Bait is a 4-Letter Word - Part 2

Bait is a 4-Letter Word - Part 2

In this the second article that I wrote for Tim Paisley I look back at my first tentative steps into the more complex world of HNVs, HERNVs, enzymes and aminos. In the clear light of today's more modern thinking, most of what follows is naive not to say just plain wrong, but if you don't try you never learn so read what follows while wearing a pair of 1980s glasses!

In the last article I outlined our early progress and the success we enjoyed on comparatively simple baits.

We were using Robin Red baits to the exclusion of all else and had been lucky enough to find several waters where the red stuff had not been seen before.

Robin Red Hook Bait


We had thus been able to take considerable advantage of Robin Red’s undoubted pulling power. If you remember, we had started to spread our wings a bit and hoped we could find a top quality water where the bait would not have been used. As luck would have it we found just such a water, College Reservoir.

(PLEASE NOTE: College is no longer open to fishing and most of the carp were transfered to the nearby Argal Reservoir in 1998.)

College is a 40-acre reservoir, holding approximately 250 fish, mostly mid- to upper-doubles with a good mix or 20s. The lake lies just a mile from the south Cornwall coast and is strongly influenced by south west winds. It runs more or less SW-NE and at the time we first fished it there were no more than four actual swims on the lake.

In the center-left of this photo you can see the swim we simply called The Swim, though later as the lake became more popular others called it The Beach. It was on this swim that Carole, Steve and I first concentrated.

The reservoir was then and is still exceptionally rich in plant and aquatic life and the carp can get a feed just about anywhere they fancy putting their heads down. At the time it had never seen boilies or the rig before we went on it (as far as I know) and, to be honest, at first the fishing was relatively easy. We went in as blind novices groping in the dark. Chuck it and chance it was our sole tactic as we had no previous experience of fishing big waters. We knew nothing about silt (later we found out that College holds some huge areas of deep silt), nor about long range fishing, heavy leads and silt rigs. We just chucked 'em out and hoped for the best. That's how easy it was!

The baits that were used on those early trips was simple to say the least but I was still pretty green bait wise and had yet to come under the guiding wings of Bill Cottam, Tim Paisley and Keith Sykes. In those early College days my forays into the boiled bait world revolved around Robin Red backed up by bulking agents. In the light of what I know now, the bait we used at College initially was pretty crude, an 'advanced' (lol) version of our earlier bait for Salamander and Rashleigh. This was it:

8oz Semolina
6oz Soya Flour
2oz Robin Red
4oz Muscatel sugar
10ml Geoff Kemp’s Maple flavour
2ml Geoff Kemp’s Perfume Spray flavour (very high in geranium oil)
Roll and boil for five minutes.

Bit of a crap bait to be honest and well overloaded with flavour, but it caught and caught well and Carole, Steve and myself had some outstanding results. This photo shows one of the first fish we caught from the Reservoir, a 22lb mirror.

We fished the bait practically unchanged for over twelve months and took a hell of a lot of fish on it but eventually we changed the semo for Nectarblend. Being coarser and more nutritious in terms of fat (energy), this seemed to give the bait a new lease of life and it says much for the effectiveness of high fat baits that the carp continued to have it for so long. 

Nectarblend Fishing Bait

You may find it odd that we were using an essential oil-based flavour at that time (1983), as their widespread use thanks to Nutrabaits was still way in the future. However, my mate from my Ockenham days, Speedy Bill, was well informed and he again put me, and us, on the right path by suggesting we try them. Geranium as found in the Kemp flavour, was the best, he said.

After six months of steady catching we added Calcium Caseinate and Lactalbumin, to bump up the protein level and work around pound base mixes rather than ten ounce ones. I should say at this point that the inclusion of the milks was entirely our fishing partner's (Steve Westbury) idea. He was big into bait at that time and so we deferred to Steve in anything to do with the technical side. If he said the bait needed milks, then milks is what it got! Steve was hugely instrumental in helping Carole and I develop our skills on College, not least in his thinking on bait.

