Forget fancy rigs, rods, and reels. If you don’t have appropriate bait to compliment your setup and the swim conditions then you’re fighting a long, slow, losing battle. Generally, the higher quality the bait, the more effective it will be. This often will require spending slightly more money. However, who wants to spend all that money on gear, tackle, day tickets and transport, just to sit by the water with next to no confidence in what is on the end of your hook/hair. Despite more expensive, higher quality baits invariably leading to better results, there are plenty of cheap natural baits that work equally well in certain situations.
Here we discuss the most popular baits and the circumstances that they work in, which should help you when deciding on the perfect bait or combination of baits for your day by the water.
Sweetcorn is a versatile bait that can not only be used on the hook, but also loose feed. Its scent and bright colour means that it stands out on the lake or river bed, making it difficult for carp to resist. Sweetcorn or corn as it usually referred to by anglers, is relatively cheap compared to most other baits, easy to store and can be purchased from just about anywhere.
When carp fishing with corn, the most common way of mounting it is through a hair rig. One, two or even three pieces of corn that is presented on a hair is a very tempting bait, though the traditional way of mounting directly onto the hook will still fool wary fish. It also works well when added to groundbait or method mix either as is or liquidised in a blender – its sweet flavour adds to the attraction of the groundbait, drawing carp in towards your hookbait.
Sweetcorn can be flavoured or even coloured, to give a slightly different taste or visual offering to the fish. These variants will often work on waters where the fish have become wary of sweetcorn in its natural form. Flavourings can be purchased from tackle shops and online retailers.
The main downside to sweetcorn is, though it is very attractive to carp, most other coarse fish find it irresistible too! When using sweetcorn, you may find yourself catching nuisance fish who pick up the bait before the carp have a chance to.
Overall, sweetcorn is an excellent bait, and most anglers do not leave the house without a least a can of corn in their tackle bag to use if needed.
Bread has been and will continue to be, a staple bait for most coarse fish. It is cheap and available from practically anywhere. For carp anglers, bread will most likely take the form of large chunks of crust, great for fishing on the surface. Alternatively, it can take the form of breadflake, which is great when fishing through the layers or on the bottom. Bread can be used directly on the hook or even made into disks using a large bread punch and then hair rigged.
Bread is an extremely versatile bait, it can be used as an attractant, either as groundbait in the form of breadcrumb, liquidised or mashed to create a cloud of feed that is useful in zig fishing. It can also be used simply as loose pieces that are thrown in to bring the fish to the surface, vital when surface fishing. As a result of its versatility, there aren’t many carp anglers who haven’t used bread at some point when out by the water.
Much like sweetcorn, the main downside is the nature of the bait, in that it attracts most other species of fish too. It also has a habit of falling off the hook easily, not helped when nuisance fish are nibbling at it. Despite this, it is a bait that on its day can outfish any other bait used for carp fishing, however it needs to be applied at the right time. There is not much more satisfying than watching a carp slurp down a piece of floating breadcrust, the surface erupting and the fight ensuing.
Bread crumb as bait
If there was ever a bait that changed the face of carp fishing, it was the boilie. I could probably write an article just on boilies, that’s how influential they are. Boilies are a manmade bait, produced from a paste that has been boiled until hard. They are resistant to nuisance fish and can last in the water for several hours or even days. Boilies are usually produced as spherical baits, however, they can be found in a variety of different shapes, such as pillow, dumbbell or barrel shapes.
Boilies are made using a multitude of different ingredients, including (but not limited to) milk proteins, fish meals and bird foods, with additional colourings and flavours thrown in to enhance the attractiveness of the bait to carp. The consistent, circular shape of boilies enable them to be fed at range, using either a catapult or throwing stick (see our baiting up guide for more information).
Boilies ready to be fired from a catapult
Boilies come as either ‘shelf life’ or frozen baits, the former having had preservatives included in the ingredients, meaning that shelf life boilies can be stored for months or even years in their bags – hence the name ‘shelf life’. Frozen baits are literally baits that are stored in the freezer and brought out to defrost before the session. These don’t have added preservatives, and therefore require some extra care in their storage, both on and off the bank. In recent years, the difference between the two forms has narrowed. Harsh preservatives that were used 20 years ago which caused shelf life boilies to be less effective are no longer used today.
Walk into any tackle shop and the newcomer will quickly see that boilies come in a whole host of different flavours, from fruity, fishy, meaty, the list goes on. All can be used to catch carp under certain circumstances. Some waters react better to certain flavours, colours and even sizes. Fish may also react differently to different flavours depending on the time of year. Experience, local knowledge and research will help you pick a flavour suitable for the water you want to fish. Whilst some anglers will not give up the name of their ‘secret bait’ easily, checking on the fishery’s social media pages and catch reports in magazines, will often provide you with the name of the bait used by the angler to land his prize.
Just to make things even more complicated, a bait that nobody else is using, that is at the complete opposite end of the flavour spectrum, can often be very effective. Anglers will often switch to different flavours during different months of the year, as the carp’s tastes change.
A selection of different boilies
Confidence plays a key role when boilie fishing, it is all too easy to find yourself chopping and changing when a bait isn’t working. Finding a bait that gives results across a few different waters will give you a fantastic confidence boost when approaching a new water – rather than a completely untried and untested bait. Personally, I have a couple of different boilie baits that I use across all the waters I fish on, that on their day, give results.
