Big-Fish Baits

The subject of big-fish baits continues to keep anglers talking

Crowy discusses some theory behind the concept of big-fish-baits.

The world of bait can be an absolute minefield, especially if you’re a newcomer to carp fishing. I remember when I was younger trying to get my head into bait science. I used to read the articles in the magazines over and over again to try and absorb all of the necessary information. Some of it was so scientific I couldn’t grasp it the first time around and I needed to read it again to make it stick in my mind. It was really heavy stuff, but it was something I had a massive interest in because fundamentally bait is what draws the fish towards our rigs.

Of course carp can be caught on all manner of different items. I’ve seen them take cigarette butts, twigs and even feathers. I myself have caught them on daft baits like plastic, cork and foam, but these are only hookbaits and not the bait the fish would be willing to feed on time and again. If you want them to keep coming back you need to use something they are attracted to and this is where it gets complicated.

Bait is massively important and anyone overlooking this subject really is missing a trick, especially when it comes to catching the big fish. Watercraft aside, I actually believe it is the number one factor behind big-fish success, and although there is no exact science to confirm this, I can give you some theory which at least explains my thoughts.

Face to face with one of the biggest commons in the world
The biggest carp in Rainbow Lake at the time, Eric’s Common at a whopping 86½lb
I had two big commons on the same bait from two UK waters last year, topped by this 50lb 10oz beauty

Good or bad bait?

There are loads of bait companies in circulation today. You only have to look on Facebook to get the drift. There’s a new bait company set up every five minutes: Big Boilies, Super Baits, Biggies Baits, Battyman Baits, etc. They crop up all the time and I do wonder how much research and development goes into their products because they all seem to be selling the same thing: low cost boilies!

I know full well that the bigger companies go to great lengths with regards their boilie production. It begins with scientific formulation and is followed by rigorous tank tests. The baits are then put out to testers to use, and it can be several years before one reaches the shelf. As an example, when the Key from Nashbait was developed it took at least three years. From the point that I first received any, it was 18 months before it was being marketed to the public. I actually got in trouble with Gary Bayes for putting a picture in one of my Carp-Talk features which had a caption about a new bait called ‘Key 6’. Not only was the bait not called that, it was the sixth different version of it, hence the name. It had several other stages to go through before public release and it was certainly a lot more complex than the cheaper bait companies try to convince you.

It’s a well-known fact that cheap baits are mostly made of semolina and soya flour, finished off with high attractor levels. They are good in the right situation, especially the high-stock waters where the fish are competing with one another all of the time. The next level up, however, they struggle against the top end baits because they don’t have the nutritional value which the more expensive ones are based on.

You rarely hear anglers talking about HNV (high nutritional value) baits any more. It used to be a hot topic when I was a kid because, without wanting to go back to the ‘good old days’, that’s how carp fishing was 30 years ago. There was a lot more theory in the sport back then as most of those who fished for carp were dedicated big-fish anglers always looking for an edge. Whilst these anglers still exist today, they aren’t the majority any more so are almost forgotten about.

The theory behind HNV is quite complex. To explain it fully would take more pages than the three I have available here. Let’s just say it is about the carp’s ability to recognise food (as in bait) that is good for them. I know that might sound impossible to some of you reading this, but don’t dismiss it until you have at least given it some thought. The theory works by the carp feeding on bait on a long-term basis (prebaiting). In time the fish recognise this food is good for them, in much the same way as they do naturals. This is a basic survival instinct of all wild animals. Humans don’t relate with it because we are told what we should and shouldn’t eat. The easiest way of realising its existence is when we are lacking in vitamin C and our brain subconsciously tells us we need a glass of fresh orange juice. The same happens with other foods; we start to crave for vitamins which we associate with other items.

There’s more to a good bait than just a couple of cheap ingredients

Big fish history

Lots of anglers dismiss the HNV theory because they don’t understand it. However, I don’t need to go into the actual science to see that quality baits and big fish have a relationship. We can look back in history to see for ourselves.