Here he is in a customary pose - playing a College fish - in autumn 1983.

Thanks to the emergence of better and more qualified writers on carp bait I found myself becoming increasingly drawn towards the HNV idea. I was a self-confessed skeptic and wanted some definitive information to settle things in my mind. And because he seemed like a reasonable guy (he’ll love me for that!) I wrote to Tim Paisley. I set out my skepticism and asked a few naive questions and expected to hear nothing further. I’d been particularly drawn to the Nutritional Recognition and the pH articles in Carp Fisher and I wanted chapter and verse before I’d even think about changing the bait.

Then back came Tim with a three-page letter of which all I could understand were the definite and indefinite articles! I had just about worked out the ionisation principle from Tim’s pH article in Carp Fisher and thought that if ionisation was the basis for recognition then all I needed was an acidic flavour and I was away; the bait was immaterial. Wrong!!

Tim’s first letter set me off on tangents I didn’t know existed, particularly the question of the attraction/stimulation aspect generated by commercial flavours. I thought I could grasp the protein theory but all Tim said at first was to have faith and believe! Carp can grow into big fish, he wrote, and the biggest fish are just that because to some extent they have an advanced nutritional sense. I’d given him my recipe and the comments that came back were confusing. I’d expected to be shot down in flames, but no, Tim actually said it was a good bait but could be improved. He suggested that we move to an even higher protein level, while still keeping the Robin Red and the Nectarblend but including some rennet casein as well as the other milks.

Steve and I talked it over. It was clear that he was thinking in terms of HNV baits anyway, following the same lines as Tim, but I was still doubtful. Why change a good thing? However, Steve had decided to go onto an pure milk HNV bait so we went our separate ways. I was still convinced that our bait would carry on for a long time yet.

It was now coming up to the winter of 83/84 and the bait was still catching well. The flavours remained unchanged and apart from messing around with Richworth’s Guava as flavouring for the hookbaits over the top of our usual mix, we’d done very little experimenting. This rather poor shot shows one of the few Italian strain carp that were in College back then, caught on the bait using Guava as the flavour. It is yet another twenty to add to our growing tally. We thought we had died and gone to heaven.

But I was still curious and kept writing to Tim. It says much for the man’s patience that he put up with my questions, for I was trying to find a way through the jungle of scientific papers. After all, if I was going to use the HNV/Nutritional Recognition theory, I wanted to be able to try, at least, to understand the basic principles.

I remember writing about Amylase, which I’d thought about using as a starch digesting enzyme thanks to something I had read in a wine making magazine. Back came Tim, "Amylase is an enzyme. You’re a couple of a years away from enzymes yet, as you need an enormous understanding to start messing about with them; having said that, they are the key to a bait I’ve sorted out." Patronizing bugger, thought I!

By now I had realised that the rennet casein that we could get our hands on was the best available and as luck would have it a big producer, Express Dairies based in Devon, was prepared to sell off the odd bag or two to fishermen so in went several ounces the new casein with egg albumin to bind it. The ionization/hydrogen bonding theory had wormed its way into my brain and by now I actually understood most of what Tim was talking about. But it was still with grudging acceptance that I turned to the proteins.

A strongly acidic flavour was wanted to act as an attractor and I got busy with the pH testing kit, messing about with different flavours, oils and spices. Strawberry, Bun Spice and in particular Richworth’s Blue Cheese flavour (a nod and a wink from Tim on this one!). These all came out well in the acid range on the pH indicator wheel so I picked the last as my new flavour for College.

Well, we had been used to flying indicators and screaming buzzers; and it took a lot of patience to fully establish the new baits, so while we sat on our hands, twitching to change the bait Steve filled his boots. I was on the point of going back to the old favourites when in desperation I wrote to the guru again. The reply was by return of post: ‘Eight ml of Blue Cheese is way over the top, you wally,’ wrote Tim. ‘Drop it down to 2ml/lb and try some of this.’