Boilies come in a variety of sizes, from 8mm minis right up to super large 30mm or even 40mm baits. The general range used in UK waters is between 10mm to 18mm. Boilies are very effective when fishing waters where there are a lot of nuisance fish present, such as bream, that will pick up other baits like corn, worms or bread. With that said, some bream will still pick up even a large boilie, if this happens switch to a 20mm or 22mm boilie to put them off.
Pop Ups & Wafters
Following on from boilies, we have Pop Ups and Wafters. These are boilies (again these can come in just about any shape you can imagine) that use ingredients which cause them to either float (pop ups) or sink very slowly/become weight balanced (wafters – as the name suggests they ‘waft’ when disturbed on the bottom, creating a very attractive natural appearance alongside the other free offerings).
Pop ups are very useful when fishing over debris or when light weed is present on the bottom. The buoyant nature of the bait means that it will sit on top of the debris or weed, rather than sinking through it.
A pop up bait doing what it does best
Being able to adjust the distance between the pop up and the lake/river bed gives the angler unlimited options for how to precisely present the bait. From very close to the bottom, a few inches from the bottom, right up to the middle and upper layers of the water, when using them as a zig hookbait, all are possible when using pop ups.
Pop ups come in a multitude of colours but can also be used in a ‘match the hatch’ fashion, where the pop up is the same colour as the feed boilies around it. Often, a completely different coloured pop up to the rest of the feed gives the fish an obvious target. This is not always the case though, in some waters carp will only take a matching coloured pop up. In winter, a ‘hi-vis’ or brightly coloured pop up will work well, as the carp will take notice of baits that are highly visual during this drab period. These ‘hi-vis’ pop ups are often highly attractive baits, packed with extra flavourings to enhance their appeal. These flavourings are usually applied by either being sprayed directly on to boilies or by dipping/glugging the boilies in pots of flavourings.
The majority of pop ups found in tackle shops are ‘shelf life’, meaning that they can last years if correctly stored, and can be glugged in flavourings for months on end. Cork ball pop ups are produced by moulding the boilie mix around a cork ball, this set up is then boiled to create a tough layer of skin around the bait, just like a normal bottom bait boilie.
Two pop up rigs
Pop up rigs must be balanced correctly, with plenty of experimentation at home or in the margins. The angler should be aware that pop ups will eventually take on water the longer they are submerged, meaning that whilst a pop up may be able to suspend a size 4 hook in the kitchen sink during testing, it may not be able to once it has sat out in the lake for a few hours. Testing overnight will give a good idea how buoyant the pop up actually is.
Fishing with Tiger Nuts can be devastating tactic when targeting carp, these nuts are renowned for being a reliable carp catching bait, but they must be prepared correctly before use. They can be used on the hook and as loose feed.
Tiger Nuts must be soaked for 24hrs before boiling for 30/40mins to make them safe to fish with
Sadly, due to many anglers poorly preparing tiger nuts and other particle baits, some fisheries now do not permit the use of ‘tigers’. If you are unsure on how to prepare them correctly, check online for a thorough guide, alternatively you can now find shelf life pre-cooked tiger nuts online and in your local bait shop. Tigers can be fished as they are on a conventional hair rig, popped up with cork or foam and even flavoured.
Maggots aren’t just limited to the matchman’s array of baits for coarse fish, but are also a prime bait for carp. Carp, just like most fish, can’t resist a bunch of wriggling and active maggots, especially in winter when other traditional carp baits have failed. The extra bit of natural movement is often just enough to entice a wary or winter carp into a reaction bite.
Maggots ready to be used as bait
Fishing maggots for carp is primarily done with a ‘maggot clip’, a circle shaped piece of thin gauge wire that the maggots are threaded onto, to create a bunch of maggots that is presented away from the hook. The addition of foam or cork provides buoyancy, meaning that pop up and balanced hookbait presentations can be achieved, much like when using a regular pop up bait. Tipping a bottom bait or pop ups with a few maggots also presents something a little bit different to a normal pop up, often triggering a feeding response from a carp that pays no interest to a standard pop up or bottom bait. If the maggots are nipped at by nuisance fish, a common problem when using maggots alone, the pop up continues to fish and present a hookbait.
Clean and fresh maggots are key, so keeping them dry and cool is paramount to avoid them sweating and turning into casters prematurely.
Think of any bait and there is a good chance you can get an imitation version of it; from plastic maggots and sweetcorn to fake boilies, dog biscuits and even bread!
Why use a fake bait?
Imitation baits have some brilliant advantages. They are resistant to nuisance fish, stay on the hook or hair almost indefinitely and can actually be flavoured to either mimic the bait they are imitating or just increase overall attractiveness to the carp. It’s not just flavours that can vary either, but also colour – from pink sweetcorn to glow in the dark maggots!
Imitation baits can be found with different levels of buoyancy, some quickly sink, others are highly buoyant and ideal for pop up rigs or surface fishing. These buoyant imitation baits can also be attached to sinking baits to enhance them, for example, a normal boilie can be paired with a piece of imitation pop up corn, to add colour and manipulate the buoyancy, effectively removing the weight of the hook.
Plastic baits respond very well to flavouring – it is easy to leave a selection of fake sweetcorn, maize or zig foam in tub containing whatever flavouring you fancy. They don’t go off, so can be stored in the tub until they are needed.
Care must be taken when using imitation baits, as mentioned, they will last forever and stay on the hook or hair very well. Therefore, if the rig is cut off or becomes snagged, it carries on ‘fishing’, meaning that a fish, or other wildlife, could become hooked and entangled in the cut off rig.