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Other parts of the NCA carp fishing tackle buying guide:
Part 1: Line
Part 2: Bite alarms
Part 3: Bait
Part 4: Barrows
Coming from a predominantly fly fishing background, bait was something that I needed to thoroughly research and get my head around before being able to use it properly. I’m glad I persisted though because with the right bait, your job as a carp angler gets a whole lot easier.
I think there’s something of an art to baiting well and your learning will never stop. Because there are so many baits available to the carper, I wanted to put this guide together to help you make the right choice for a variety of situations and times of year. Some of this comes from experience but some I’ve learnt from some exceptional anglers such as Tom Maker, Mark Pitchers and Nick Burrage who I’ve been fortunate enough to fish with.
At the end of the guide I reveal some of the different baiting strategies I’ve picked up along the way – this is going to be an in-depth guide so hats off to those who make it that far, you deserve a nice scaly 30lb’er if you do!
Without further ado, let’s crack on – if you want to read about a specific bait, feel free to jump straight to that section using the links below.
Bait Delivery Methods and Tools
An important part of baiting is accuracy and distance and there are various tools to help you achieve that. Here is a list of what I consider to be essential pieces of tackle along with a link for you to have a look at some of the products on offer from Amazon – a site I find myself buying fishing tackle from all the time these days as all the main tackle brands are available there and the prices are great.
- Throwing stick – if you fish with boilies a throwing stick is absolutely essential. You can achieve a great distance with a good stick but it should be used when you’re looking to achieve a spread of bait over a wider area (a popular approach). If you’re looking for accuracy, a spod or catapult might be a better option
- Spod/spomb – as mentioned above, if you can cast accurately then with a spod or a spomb, you’ll be able to bait accurately. Have a look at the link below to see what Amazon have but also checkout my review of the Fox Impact Spod too.
- Catapult – ah, the trusty ‘catty’! With a good catapult you can achieve good distance as well as accuracy. I find myself carrying a number of different ones and some are made for different distances as well as bait types (you can get boilie ‘pults and particle ‘pults) There is plenty of choice on the market but be careful about buying the cheapest you can find – the elastic won’t last two minutes
Boilies have become the most popular carp bait on the planet (I personally use them more than any other bait). Here’s why I think why:
- They’re convenient – shelf life versions super convenient and even frozen boilies don’t need much management, stick them in an air dry bag and hang them from the nearest tree for the duration of your session. Easy
- They’re good for the fish – OK OK, I accept that there are still some low quality, shelf life boilies on the market but generally they’re much better than they used to be. The frozen variety doesn’t contain any preservatives and modern day shelf life baits from the big companies have just as much nutritional value than their frozen counterparts. I use shelf life boilies exclusively (mainly Stickybaits Krill in 12mm)
- They’re not messy – admit it, none of us like sticky sweetcorn hands
- They need zero preparation and last for a long time
- They are easy to bait over your spot
- They can be adapted and altered in any way you like if you have some basic gear
- They are versatile – grind them, chop them, crumb them or use them whole. Use them in a spod mix, a PVA bag or fire them out whole
- They catch fish – boy do they do this well
The standard size for a boilie is 14/15mm with 10mm and 18mm also being quite common. My favourite? 12mm. I like boilies this size because 1) it’s a less popular size 2) I don’t fish in France for 60b monsters so feel no need whatsoever to fish with a gobstopper on my rig and also it’s just that bit bigger than a 10mm’er meaning it’s fine to use as a hook bait and tubs of popups are readily available in that size.
I choose Sticky’s Krill boilies because they come in 12mm shelf life, have matching 12mm popups but also have pink and white popups in 12mm that are a different colour but the same flavour – something that I’ve found works quite well.
Don’t be afraid of mixing up your sizes when baiting, I regularly fish 12mm and 10mm together. I use Sticky’s 12mm Krill with the Nash Crab & Krill 10mm red boilies. These come with a small pack of popups so I’ll bait the 12mm and 10mm together giving a different size and colour combination and then the hook bait is a snowman style rig with a 12mm bottom bait and a 10mm red popup so both baits match my freebies.
Flavours & Smell
Flavours and smell in a boilie is a funny thing, some people insist on one type of flavour/smell combo and other on something completely different. I personally like a fishmeal based boilie and the associated smell and flavour as opposed to the sweater baits that might smell great to us but we’re not carp. You see so many people sniffing their baits with a smile on their face because it smells like Baileys or some other human associated thing! Fish might like it too of course but I’ve always had more success with the stinkier fishmeal based stuff so I’ve stuck with it – confidence is a wonderful thing.
You can always alter the flavour and smell of your boilies of course with the various dips and sprays that are on the market. In all honesty I have never really taken to using them – I just haven’t seen a noticeable difference in my catch rate to warrant spending any more time with them. I do know people who use them religiously though and that’s fine, whatever works for you is always there best option.
This is another personal thing! There are various theories about what carp can and can’t see. I remember a talk I saw by Rob Hughes who was talking about the visibility of certain colours deteriorating when certain depths are reached – red was one that you had to be careful with when fishing at depth. From that talk, I seem to remember that pink was a good option from a visibility point of view.