The ‘this’ in question was a pot of a very strong powdered attractor that what was in a couple of years to see daylight under the Nutrabaits banner, going by the name Cajoler. Tim also sent me some very interesting addresses and further reading references. My patient nagging must have worn the guy down at last for here was the information I’d been searching for for six months.

The bait was immediately modified by dropping the Blue Cheese flavour to 2ml and including Bengers and Davina Body Build. These were the two ingredients Tim had referred to in his ‘Twelve Months On’ article in the NASA mag. Bengers contained a protein-digesting enzyme called Trypsin. It is triggered at a pH in excess of 7.2 so in fact would act solely as a supplement to the carp’s own natural supply of Trypsin and would not get to work until it was actually in the carp’s gut, or so I was given to understand at the time. It was the Davina Body Build that was the big one. It contained pineapple Bromelain, a highly efficient protein-splitting enzyme used to break down the protein by splitting it into peptides. This renders a higher proportion of the protein available as digestible food. Tim called this bait principle the HERNV or Higher HNV.

The Bromelain needed an acidic trigger to start the process as well as a heat trigger and thus the Blue Cheese would be ideal as both an attractor and as the acidic trigger. Though up till now I had continued to use Robin Red I was advised not to include it in the new base mix, so the final base mix was

7oz rennet casein
3oz egg albumin
2oz Bengers
1oz Davina Body Build
1oz SBS Vitmin
2oz NZ Lactalbumin
2g Cajoler
2ml Richworth Blue Cheese
15ml Minamino
15ml liquid liver
Boil for 45-50 seconds only.

The first trip on the full blown bait Tim had given me was in late February '84 and it produced three fish in a short day session including a then PB of 29lb 2oz, while next time out in early March I caught three twenties on the trot. Quite simply that was unheard off in Cornwall. Throughout the year and into the next the bait just got better and better, as Tim had assured us it would, until it became a matter of when we caught not if. Come the following winter we had all landed numbers of carp that we never thought possible. One auspicious day in early March 1995 I fished a swim at the southern end of the lake. I had a thirty, a twenty and three doubles in an overnighter, the thirty being my first ever over that weight.

I’m sure there will be those who say that the new bait I was using was not the deciding factor. Maybe they have a point; but as far as I was concerned the result was entirely due to the bait. This is the thirty at 31lb 2oz at the time a Cornish record and a PB for me.

The results on Tim's bait turned me from a semi-agnostic into a fundamentalist overnight. Throughout the remainder of the 1985 season the bait out fished everything else on the lake and though we weren’t fishing College as heavily as we’d done in the previous couple of years we still managed to bank a shed load of fish.

And it wasn’t just College that responded well to the bait. The Lower Tamar carp took to it with a vengeance. In just four trips we had 115 fish and though they weren’t all big fish they were still further proof that the bait was working well. This is the very first Lower Tamar carp I caught, within 30 minutes of casting the bait into the lake.

We also spent time on local club waters where the bait worked like a charm. Salamander responded with a string of fish while the club waters just fished their heads off. The bait was working so well that I wanted to try something new. Bet that sounds a bit Double Dutch to you, eh? Well, I was looking to see if it could be improved further still and once more turned to the science papers.

Now, I have to admit that I’m no scientist. It takes me all my time to make any sort of headway and even then I‘m not sure if I really understand what I’m reading or if I’m just kidding myself. I was now treading the ground that had been crossed during the seventies when the early pioneer work on aminos was done. I was just ten years too late, that’s all! The fact was that I think a lot of people had shelved their work on aminos during the flavour/rig boom of the early eighties, but with fish getting wiser all the time and the development of more and more sophisticated catching flavours, I felt that a return to the amino baits could have the desired effect.

Tim wrote to see how the bait was developing. Little did I know at the time but I was one of several of Tim's friends that were working on his bait and he was assessing its progress with Bill Cottam by his side. I didn't know either that the bait we were using would be refined and tailored for the commercial market to become Hi-Nu-Val, the fist pure milk protein HNV ever commercially available. Here is Tim with a fish from Birch Grove.

