Fresh crispy casters have an almost enchanted ability to catch the quality fish from any swirling, turmoil of small silverfish - and here's just how to get the best from casters the next time you're out fishing.
Big roach, plump rudd, large carp and even specimen tench and bream turn suicidal in their quest to be the first to slurp down every last ‘shell’.
Why casters hold this magical quality over other baits is a mystery – but it’s a phenomenon that works time and again.
Midland’s match maestro Nick Young reckons less is more and that correctly fed casters will outfish any other bait tenfold. The Leeda Tackle sales agent told us: “It sounds like a silly question, but would you prefer to catch 60lb of quality fish using £3-worth of casters, or 3lb of tiny ‘silver blades’ using £16-worth of maggots?
“The key to catching bigger bags of quality fish is using the right bait and then feeding it correctly! And by correctly, we mean throwing four casters around the fl oat five times a minute.
“Simply throwing in a large handful of maggots every 30 minutes may bring you a few bites, but more than likely it’s an approach that will see you unhooking a tiny two-inch roach or rudd every chuck.” After making such a bold claim, we had to get Nick to prove his theory.
Meeting on the banks of one of his local small commercial stillwaters, we gave him a pint of casters and told him to catch 50lb of fish for the cameras. Here’s how he got on…
WHAT ARE CASTERS AND WHY ARE THEY SO GOOD?
Up until the 1960s, casters where called ‘chrysalis’, referring to the fact they are the pupal stage of maggots. Similar to caterpillars, this is the stage prior to the grub miraculously turning into a bluebottle fly. When maggots are turning into casters prior to becoming flies, they go through several stages of development, turning from white to dark brown depending upon how old they are.
The colour of casters can make all the difference to how they react in the water and, also, how crispy their shell is.
Recently turned casters – those which are a golden brown – are the most crisp and contain a large amount of gloopy white body juice, something that all fish love.
As the caster’s shell darkens, the closer it is to hatching. These ‘shells’ contain much less body juice at this stage and are more buoyant in water.
Dark casters are best used on the hook because their innate buoyancy helps to overcome the weight of the hook, allowing it to act more naturally as it gently sinks through the layers of water.
The reason why they help attract the bigger fish is one of angling’s great mysteries – but they do! Maggots are far superior for catching little fish (bleak, small roach, rudd and perch), but when it comes to targeting the quality fish, it’s casters that have the edge every time.
“The only difference a gallon of maggots and half-a-pint of maggots makes on commercial waters is 5lb of tiny silverfish, compared to the 1lb of ‘eyes and fins’ that the half-pint would give you,” Nick explained.
“But by using just a pint of correctly-fed casters rather than maggots, you’ll outfish those around you by 50lb guaranteed.”
HOW TO STORE CASTERS AT HOME AND ON THE BANK
Casters will turn very quickly once in a warm environment and, once they have all turned black, they are useless as fishing bait. Every one will be a floater. After buying your casters from the tackle shop, empty them into a bait tub and completely cover them with lake water, if at the bankside. This stops them overheating, slowing their colour change.
If you’ve bought your casters a couple of days prior to the session, immediately remove them from the plastic bag and put them into a bait box.
Cover the grubs with damp newspaper, snap on the lid and place the tub in a fridge. This helps to slow the maggots’ metamorphosis into flies.
HOW TO FISH EFFECTIVELY USING CASTERS
Any angler that floatfishes on a river will know what a nuisance bleak can be. On these venues, maggots tend to be one of the staple baits, with anglers commonly feeding a pouchful of grubs at every run of the float.
This feeding pattern is then increased to try and feed the little ones off in the hope big fish move in. But this just attracts more bleak.
“It’s exactly the same scenario on commercial stillwaters,” Nick told us. “Because these venues have a high stocking, the large numbers of ‘blade-sized’ roach and rudd run rampant when bait is thrown into the swim. The result is a boiling mass of tiny silverfish, just under the surface. They eat anything that gets thrown in, as soon as it hits the water.”
Small fish are aware of the need to grow quickly and so often live in the upper layers, waiting for food that might fall in. Larger, more wary fish live and feed in the lower depths.
The trick is to get larger fish to come up in the water and compete with the hordes of silverfish, pushing them away.
