Having the confidence to cast out a single hookbait with no loosefeed relies solely on your complete trust in the bait you’re using.
After all, more often than not you might only be casting once every 30mins, so using the wrong bait for one cast can be very costly.
So how do you choose the right hookbait? There are lots of things to take into account including conditions, water clarity, and the fish you’re targeting. This week I’m going to run through my top five hookbaits, when to use them, and the tricks to keep fish coming.
When to use: Gin-clear water
Tricks to try: ‘Corn caterpillar’, long hooklengths
One of the greatest winter hookbaits of all time, corn is the ultimate clear-water bait. Bright-yellow, it stands out like a sore thumb. I reckon that carp in winter rely heavily on sight feeding, so in coloured water it’s not a bait I’d choose – but in clear water little can beat it.
I think nothing of having up to three grains on the hair. These can be fished either in a stack or lengthways - a trick I call the corn caterpillar. It’s purely a case of offering the fish something different to what they are used to seeing.
A long hooklength tail of 18ins-plus is also important when fishing bomb and corn as it allows a slower fall of the hookbait, and I’m convinced carp follow the bait down before they take it.
A useful little tip with corn is to try and select the biggest, brightest grains for the hair because these will stand out the best in the clear water.
This might seem trivial, but believe me, this can make a big difference when it comes to getting a bite or two on a cold day.
When to use: Clear water, fished off bottom
Tricks to try: Pop them up just 2ins-3ins
Pop-up boilies are the new kids on the block when it comes to match fishing hookbaits, but they are deadly effective.
I never fish without taking a few tubs of boilies these days.
There are loads of different types, colours, flavours, and shapes to choose from, but flavour doesn’t seem to matter much – it’s all about the colour.
Pink, orange, and yellow are the stand-out colours that have caught me lots of fish, but through trial and error I’ve found that different colours work on different venues, so it’s important to go through the card until you find out what works on the day. Pop-up boilies are very much a clear-water hookbait, giving the carp something to home in on. You can pop up a boilie straight off the lead, but my best results have come popping one up just 2ins-3ins off the bottom. This is done with a 12ins hooklength and two small shots the right distance from the hook to keep the bait at its chosen depth.
When to use: Any time
Tricks to try: Go bigger with hookbaits
On venues I fish the carp seem to love pellets all year round, even in the cold.
The problem I always had was that although I caught a few carp on 8mm hard pellets I always felt a softer bait would be better.
After all, a big soft pellet has to be easier for a carp to digest than a rock-hard one.
It was then that I came up with ‘blown pellets’, basically 8mm hard pellets which have been put through a pellet pump, taken on water, softened in consistency and increased in size.
These blown pellets give the fish the impression that they have been on the bottom a lot longer than they actually have, which causes even the wiliest old carp in the lake to suck them up without suspicion.
As a rule, I like to fish a single 8mm blown pellet on the hair – after all, a blown pellet is a big bait on its own – but if I’m struggling and I feel there are carp in the swim, I will give two a try.
Sometimes it really can be a case of the bigger the better in terms of hookbaits, even though the water temperature is so low. With blown pellets, this is definitely the case.
When to use: Coloured water
Tricks to try: Strong flavours, cylinders, freezing
Meat is an underrated bait in the cold, and I have had some big weights on it over the years, including this winter.
Not only does it get you bites when other baits fail, but it seems to pick out a better stamp of fish. I’m not sure why, but it has happened too many times to be coincidence.
I like to fish it punched, and use homemade 8mm and 10mm punches so I’ve got two size options for hookbaits.
In coloured water I like to give it a flavour boost so it gives off a strong scent that carp can pick up easily.
Three flavours that I have every confidence in are Mainline Activ 8, Cell, and Dynamite’s Krave.
To glug the meat I separate it out into little tubs, add a squirt of flavour then give it a shake. Put the tubs in the freezer, as this helps draw the flavour into the meat.
When to use: Clear water, fished off bottom
Tricks to try: Use sinking discs on shallow pegs
This is my ‘get out of jail card’ and has been so again this winter. In fact, I’d go as far to say that provided the water is clear, then one bait guaranteed to get me a bite in the cold is three 8mm discs of punched bread popped up off the bottom.
Note, though, I said ‘as long as the water is clear’. Being bright-white in colour, bread is very much a visual bait which stands out extremely well. In dark water it loses its effectiveness.
It’s also a bait you can leave out for ages. Once in the water it stays popped up and becomes soft, so it can be sucked in by a carp with minimal effort.
Although popped-up bread is my personal favourite, bread fished on the bottom can also be deadly.
The way to achieve this is to microwave the bread but then totally flatten the slices to remove all the air from them. This will make the bread sink, but once in the water it will still fluff up.
I then fish three 8mm discs as before. This is a tactic which is very effective on shallow venues where popping the bread up well off the bottom isn’t an option.