So what follows is intended to be a guide to anglers fishing the numerous small commercial fisheries in France and elsewhere in the EU. They are based upon over twenty-five years experience of fishing such lakes.
The way you apply bait depends on a number of factors not least the type of water you are fishing. I quantify a lake as 'small' if it is under eight acres in size. Many small fisheries are overstocked but a stock of around fifteen carp per acre is sufficient to keep the anglers happy and the carp well fed! However, remember that the most sought-after venues are booked solid for at least a year ahead, so bear in mind that when you are fishing for heavily pressured carp that are fussy about what they eat and where they eat it. The dam wall at Le Queroy has been a hot spot for twenty years or more, due in no small part to the fact that the carp know that they can find food whenever they want at the foot of the wall…the only trouble is, they have to balance the need for food against the possibility of getting caught.
So bear the following in mind: When you arrive at your the lakeside and chose your swim always remember that you will almost certainly be following someone into it. I tend to tell myself that somebody was in here just a few hours ago. How did he fish? Did he catch? Did he/they put the last of the bait in rather than take it home again? I do hope not!
(Chucking your left-over bait into the lake before leaving is a lousy trick to play on those that may follow you. Even though you may think you are doing the fish a favour, this is seldom the case and by chucking it into the lake at the end of your stay you can totally mess up the subsequent week's fishing for the anglers that follow you on.)
I always assume that somebody has recently been fishing the swim I chose, often just that morning! I am therefore always cautious about putting bait in when I arrive. Last year I arrived for a session on a lake full of hope and confidence, but as I walked around I noticed that the margins of every swim were 'decorated' with a hefty scattering of boilies. If it was that bad in the edge, was it the same out in the middle? Needless to say, my bait box stayed firmly shut and I fished only single hookbaits until I landed my first fish.
It is always a good idea when fishing a heavily pressured lake to keep initial baiting to a minimum. Remember, it is easy to put bait in, but virtually impossible to take it out again. Only once I have got a feel for the lake and how it is fishing do I risk putting in more bait. I need to be sure that the carp are a) in my swim and b) eating bait but once that I am certain they are visiting the swim in good numbers, I tend to bait up quite heavily. This is a mixture of various well-glugged shelf life and fresh boilies.
You can get a fair idea of what has been happening at the lake just by asking the bailiff or the owners of the lake. They are as keen for you to catch as you are so hopefully they will advise you which swims were occupied the previous week and what was caught and from where. They may even be able to tell you what bait has gone in and how much the previous occupants used. However, nothing beats your own observations so, don't go at the lake like a bull at a gate but settle into your week slowly but purposefully.
Just let me give you an example: A few years ago I arrived at le Queroy, a lake I know very well, for a late autumn session. I was told that the dam wall swims had been occupied by a succession of visitors for the previous five weeks but the fishing had been patchy to say the least. I suspected that somewhere down the line somebody had piled the bait in and this might have spooked the fish. However, so well do I know the dam wall swims that I was loath to fish elsewhere. I decided to keep baiting to a minimum and play the rest by ear. Clearly it would be folly to put in still more bait on top of the previous occupants' so I fished only hookbaits and three-bait stringers on all three rods for the first couple of days. Though I caught almost immediately I didn't feel it was time to pile the bait in so I decided to continue with this minimalist approach! This really did the trick and I landed a string of nice carp including this beauty!
The bait you take to any small commercial lake should in my opinion be a good food bait. But you should also listen to the owners about what is catching. Invariably he or she will tell you to use the 'house' bait - well, they would do that wouldn't they - but if you are uncertain of what to use, you'd be silly to use anything else. That said, sometimes a bait that is new to the lake will score over an established favourite simply because it is different. Even though you may be a long time user of one particular bait you should keep an open mind about alternatives, including particles, nuts and seed baits. Having been a died in the wool Nutrabaits user for most of my angling life I tend to go down the that route first, but I am not so blinded by my faith that I will suggest that other baits will not catch. For instance I have recently been using Dynamite's The Source to good effect, as I know what goes into it and am confident in the recipe, designed as it was by my old mate Marcus Watts.
The first thing you should pack when you go away for a week on a small commercial is your confidence. I am always confident in my ability to catch but I never assume that the fishing is going to be easy. I love fishing at the back end of the season but a lot of bait will have gone in since the venue opened and angling pressure at any of the top venues is going to be very intense. So bait application is important: think before you act.
