What a year 2017 was for big fish! We've asked bait expert Dr Paul Garner to give us his expert opinion on some of the best baits he has used over the past year. Maybe you can take some of these into 2018 and lad yourself some amazing big fish.
SELECTIVE SOFT PELLETS
Tight magazine schedules often mean that I find myself on the bank having to catch fish for the cameras way before the fishing has really switched-on for the year. So it was this spring when, with the water temperature still in single digits, I visited the lovely Milton Lake at Old Bury Hill Fishery in Surrey.
The plan was to catch tench, crucians and perhaps roach using a chopped worm and caster approach. Only nobody had told the fish!
With just a single net roach to my name on a dendrobaena I switched lines to a shallow spot tight to the reeds where I had been trickling in a constant stream of 4mm expander pellets laced with flavour and sweetener. The aim was to pick up a few of the lake’s crucians, but when the float shot under I found myself playing a big roach instead. After that the bites became more timid as the crucians moved in and I spent a lovely afternoon trying to hit as many bites as possible. The odd marauding tench kept me on my toes amid a rapidly growing tally of bars of gold.
The moral of the story was that it is rarely too cold for soft pellets, especially if you flavour them. What I didn’t expect was that, on this day at least, the pellets would so comprehensively out-fish my more natural baits.
TINY BAITS EQUAL BIG BARBEL
The first few weeks of the river season were unusually warm and on the usually prolific River Wye, rolled meat or trotted punched salami scored best with lethargic barbel.
Tiny meat baits have caught me many different species, often of prodigious proportions. For barbel it was more about using a familiar bait in a different way. Regular doses of hemp and punched meat, with a tiny piece of meat on the hair, became my go-to tactic right through the low water of summer.
ALIEN BAITS ON TOP
hunting through the shelves of my local koi emporium a few years back I came across a carp treat that was set to revolutionise my summer surface fishing.
Looking like something out of a sci-fi movie, silkworm pupae are a well-known gourmet treat for pampered Japanese koi. Carp go loopy for these thumbnail-sized floating insects, but straight from the shop they are crispy and break up when you try to hook or band them. Soak them for an hour, though, and they soften up enough to be hair-rigged, yet retain their buoyancy – perfect.
On a magazine shoot for Improve Your Coarse Fishing at Chad Lakes in the Cotswolds the fish were proving difficult to tempt off the top. A few hours later, and with five fish under my belt, it was job done, thanks to my bug-baits.
Pike are generally thought of as being rather daft and easy to catch, but sometimes, on some venues, I beg to differ. Of the numerous pike that I have caught more than once on lures, not one has ever been caught on the same type of lure twice.
One fish that was caught at least six times over several years by several anglers came out on tactics as varied as a fly, a jig and a crankbait, but never the same thing twice! Coincidence? No way!
The same can apply to deadbaits, and on a busy venue I will swap to unusual species once the pike have been fished for over a few weeks. In early spring, in very cold water, the problem is compounded by the low temperature reducing the metabolism of the fish. Needing very little food, and sometimes failing to pick up baits off the bottom, pike can be hard to catch. Now I always use critically balanced baits in the spring and I catch my share of big pike, like this immaculate 32-pounder from Chew Valley Lake last February.
SIMPLE DAY-TICKET CARP
A bout of illness kept me off the bank quite a bit through the summer, and to say I was itching to get back fishing would be the understatement of the century!
Short-session carp fishing proved to be the perfect medicine, with plenty of bites keeping me busy and some surprisingly good fish putting in an appearance.
My tactics were just about as simple as they come – a hair-rigged wafter boilie on a nylon rig and a lead big enough to cast the required distance.
No pop-ups, Ronnie Rigs or Chods in sight! On these prolific venues the key to catching more than the odd fish was to keep the bait going in. Using a Spomb to thwart the seagulls, a couple of handfuls of Scopex Squid boilies would be fed after every bite to keep the fish coming back for more. Bites would often come as the Spomb was still crashing down, proving that the fish were attracted, rather than repelled by all the racket I was making.
These sessions were brilliant fun and I started filming them for my YouTube channel - dr paul garner. I have lots more day-ticket venues lined up for 2018, including some that hold mightily impressive fish, and you can bet I’ll be using simple baits and tactics.
NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME
For decades we have treated lure fishing as a second-rate tactic, but take it from me, for electrifying predator action this winter it’s the way to go. Not only will this mobile approach make the best of the short winter days, but there is nothing to touch the adrenaline-inducing ‘hit’ of a fish on a lure.
There’s never been a better time to take up lure fishing. The amount of information available is at an all-time high, so whether you choose to spin, chuck lures or drop shot, you can learn the right way to go about it.
The highlight of my autumn were the incredible perch that I chanced across in a large reservoir. Working a soft plastic Pulse shad close to the bottom I had a faint tap as soon as I stopped winding and let the lure flutter down to the bottom.
After such a gentle bite I wasn’t expecting a personal-best perch to pop up in front of the net but a giant it was, proving the effectiveness of my favourite perch baits.