I personally like a bait somewhere in the middle – not too bright and not too dark. Carp have a great sense of smell so I’m more bothered about getting that element right. Let’s also be clear – carp are aquatic hoovers and pure eating machines so if it’s there, they’ll know about it. Whether they eat it or not in a completely different matter!
Time of Year
There are different types of boilies designed to be used at different times of the year. In a nutshell, winter boilies will be made with a milk based base as opposed to a fishmeal one meaning that there will be much less oil content. In cold water, the oil in bait can congeal and put the fish off feeding hard. Baits like Mainline’s Cell doesn’t use a fishmeal base so can be used all year round which has probably contributed to its popularity but there are plenty of other baits that fit in the all year round bucket.
Some anglers will continue to use the same boilie all year round, the theory being that if it’s worked well through the spring and summer and the fish like it then why stop using it for the winter. My view on this is that confidence is massive in fishing and can give you a real edge so if changing boilies in preparation for the winter will knock your confidence, it probably make sense to stick with what’s been working for you regardless of whether it’s a milk based on fishmeal based bait.
One thing you do need to think about when using boilies in the winter is your baiting strategy – I’ll cover this later in the section about bait application but you need to remember that fish hold up in certain areas and feed much less in the winter so piling in kilos of bait on a spot isn’t the one when temperatures are low.
Which Boilies are Best?
In my freezer/fishing cupboard at the moment are bags of Sticky Baits Krill and Mainline Cell. These are proven baits and used by some of the best anglers across the country. I have a lot of confidence in both. Outside of the two big bait makers, there are also great baits available from companies such as Nutrabaits, Trent Baits and Active Bait Solutions just to name a few. As I say though you won’t go far wrong with anything from Sticky Baits or Mainline. You can find a great selection of their products on Amazon using the links below – there are some great deals to be had.
Particles have been used to catch carp since the beginning of the sport. The name ‘particles’ is a catch all for any sort of natural, food bait. Examples include:
- Maple peas
- Tiger nuts
Particle baits can be very cost effective especially if you’re happy to put the work into preparing them yourself. Preparation is key because for most particle baits, they can be used in their raw state – some form of soaking and boiling is required. Different baits require different preparation required so please do your research first. To give you an idea of what’s involved though, here’s a video by Hinders detailing how to prepare hempseed. I’ve done this before and you end up with a lovely bait that carp adore.
Preparing your own bait also enables you to add things to it – flavours, colours, salt etc which can make your bait stand out on the lake bed.
Mixing different particles together is always a good idea – I like the analogy of the buffet, if there’s only pork pies there and you happen not to like pork pies you’re going to go hungry. If though there’s also some pizza, sandwich, crisps and buns you’re much more likely to like something and have a munch – it’s the same with fish, offer them a few different things and increase your chances of getting them feeding! It’s also a good idea to mix up colours and sizes and I always try to match my hook bait with something in the mix. If I have two rods over a spot, I’ll have a different hook bait on each rod but again each will match something in the mix. Don’t be afraid to mix other types of baits with your particles too – a mixture of boilies, hemp and sweetcorn is super simple and massively effective.
It’s probably worth keeping in mind that if you’re baiting a spot with a lot of particle to attract fish into the area, keep your rigs short as the fish will be moving slowly across the spot.
If you don’t want the hassle of having to prepare your particles, there are ready made bait available off the shelf but you’ll pay more for them. I find myself though sticking with sweetcorn these days, it’s cheap, all carp love it and there are some excellent plastic baits available to fish over the top of it. I buy frozen bags from the supermarket which are around £1 and contain 1kg of sweetcorn. Where else can you get a kilo of bait for a quid!?
Here is the rig I fish over the top of sweetcorn, shown to me by Mark Pitchers. It’s super simple, well balanced, requires no putty to anchor down the corn (the a size 4 SSBP hook is just right to balance two pieces of the plastic) and it massively effective. The plastic used is the Evolution Plastic Corn Stack. Simply cut off one of the ‘grains’ for a size 4 or use all three for a size 2 hook.
No post about bait would ever complete without mentioning live baits i.e. maggots and worms. I personally think both are underused, particularly worms – doing things different in carp fishing can be a serious edge. I’m not actually going to talk too much about them though. Why? Because I came across this Carp TV video on YouTube where Joe Morgan talks all about carp fishing with worms and he does a better job than I ever could so, over to Joe…
Maggots do tend to be used more than worms but mainly in winter when they’re particularly effective. It’s worth pointing out at this point that if the lake you’re fishing contains a lot of smaller fish of any species, you might want to think twice about fishing with maggots as it will attract every fish in the lake and could ruin your chances of carp bite. If though the lake contains mainly carp, maggots could be a great bet.
There are various different things you can do with maggots including:
- Flavour them (turmeric is good!)
- Use them in your spod mix (dead or alive)
- Put them inside a PVA bag
- Use them in combination with other things as hook bait e.g. side hook a couple of maggots onto a corn rig if you have both corn and maggots in your mix
- Use a maggot clip to bunch up a good number of maggots on your rig
I mentioned earlier using maggots dead or alive. Both can be advantageous in different situations – sometimes, a pile of wriggling maggots can be irresistible to fish but if you’re fishing a lake in which the bed is made up of deep silt, live maggots can bury themselves in it. Carp do of course feed in silt but you lose some visual impact.
