May 23, 2020 9 min read

Big or small baits?

Paul Brown:

With so many different baits available on the market these days, it can be a bit of a minefield in making a decision over what to use. 

There are so many angles we could take on this subject but I'm going to start with boilies, but will lead onto the use of other things. 

For the first 15 years of my angling I was predominantly a boilie angler, and loved using baits of around 18/20mm. 

I thought there were a fair few advantages to this approach. At the time I believed it made the fish easier to catch with the theory of the fish having to move in between baits would help with rig mechanics. 

In situations where the venue would have big clear areas rather than small spots on the lake bed it meant that casting accuracy wasn't quite as important, and as long as I got a drop I was happy as I would spread the bait out over an area, ideally with a catapult or throwing stick at longer ranges. 

A very important factor to consider is the levels of other species present in the lake; on the large reservoirs I used to fish there was a very big head of big roach and small bream so anything other than this approach generally involved a frustrating trip and a lot of recasting. 

My rig choice was also consistent with this approach, favouring the blowback rig with a snowman set up wherever possible, only reverting to pop up rigs (stiff hinge) if the situation required it. 

This approach had served me well for such a long time that I never felt the need to change it, until I started to fish gin clear pressured circuit waters such as the bluebell complex. 

On one of my first trips I remember watching some fish in the margins, I threw a handful of 18mm baits on a clear area when the fish had drifted off, a few minutes later the fish came back in, and had blatantly seen the boilies on the spot, they backed up then turned around, swam off and didn’t come back, those boilies were still sat in the same place 24 hours later. 

I can't help but feel that a 10mm bait or handful of corn would have been much better in that situation but hindsight is always a wonderful thing and learning from mistakes is a big part of angling.

After a few blanks I then knew that this type of venue was going to require a different approach, I figured the fish had seen the big boilie approach day in day out for a very long time and clearly viewed them as dangerous in my opinion and I felt that even though there's going to be days when it will work, I won't catch as many fish consistently. 

The other big factor in choosing this approach with this type of venue is the weed, there's generally not large clear areas so being decent at feature finding and being able to accurately fish with 2 or 3 rods and bait up these small spots had now become of paramount importance. 

Again these big baits wouldn’t sit up in the weed on the edges of the spot and would just be lost in the abyss, whereas particles and boilie crumb would hang in the top of the weed and catch the attention of any fish cruising over the spot. 

This approach made a massive difference to my angling, I'd always been fairly 1 dimensional up until then but persisting with this approach really helped to hone my skills regarding casting, and my accuracy at range just improved week in week out, along with my catch rate, rather than just nicking the odd fish I was starting to get multiple captures. 

I've caught on all manner of presentations with this baiting approach but my favourite 2 are the Ronnie and the slip D. 

I'll fish the Ronnie with either a 10mm pop up or fake corn, or the slip d with a dumbbell wafter or trimmed pop up to act as a wafter, I seem to lose very few fish and get clean hook holds on these setups. If you start to encounter issues as long as the hooks are sharp just lengthen or shorten the rig, a factor with seems to be overlooked a fair bit. 

That said there's still no one method for all occasions and it can also pay dividends to know what the vast majority of other anglers are using round the lake, for example if everyone’s spodding a lot of small bait then it’s worth trying something different as a lot of the time a break from what the fish see day in day out will trip them up. 

How many times have you heard things such as “spodding doesn’t work here mate”, you can guarantee if I heard that then that's the exact approach I would be employing. 

Things in carp fishing tend to go round in circles via the mainstream media, rigs and baits come in and out of fashion, but for me once I’ve found something that works consistently then if it isn’t broken there’s no need to fix it! 

Fish stocks in the lake are another factor, and this could lead to another debate of syndicate fishing versus day ticket lakes as I believe to be successful you have to sometimes adopt different styles. 

Getting back in the same swim on linear or bluebell would be nigh on impossible, but as the lakes are fairly well stocked if you can find the fish and an area to present the bait then you're in with a good chance. 

Conversely on syndicates as most of these are usually fairly low stock, it can be more of a case of training the fish to eat your bait and working the same swims over the course of the year, after plenty of blanks I soon realised that fishing a lower stocked syndicate in the same way I fish a well stocked day ticket lake just wasn’t the one! 

The last thing I want to cover is the depth and size of the lakes, I've had to tailor my mix to suit these conditions as on a big pit which is around 15-20foot deep in windy conditions there will be a lot of separation in the spod mix, in this scenario I'd use just 10mm boilie, maize and 8/10mm pellet, that way all the items are a similar size and will sink fairly uniformly. 

