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Home > The Big Red Carp Fishing Blog > Attraction: what does it mean to you?

Attraction: what does it mean to you?

Friday, 20th December 2013

The first thing we need to do is define the nature of what is a pretty intangible concept. What is attraction when applied to carp bait?
After all, what is highly attractive to us is in all probability not at all attractive to carp yet still it is common to read anthropomorphic statements ascribing carp and us with human attributes. This simply is not the case! This probably smells and tastes like the Ritz to a carp but would you eat it?
 

Attraction: what does it mean to you? For instance, would you eat this?

In addition, and despite all that has been written about the nature of attraction, many anglers insist on spoiling a perfectly good nutritional bait with excessive levels of attractors. Though it has been stressed time and time again that attractors have an optimum performance level some anglers still seem to think that if 5ml/500g is effective, then 10ml/500g will automatically be doubly so. Wrong! In fact, in the case of some attractors the exact opposite applies and a flavour level of 10ml may actually become repellent rather than attractive.

Though boiled baits with boosted levels of attraction baits, can be very effective to understand fully how they work, you must first understand the basics of attraction itself, bearing in mind that attraction is going to take place underwater, an environment in which carp are constantly being bombarded by purely natural food messages from all manner of sources.

The principles of attraction are very closely associated to those of nutrition and the concept of a nutritional or “food bait” as it has come to be known. The principle of nutritional recognition was first put forward by Fred Wilton who argued that the best carp bait is one that a carp will eat in quantity and over a long period of time. It must therefore be primarily nutritious so that, in time, the fish comes to think of the bait as part of its natural food supply. Nutritional baits have been refined and developed to a very sophisticated level thanks in no small part to the experiments carried out in the early and mid-80s by some very innovative anglers, firstly in Kent and then taken a step further by the inventive minds of Tim Paisley and his friends. Tim followed up Fred’s original concept, arguing that carp have sufficient brain power and intelligence to enable them fully to recognise a nutritional bait and he coined the term “nutritional recognition” to describe the phenomenon. At the time there were many who could not accept the theory, as the subject is a complex one which raises many theoretical questions that cannot clearly be defined or answered.
 
 
All attractors have an optimum inclusion level above which they can actually have a negative effect.

In order to get an appreciation of the mechanics of underwater attraction, it should be understood that you don’t necessarily have to feed a carp in order to catch it; it may be sufficient simply to attract its attention and an over-flavoured so-called “attractor” bait will do just that! A carp’s sense of smell (for want of a better word) is many times more specifically targeted than ours geared as it is solely to one end, namely to investigate possible food sources. Indeed, given the correct stimuli a carp’s olfactory and gustatory receptors will draw it to the source of what its instincts are telling it is food. Think of it as sending out a message saying, “here be food”.If its feeding instincts were not triggered by the stimuli emanated from your bait, then the carp simply would not investigate. So you can see how important finding those stimuli can be. The whole idea is to draw carp to your bait through the (hoped for!) irresistibility and intensity of the attractors in the bait. At this stage the actual food value, be it a nutritional one or not, is not the point…that comes later!

But though you might have succeeded in triggering in-born instincts by sending such a message you have only done half a job. It is all very well getting the carp to investigate and perhaps even feed on your bait, but  you need to keep them feeding thereafter, and they won’t do this over the long term if the bait is nutritionally not up to scratch. Put simply, a carp will eventually stop eating a poor quality bait, despite the positive signals it appears to be giving off, thus ignoring those instincts that you have worked so hard to trigger. So why does it stop? Principally the reason is that you are not fulfilling the food message with an actual food.

Let us look briefly at the way carp feed for it is important to understand nature’s underwater food stores and the instincts that carp use to find their food, as well as the signals that attract them to it.
 

A carp’s “nostrils” are the openings to its olfactory membranes which can been seen here, situated just in front of the eye.

We’ve already mentioned sending a nutritional message to attract carp to a potential food item. This irresistible message is clearly detectable underwater by a the carp’s sense of smell. It reacts instinctively, almost without being aware that it is doing so. The olfactory membranes - a carp’s nostrils to put it in its simplest - are situated behind the small holes situated either side of its head just in front of its eyes as can be seen in this photo. Carp constantly sample the lake water for the food message by passing water over these membranes. In nature a carp’s food is either buried in silt or mud, suspended as tiny solid particles in the lake water, or clinging to underwater features such as weed beds or sunken trees, and in the gravel. Other individual food items, such as snails and various types of mussel form food larders which the carp learn to visit regularly.
 

Flavoured cork balls and sections. An excellent boilie alternative on a one carp - one bait basis. But you wouldn’t want to bait up with them, would you?

All living things emit chemical messages, and carp have extremely sensitive food detectors that they use to identify what is or is not a food source. Our attractors can be used to fool carp into thinking that something that isn’t a good food source actually is one, simply because it smells like a nutritional food. Even if the bait has no food value whatsoever, as long as it smells like food to the carp, it will investigate the food message. For instance, you could successfully use a flavoured piece of pop-up foam or a heavily glugged cork ball on a zig rig to catch carp, and the same items mounted on a hair rig, and put it into the path of a carp feeding on the lakebed would also trigger an investigation response and quite possibly even a run. The hair rig hooks the fish, you play it out and land it, and you’ve had a result you were after. But that doesn’t mean that you would bait up heavily with cork balls, does it! No carp in its right mind is going to eat a belly full of cork, no matter how good it smells, but it might very well pick up the single sample purely because it smelt like food.