Sadly the mix of neat amino acids I put together showed no appreciable increase in takes. The trouble was all this messing bout with grams (or less) of this and that was doing my head in. However, there was definitely some kind of positive reaction shown to the bait when I included an existing commercial amino acid package from Davina.

Then someone (well, it was Tim again actually!) whispered "Minamino" in my ear and all the experimenting went out of the window. This magic liquid was all I was looking for. A suitable amino-acid profile in a predigested food, and it smelt and tasted good, to boot.

I went back to College with my confidence running high and experimented with the levels of the Minamino to find an optimum level. I had takes on 100ml, no less, but that was expensive and seemed to work no better than a quarter as much. Eventually I settled on 25ml and chanced my arm a bit by dropping the casein for a spell, substituting Provimi 66 white fish meal instead. I knew that it had not been used before in College and it worked very well for most of that season. Of course, we now know that Minamino owes less to it’s amino acid profile than it does to it’s sugar content, and we could have used the whole bottle if we’d wanted to…Isn’t hindsight wonderful! In fact it is now common practice to soak hookbaits in neat Minamino and similar liquids on a permanent basis. How things have changed.

A curious yet undeniable pattern had by now emerged. The bait seemed to work well enough from the start of the trip, but really started cooking with gas from day three onwards. The baits were taken down frozen in flasks and then stored locally in the pub’s freezers, and then used within 24 hours of being taken from the freezer. I’ve heard it said that if this freezing and use-by time is so critical, what happens to uneaten baits out there on the bed of the lake? Well, for a start, you’re talking about two entirely different media surrounding the bait, air and water, and so of course there are therefore two entirely different sets of biological (and chemical) influences at work on the bait.

In fact, I found that carp would happily eat baits that had been left to soak in a sample of the lake water for up to three or four days when there would obviously be quite a bit of bacteriological breakdown taking place. On the other hand they didn’t seem anything like so keen on baits that had been out of the freezer for two or three days. To confuse the issue still further we had probably the best reaction on baits that had been air dried for 3-4 days, something Tim puts down to a possible renaturing of the protein after a certain time.

To get back to the day three thing. Perhaps I can give an example. Carole and I were fishing a session on College and there were twelve rods out between the fish and us. This was due to a sustained period of strong SW winds that had pushed the carp into the North bay and then kept them bottled up in there. The four anglers on the fish were catching steadily and all we could do was sit it out and hope the wind would drop and maybe the pressure would get to them.

We’d been putting in about 600 baits daily for three days, without a run, when suddenly the fish came on out of the blue for the remainder of the trip. We finished up with forty-eight carp for the weekend! Twenty four each

There had been no noticeable change in the weather conditions and the lads up in the bay still caught a few, but I reckon that for the last 36 hours of that trip we had 75% of the fish feeding on our bait.

My mistrust of synthetic flavours was increasing as I saw a deluge of other bait going in, some of which were heavily overloaded with flavour. The relative lack of success gave me the impetus to drop all synthetics completely and we used the bait without the use of any artificial flavours extensively during following couple of years.

While I was happy with the Minamino I felt that by adding liquid liver from Davina at 15-25ml per pound the bait would stand up well against any commercially flavoured baits. In addition I was now using an organic carboxylic acid called N-Butyric Acid at 0.5 mil to act as the acidic trigger for the Bromelain.

By the time my thoughts on bait were published in Carpworld in this very article in autumn of 1988 we had been using the same base mix almost unchanged for nearly four years. Sure, we’d messed about with the odd ingredient from time to time but at the end of the day it was always going to be a milk protein-based HNERV with added enzymes.

One further thing we had discovered, quite by accident I should say, was that small baits worked really well in winter. OK, making 8ml baits using an extruder and the Gardner Rolling table is bloody hard work, but it pair of for us time after time in the winter time

I have used baits based on 50% Lactalbumin as opposed to casein and they’ve worked OK but they cost a bloody fortune. I should also mention once more the use of synthetic flavours. It is pointless putting together a brilliant bait, only to ruin its long-term appeal by overloading the flavour as I had done (remember the 8ml/lb Blue Cheese!). It is far better to work towards lasting effectiveness using the absolute minimum of flavour or attractor.