So to summarise, the situations I'd use bigger baits would be: 

  • Plenty of other species present
  • Big open silty areas rather than small spots
  • Lakes with not too much angling pressure
  • Fishing a boilie only approach

  • Vast majority of people are using small baits 

Situations for smaller baits: 

  • Plenty of weed present and small clear areas

  • Clear water and heavily pressured fish

  • Using alongside other baits such as particle, pellet etc.
  • If nobody on your lake is spodding
  • Day ticket lakes 

Obviously the above is purely my opinion and I'm sure there would be plenty of anglers that would agree and disagree with it, but there's nothing wrong with a friendly debate! 

A couple of examples of the 2 approaches would be top anglers such as Simon Crow and Kevin Hewitt, who are both extremely successful anglers but are poles apart approach wise. 

Simon has enjoyed lots of success fishing a big boilie only approach, whereas Kevin Hewitt really helped to popularise the hemp, corn and 10mm boilie approach and his success is extremely well documented 

Essentially you have to fish to your strengths, there's no right or wrong methods but it's all about being confident in your approach, with the 2 mentioned anglers it's proof that with fishing there's sometimes more than one way to skin a cat! 

That could lead onto other discussions like do you fish 3 rods on the same spot or 3 rods on 3 different spots or how do you know how much bait to put in? 

Callum Sharps:

I’d like to start by thanking Paul for bringing up some brilliant points about big or small baits and I’m going to add a little of my own input on this subject. I will also look to answer his question about fishing all of my rods on the same spot or on different areas.

I agree with Paul that there is a time and a place for each of the options and it is all dependant on things such as venue choice, weather conditions and stock levels.

Over the last few years most of my fishing has been on 2 club waters, the first of which is a relatively heavily stocked lake with an average size of mid doubles. It is a shallow lake and in the summer the weed grows to cover large areas which means you either have to fish to the clear areas, create your own using a rake or by baiting heavily with smaller food items such as Hinders Munga. This brings not only the carp but also the birds and smaller “nuisance fish” in to clear the area for you and can be very effective at tricking the bigger carp into picking up your hookbait. 

Even when fishing to existing clear areas I would opt for smaller particle based mixes with chopped or 10mm boilies. I fished as tight as possible to try and get the fish competing. By using these small baits the Roach, Rudd and Tench would feed and this would in turn attract the carp on to the spot. Luckily this lake had no bream so as long as I used a rig that would reset itself, “nuisance species” caused me no problems and probably increased my catch rate.

When fishing with these smaller particle type baits I would fish all my rods on the same spot and bait as tightly and accurately as possible, this is because the fish don't move around as much when feeding on this type of bait. They generally sit with their mouths right on the bottom sucking up all the food items so I want my hookbaits as close as possible to where they are going to be.

The only time I would consider not fishing my rods on the same spot on a lake like this is in the depths of winter when the fish are not eating as much or giving away their positions as easily. I would then spread the rods on either singles or small pva bags until I found some fish.

The second lake is a low stocked with crystal clear deep water and thick weed beds. The average size was low 20’s. Coming off the back of 2 successful years on the first lake, I tried to use the same tactic of baiting with small particles and fishing both rods on the same spot. This lake has a large head of bream which made this almost impossible. Even the smaller bream were having no problem picking up my rigs and small hookbaits. I persevered for a while thinking that if the bream were eating the bait, eventually so would the carp.

Another thing I didn't take into account was that having 2 lines going into my area in the super clear water would more than likely spook these wary carp.  After around 10 nights with no carp and plenty of bream I realised I was going to have to change tactics.

I spoke with Steve who managed to supply me with some of the C-Food boilies that we were testing in the larger sized dumbells. I still used a small amount of particles but my spod mix was predominantly whole and chopped boilies now with both rods fished on different spots, halving my chances of spooking the carp.

Almost instantly I started catching, with 2 carp each session for 3 weekends in a row and I am 100% sure that it was from spreading my rods out and also adjusting my spod mix to include a lot more boilie. I still caught the odd bream but the larger dumbells made it harder for them to get the bait in their mouths. 

In general, If i was fishing heavily stocked lakes like the Linear Fisheries complex I would fish all my rods as close as possible and bait tightly. On the lower stocked pits I would either fish separate spots or spread the bait and rods over a much larger area; mainly so that my lines would not spook these often wary fish. This tactic is perfect for the boilie approach as the fish move around picking up each individual boilie before moving off in search of more.

I know that carp fishing is all about having confidence in what you are doing and as Paul mentioned, fishing to your strengths. It is down to personal preference and adapting to the situation at hand.

I suggest these tactics may differ depending on the lake’s topography. I know some of our consultants have fished some interesting venues in their time and would be interested in hearing people's views on some of the infamous venues they target. Whats more, I would be particularly interested in people's views on fishing in weed and clear spots. Any preferences and do approaches change in regards to baiting when targeting these areas?