The last decade or so has seen huge growth in the range of flavours available to the coarse angler. This culminated last month in the launch of Ultrabite which is being put on the market with such extravagant claims as to its efficacy that there are already mutterings about whether or not it should be banned. This echoes a controversy of a couple of generations ago when hemp met with equal resistance and was actually barred by many authorities for a while.
The variety of baits and flavours can be bewildering to the novice (and the experienced!) angler. The Hinders catalogue, for example, offers over 500 different choices of pellet, particle, boilie or flavour with the promise of more 'in store'. What to buy when they are all so reassuringly expensive? How is one to decide, for example, whether Nutrabaits Four Seasons, Banana, Cream & Black Pepper Boilies are any 'better' than Richworth's Crab & Mussel. Or whether adzuki beans out-fish blackeye beans. And what ARE adzuki beans anyway? The secretiveness which often surrounds which bait was used for a big fish capture certainly doesn't help the decision process!
Some hark back to simpler times when bait preparation meant digging in the back garden for a tin of worms or putting a few slices of bread in your bait box. I doubt those days ever existed. Bernard Venables in Mr Crabtree, for example, lists 16 baits for chub including, in those pre-BSE days the 'pith from the spinal cord of a bullock'. Further back still and Izaac Walton in The Compleat Angler comments, when discussing the best baits for carp, that:
"as for pastes, there are almost as many sorts as there are medicines for the toothache".
Izaac goes on and gives this recipe for making your own pastes for carp fishing
"And your paste must be thus made: take the flesh of a rabbit, or cat, cut small; and bean-flour; and if that may not be easily got, get other flour; and then, mix these together, and put to them either sugar, or honey, which I think better: and then beat these together in a mortar, or sometimes work them in your hands, your hands being very clean; and then make it into a ball, or two, or three, as you like best, for your use: but you must work or pound it so long in the mortar, as to make it so tough as to hang upon your hook without washing from it, yet not too hard: or, that you may the better keep it on your hook, you may knead with your paste a little, and not too much, white or yellowish wool. And if you would have this paste keep all the year, for any other fish, then mix with it virgin-wax and clarified honey, and work them together with your hands, before the fire; then make these into balls, and they will keep all the year."
Cat flavoured boilies anyone!
My own experimentations go back to my earliest days as an angler. I remember as a school- boy - and we're talking junior school here! - making a very successful custard powder paste. Some 15 years ago I had a bit of success with almond flavoured paste for tench, though my home made Parmesan boilies which I thought the chub would find irresistible, caught nothing but the odd carp. And here's a tip, check out your local supermarket for flavours before you splash out at your local tackle shop - you're likely to save a few bob.
More recently I have succumbed to the attractions offered by the bait companies - and as with a lot of things in angling, I'm sure their wares are as much to attract the angler as the fish! It started 3 season ago when I started making up my own Monster Crab paste. (Why Monster, I've often wondered?) A smell so disgusting that if it is ever whiffed inside the house again I expect it to be cited in the divorce courts!! The paste though was an instant success and one I now have a lot of confidence with on the river.
This season I'm trying halibut pellet on the river for the first time and it caught me my first barbel of the season. I'm also giving a lot of my more traditional baits such as meat a quick squirt of Nutrabaits Trigga bait spray. And concentrated Salmon, Caviar and Black Pepper is my latest entrant in the disgusting smells competition. Is it making any difference? Who knows - it certainly isn't doing any harm to my catch rate and there have been a couple of occasions where I've managed to winkle out a few fish while others have struggled to catch any - so maybe it is giving me the edge. And no - I haven't tried Ultrabite yet.
My fishing last month can be summed up thus; Saturday mornings fishing for tench and/or crucians; mid-week, usually Monday evenings, fishing the river for barbel. The tenching at the beginning of the month was a bit patchy - I caught fish to be sure - but having set my stall out in the hope of a specimen, I only had one fish in excess of 5lb and that only by an ounce. The river was more fruitful.
