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Is there a perfect carp bait?

While I have been preparing myself for the upcoming season, I’ve been thinking a whole lot about bait. There is a dizzying array of information on the topic and if you are relatively new to carp fishing, it can be a lot to digest. Let me start by saying that there are few things in my life that I can claim to have definitive answers to, fishing is not one of them. I admit that this is a rather postmodern thing to say about something like choosing which bait to use but then again, isn’t fishing a sort of philosophical pursuit? There are so many factors that go into whether or not you blank on a given day and bait is just another piece of that puzzle. Carp are “moochy” creatures and to catch them you must appreciate their moochy nature. While it’s not outside the realm of possibility to catch a carp on a lure, most carp angling is done by exploiting their need to forage. So come with me now as we explore the world of carp bait.

Naturals

Carp are omnivores, which basically means, they eat everything. Their diets range from algae to worms, snails, mussels and even small dead fish. In bait speak these food sources are often referred to as “naturals”. Are naturals the perfect carp bait?

Fresh water snails in the swim

We all know that worms are the quintessential fishing bait. You only have to drop a wiggly worm under a bobber for about a second before you see how effective they are. Unless I’m perch fishing, I personally shy away from them. It’s not so much that worms won’t work for carp, it’s that ALL fish love worms. Early in the first season of my carp fishing I always had a Tupperware container full of compost worms with me. It was a bit of a crutch for me as I knew they would catch something and I wasted many of those early sessions unhooking blue gill, perch and suckers. I quickly realized that worms were getting me nowhere and I ditched them. I’m not saying that you can’t catch carp on a worm. I mean, I imagine that if you managed to put one right in front of a big common, it would have a hard time ignoring it.

If you follow the U.K. angling scene you may notice that they talk about maggots a lot. In the U.S. they are often referred to as “spikes”. I have never personally used them but I know that they are available in bulk at some tackle shops or via an online order. Maggots are interesting in that they can be fired into a swim in bulk like groundbait. However, like worms they will attract the attention of smaller fish and this is one reason why I haven’t really spent any time with them. Interestingly, in my researching I’ve learned that maggots are considered to be fantastic winter bait. This is probably due to the fact that a lot of the smaller fish go dormant in the colder months.

Snails and mussels are interesting ideas for bait. It’s pretty common to find both in my local waters and though I’ve yet to give them a try, they are most definitely on my radar. CC Moore and Dynamite Baits have a few products you could buy that is, if you can get them in the states. Enterprise Tackle, a company well known for their buoyant rubber corn, make a fake snail that you can hair rig. How about getting some snails from your local “fishmonger”?

Have we arrived at any conclusions? Maybe just one. Any bait you decide to use is really up against a whole range of these natural food items. There are times when the fish will be completely consumed with them and they will ignore anything unnatural you put in front of them. I’m not ruling out naturals as technically they are the perfect bait. However, like every other bait, they all have their strengths and their weaknesses.

Human Food

Sweet corn is probably the most popular bait here in my state. It’s pretty cheap and it is undeniably an instant, effective bait. That being said it too has its downsides.

In the summer when turtles and bullheads are most active, it is nearly impossible to keep them away from anything corn related. You’ll inevitably hook a bullhead or a turtle will get itself wrapped up around your line, ruining precious fishing time. It can really turn into a bit of a nightmare. Another downside is that everyone uses corn and on the few waters where carp are pressured it may be a good idea to switch it up. Lastly, in the state of Rhode Island it is illegal to use corn in “designated trout waters”. It is a unique rule to Rhode Island and unfortunately this list includes some of the best mirror waters in the state.

Closely related to sweet corn is maize. Maize or “deer corn” is a very cheap alternative to sweet corn. It’s often used in the summer over sweet corn due to its tougher outer skin. It doesn’t have the exact “power” that sweet corn has but at $8 for 40lbs it makes for a very compelling carp bait. Maize, like other particles, will need to be prepared before being used. This usually means soaking it over night followed by boiling it for about 30 minutes. Not doing this can result in fish being harmed from the uncooked maize expanding in their belly. It takes time to do this but once you get into the habit of doing it regularly its not really an issue. You’ll want a few 5 gallon buckets with lids to keep the cooked maize in. Maize suffers from the same nuisance species issues in the summer and this is why corn in general is not the perfect bait, at least not in the summer. It is however, an incredibly good one!

