Debunking the Myth: Robin Red vs. Carophyll Red in Fishing

Debunking the Myth: Robin Red vs. Carophyll Red in Fishing

Tuesday, 28th September 2010

Since it was ‘discovered’ by a certain carp angler in Kent way back in the late 60s Robin Red® has probably been the most widely used, most talked about, and most copied carp bait ingredient in the history of carp fishing. This astonishing little product is now used throughout the carp world in base mixes both commercial and home-rolled, and it shows no sign of letting go of its strangle hold on the carp bait industry.

Robin Red in a bag.

Virtually every commercial bait-making enterprise in the carp world has at least one Robin Red®-based mix on its books and I would imagine that any base mix with the word ‘red’ in its title contains Robin Red®. (Incidentally, while the manufacturers, Haith's® of Grimsby Ltd and delighted that it sells so well to the angling trade, this is in fact pure serendipity! Believe it or not many of you will be astonished to know that Robin Red® it is not a purpose-designed carp bait ingredient but is actually intended to aid and boost the colours of the plumage of show birds like canaries. The fact that carp and other coarse fish like it so much is sheer coincidence!)

The optimum level for inclusion of this birdfood is 10% but it can be used effectively at both double and at half this level. Go any higher or lower and you run the risk of overpowering the mix (or under powering it!). Most of the bait firms use around the optimum level of 10%, and they are quite right to do so. You see, at levels higher than 10% the overall cost of the mix would increase exponentially, while at less than 5% it would be ineffective. Now no bait firm wants to either a) over-price its goods, or b) render those same goods ineffective, so a 10% inclusion rate is the watchword for both the bait firms and the home-made bait makers alike.

It is true that there may be some bait firms out there who are using copies of Robin Red®. Sadly there is not much anyone can do about this other than to ask that the bait companies list their ingredients on their packaging, like Nutrabaits. However, as carp bait is not human food there is no legislation (nor should there be) to force bait companies to disclose either their ingredients or the level at which they use them…and who can blame them! That said, I think that anyone who advertises that a base mix includes the trademarked ingredient Robin Red® should ensure that this is actually the case and that it is included at the optimum level.

As far as I know, nobody outside Haith's® knows the recipe for Robin Red®, despite what they may claim. They may have a general idea of what goes into it, but they don’t know the exact ingredients or the proportions at which they are included.

In many cases they may even be very wide of the mark. Take, for instance, the widely held belief that Robin Red® included a synthetic colouring agent called Carophyll Red™. Though this widely held and much propagated ‘fact’ has existed for many, many years, the fact is that apparently Robin Red® does not now nor ever has contained Carophyll Red™!

So how did this myth come about? Well, I cannot be certain but I have a pretty good idea…Firstly can I ask anyone with a copy of Rod's book, 'The Carp Strikes Back’ to refer to page 129 and then read it from top to bottom. I think thereafter a lot of you will then realise how this whole misconception came about. For those of you without a copy I will use scans to illustrate the more relevant bits.

An exert from 'The Carp Strikes Back'.

This, I believe, is the origin of the myth. In the text you will see that Rod refers to a product which he calls “Robin Red® (Ready-Mixed)”, the implication being that this is a "ready mixed" Robin Red®. Then at the end of that same paragraph he states, "I'm told that the ready-mixed Robin Red® is best substituted by the concentrated form in a boiled bait." Unfortunately Rod made a basic error that has since been made by scores of angling writers down the years following the appearance of Rod’s book, myself very much included I should add.

Why is it an error? Well, you see, Robin Red® is a stand-alone product with its own unique recipe. The confusion arises when Rod misnames the similar product Ready-Mix™ Colour Food as, quote: “Robin Red® (Ready Mixed)”…there just ain’t no such animal!

Ready-Mix™ Colour Food is a totally different product with a very different recipe to Robin Red. One thing it most definitely is not is a diluted ready mixed Robin Red or any other type of birdfood come to that. Yes, until quite recently the Ready Mix™ did indeed contain Carophyll Red™, but it does not now. However, and here's where the confusion arose, Ready-Mix™ does in fact contain a small amount of Robin Red® in the overall recipe.