Carp-Talk has been going for over 22 years now and I’ve been involved with almost every single magazine during this time. I have seen all sorts of trends and successes stand out, especially the baits that have dominated the news. The early years saw Mainline Grange and Activ-8 rule supreme on the big fish scene. Then came Nashbait Squid Mix, Nutrabaits Trigga and Solar Club Mix. There were others mixed in along the way, right the way up to recent successes like Sticky Krill and Nashbait Key.

These baits didn’t just produce one or two big fish, they absolutely ripped waters apart. Anglers from all over the world were talking about them because there was much more to it than marketing and word of mouth. There was deep science from their designers, based on research from industries worth billions of dollars. These included the aquatics trade, the world of confectionary, animal feed and of course human health.

Strict laws govern all industries which contribute to the food chain. This is why so much research is applied to these sectors; everyone hoping to produce the next ‘wonder food’. We now have foods for babies and adults, puppies and dogs, kittens and cats, calves and cows. The list is endless, and we even have one for carp in the form of the Japanese koi industry where they are striving for the best conditioned fish, resulting in pellets for the younger and older fish containing completely different formulas.

Basically, everything in all walks of life has different nutritional requirements based on health and age. The simplest way of explaining this is by considering humans. Most kids love sweets and simple foods like chips, but they detest the stronger tasting cuisines like hot curry or chilli. This will change with age as someone’s preferences alter, where they seek a stronger taste or different diet.

The same line of thought applies to all forms of life, and this is where the big-fish bait theory falls into place. The bigger carp tend to be the older fish, which have different preferences as they age. A simple explanation of this happening can be seen by looking at the legendary Cassien in the South of France. When one or two of the older fish were discovered washed up dead, they were found to have very worn pharyngeal teeth, no doubt caused by years of feeding on hard items like mussels and crayfish. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that in the latter years of their lives these same fish were caught more often than they had been before. They simply relied on boilies more as they aged.

That example is of course at the most extreme end of the spectrum, but I think you get the point I’m trying to make: there is a big dietary and feeding difference between young and old carp.

One of my highlights from this year’s fishing, a 50-year-old northern mirror
The latest version of the best-selling Nashbait Key boilies
The Key has produced the biggest carp from 10 different waters for me, including this ancient 38lb common

Big-fish baits

The big-fish bait theories have existed for many years. When I was younger, anglers with an interest believed that an edge with the bigger fish was gained through using liver powder, green lipped mussel extract or Robin Red. The industry is a lot more secretive than it used to be, so I’m not privy to the latest ‘wonder ingredients’. Millions of pounds could be riding on the discovery of the next big fish attractor. The concept, however, still exists today and we can see this from the results that are being reported.

There are too many catches to list as examples so I will use my own to illustrate. Last year I caught the biggest fish from six different waters. Two of these were UK fifties and two of them were French eighties. I had all of them on the same bait: the Key. This year I’ve taken the same bait and caught the biggest fish from four different waters. Okay, I’m an experienced carper and I fish a little bit more than the average angler, but there has to be more to it than just coincidence. Had I caught only one or two big fish then I might think differently.

Of course I’ve had to fish well wherever I’ve gone, as there is more to it than just chucking out bait and waiting for the biggest carp to come along. Everything has to fall into place at the same time, which is why watercraft, rigs and everything else also play a role in the big-fish cycle. Primarily though, I strongly believe it starts with bait as this is what gets the fish’s attention.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a bait that only catches the biggest carp around and nothing else. That would be the utopia that will never exist. This is why lots of anglers use price to determine the reasoning behind their choice instead of considering the more complex theories.

But if it’s simple facts you prefer, then look at my results alone and nothing else. To catch the biggest carp from 10 vastly different waters in such a short space of time is almost concrete evidence that some baits are more attractive to the bigger fish than others. It’s easy to see when you open your mind and this is the reason why you’ll always see me getting on the new formulas as early as I can. I know it’s a cliché, but if you strike while the iron’s hot, you really can have some amazing success on the top end baits. Sadly, I can’t say the same for the cheaper, lower quality ones.

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