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Alternative Hookbaits…The Poisoned Apple By Duncan Maclean

Alternative Hookbaits…The Poisoned Apple By Duncan Maclean

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Something which has become a mainstay part of my carp fishing over the past few years is the use of highly visual ‘alternative’ hook baits. With carp becoming more pressured year on year to have consistent results requires something a little different from the crowds which is the main reason I began to first consider the use of highly visual hook baits in my fishing. I used to dismiss the tactic, and for years viewed it as a small fish tactic which I only ever turned to in the depths of winter when in states of sheer desperation would try anything in an attempt to get a bite…

How wrong I was! Over the past few seasons I have found rather than being an ‘alternative’ hook bait, highly visual baits have in fact a multitude of uses and in many cases when used effectively are a tactic which can out fish any other method, even on the hardest of waters, and is definitely not just suited to fishing as a single hook bait, or a small fish tactic! 

Contrary to a lot of angling literature/beliefs, I have found them to be most effective when fished over bait and not in isolation. Carp are extremely curious and I believe this is the reason why highly visual baits can be so deadly as it exploits this trait.

When fishing over a fair amount of bait obviously it can take some time to get a pick up and in pressured waters this really can be an issue especially if time is not on your side; time and time again I have witnessed situations where the carp are clearly on the bait but it takes hours or even days to receive a take, or don’t receive a take at all and have to pack up to return another day and feel the carp had ‘got away with it’.

Now this could be for one of many reasons but may be simply that given the amount of bait present the carp just hadn’t fed long enough to get to your hookbait through no fault of the angler. 

Fishing a highly visual bait over a bed of bait can be a way round this. As I just mentioned, carp are extremely curious and will naturally be drawn to a fleck of colour over a drab bed of bait. We are no different when you think about it; bright things will always draw our eye when we walk about, think how deals and offers are marketed in supermarkets! So by drawing attention to your hookbait automatically you are making it stand out from the other 99% of bait which may be present.

The next step can go one of two ways, either the carp will be curious by the fleck of colour and scent, and suck it in to investigate in which case it will be one of the very first baits to get picked up off a baited area no matter how much bait may be present, or alternatively it may shy off it.

Carp like all creatures learn by association, and assess situations based on past experiences. If its never been hooked before, or only a handful of times by eating a highly visual bait with that colour/scent combination then on the whole it should have no reason to shy away and therefore makes the likelihood of it picking it up the more probable outcome, and bingo; you’ve achieved an instant bite off a large bed of bait!

Obviously instinct is something to consider, and carp may naturally be cautious of particular bright colours despite the fact they have never been hooked on it before.

It is my opinion however that this is relatively uncommon, I would estimate around 95% of a carp’s caution whilst feeding is due to its past experiences and captures, not its natural genetic ‘instinct’. 

I think this having viewed largely un-fished for carp at close quarters feeding, and their response to highly visual baits over a bed of bait, and rather than appearing cautious are in fact visually attracted to them.

Either way, it is an experimentation game to see what colours/flavours work best on the water you are fishing as every lake will be different to some extent largely due to the differences in angling trends. Always consider what the other anglers are doing; are certain colours used extensively which may have lead to the carp become cautious? If so, try something which you don’t see other anglers using which the carp aren’t used to seeing.  

Orange, yellow and white are my particular favourites on waters which haven’t been hammered on these colours. On waters where highly visual baits are extensively used I’ll turn to the more unusual colours such as purple or green, or use unflavoured artificial baits to tip off a food bait which the carp are unlikely to show as much caution towards.

Flavour wise, fruit blends are a real favourite of mine, in particular the awesome tropical fruit blend CC Moore’s ‘Silent Assassin’, and the ‘Northern Specials’ which is another great citrus fruit blend and both are a great choice. 

Also consider what size baits other anglers are using, if the majority of anglers are using 16-18mm round baits try dropping down to smaller 12mm baits or trying barrels which the carp may be far less cautious of. It really does pay to experiment, having the confidence to do your own thing and not follow the crowd is massively important in that experimentation. 

Now obviously another option to induce a faster take is to simply decrease the amount of bait you introduce so that the carp doesn’t take so long to pick up your hookbait.

In certain circumstances that may be the most sensible, effective way to fish.

However there are times when fishing over large baited areas is the most effective tactic. This may be due to a multitude of reasons, for example in large lowly stocked pits often you may need to pre-bait areas heavily to hold fish or draw fish into a particular area.  

A phenomenon I have noticed on some extremely pressurised pits is an interesting one. Where carp become highly pressurised, they become extremely capable at assessing risk!

I have been closely following the capture of a few particular big fish and it’s really quite astounding; for one particular fish, every single capture for the last several years has come off a large bed of bait. No exceptions. Now clearly not every angler is fishing over a large bed of bait so why may this be the case?  

It may be that that particular fish is a bit of a pig and likes its bait!

But with that logic it would still get caught off other baiting situations, it would just get caught more often than other fish. I believe it may be a little more complex than that, and weighs up the risk of getting caught when it comes across bait and when there’s not much bait present it simply thinks the risk of getting caught from eating it is too high and therefore prefers to not eat in that situation.  

Instead it prefers to eat when the probability of eating a hookbait is reduced i.e. large baited areas, probably eating with a group of fish which again splits the risk.

I have witnessed this in close quarters which was quite amusing to watch. I had baited a deep margin spot fairly heavily and a group of extremely wary big fish were in the zone. Over the course the afternoon I witnessed most of the fish in the group taking a single mouthful of bait at a time or a single boilie before swimming off for several minutes before returning for another mouthful of bait. Occasionally they would get a little carried away and take 2 or 3 mouthfuls, but were clearly very cagey. One or two of the fish only took several mouthfuls in total and then didn’t return, it was almost as if they had thought the bait had depleted to a ‘dangerous’ level and felt it was too risky to carry on feeding, and certainly got me thinking.

I’ve gone a little off track there, but by noting the captures of this particular big fish I knew if I wanted to have a good chance of catching it I needed to fish over big beds of bait, which of course brings in the issues just discussed, and therefore an ideal situation for fishing with a highly visual bait; to ensure your hookbait is one of the first items to be picked up, and decreasing the time it takes to receive a pickup.  

By modifying my angling style after 2 years of trying unsuccessfully for this particular fish I went on to catch it three times in the space of 18 months.

Perhaps most significantly was the second capture. I had put out around 5kg of bait in the afternoon and received the take less than two hours later after having no signs whatsoever of carp being on the bait; clearly my hookbait which had been tipped with a bright artificial bait had been one of the very first baits to be eaten!

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