To fish these venues effectively you need to fish a shallow rig, around 18 inches deep, use the right bait – casters – and feed in a way that will maximise competition among those feeding fish.
Nick reckons the way to do this is feed very small amounts – three to five casters, every 10 to 15 seconds.
Feeding very little and very often creates a situation where the smaller fish will start to feed. This activity attracts the bigger fish, they will see there is very little to eat so they quickly bully small ones out of the way.
It’s the slow sinking baits like maggots that get spotted by the small fish and consumed before the bigger fish even know they’re in the water.
However, quicker sinking, darker baits like casters – if fed correctly – can induce the bigger fish to come right up in the surface layers and push the small silvers out of the way.
“The problem is anglers throw more and more maggots in to try and get big fish to push the small ones out of the way. It doesn’t work,” said Nick.
“Imagine water birds. If you throw in loaf after loaf, hundreds of ducks will appear. But, if you throw in one piece at a time a few ducks appear and then the swans push the ducks out. My way with feeding casters is no different. Once the bigger fish move in they are there for the catching.”
HOW TO KICK OFF THE SWIM
After plumbing the depth, Nick discovers his swim is six foot deep, so he sets up a full depth rig and one to fish at a shallow 18 inches.
Next, he gently cups in a jaffa-sized ball of Method groundbait, containing just a few casters. Nick wants to bring the bigger fish into the swim, but doesn’t want to feed them.
Method mix is used as it mixes quite hard, so it falls quickly to the bottom before breaking up into a fine carpet.
After his ball of groundbait, Nick then starts to flick three or four casters into the swim every 10 to 25 seconds.
Only after doing this for 10 minutes will he start fishing with his shallow rig.
As is usual when fishing shallow, the first few fish are small. However, after only a few minutes, these are replaced by larger 8oz roach, rudd and the odd small crucian carp.
“The little ones are being bullied out. Keep the feed going in. Carp and even tench and bream will turn up sooner or later, because if they stay close to the bottom, they won’t get fed.”
Once the swim gets going, Nick is like a machine – feeding, lifting the rig out so his single caster hookbait falls naturally through the water layers, followed by the inevitable fish playing.
“Don’t worry if the swim goes through a lull. By keeping the casters dripping in, very little and very often, the swim will get stronger and stronger as more and more fish start competing for the meagre offerings you’re feeding them.
“If the bites tail off for a few minutes it is because a big carp has entered the swim, so just keep going – feed and lift, feed and lift.”
By periodically fishing on the deck with the deep rig – every 30 minutes or so, you’ll get the shyer, bonus fish that will be hanging deep, away from the chaos of the upper layers.
To increase your chances of getting these bonus lumps, Nick advocates topping up the swim with a ball of groundbait every hour.
As the session continued, Nick’s display of stingy feeding was poetry to witness. Every put-in of the rig was preceded by the merest pinch of casters.
Within seconds of the rig settling, his number six elastic was stretching under the strain of yet another quality fish.
By the end of a hectic five hours, Nick had used less than the one pint of casters we’d allowed him, even though his pair of bulging keepnets may have told a different story.
Struggling to lift them, it was hard to believe that the 60lb-plus mixture of carp, tench, bream, crucian carp, big roach and rudd had all been snared using less than £2.50-worth of Nick’s magical bait.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR WHEN BUYING CASTERS....
When buying a pint of casters from his local tackle shop Nick looks for two things.
The first is to make sure the grubs don’t have what is known as bag or fridge burn. This is easily identified as a black/dark brown tinge or multiple dark rings around the casters.
As well as tainting the bait, bag burn also toughens the skin making it less appealing to fish. The second is a good mix of different coloured grubs.
“Darker casters are more buoyant, whereas the lighter ones contain more juices and are heavier,” said Nick.
“This means that they will fall through the water at different rates, the darker ones sinking slowly; the lighter ones quicker.”
The advantages of this is the fish find it difficult to spot which one is the hookbait and it also gets them wildly flying around the swim at different levels.
It is this frenzied feeding pattern that Nick is trying to amplify. By increasing the competitiveness of the fish, he creates a situation where the fish become effortless to catch.