "Major Johns" lake which is a relatively new residents only carp lake.
She baited up several close-in swims with pieces of meat ball before setting up with her 9ft stalking rod with Purist centre pin loaded with 12lb b.s. line. She sat well back from the waters edge and sat motionless for two hours with her eyes glued on the pole float. Then her float gently went under and she struck in to a good carp that put up a good fight before she netted it and weighed it at 261b 8oz. I was very proud of her as she had caught the fish using a centre pin down the edge and shown great skill in catching a cracking carp that had never been caught before. This fish was not caught on a self hooking rig either, which in my opinion places it in a higher category of achievement.
I was on another water and ended up catching a surprise 71b 2oz male tench on similar gear with a half meat ball as bait. Remember that this was winter and I am talking of a male tench. Not only was this the biggest male tench that I have seen, it is also the largest winter male tench that I have ever heard of being caught. If the males are that big in mid-winter, what weight do the female tench, that are traditionally much heavier than males, reach in summer? Clawford certainly has great potential as both a tench and carp venue.
Meat balls are also a very productive bait on rivers particularly for chub and barbel. Unlike on still waters, I prefer to leger with meatballs on rivers, rather than float fishing with them. My tackle is kept as simple as possible with free running legering rigs. The bait is mounted directly on the hook or hair rigged. A double-meatball bait can be hair rigged to great effect with a running leger on many faster flowing rivers. Bites do tend to be very positive and a quiver tip is not a necessary requirement for fishing this bait on rivers.
So far, most of what I have written has been practised for several years but I have taken my use of meatballs a stage further. I now often make my own flavoured meatballs that are much harder than the standard canned variety. As they are harder they can be cast out much further than ordinary meat balls and used in a similar fashion to boilies. These baits are no more difficult to make than boilies and are made from totally human-food-quality products, so they are a hundred percent safe.
My garlic meat balls are not only harder than conventional meat balls but also contain natural garlic, so have their own intrinsic attraction built in. Let us look at making our own garlic meat balls.
Good quality mince. Avoid cheap fatty mince as this tends to float and produces a rather nasty greasy bait. Eggs, a garlic clove, and salt are the only other ingredients. As I wrote in an earlier article, salt can be a very important ingredient in any bait and can increase its efficiency and effectiveness.
Step by step guide
This is based on my wife's recipe for garlic meat balls.
1. Start with a good quality low fat mince.
2. I grind mine up finer with a food processor. This is not always necessary as some butchers sell finely ground mince.
3. Add eggs at a rate of approximately one large egg per 8oz of
4. Select a garlic bulb and take a clove. Place in a garlic crusher.
5. Add the crushed garlic to the meat mixture and mix in.
6. Add one tablespoon full of salt and mix in.
7. Roll into balls from 12mm to about 18mm diameter.
8 The balls are placed in boiling water for 4 to 5 minutes.
9. Remove and allow to air dry for an hour before storing in a freezer for storage.
The final product is much harder than canned meatballs and is much tougher. It is also garlic flavoured which in my opinion makes it a good winter river bait for species such as barbel and chub. I have over a number of years used garlic flavoured meat baits for chub and barbel. These new garlic flavoured meat balls certainly appear to work well in this role.
I normally leger these garlic flavoured meat balls in winter with a 12ft powerful leger rod with a good fixed spool reel loaded with braided line of about 141b b.s. I use heavy flat leads ranging from .5oz to 3oz depending on the flow. These are used running with large friction free rings, large stops, rubber shock absorbing beads to a swivel. The trace is normally 8lb b.s. to a size 4 to 8 hook depending on the size of bait. The meatball is fished on a short hair.
I normally start a session by prebaiting several likely looking swims with between 6 and 10 half baits. The half baits having one large flat surface do not tend to be washed out too quickly from the swim. I try to leave a swim for about half an hour before returning to fish it.
In the late seventies and eighties, I used to use garlic sausage meat from the local butcher and had great success with it on the Hampshire Avon, Kennet, Colne and Mole - particularly in Winter. Chub and barbel were the main species caught on the garlic sausage meat.
When I changed over to garlic flavoured meatballs, results improved. Perhaps it was the added salt improving the baits attraction? Not only did I appear to be getting more bites but they also appeared to be more violent. There was no need for a quiver tip as the fish would often bite so violently that there was a danger of the rod being pulled in at times.
The bait has worked exceptionally well when the river is still carrying some colour after a winter flood. I once had eleven good chub out of a Thames tributary in a short afternoon session as flood water was clearing. All the fish gave really violent bites and virtually hooked themselves. One chub of just over four pounds nearly took the rod in.
Garlic flavoured meatballs are not just another river bait for chub and barbel, they work well on still waters too. They appear to produce good results on heavily fished waters where the fish "have seen it all before". I fished a club water that was exceptionally hard fished, last summer. The fish had turned off, become very cautious and appeared to be avoiding anglers baits. I decided to try out the garlic flavoured meatballs in an evening session on the water. Before setting up I pushed a few garlic meat balls through a bait sieve to produce some fine feed. This was introduced close in and left to do its work whilst I set up my gear. My tackle consisted of a 13ft powerful float rod with a centre pin loaded with 61b b.s. line. The float was a small pole-float fished at depth. There were only two number 8 shot down the line. The main line was tied directly to a size 8 hook. The bait was part of a garlic meatball fished directly on the hook.
I fished close-in over the feed and almost immediately had a small dip of the float that I missed. The next cast I had a similar bite that I hooked. The resistance was solid but the fish did not move off. As I suspected it was a bream of just over 5lb. About half an hour later it was followed by another similar sized bream and a tench of about 4.5lb. I didn't get a bite in the following hour. Then bites started again. These were mainly sharp jabs and resulted in several roach ranging from 6oz up to just over 12oz. Then again the swim went dead for a while before I had a fly-away bite that stripped off a lot of line. There was no doubt it was a fairly good carp. It took me a long time to land the fish that turned out to be a nice mirror carp of 161b 4oz. This was followed by a common carp of 12.5lb to complete a lively evenings fishing. Anglers fishing at the same time using more conventional baits struggled all evening. I only saw two other anglers land fish and these were bream.
I have also used these garlic flavoured meatballs in much the same way as many anglers use boilies. I took about 150 garlic meat balls with me on a ghost carp trip on Clawford Vineyards Fletcher's lake. I started off by catapulting 50 of these baits out into the swim before starting to set-up my gear. The tackle was a matched pair of conventional 12ft carp rods with test curves of 2.25lb. The reels were bait runners loaded with 12lb b.s. line. The terminal tackle was Richworth 2oz leads with anti tangle tubing fitted to a swivel with a short length of braid to a size 6 hook. A whole meatball was fished on a short hair rig.
I placed both baits over the baited area and waited for the first run. About an hour later, I had my first run that resulted in a 8lb 6oz common ghost carp. Then after another half hour, I had another run that resulted in a 13lb 10oz mirror ghost. At this stage I put another thirty baits out in the swim and continued to catch four more ghost carp in the next five hours. At that time, I decided to pack up as I do not like long session carp fishing. It was also time to get ready for dinner. (Dinner at Clawford is an event not to be missed!)
I hope in the space of this article that I have convinced readers to give meatballs a serious try. For the keener angler there is always those garlic flavoured meatballs that are well worth trying.