Winter Carp Fishing Boilies Pellet and Paste Bait Tips
by: Tim Richardson
Many fishermen get an anxiety attack thinking about their baits in winter and rightly so! Most commercially produced baits are not made to be ideal winter baits but in part to fulfil typical customer expectations which lead to more buyer confidence in the bait. This produces quite a few baits having constant features which may not necessarily always lead to the best bait option.
For example, such a winter bait will last more than 12 hours in water as a functional durable hook bait. Or exude a smell which is recognisable to a buyer to fit a current fashion (like pineapple for example. Or have a fair degree of initial hardness when first immersed in water and even have a dry centre. Such baits require a period of soaking in order to allow the bait to open up its texture and structure enough to release good soluble attraction into the water. Often winter baits can be so over-flavoured that they repel fish. Over-flavouring of baits works but can be a disadvantage on many waters where the same bait and flavours have been used too much to keep a real edge.
Many effective winter baits having a more open texture, containing more coarse ingredients like bird foods, (egg biscuit, hempseed, wheat germ meal etc,) the levels are often in less than ideal proportions that could lead to a more attractive and digestible bait. A bait with an open soft structure and capable of leaching soluble attractors while retaining attractive nutritional signals and taste factors is often much better than a dense textured bait which inhibits the dispersal of its attractors even if its a high protein milk protein bait. Very important taste signals which are received by carps taste receptors can directly influence the longevity of feeding on your bait and even if it is eaten at all.
Many baits will have high proportions of finely milled flours. In some carp studies it was found that carp preferred to eat coarse food items such as cracked maize, as opposed to finely milled maize flour made into dough balls. (This has much to do with nutrition being lost during the milling process – taste the difference between milled oats and natural oats for example.) Cracking open a piece of natural maize releases more concentrated flavour than the dough balls made from maize flour.
There has been a long growing trend towards use of so-called ‘food baits’ by carp anglers in many countries. This in theory means that carp get used to eating such a bait feeling the nutritional benefits that it contains and keep coming back for more. Such baits retain higher levels of taste substances after long immersion in water, than say a cheap ‘crap bait’ made from soya, semolina, rice flour or maize meal.
The cheap low food value bait base mix has very little in regards to nutritional attraction which contribute to taste attraction. In the case of the average commercially produced bait, results are often very similar between them because the ingredients used are so often the same or very similar and are offering similar nutritional rewards. Having been fed on these baits constantly by numbers of anglers and being hooked on them often fish can reduce their feeding on this bait now they need this supplemental nutrition offered less.
Some anglers say that carp do not differentiate between different anglers’ balanced nutritional baits, arguing they will eat them all anyway once flavours and most taste factors have leached out; the real difference being an individual angler’s abilities. This is very true in that years ago a low nutrition bait with a flavour could not match the attraction profile and nutritional rewards of constantly eating a balanced nutritional bait. At that time such baits could really produce astounding results. But these days most busy carp waters are fed such a wide range of baits, (which now form much of the bulk of the fish stocks diet,) that differences in catch rates between the commercially produced baits are mostly very similar, with few really standing out for long.
Even the new baits with added enzymes claiming to contain ‘optimum levels of the right amino acids for the best concentration and release of the most stimulating amino acids to carp,’ do not seem to work everywhere to the same degree of success compared to average baits. It seems that every carp water is different in regards to the relative nutritional requirements and possible deficiencies or not that carp may have. Much depends upon exactly how carp respond to each type of bait as a direct consequence of the nutrition that can be detected in it and efficiently digested and assimilated from it. There is evidence that use of the new generation of more highly preserved quality food baits, when used together with low flavour fresh frozen type baits on the same base mix can offer special attraction advantageous.
It’s the bait which offers more stimulating taste or a different nutritional attraction profile or a more stimulatory physiological effect that can get around the natural and angler-conditioned defences of carp. Many anglers have missed the potent physiological effects of essential oil mixtures including improved digestion and changes metabolism stimulation. An energized cold water carp is going to move faster and further, be more generally active, eat more bait, give you more chances of more pick-ups and even more far enough fast enough to self-hook itself against your lead, when they might otherwise not do so. I am personally extremely interested in the physiological, physical, mental, mood altering, general health and energy promoting effects of carp bait additives and ingredients. We have been catching carp for years by ‘drugging them’ and fishing baits are now more scientifically complex now than ever before.