You may also be tempted to add so many differing flavours, oil and attractors that you end up confusing the issue. You may be getting takes, but do you now why? It’s far better to keep things simple. Baits catch fish, not flavours. Get this clear in your mind and work towards achieving a long-term bait without constant chopping and changing and you’ll have success on what are now called food baits but were then known as HNVs.

I have to say that there have been times when it didn't go exactly to plan, and the occasional doubt crept in, but even after getting a hammering at College, first by the early fishmeals and then by the Tiger Nut Kids (more of whom later) I still managed to get my share by sticking it out on the bait.

It’s been a fascinating and curious journey for me through this maze of scientific jargon, gobbledygook and hard fact. Without Tim’s help I’d have given in long ago. Quite why it was that he took me under his wing I’ll never know but I’m really grateful that he did. I’ll never forget a line in one of his letters:

“You are understanding because your questions are satisfying ones from my point of view. . . you are THINKING!”

That letter came at a time when I was about to give up; I thought I was going round in circles and the obvious consequence was not far off. It filled me with new enthusiasm and set me back to work again. There must be many who are following similar trials and tribulations in their own bait development and all I can say is that you must really BELIEVE that you are doing it right. It is not essential that you even understand the full mechanics of the theory (though it helps). What you must have is faith either in what you are doing or in the printed word of those who have put themselves out to try to explain the workings of their minds in terms that you can understand.

Footnote 2015.

Many will see errors and inaccuracies in this piece, which I freely acknowledge. Indeed, my naivety shines through in places, but things change, knowledge grows, but carp fishing goes on in its restless search for perfection.

So what have we learned in these intervening years? Well in the cold light of day I will readily admit that none of us really knew what we were doing! In theory protein digesting enzymes do work, hence the widespread use of pre-digested fishmeals today, but back then we were really grasping at straws. Protein-splitting enzymes are complex chemicals that require that the most stringent parameters be met before the reaction they are designed to initiate - the splitting of protein chains into peptides - can begin. This reaction is best started in the sterile and controlled environment of a laboratory. How we expected to generate the same reaction in the far from ideal conditions found in the average kitchen is beyond me. Might well have asked us to split the atom with a knife and fork!

We were playing at science with no real grasp of how to either start, or just as important, to halt any reaction we might have achieved. If we did achieve one, it was purely coincidental.

That said, there is no doubt that at times we most definitely achieved the desired reaction and those baits really fizzed. It was a case of, don't put the rod down! It was significant that when on the rare occasions that we created an truly active bait (an vastly overused adjective these days!) action was more or less guaranteed.


You knew when the bait was hot when the frozen hookbait - yes we used hookbaits straight from the flask - was gone when we reeled in four hours later, softened to almost a mush by enzyme action one assumes. If only we could have done it more often!

Today only anglers with a genuine scientific knowledge continue to work with enzymes and even they don't get it right every time. When you consider that there are enzyme activated proteins available on the internet and in existing base mixes, ingredients of a known protein percentage, why bother messing about with a hit and miss attempt to perform the same reaction...more miss than hit, I should add!

Nowadays the used of fishmeal hydrolysates is commonplace and modern base mixes such as Big Fish Mix and Trigga have changed the whole dynamic of carp baits. This is just one of several forties I caught while using my own version of BFM that included the pre-dig that would be used in Trigga.

Back in the mid-80s Tim and Big Bill were definitely on the right track in trying to make a better carp bait using milk proteins. Of course little did they know at the time that a new concept in carp baits was just around the corner that would set the benchmark for all other carp baits to follow. Yes, deep in darkest Kent Premier baits were hatching a plot to dominate the carp world!

Without Tim's encouragement and the 30-year support from Bill and Co. at Nutrabaits I would never have been able to tread this happy path, nor caught the thousands of carp that time and effort and a little knowledge has brought. Thanks, mate.

Buy your fishing bait ingredients direct from Haith's

Written by Ken Townley


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