My great-grandfather used to have a theory that the best day to go fishing was a Monday. His reasoning was that a lot of bait would have gone in on the Sunday particularly if there was a match on and by fishing the following day you took advantage of this 'free' ground-baiting. You can't argue with the logic and throughout July, Monday evenings has seen me fishing from 8 till midnight in a new swim less than 10 minutes walk from my front door. The first trip of the month was undoubtedly the highlight. My first bite, which came a little over an hour after settling in, produced an absolute screamer of a run. For the next 4 or 5 minutes I was convinced I'd hooked a river carp so was delighted to see a large barbel roll to the surface - a couple of last ditch dives for freedom and he was in the net. 10lb 5oz my second double!
The rest of the session couldn't surpass this excellent start though I did manage a couple of 6's and a chub a quarter pound shy of 5lb. In fact the same could be said for the rest of the month!! Half a dozen more barbel were caught - all falling in that 2 hour period up to midnight and weighing from 5 - 7lb with the odd bream and chub thrown in for good measure.
My only break in this alternating pattern of still water/Kennet trips produced my most enjoyable trip of the month. The penultimate week of July was a chilly affair and I reckoned the drop in temperature would have put the lakes right off. So, as if I needed an excuse, it was time to get out the centre pin for the first time this year and have a morning's trotting on the river.
One of my favourite spots is a fast stretch just below Newbury. With clear gravel runs between thick beds of Ranunculus, the venue is ideally tackled by wading out to mid-stream and exploring these various channels. (I only had a few hours as my youngest had a birthday party to attend so I had to be back by lunchtime to take him). I was soon into fish; roach, dace and gudgeon came at 'a fish a chuck' until my first connection with something solid revealed a perch of 1lb and a half. Next up was a fish that led me a merry dance. Trotting through a deep hole beneath a willow my float buried on the first run through and I was immediately into a barbel. The fish hugged the bottom and I was making little impression when all of a sudden it leapt out of the water with a pike in hot pursuit! It looked like a scene from Stingray! The barbel then went completely ballistic and shot upstream toward me, with me frantically batting the reel to retrieve line. So within seconds I now found myself playing the fish upstream of me - which was ultimately its undoing, as a couple of minutes later I was coaxing the exhausted fish down in the current toward the waiting net. At a little over 5lb it had been some tussle on light-ish tackle.
The rest of the morning continued apace. The hole relinquished a couple of 3lb chub and a small barbel of a pound and a half, a more usual size for this venue. The session ended as it started with another nice perch. A couple of trout and a handful of grayling completed an excellent morning's sport.
With warm weather returning, the last Saturday of the month saw me again on the lakes for tench. For this trip I'd promised Matthew, my eldest, I'd take him night fishing for the first time. I often take my boys when I'm planning short trips, particularly to the lakes as they can usual catch small stuff quite easily, though a trip which produced something considerably larger will feature in next month's article! This was the first time I'd been brave enough to take one of them along for a 12 hour session.
The first surprise of the night was to find only one car in the club car park and no-one fishing the lake I'd chosen. I was so surprised I quickly checked my club card to ensure the water wasn't closed - but no, I had the pick of the swims. After 3 hours without a bite, though, I was beginning to wonder who was right and with Matthew already getting fidgety I was contemplating abandoning the whole project.
Then, as if someone I'd flicked a switch, the fish started to feed in earnest and the next 3 hours produced 8 tench between 3.5 and 5lb and 3 commons between 8 and 10lb. All landed with the help of an expert junior net minder who also 'logged' each catch and returned them with reverent care, to the water. After a lull of an hour or so I was in again and asking for help with another common, turned round to see an exhausted 9 year old fast asleep. And that's how he stayed for the next 5 hours as I doubled my tally of fish - I couldn't even raise him at 2am, to take a photo, when I had the fish of the session - a 3lb crucian. Bites from the tench stopped with the onset of daylight. Matthew was now, at last, awake so I set up a light waggler, and fishing a slow sinking red maggot he enjoyed getting a bite a chuck for the final hour, resulting in a mixed bag of roach, rudd and perch before it was home for breakfast.