However, if you pre-bait or over-bait with an offering containing an excessive flavour level or one with very little nutritional value, that offering may well stop being eaten by the carp before you even cast a hook bait into the water, as you can only fool some of the carp some of the time!

Alternatively if you are fishing only with single hook baits, so as not to allow the carp to fully assess the bait’s food quality, you then have to be very sure that you know exactly where the carp are in the lake. Why? Because, while you will certainly draw carp into your area with regular baiting of a nutritional bait, you are far less likely to draw carp into your fishing area with a single attractor hook bait.

Your choice of attractors for use in a boiled bait is very important. Some strong attractors may have a potent enough signal to last long enough for you to achieve a short term result of two or three months. Others may last only for a light pre-baiting and the first trip thereafter. Then the bait blows and you need to look for another attractor. You have to keep switching to something new, or something that was effective long enough ago for the carp to have forgotten that the particular smell spelt danger. This is where a combination of attractors may well be more suitable, as opposed to just a single flavour or attractor. A mixture of various smells may well mask the underlying one that caused the carp’s previous downfall before and the carp will fail to recognise the smell of danger.
 

This fish certainly likes its Nectarblend!

One thing you must always bear in mind is that bait is food. Pure high attract baits are a short-term, quick-fix way of catching carp; the long-term solution is to use a more balanced approach base not solely on attraction but on a combination of both nutrition and attraction, using what has become more commonly known as a food bait. You can think of the concept of a food bait as being one that the carp finds easy to digest while at the same time providing a degree of nutritional fulfilment. Many good food baits are based on birdfoods as for the most part these supply a reasonable level of protein and a high level of fats. Fat acts to spare protein in the carp’s digestive system thus allowing the protein to do its job of providing growth, tissue healing and the maintenance of overall general well being. As you can see from this photo, this fish certainly liked his Nectarblend-based birdfood bait!
 

This is Big Fish Mix, a fishmeal bait I have used to great effect usually when no additional attraction is added.

Alternatively you may want to experiment with a more natural approach and do away with artificial flavours altogether. Recent bait developments, have managed to combine all those food messages in a single package so as to create a more natural form of attraction. It is quite possible, indeed it might even be more favourable, to use natural attraction rather than artificial attraction to create the food message you are trying to send, though I imagine the concept of flavourless bait will be anathema to most of you! But why not? After all, carp have been quite happily finding their food using nature’s own stimuli without us bunging into our bait all manner of concoctions that may or may not be attractive in the first place! The majority of my captures over the past ten years have been on food baits with either a very low level of artificial attraction, and in many cases, none at all. This is Big Fish Mix, a fishmeal bait I have used to great effect usually when no additional attraction at all has been added at the preparations stage.
 

Carp in a venue that sees a lot of one type of bait often become almost addicted to that bait but this is only going to happen if the food quality of the bait is of a sufficiently high standard and the attraction package it gives off sends a positive food message. This fish for instance fell to a balanced fishmeal and birdfood bait three times in ten days, after spending the previous two years evading capture.

Carp in a venue that sees a lot of one type of bait often become almost addicted to that bait but this is only going to happen if the food quality of the bait is of a sufficiently high standard and the attraction package gives off sends a positive food message. This fish for instance fell to a balanced fishmeal and birdfood bait on three occasions in the space of ten days, after spending the previous two years evading capture.
 

Cooked Red Band Pigeon conditioner is a superb micro seed bait that is nutritious and fulfilling, but it can also be used to carry extra attraction to the baited area.

Of course, you do not need to limit yourself to boiled baits, and it is an inescapable fact that the boilies is not the be-all-and-end-all of carp baits. Particle and seed blends can also fulfil a food message if correctly prepared and Red Band Pigeon Conditioner, with its added Aniseed Oil is a true high-energy food that carp find very attractive. As is the case with most if not all particle baits Red Band can be used to carry additional soluble attraction into the baited area, thus drawing extra fish to you hookbait. These three natural attractors are among the best.
 
I think that only the test of time will tell us what carp like to eat and the tried and tested ingredients will always succeed…and if you expected me to finish this article without mentioning one of the most tried an tested of all time, then think again.

 

Robin Red® has been used in some of the most successful carp bait base mixes from bait firms large and small.

Robin Red has been used in some of the most successful carp bait base mixes from bait firms large and small. The list would stretch off this page were I to mention them all, but suffice it to say, Big Fish Mix, Enervite, Essential B5, Scopex Squid Liver + Robin Red, The Source and of course Dynamite’s eponymous mix. These all feature Robin Red in their recipe, and nobody could say those are not great carp catchers.
 

This magnificent common carp weighing over 20kg was just one of many carp that have fallen to the food message given off by Robin Red®

This magnificent common carp weighing over 20kg was just one of many carp that have fallen to the food message given off by Robin Red.

That’s all for 2013, but keep an eye open for some exciting new developments from Haiths Supercatch next year. Happy Christmas and Tight Lines in 2014!

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