Big Hit Dreaming
“Every now and then you have a session that will live in your memory forever, and this was one of mine. I was on a fabulous venue, and everything just came together. The weather was horrible for a holiday, but perfect for fishing, and the fish got their heads down. I had the gear, the bait and was there at the right time… What more can you ask for?”
Having a “Big Hit” is probably something we all dream of. Having the session of your dreams is a combination of luck and good planning.
So what can you do to give yourself an edge, so that when your chance of a big hit comes along you are ready for it?
Over the years I’ve session fished a lot, both in this country and abroad, so by now I reckon I’ve made most of the mistakes it is possible to make and hopefully learnt from them.
Before the trip.
No two waters are the same, so your tactics might have to change accordingly. If you are a long way from home, the chances are you will not be able to make significant changes to what you had planned to do. Make yourself a list of what you need to know, and do your utmost to get the answers. Find out about stocking density, angling pressure, angling history, successful tactics in the past, etc... get as much back-up info as you can. The reality is however that second hand knowledge is never as good as first hand, so these days my usual approach is to make my initial choice of water very carefully, then plan to visit it more than once. That way you can use the first trip as a “reconnaissance mission”, fill in the knowledge gaps and have a better idea of what to do on future visits.
2) Bait Organisation...
I’ve recounted this experience many times, but it’s worth repeating here. Years ago on one of my first trips abroad, Bill Cottam and I were fishing a Dutch canal. The carp we were targeting were known to travel up and down the canal, our job was to stop them, and keep them in front of us, so we could catch them. We decided that a lot of hemp would be a good starting point. How wrong could we be? The weather for the week was horrible, basically it was cold and wet, often very wet. We had sacks of hemp, as the mainstay of our baiting strategy, but found it impossible to prepare on the bank, in the cold and wet conditions. Soaking them was fine, but boiling up and simmering a nightmare. We caught some fish, as they passed by us, but we never got on top of the session, because we never got on top of the bait preparation.
Whatever baits you select for your session you need to ask yourself can you transport, store, and prepare your bait for the full session. I organise by the day, and bag my bait accordingly. If I’m there for a week and want to main bait, with boilies, every evening and top up mornings, I’ll have 14 bags bagged up and labelled. The same with particles and pellets. This way I know that on the last day I will have the right amount of bait to stick to my game plan.
3) Bait Quality...
It never fails to amaze me, how many anglers spend a fortune on tackle, and economize on bait. If you’ve ever been to some of the big angling shows you can see stands selling buckets of old bait, mixed end of ranges, assorted sizes/flavours etc. One year I was working on a stand for one of the top bait firms and at the end of the day some guy came to the stand with a large carrier bag and asked if he could have what was left in the part used demo bags. When we said yes he went along the stand emptying the contents of various bags, some of which had been open for several days and had been handled by dozens of visitors, into the carrier bag. When we asked him what he would be doing with it, he said he needed as much bait as he could get as he was going on a holiday to France, and he’d been told to bring as much bait as he could.
Any old bait might catch you a few fish, but it won’t give you the big hit you dream of. I strongly believe, based on years of experience, that fish can very quickly identify a food source that is good for them, and when they do, they will continue to exploit it, even if it means some of them get caught. On more than one occasion I’ve had the same fish twice in the session. To achieve this sort of preoccupation you need to have a good bait, that the fish get used to finding.
4) Bait Type...
For most of my long session fishing I rely on a three pronged baiting strategy, which is a combination of boilies, pellets, and particles.
a) Boilies... My main bait is almost always boilies, and generally I prefer a combination of Frozen and Shelf life. Usually in the ration 4 to 1, frozen to shelf life. If the water I’m fishing does not have bait storage facilities ie a bait freezer, then I will use air dried baits instead of the frozen. For the last few years my number one choice of freezer bait for all my session fishing has been Nutrabaits, Trigga Ice ATS. Fish love it, it has worked on a wide variety of waters, and it doesn’t go off quickly once thawed out. I take a range of sizes usually 14’s, 16’s and 18’s. I like to feed a swim with different sizes, I think this encourages fish activity in the swim and it makes it harder for a fish to sort out a hook-bait from a free bait.