Our next human food is, bread. Bread is an extremely versatile bait. You can free line it, make balls out of it, mash it up with water, put it through the food processor (blitz it) and create a fine, compressible groundbait; the list goes on and on. When I have time to prepare it, blitzed bread goes into my groundbait. It bulks it up well and provides some nice binding properties. Before I started carp fishing I remember a morning I spent at Tiogue Lake watching some local kids throwing bread into the water trying to get the carp to show up. Eventually, they said, “Hey mister, the carp are here!” I scoffed and thought, silly children I’m trout fishing. What a fool I was. Bread is cheap and readily available. You may even be able to get day old stale bread for free from a local bakery. If you buy it in bulk, you can keep whole or blitzed loaves of bread in the freezer to prevent mold. By the way, just go ahead and buy your self a freezer to put all your bait in. Trust me. One downside to bread is ducks, they will want your bread. I once had a family of ducks follow me from swim to swim. It was frustrating enough to make me leave for the day.

Is bread perfect? Well, bread has quite a few great qualities going for it. I will continue to use it as part of my groundbait as well as carry a few spare splices with me.

There are many more “known” human food items that work. Chickpeas, black-eyed peas, fava beans, baked beans, peanuts, brazil nuts, parboiled potatoes, canned tuna (as an additive to groundbait) are just a few of them. I won’t pretend like I have the experience of catching on all of these baits. I think it’ll take years of experimenting and probably blanking to figure out which of these work for me. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m better off finding 2 or 3 things that I feel confident in and gradually introduce new things into my arsenal.

My weekly shopping tends to include bait. Can you spot it?

By now you may have started to realize that there is no perfect bait. However, human food baits have a few important qualities that I think make them really stand out. They are relatively cheap and they are readily available.

Additional Seeds and Nuts

Seeds and nuts are considered “particle baits” and cover a wide spectrum of possibilities including a few I’ve already mentioned. Hemp seed is probably the most talked about bait in this category but it is not easy to come by in America. In 2015, industrial hemp farming became legalized in a few states so hemp may soon become something you can pick up at your local grocery store. Hemp seeds are available through Big Carp Tackle and I use them in my own fishing. If hemp were available locally it would be something I consider, near perfect.

Tigernuts are probably the next most popular bait in this category but until recently they were nowhere to be found in the U.S. Tigernuts are a sweet, crunchy nut that carp absolutely love. A quick Google search will show you that they are available from various online health food stores. They come in small, overpriced (IMO) packages covered in text boasting their health benefits. Just to give you an idea of how ridiculously overpriced these little nuts are, in the U.S. a 27.5lb bag sells for $230.00. Hinders Fishing Superstore, a popular tackle supplier in the U.K. sells a 10kg(22.0462lbs) for £28.75(roughly $41). Occasionally some of the online carp retailers carry them at a reasonable price and if you can get them, they are worth having.

Birdseed mixes usually contain a wide assortment of particles that carp love; pigeon conditioner blends being the most commonly used. While you cannot use birdseeds as hookbait, you can use them as groundbait. Like maize and other particles you must prepare these seeds before using them. There are tons of articles online about how to do it so there is no excuse not to. I’ve had some trouble finding the right mix of birdseed. Most of the mixes I’ve found online and at my local Tractor Supply contain a lot of sunflower seeds and corn and that is just not what I am looking for. If you are up to the challenge, what you want is basically something like Haith’s Red Band. If you are lucky enough to find the right blend, birdseed is a winner.

Carp anglers have been reaping the benefits of a particle bait approach for a long while now. For us American anglers, it’ll take some additional research and sometimes cash to find exactly what we need. I personally love particles and I’m never bothered by having to prepare them ahead of time. It’s something I’m still experimenting with but forsee them being included in my fishing for years to come.