So let’s assume that you have just arrived at the lake and have set up in a swim that you know had someone in it prior to your arrival. You are faced with two choices, a) try to establish your own bait as quickly as possible by introducing it in quantity or, b) fish single high attract hookbaits, perhaps with a PVA mesh parcel attached. This second option leaves the door open for increasing in the amount of bait you introduce if circumstances allow, so it is invariably the one I chose, yes, it is a cautious option but there is no point in chucking good bait after bad.
I have found that in most cases a light carpet of cooked Red Band with a scattering of Robin Red SuperSoft Pellets is usually enough to persuade the carp to take their first tentative bite!
Don't expect an instant hit. If after a couple of days you are still fishless then it could be time for a rethink but to be honest even if I go 48 hours without a take, I am not unduly worried, as I am confident that my well formulated food bait will prove both attractive and nutritious to the carp. In addition I use hemp seed and the water used in its preparation as a bait soak. This is a mixture of prepared hemp with home rolled barrels and boilies with a few shelf lifes thrown in for good measure. To the hemp water I add one of liquid hydros such as FeedStim's Squid Hydro. This means that the soak is laden with carpy goodness which will be absorbed by the baits over the next few days, thus increasing their effectiveness.
There will always be a huge temptation to over-bait at first but sit on your hands for the first 24-48 hours, especially if you are using a bait boat or have a rowing boat at your disposal. These are two of the prime culprits for over-baiting a swim as anglers tend to over-bait simply because they can. They don’t need to spend hours with a throwing stick or spod rod. No…It’s out in the boat and dump a couple of bucket loads over the side followed by kilo after kilo of boilies.
It is far too easy to over-bait when you are in the boat so why not try this little trick? Place a self-imposed restriction on yourself by only taking a small container of bait into the boat with you. If, say, you only want to top up the swim with a scoop or two of pellet and say a dozen boilies then put that amount into a small container and take only that with you when you jump in the boat. That way when the container is empty the only way you can put more bait in is to return to the bank for more, and by the time you’ve done that common sense should have prevailed and you've realised that enough is enough.
Bait boats pose a more difficult challenge as it is very easy to fill the hopper with bait and thus go over the top with your baiting. Before sending the bait boat on its way, look at the amount you have put in the hopper. It is not too late to take some out you know!
Don't necessarily fish all your rods to specific areas. Yes, by all means keep a couple fishing on the bait carpet, but I always fish at least one rod as a rover, casting quite frequently and covering a wider area. This rod is used to search the lakebed from the margins out to mid range and again I tend to use a high attract hookbait with just a scattering of pellets in a PVA mesh parcel.
At all times think of the lake as a highly pressured venue and act accordingly. Too many anglers view small commercials as over stocked puddles filled with desperately hungry mud pigs. While that may be the case on some venues, the better lakes are nothing of the sort and will often be as heavily pressured as any UK lake. The carp know you are there so tread softly!
I make no bones about it; if you want to succeed on a pressured lake you simply must use a good bait. I do not believe that you can achieve the same degree of competitive, aggressive feeding if you are using a poor quality bait and proper food baits are essential as far as I am concerned. You must offer the carp something that competes with their normal food, as carp instinctively know a good bait from a bad one. Give them a well formulated food bait such as our own Robin Red and Fishmeal (in this photo) and they’ll keep coming back for more, time after time. There is no point in hampering your chances by using a bait to which the carp may not like or to which they are indifferent. In the words of the late great Rod Hutchinson you have got to "make them 'ave it". You never saw Rod using rubbish bait. He was a great thinker when it came to carp baits and he always went by the belief that the better the bait the more you will catch!
Now I know I have warned against over-baiting initially, but you cannot catch carp without using bait! It’s a classic Catch 22 situation. You want to use bait to attract and then hold carp in your swim but you don’t want to use so much that they spook. Accordingly you don’t need to set out your stall as if you were going after hundreds of fish at a time. Instead fish for 'one fish at a time'.
This tactic was first suggested to me by my mate Bill Cottam, no stranger to huge carp himself. Basically the tactic is to introduce only enough bait to induce one take. You hopefully hook and land that one fish, then set out your stall along identical lines to try to tempt another fish, and then a third, forth and so on. It is not a tactic that generates loads of action, but it certainly seems to sort out bigger and thus possibly more cautious, more suspicious carp. And let's face it, Bill does know a thing or two about bait!