You don’t need the latest commercial bait to catch winter fish, but using a totally new bait against established ones is a very effective test. Simple baits like worms can produce carp which may have switch-off to boilies for example. Flavoured and dyed sweetcorn has certain mineral and taste benefits for example that make for a great natural bait. Being carbohydrate based it is very much more digestible than higher protein boilies and pellets, but again, using the right quantity for conditions matters. I can eat only so much sweetcorn in a short time and carp are just the same.
However, sometimes in winter you can find that using the quantity of bait you would normally consider using in the summer can really pay off. In this scenario your bait had better be digestible. For those so inclined treated tiger nuts skinned to remove the oily outer layer can work well in cold conditions. Using a boilie base mix made using a higher ratio of water to eggs or a modern binder gel to form baits in paste or un-boiled form minus the digestive inhibiting effect of eggs is very effective (originally milk protein baits were used in paste form to extremely good effect. In winter fishing, your ‘background free baits’ used are of supreme importance. Using this feed very creatively using various techniques can decide a blank or ‘red letter day.’ In winter the activity of so-called nuisance fish may be very much reduced due to the cold, so take advantage. Tiny paste baits or 5 millimetres regularly introduced into spots where carp feed comfortably can really attract and stimulate fish without over-feeding. Using matching bird food / milk protein pellets and paste baits with a paste bait on the hook is great too. Sometimes the presence of ‘nuisance fish’ like roach or small carp can be a good indication that your location is spot-on as such a spot is sure to be where your target larger carp will feed. Often very short hook links with a back-stop, light lead and slackened line will hook a fish when a heavy lead inline set-up might produce single bleeps (if that) where a hook is ejected by leveraging the lead on a tight line especially.
The commercial bait designers and manufacturers are really to be congratulated for their huge efforts to improve their products. Sure products have a life-cycle of varying durations and keeping new products coming and market share are important too. But it’s good to know that the research and long-term bait-testing has often been done by the reputable companies who really do care and want their customers to achieve their dreams and keep coming back for more bait because it consistently catches fish all year round.
The baits which stand out in winter are often far more digestible. It appears that the amino acids and great palatability of certain quality milk protein ingredients in correctly prepared milk protein baits really stimulate carp in the winter. It may be that the solubility of whey products and caseinates and enzyme treated caseins do something unique to carp. It does show that in winter, digestibility is only part of the equation. I’m sure that the relatively lower pH of high protein milk protein ingredients is one reason why they are effective apart from the obvious nutritional attraction.
However, high protein baits are far more difficult for carp to digest (if not actually possible with many ingredients) and there are many other ingredients that produce much more digestible winter baits. Bird foods are used in winter baits with good reason. being much lower in protein, but are packed with very attractive components which supply many of the oils, vitamins, minerals, protein and oils etc carp need. Bird foods contain many attractive flavours and additives naturally. There is evidence to suggest for example that the effects of powerful antioxidant substances in bird foods contribute to their attraction. Some of the elements of that very famous winter carp bait additive ‘Robin red’ phenols.
It’s also a bit like tasting fast grown glasshouse produced tomatoes. (Usually by hydroponics where the plant food components like many minerals are in a watery solution and are regulated and piped to the tomato plants.) The flavour of these is in part due to the variety, but mostly upon the levels of taste producing factors like minerals are part of the tomato. Your tomatoes which are grown outside in the garden soil will taste much richer and be more nutritionally better for you, being packed with natural minerals from the soil. Their flavour profile will be totally different.
Bearing in mind that we are very like carp in that we are composed mostly of water and minerals, you can understand perhaps a bit more why the baits with minerals are detected as they are essential in the fish’s diet as they are in ours too. Try doing a comparison with baits based on semolina and soya flour with and without an added mineral and vitamin complex as a bait soak and see the difference. Of course the minerals taste will influence more efficient bait detection too and over time, granular type minerals will slowly dissolve some at different rates.