Fish Pellets

It’s not uncommon to hear European anglers talk about fishing with pellets. They have developed a number of really interesting ways to use them for example, a technique known as “pellet waggler” fishing. In a nutshell this method involves catapulting (slingshotting) sinking pellets into the swim and casting a “waggler” float with a pellet for bait into the same area. The idea here is that the fish will be picking off pellets as they tumble through the water and so when the pellet attached to the hook passes by, they’ll try to eat it too. You won’t find fish pellets at the tackle shop, at least not in Rhode Island which by the way, why don’t they carry them? If the stocked trout are raised on pellets, I imagine you’d catch them on a pellet. Anyway, you can find some at most pet stores, but they come in small quantities and they are pretty stinking expensive. Some “agg” stores like Tractor Supply sell big bags of floating pond pellets that cost anywhere from $8 to $30. While these don’t sink there are a few ways you can incorporate them into your fishing. By catapulting these floating pellets into the swim you can usually get fish feeding off the top. If you are careful you can free line a piece of floating foam or piece of dry dog food that has been soaked over night near the feeding fish. The idea is to make your hookbait look like the pellets you are using. Another way to use them in floating form is to incorporate them into your groundbait mix. Once your groundbait breaks down the floating pellets will rise through the water column helping catch the fish’s attention. Alternatively you could “scald” them with boiling water. Place a good helping of your pellets into a bucket and pour boiling water over them. This will cause the binders to break down and you will be left with a mush of pellets. You can then use this as your groundbait or combine it with additional ingredients. Just a quick side note, a lot of the fishmeal used in products like dog food and other animal feed, comes from our beloved menhaden (pogy).

Fish pellets are engineered to be nutritious and delicious to fish. Koi pellets are pretty much carp pellets in my mind and though they can be much more expensive then plain old pond pellets they are worth picking up. Is this the perfect groundbait additive?

Boilies

Boilies were invented to overcome some of the nuisance species issues we mentioned with other baits. Boilies are basically dough balls that have been boiled for a few minutes to toughen them up, hence the name. A boilie can be left in the water for a long time without breaking down or being picked off the rig by tiny fish. They can carry any number of additives from flavoring to appetite “stimulants”. There are 2 classes of boilies you can buy and they are differentiated by their nutritional value. Low Nutritional Value (LNV) boilies tend to carry a lot of attraction related additives, which can result in a quick bite. High Nutritional Value (HNV) boilies are designed to encourage carp to recognize it as a valuable food item and therefore come back to it over and over. You can get boilies as bottom baits (they sink) or pop-ups (they float). You can make your own but let me tell you, this is more work than you can imagine. Unfortunately it is well outside the realm of my understanding to give you any DIY advice. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from trying to make their own boilies. Just remember once you make it, you’ll have to take it out and try it. If you blank, you’ll need to come back and figure out why the fish ignored it. I’m sure you’ve run into someone who says they have a magic carp boilie recipe. “Flour, corn pops and the tears of a lonely goat… soak it all in red jello.” There is a real science to it and there are some tried and tested recipes that will work. I’ll leave it up to you to find one.

Boilies surely sound like the perfect bait but I personally haven’t used them much, not to say I haven’t caught on them. Most of our carp waters are wild waters; these are fish that have never been fished for. I’ve always felt like it could take some time to teach our carp to respond to boilies and it is just much cheaper to do it with corn since boilies can be relatively expensive. I mean, you can get 40lbs of maize for $8! You cannot get a bag of boilies for less than $8; add on to that shipping cause they wont have them in 98% of our tackle shops.

Hi Mr. Bullhead...enjoyed your boilies?

I will continue to purchase boilies to have for those days when a boilie is in order. However, no matter what super-dee-duper additives bait companies engineer to put into their products, boilies, in my opinion, are not a perfect carp bait.

Conclusion

Dear me! This took me forever to write! It’s mostly me thinking through my bait situation for this year. It doesn’t have to be this complicated for you. I was on the river one day when I encountered a young man walking down the path holding a bag of bread and a few fishing rods. He recognized my net as a “carp” net and we got to chatting. It turned out he too was after carp and he commented on how odd it was to run into another carp angler. He proceeded to show me picture after picture on his smashed up phone screen of carp he had caught. After studying his “set up” I realized he had a loaf of bread and exactly 1 pink boilie. Wow, I thought, what simplicity and confidence. That can really be all you need sometimes.