Old pricelist with blue printed text.

I think this scan of an old price list may explain how Rod and those who were so strongly influenced by him (myself, Tim Paisley, Geoff Kemp, Julian Cundiff, Martin Kowal, Bill Cottam and many, many more) got it wrong. In this photo look in the centre where you will see a section called Haith's® Colour Foods. As you can see, Robin Red® is listed as a totally different product to the Ready-Mix™, while the two Carophylls are listed separately.

Cover of Haith's 1986 catalogue - seeds making up print and image of a bird.

This is the cover of a 1986 Haith's® catalogue.

Text describing millet sprays, softbill food and colouring agents for birds.

And this is a scan of one of the inside pages. Again the same grounds for possible for confusion can be seen.

Page exert discussing Robin Red and Carophyll.

Now to compound the error...Here on the same page of ‘The Carp Strikes Back’ Rod describes his experiments to identify what it is in Robin Red® that makes it so effective and states,

"This (Carophyll) is a synthetic vitamin that colours the plumage of birds and is found in all the Robin Red® range.”

Simply put, this statement was wrong and what is more, Rod has since acknowledged this fact.

Carophyll Red™ was not then and is not now present in the product called Robin Red® (though it was at the time included in the one called Ready-Mix™ Colour Food).

It says much for the influence that Rod had upon the carp world at that time, and the fact that we worshiped the ground he walked on, that so many writers who wrote about Robin Red® subsequently, compounded the original error, wrongly saying that Robin Red® did contain Carophyll, when in fact it did not. I was as guilty as the next man and feel bad about misleading so many...But I was not alone!

Of course the Kent lads who had originally discovered Robin Red® back in the late 60s and early 70s (like Ian Booker, for instance) knew full well that Rod had made a mistake but remember, this was a time of incredible bait secrecy and nobody was going to come out and correct him.

Man holding carp on the front of 1984-1985 Tackle and Bait Catalogue.

It should be noted that even while Rod continued to use Robin Red® in his base mixes, he never again mentioned it by name in his catalogues. The names Robin Red® or Ready-Mix™ do not appear in these catalogues, for instance. It was only then the magazine-style Carpscene came out that he felt confident enough to mention the product again but by then Robin Red was not associated by Rod with Carophyll Red™.

So just to make things clear…Robin Red® does not now, nor has it ever contained Carophyll Red™. On the other hand Ready-Mix™ Colour Food did once contain Carophyll Red™, but does not now. (Incidentally, the reason Haith's® no longer mixes Carophyll in any of their cage and aviary blends is due to the inherent dangers involved in the use of this synthetic chemical during the mixing process.) The bait trade and well-informed home rollers have been using Ready-Mix™ Colour Food for ages. Confused? You should be…every bugger else in the carp world has been.

Ken holding a large carp, in a sunny spot.

As for whether Carophyll Red™ was or still is, the “missing link” ingredient that so many believe is debateable. It may be, and then again it may not! There is some evidence to suggest that it might be, but many bait buffs believe that Robin Red® is successful not because of Carophyll, but in spite of it! That said, I once caught the same 40lb common three times in ten days on Big Fish Mix, a bait that contains Robin Red® so I am as uncertain as anyone!

Small bags of Haith's Robin Red and Ready Mixed Colour Food.

Finally please note the difference in colour between these two entirely separate and different Haith's® products. Note also that although it states to the contrary in this photo, ready Mixed Colour Food no longer contains Carophyll Red™.

Ken in water, holding a carp with a large stomach.

I began using Robin Red® in about 1968 or ’69 when I first heard of it. At that time I was living in Kent, that hot bed of carp fishing development so it was not surprising that eventually the name of this apparently ‘magical ingredient came to my ears. At the time I cared not one jot or iota if it contained Carophyll Red™ or not: all I knew was that there was something in the red stuff that made it highly attractive to carp, and I have used it on and off in my carp baits ever since. This big mirror was caught on Trigga with added Robin Red® nearly 40 years after I first used the magical ‘Red Stuff’!

Think I’ll go and lie down now as my brain hurts!

Written by Ken Townley

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