Many baits ingredients are quoted as being included for nutritional balancing of the bait. The big point is not the nutrition in the abstract (as per aquaculture quoted optimums) but the two-fold advantage of an energetic reward for the fish’s activity in finding and eating your bait. And perhaps even more importantly, various nutritional ingredients produce more long-term and short-term immersion food signals. This leads to easier bait detection by carp chemoreception by both long range external food detection receptors, like those along the lateral line, right down to the excitation of the palatial gustatory taste receptors in the mouth leading to the positive swallowing of your bait and the greatest chance of hooking the fish with the hook deep inside the mouth.
I have used many milk protein based baits in the last 30 years and found they produce better over all and especially in the winter, when they have been ‘cured.’ By this I mean (at the minimum) they have partly been pre-digested by bacterial action by heating in a sealed container in a warm environment and removing water moisture as it builds-up. This process can be increased by using any of a range of enzymes now available, but even the addition of papain helps. Milk protein baits have not worked for everyone on every water, despite their awesome performance on others.
Apparently strange things can happen when using milk protein baits. They have for years now had to compete with the more suitable amino acid profiles of marine based boilies and are comparatively much more expensive. Again it’s about using the right bait in the right place at the right time and these baits certainly can out-fish those naturally oily fishmeal baits especially in winter. Using enzyme treated fishmeals and protein (with emulsifiers) to better the nutritional attraction profile and leak-off of a winter milk protein bait makes much more sense than using a bait that is a very dense bait with very little digestibility and limited attraction properties.
Many anglers favour bird food baits with a quarter or a third of the formula consisting of a mixture of high protein milk ingredients combined with open coarse textured bird foods. I have found wheat based baits lots of oat bran and wheatgerm with a little milk protein and bird food ingredients in a very open textured soft bait easy to make and work very instantly. Raising your intense sweetener level in such a winter bait is beneficial. Many lower pH flavours like the fruits, spices and savoury ones like butter, milk or cream have proven effective in winter baits, many for widely different reasons. (Not all flavours are even remotely similar and some are definitely in a class of their own.) Certain extracts have amazing immunity boosting and antimicrobial effects. Essential oils and their derivatives are excellent in the winter.
The taste of many successful flavours will be found to match the flavour of certain molecules in the bait ingredients and I’m sure this can contribute to the flavours effects. Some proven winter flavours attract fish from range such as the very popular ‘Robin red’ based liquids for instance. This can be a bonus if you cannot fish the exact spot or desired swim that puts you directly on tightly shoaled winter carp and you can draw fish into your area.
I have fished a top quality milk protein bait with no flavours against milk protein baits with added flavours (in summer) and been shocked to blank which those flavoured baits caught. Having cured the same baits I returned and banked much bigger fish than those flavoured baits caught. Winter baits are as much a question of personal confidence in your bait (and location) as anything else. Many winter bait combinations and mixtures have come I’m sure as a result of pure desperation and very persistent and confusing trials and often by accident as much as design over the decades if truth be told... The world of bait is pitted with real life fishing variables, but then if carp fishing was too easy, would we bother going carp fishing in the deepest coldest darkest most bone-chilling winter days and nights?
Winter fishing is becoming far more popular these days as our fishing banks become more crowded with warm weather carp anglers and cold weather clothing and equipment is so well designed now. For most carp anglers today, the thought of sitting all day under a 45 inch umbrella on a deck chair in chilling rubber Wellington boots with your feet literally freezing to the ground are long gone (Phew!) Some days our coffee was more whisky than coffee to stave off the cold and keep our spirits up! Attitude counts for so much in winter.
I remember having fished for 4 nights without a bite in freezing conditions, when that evening a new angler turned up and offered to share the curry he’d prepared at home. He even offered a can of beer which I very much appreciated (I normally avoid any alcohol on the bank) But its often fellow anglers camaraderie and creative ways of dealing with the elements that makes a session memorable rather than just the fish caught. Even the best anglers will admit that there are times when absolutely no-one is catching fish and even the thought of the remotest possibility of a take and a ‘good social’ on the bank keeps us going.
The sometimes drastic extremes of weathers now officially confirmed as being the result of global warming offer us new opportunities with milder winters and the timing of our fishing sessions really does count. Changing weather patterns and seasonal extensions mean carp can be feeding for longer and earlier than in the past – so go for it; those big winter carp are waiting for you and most of all, aim to have fun!
The author has many more fishing and bait ‘edges.’ Just one could impact on your catches.