Should you go for red or white maggots? Well, I have always fared better with red so stick with them. That doesn’t mean that white won’t work and I’d still fish with white maggots over some other baits but again it’s your choice – whichever you have more confidence in is likely to yield better results for you.
Plastics & Foam
Why would a fish possibly try to eat a plastic piece of sweetcorn!? Well, they do and I’m a big fan of the benefits that plastic baits bring to the table.
First of all you can get sinking or floating versions. Secondly, they come in all sort of shapes, sizes, colours and flavours. Some of them even glow in the dark! Thirdly you can flavour them how you wish (try Hinders Betalin & Black).
Here is a list of my favourite uses of plastic baits:
- Use popup plastic (such as a sweetcorn imitation) to tip off a boilie and negate the weight of the hook
- Fish a corn stack mentioned above over a simple spod mix containing sweetcorn or just sweetcorn on its own which is still massively effective
- Use Korda’s plastic popup maize critically balanced with a PVA stick of sweetcorn
- Have a look at the video below for how to make your sweetcorn PVA friendly – pretty neat and you don’t see many anglers doing it which can give you a nice edge
As well as the more obvious plastic corn and maize you can also get plastic maggots, casters, bread, pellets, hemp, tiger nuts, luncheon meat, worms, dog biscuit and even mussels!
You can also get selection boxes containing different plastic baits – have a look here to see what’s available.
So, we’ve covered plastic so onto foam baits. Foam like plastic soaks up flavour well and comes in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours. You can also cut it to suit your requirements. The most common uses of foam baits are:
- Zig rigs – foam is massively buoyant so is perfect for fishing zigs
- To critically balance a rig – that might be by drilling out a boilie and inserting some foam or using a piece of yellow foam on the hair of a sweetcorn rig
- To tie flies or ‘zig bugs’ as they’re known in the carp fishing world
- Look out for a future blog post where I’ll be tying my own zig bugs and showing you how to do the same – its cheap to get started, doesn’t require masses of skill and is very rewarding
How could I write a piece about the best carp fishing bait without covering pellets?! Along with sweetcorn, this is one bait that all fish just seem to love. When fishing for stocked fish, the likelihood is that they have been raised on pellets so that goes some way to explaining it.
Pellets are produced by a huge range of companies and are available in a whole host of size from 1mm to 20mm. There are oily version, flavoured versions, soft and hard versions – basically, if you know what size, consistency and make up you want, you’re likely to find a pellet to match your requirements.
With pellets, I also like the fact that you can get them with different breakdown speeds which is great for a spod mix as you can have a mixture of crunch and slop in there.
My favourite uses for pellets in fishing are:
- Mixing different micro pellets and fishing them in a solid PVA bag
- As mentioned above, using them as part of a spod mix
- Using a chunky pellet on the hair – this isn’t done often so again can be a nice edge
- Using micro pellets on a method feeder (what, you don’t fish the method for big carp?!)
- Using a mixture of sizes and breakdowns for margin spot feeding
The most common pellets you will come across are halibut, carp, trout, expanders, hemp, soft feed and CSL.
You can find a good selection of pellets here.
Now that you have a good idea about what baits are available, it’s now time to talk about some of the ways you can use them. I’m going to use boilies in these examples but most strategies aren’t bait specific so pellets, particles, naturals etc would work equally as well.
Strategy 1 – the ‘greedy guts’ method
There is generally always one to two fish in every lake that like a good old feast. When they come across a dirty great plate of food they just have to eat it. It’s those fish we are targeting with the greedy guts strategy.
The mechanics are very simple – find your spot and pile a couple of kilos of boilies (or your preferred alternative bait) on it. If you’re spodding, you need to be accurate here as the effect we’re looking for is as if you’d just tipped the bait over the edge of a boat in one go onto the spot. Clearly the easiest way or achieving this is with a boat but that’s not always possible. Get your rig in the middle of the pile and sit back and wait for the big lad to come along and find it.
Strategy 2 – catch out the careful ones
This is in some ways opposite to strategy 1. What we’re looking to do here is catch out those cautious fish who are holding back from the main pack in a feeding situation. These fish tend to ‘snatch’ at the edges of the spot so bait up, get one rod in the middle of the spot and then a second at the edge with the straggler baits ready to surprise Mr Careful Carp.
Strategy 3 – give them a snack, not a feast
I like to fish for one bite at a time and I prefer to do that with a small amount of bait. That could be anything from a couple of broken up boilies in a PVA bag next to my rig or a couple of spods over the top. What it’s definitely not is filling in a spot and then sitting on it for days – that’s definitely not my kind of fishing.
It might sound like a complete contradiction to strategy 1 but it’s important to have different tactics in your armoury to suit the lake you’re fishing on and the conditions on the day.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of carp fishing bait and it’s given you a few ideas to apply to your own fishing.
Until next time, tight lines…