Closely allied to the bait itself is the related topic of how exactly you apply it, as bait application can make a big difference. A simple starting point is to consider the size of your freebies and the overall size of the bait carpet. I guess it would be fair to assume that most anglers use baits of between 15mm and 18mm in size. That in itself can be somewhat limiting so think about the alternatives, that is to say, bigger or small baits than the norm, or different shaped ones. For instance, if you were to use either, say, 25mm or 10mm baits that might be sufficient to lower the carp’s guard. One approach I have used with great success has been to bait up with a mixed blend of smaller than usual baits, both fresh and shelf life. This blend of 8mm boilies has often done the trick for me.
You should also think about the shape of your freebies. Everybody uses round baits but on a smaller lake they are not always necessary. After all, round baits were made that shape simply because they go further out of a throwing stick or catapult, but on small lakes when you will by definition be fishing at shorter range try using baits that are not round.
And perhaps you have the use of a small boat or inflatable, or even a bait boat? Again there is no call for your boilies to be round. I have been using barrels for the past decade or more and this tactic has certainly not affected my results in any way.
Boilie crumb can be astonishingly effective for one simple reason. We know that carp can become obsessed by the shape, size and smell of certain foods and preoccupation on a food source is a well-known phenomenon. You only have to look at the way tiny seeds and grains such as hempseed turn them on to know that small can be beautiful as far as your bait is concerned. Well, you can create heavy preoccupied feeding by using micro boilie particles, also known as boilie crumb. Boilie crumb, as its name suggests is a way of using a mass bait approach but with boiled baits rather than particles.
The use of high attract hookbaits is another effective tactic on many small commercials and I expect you have used this principle yourself in your carp fishing. However, the standard boiled bait has it’s limitations as far as attraction is concerned. OK, you can use bait soaks to impregnate the hookbaits with flavour and other attractors but this affects the texture and catching life of the bait. One way of making high attract, high leak-off hookbaits is to again use the sausage method. This is a trick that features often in my blogs for the simple reason that it works a treat!
• Make up a 3-egg mix but add the same flavour and attractor levels as you would use for a 6-egg mix. • Roll the paste into sausages.
• Boil the sausages whole.
• Allow them to cool.
• Chop the sausages into your preferred hookbait size.
• This will produce a tube-shaped hookbait with two cut ends.
• As these ends do not have a boiled skin on them they allow water to quickly force its way into the heart of the hookbait. Once in the bait the lake water releases the attractors and flavours allowing them to flood out around the hookbait.
You can draw attention to your hookbait in many different ways and one is to use Betaine. This naturally occurring substance is one of the best attractors of all time. Not only is it great in your boilie mix but you should also add it as an exterior dressing to give an instant flood of attraction as soon as the baits hit the lakebed. Betaine is astonishingly soluble and as it leaks quickly from the outer dressing and more slowly from within the bait itself it spreads a come hither smell of food for quite some distance around the bait carpet. The tried and tested formula for its use is to add 2-4g/500g of mix to the eggs, then roll out and boil as usual. However, Betaine is at its best when used as an instant attractor and in this guise it is better to add an exterior coating of Betaine as well as an interior one.
There are two or three ways of doing this. The first is simply to dip a hookbait in the lake, then pop it straight into a tub of Betaine. You’ll see how the crystals adhere to the wet boilie and soon they dissolve as the dampness acts on the attractor, leaving your hookbait Betaine boosted.
You can also treat an entire batch of bait by sprinkling a teaspoon full or so over warm baits that have just come out of the boiling pan. The damp and the heat melt the Betaine almost immediately and as it melts it turns to a liquid, which is absorbed by the cooling baits. Turn the baits out onto a drying rack as soon as they come out of the pan then add a sprinkling of Betaine. You can see the small crystals as they melt slowly onto the still-hot baits in this photo.
While I don't believe there is a recognised upper limit as far as Betaine is concerned, I still don't think you need to go mad with it. A teaspoonful scattered over a 500g mix is ample.
I am a huge fan of the bespoke hookbaits made by UB Baits. These hand rolled cork ball pop-ups are way ahead of any proprietary pop-ups I have used and I invariably take an assortment of Matt's brilliant little carp sweets with me on every session. You can contact Matt through his Facebook page.
Another 'must have' on short or long sessions is a jar (or two) of Dynamite Baits's Frenzied Tiger Nuts. These beauties have saved me from a blank on many occasions and as they come ready-preserved I always keep a jar in the van to fall back on.
Keep thinking about your baiting approach and try to keep one step ahead of the carp. They are pretty cute but they are not MENSA candidates!