What bait to use
For a sustained baiting program I would only recommend using a high quality food bait, by this I mean a bait that actually offers the carp a nutritional reward for their efforts. Personally I always use one of the ‘Mainline’ range of freezer baits and I would not recommend a baiting campaign using any form of shelf-life baits as the breakdown rate of shelf-life baits is not suitable for a mass baiting program. Some of the bait is likely to fall into areas where it doesn’t get eaten and you do not want it turning rancid on the lake bed. A high quality freezer bait should either breakdown or float to the surface after a few days.
If you give the fish regular doses of a decent bait then they will start to recognize the label, or flavour, as being linked to the nutrition and ‘feel good’ factor that they are receiving from eating the bait in the first place. This of course is exactly what you are trying to achieve, to get the fish to eat your bait in preference to everybody else’s, and the only way you will ever achieve this is through a better quality bait with decent ingredient profile, one that the fish can actually break down into useable proteins. I know this can start to get technical but you do not have to personally worry about the actual profile and ingredients yourself, unless you are actually making your own bait. If you look on the leading manufactures websites and, more importantly look in the angling reports and articles to see what baits are working well and are recommended by leading anglers then you will get some idea of where to start.
I’d always avoid anything that is too highly flavoured for long term baiting, preferring to go with a bait that has it’s ‘flavour’ inherent to the mix rather than an added chemical label, particularly a strong one. If the fish are going to eat lots of it then they will recognise the taste and do not need a strong ‘label’ like you would find in single attractor baits for example.
What areas to target
Most pre-baiting is associated with a closed season or a period of inactivity from other anglers, this leaves you free to bait wherever you like on the lake, it all becomes a bit more tricky if other anglers are present because you do not want to ruin their fishing by heaving in a load of bait next door to them, or, you may not want other anglers to know what you are doing or where you are doing it. Let’s assume the lake is closed and you are allowed to pre-bait wherever you like. I would start nice and early, probably around April time, so not all the fish will necessarily be up on the shallows or visible all the time. This means starting in known feeding areas and places where the fish may feel safe, like snags etc. Once the weather starts to warm up and the fish are on the move they will quickly realise that there is no fishing pressure on the lake and they will come into areas very close to the bank, specifically for the free bait you are offering them. At this early stage you are just trying to get the carp to accept and recognise your bait, not certain areas, so it’s more important to feed them and watch them eat than it is to establish spots. You want the fish to find your bait everywhere they go to feed as this will help them to accept it as part of their natural diet, so keep it going in all around the lake. Once they start to really ‘get on it’ you will be amazed how much bait they can actually eat and how willing they are to throw caution to the wind and push right up against the bank to get every last dropped bait.
As you get closer towards the start of the season then you can begin to bait areas that you want to be fishing, remember that, once the lines start hitting the surface again, the fish will abandon the margin areas that you have fed because of the danger and disturbance levels. Bait as many areas as you can and try and return a bit later to check for signs of feeding fish, if your plan is working then you should pretty much be able to move the fish around the lake at will, just by drawing them with the bait that they now readily accept as a free meal.
The action of the carp feeding on your areas will also reduce weed growth in those spots as the fish grub about and uproot any stems from the silt, eventually displacing the silt as well, leaving nice big clean areas. You can use this to your advantage by baiting a spot out of sight range from the bank, in an area that is usually very weedy, this way you will know you have a fishable spot you can use when the time is right.
As you get closer towards the time when you going to fish then I would advise stopping the bait going into all the inaccessible areas, such as snags etc, make the fish use the feeding areas if they want to find the food they have become so used to, this will give you a huge advantage during the season.
I have pre-baited a lot in the past and seen first hand the devastating effect it can have, myself and friends have absolutely ‘slaughtered’ lakes by the correct application of bait, even to the extent that all the other anglers on the lake struggle to get a bite while we have caught fish every session, and lots of them!
What should you do if everyone on the lake is pre-baiting.
This is a totally different situation altogether, the advantage of pre-baiting has been negated by the amount of bait already going in. The first thing to establish is how many different baits are going in, if you have all sorts of groups of anglers baiting with different types of bait then, personally, I wouldn’t bother going into competition with them as the fish will not know what is going on anyway, they cannot keep a check list of everything they eat from day to day, they will just get to a stage where the whole lot are ‘boilies’ and accepted or rejected as such.
There is room for more than one baiting campaign, I have done very well in the past as one of two or three different lots but once the number gets up over three and all those factions are serious and regular with their baiting approach then I think it may be better to fish the best bait you can but limit it to feeding and fishing situations where you are sure it is being eaten, rather than just jump on the band wagon and hurl it willy nilly into the lake along with everybody else’s.
I remember when I first got together with Mainline and I baited Horton along with three mates. The first year we filled the place in and I caught an incredible amount of fish, far more than anyone else and, as such, the amount of guys baiting up the next close season went form just our little group to practically everyone, all thought that it would be the magic key to unlock the lake and they would all catch more fish the more bait they used. When the next season started I decided to fish single hookbaits only, for the whole year, avoiding any sort of beds of bait as it was the only thing different I could think of, once again that year I caught the most fish so I think you have to tailor the baiting strategy to the competition as well as the fish. I did however stick with the same bait as I knew the fish would recognise it as being extremely good for them.
Should you use the same bait as everyone else?
I am a firm believer that a bait becomes better the more the fish see of it, being on the same bait as everyone else is definitely an advantage rather than a disadvantage but, human nature makes this very difficult to achieve. We all would like the ultimate bait, or rig, and if we and it is very unlikely we would share it with everyone else. What happens is, you may all start on the same bait but then somebody will find something they think is better and swap, or add a little something, or dip the baits or anything to try and out catch the next guy. There will naturally be groups or individuals who have something they trust and this they will keep close to their chest in the hope that theirs is the best, this is why pre-baiting works but, in reality, if every angler on one lake used the same bait for one year I would predict that there would be more fish caught than in any other year before.
I remember back when everyone made their own baits, mainly fish-meals, good quality baits and secrecy was everywhere. People, me included, would spend fortunes on ingredients to out fish the next guy and pre-baiting was a way of life, we all did it. Then, along came the first ready made boilies, particularly the frozen Tutti-Frutti’s and they took lakes apart, absolutely destroyed them and we were all up in arms about it. At first it was considered cheating, not ‘real’ angling, a bit of a disgrace but of course it wasn’t, and it had just taught everyone a very valuable lesson. The Tutti was probably the first bait that had ever been introduced to everywhere in exactly the same format, it was ready rolled so nobody added to, or tweaked it; you just opened the bag and threw them in. Within no time at all there was hardly a lake in the country that was not ‘pre-baited’ with them and everyone was catching. I’m sure Ritchworth would not be offended if I said that Tutti’s were probably only half as nutritionally beneficial as the high quality fish meal baits they were competing with, but the combination of an awesome flavour and sheer weight of numbers of bait being introduced made them very special indeed, if you were struggling for a bite you just wound in, put a Tutti on the end and hey presto!
Nowadays we have a much greater fishing tackle choice. We can buy ready made bait at any quality and price level we so desire and yes, I do think that the more people fishing the same bait on a water then the better it will become. I do firmly believe though that a better quality bait, like the one’s from the Mainline stable, will catch far more fish over an extended period than a cheaper, less nutritious bait ever will.