Using salt for carp: myths and realities

by angling-times |
Updated on

The always out-spoken Mark Holmes gives his opinion on using salt for carp in spring...

Rock salt is often misunderstood, according to Mark 

Many years ago now, I wrote about the use of salt in my fishing. I can clearly remember giving a slide show for the East Midlands Carp Study Group six or seven years ago and a few so-called names being in the audience. I smiled at the time because I swear I could see a few of them taking notes. Not that this bothered me as plagiarism has always been rife in carp fishing.

Indeed, who am I to say anything, as I am as guilty as anyone who sees a good idea and acts on it. That’s the way of learning and the way of experience in my book.

However, what transpired was that people were running around professing to know the ins and outs of using salt in carp fishing, as if they had invented the idea. My thoughts on salt and its uses in carp fishing got taken literally and out of context, and some people didn’t do their own investigations and so the edge got blurred into a horrible mess.

The simple facts are that some have missed the point about using salt, missed the methodology and missed the reasoning behind it. For those errors I can make no excuses, as it is not my fault, but now is the time for me to try to get off the fence a little and give my thoughts about salt.

So once again I will try to lay out my findings. I simply try to use all of my findings to one end – to catch big carp. Not for me the ‘I am brilliant as I am far smarter than you’ rubbish.  I will let others decide that and if it gets into a straight scrap, I am always happy to let my catch results speak for me. And herein lies the problem and what is at the core of what I am saying. Quoting textbooks, chemical symbols and the like is all well and good but much is not applicable to a fishing situation. That is the key to salt, amino acids or any other soluble attractant. We are in a race against time as they lose physicality but are still attractants as liquids. Harnessing that and truly understanding it is the key to successful bait making and bait application.

The key is to introduce bait alongside rock salt

Recently, I have been concerned at the changing face of the bait world. The marketing seems very professional and slick, but when some companies are professing they sell fresh bait but have simply frozen thousands of kilos and outsourced the making of their baits, then they are in danger of starting to believe their own hype. They have no understanding of attraction and how prolonged freezing of baits kills many of the supposed qualities that preserved baits don’t have. In fact, I would go so far as to say that freezing bait for six months plus is about as attractive as a readymade. Remember that fresh baits were always what were advocated by bait makers of a certain generation.

To compensate for this, liquid attractants are often used to give a ‘dead’ boilie some attraction. However, after a couple of hours in the water, this wears off leaving the enthusiastic carper thinking the fish aren’t having it. The reality is often they are but just not having yours, fella!

Again an understanding of liquid hydrolysation is needed and how this reacts with the other ingredients within the thawed-out boilie.

This lack of understanding has actually increased with salt. I see so many references from anglers and bait gurus saying how important salt is to carp, but then not expanding on it. This has even led some carp anglers to actually believe that all salt and its many derivatives are the same and good for carp and, more importantly, a fishing edge. Well, I am sorry to burst the salt bubble but the reality is they aren’t.

This isn't the stuff you put on your chips 

Rock salt is a classic example of what I am talking about. The general lack of knowledge as to what type to use is scary.  It is not the salt used on your fish and chips but still I see guys pouring Saxa table salt and the like into their spod and stick mixes. Those of you out there smiling who use the rock salt from Saxa or supermarket versions need to investigate this product too! In fact, anglers using this are not exempt from getting it wrong either as these products are doctored by bleaching and over-cleaning for the human food market.

Perhaps the worst cases I see of anglers who get this wrong are those that buy rock salt that has been treated for industrial use or road coverage. This is a complete no-no, but of course in today’s world of Google then it has to be the correct stuff. Well, actually it isn’t. Local authorities and suppliers to the general public take pure rock salt and add various ingredients to it to avoid what is known as ‘caking’. This is when the rock salt solidifies into a large heap or chunk. To stop this, products such as molasses, which actually is a great carp attractor, are added. Just think two great additives that create attraction, molasses and salt, it must be a winner. Well, actually no.

The mix is topped off by an additional 10 per cent of detergent chemicals that quite simply will repel every carp within a two-mile radius. What we are left with are some people who use products that are not effective and very quickly dismiss this edge as being either untrue or unfounded. Of course, they could not be further from the truth.

The reality is that the rock salt has to be the correct stuff, and as with most bait additives and bait edges, the real secret is knowing which type to get! The rock salt that is simply devastating is the one that is mined in an underlying clay-based soil that includes a chemical within it that carp use for vitality, growth and repair. That is the type of rock salt I use and ultimately why it has been so successful for me. To give a little clue, the chemical I am referring to is also inherent in blue clay, which in spring is why you see carp rubbing themselves or flashing against it. Again those misinformed will say ‘oh, they are cleaning themselves, or getting ready for spawning’.

This Cambs mid-30 came from a spot primed with salt before spawning

The simple truth is they are absorbing the chemical through their taste receptors that are all over their body.

I have written often about the need for carp to take on salt. It is simply a closed-vessel fish that comprises of no freshwater. It doesn’t take on the liquid water it lives in until its kidneys or urinary system fails and it becomes dropsical. Rock salt is the most natural element that you can use to replicate what a carp finds in its own environment. Indeed, if like me you have been fortunate enough to have an exposed lakebed at your disposal go out and start digging in it. You will be amazed at finding what rocks and chemicals a carp searches for and that is what needs replicating. Carp are basically made up of saline and at certain times of the year, generally low-water-temperature times, searching for the minerals becomes paramount.

Again, an oft-missed edge here is that this tactic works well during the colder months and so with this in mind, being able to attract carp in winter suddenly gets easier. Done with the correct approach and type of rock salt, locating fish on large, low-stock waters suddenly becomes easier. Strategically placed rock salt of the correct size and shape will see carp homing in like pigeons. This great edge then gives you the chance to angle for them. However, what type of detritus you put your rock salt on is also vital. My best results have come on firm-bottomed gravel and clear areas. If a large piece of rock salt is placed on silt, attracting carp is far less instant. However, I have found that when individual big fish have been pulled into a spot, small pieces of rock salt, spodded or spombed out have been phenomenal. Bait placed there, particularly a cured bait, is a no brainer and has resulted in many fine fish for me.

Curing baits is also something that I have learnt over many years and, as with rock salt, the methods and salts used are vital in this last piece of the salty jigsaw.

Curing hookbaits in salt can be a great edge 

The last point I will make about salt and rock salt is that the fishing situation you face will be the factor in deciding what you use. Large rocks, almost like a bait lick, are vital to bringing carp into your swim from larger areas. Once carp are in your swim and visiting regularly then the small pieces of rock salt are great in moving carp around, rooting the bottom and actively looking. In these circumstances, your hookbait will soon be picked up. I also have ground down rock salt into a fine powder, which is great for an instant bite, particularly important in match or short-session situations. Here the powder disperses immediately and attracts carp but doesn’t give them what they want.

I have also been very fortunate in being able to hydrolysate the rock salt and the liquid is not only the best natural preservative I have ever used, in small doses it is also superb in stick mixes and PVA presentations.

So, with spring upon us, there is a real opportunity for you to create your own edge with the use of salt. Don’t be put off by those around who would say you are damaging carp’s health, you are not. Salt will do far less harm than some of the oils and boilies I see being used, which, quite frankly, are a real concern. But that article will wait for another day!

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