b) Pellets... Pellets are a brilliant addition to any baiting strategy. I like to mix pellet combo’s so that I can increase the attraction and holding power still further. My normal combination has three or four types of pellets in it, chosen for their attraction and different breakdown rates. My top three would be 1)Trigga Ice pellets (large size), they don’t break down in the water too quickly so reasonably small fish proof and they reinforce the smell of the boilies I’m using. 2) CSL Pellets, quickly break down to a “mush” providing great holding power as the “mush” is difficult for fish to clear up. 3) Hinders Slicker pellets, give off a real flavour slick in the water, a very high attraction pellet. The possible fourth will depend on the water being fished. Some lakes sell pellets and/or supplement the food supply in the lake by feeding the fish over winter etc. If this is the case then I always put some of the lake’s own pellets in my pellet combo. Something familiar cannot do any harm.
c) Particles... There is a huge range of particles available these days, so how do you go about selecting which ones to take with you? Hemp, Maize, Tigers, are all brilliant, but ask yourself can you keep on top of the preparation. Many years ago Bill Cottam and I started to use a pellet combination, that I have since used for dozens of trips. I have total confidence in it and cannot recommend it to highly. After our baiting disaster in Holland we wanted a particle mix that combined attraction, holding power, and ease of preparation. We came up with a mix of three particles. 1) Flaked Maize... light in colour, large surface area, so brilliant over silt etc. 2) Groats... a superb carrier of flavour as it soaks up loads of liquid. 3) Partiblend... loads of very tiny seeds so great for keeping the fish occupied and in the swim. To make it even more effective we added loads of attraction to the liquid we soaked the particles in. It is very easy to prepare, just three quarter fill a bait tub with the particle mix, add your chosen attractors, top up the tub with lake water making sure you well cover the particles, and give it all a good stir. Leave for twenty four hours. It’s as easy as that. If you want to give this particle mix a try Hinders actually sell it ready mixed and bagged for you under the title “French Mix”. When it comes to the liquid attractors you add to the tub, two have been particularly good, evaporated milk and Nutrabaits Multimino, but I’m sure many others would also work well. Prepared properly the “French Mix” is a brilliant part of any baiting strategy, it fills the swim with a milky cloud of flavour, providing thousands of tiny food items that attract and stimulate feeding without filling up. Take two bait tubs with you and one can be soaking, whilst you use the other etc. It’s an easy routine, that you can maintain throughout the session. In the colder months you can speed the preparation time up by using hot water or take a third bait tub and work prepare two days ahead... Easy!
If you are fishing running water, or very deep lakes and you want to get the mix down to the bottom a bit more quickly, it can be thickened up very easily with a good quality groundbait.
During the trip.
How about this for a sweeping statement? You need the confidence to show restraint and the organisation to be consistent. Impressive eh! So let’s have a closer look at the four key words.
1) Confidence... Once you have decided on your tactics it is important to have the confidence to give them every chance to work. Some of the sessions where I have had big hits, have started slowly and “improved” as the fish have got more used to the baiting situation. You will be very lucky if it kicks in straight away. It can often be three or four days before you really see the benefits of regular baiting with a quality bait, and it has often been my experience that the bigger fish come later in the session. If you have lost your confidence early on, get impatient, moved areas, changed bait, not bothered to bait up, etc. you could never get to the big hit stage. Fish can be “conditioned” to a baiting situation in a relatively short period of time provided you stick with it.
2) Restraint... As part of the waiting process it can be a good idea to “take it easy” for the first couple of days. Be patient, don’t thrash the water to a foam recasting too often etc. let the swim build up. I often take it a stage further, and wind in for a while most days. Not fishing freshens me up, and gives the fish chance to relax and get their heads down. If you are on a busy day ticket type water this is less important, or not viable, as other anglers will still be fishing and interfere with the resting theory, but if you are in a position to rest an area it can be worth thinking about.
3) Organisation... It is so easy to relax and let the day drift by. I like session fishing because it suits my mentality. I find it easy to back up the pre trip organisation, with daily routines, making sure the next tub of French Mix is in soak, the next day’s frozen boilies is out of the freezer and defrosting etc.
4) Consistent... I’m a great believer that fish will quickly learn to exploit a food source so I do my best to make sure it is there ready for them. My normal routine is evening main bait up, late morning top up. I go for late morning, rather than first light as my favourite fishing time is early morning and I don’t want to disturb the swim unnecessarily, when the fish could already be settled and feeding in the swim. The same goes for re-casting. I don’t re-cast rods early morning unless they have been disturbed overnight.
The Big Hit Check List
Pick your water carefully then stick with it.
Organise carefully, on a day to day basis, leave nothing to chance.
Use the best quality bait you can afford.
Use a bait combination that will attract, hold, and encourage feeding.
Give your baiting strategy time to work.
Get into a routine.
Rest the swim from time to time.
Remember that not every session can be a big hit, some parts of the equation are outside your control … there’s always next time.
Good luck, and make sure you have plenty of camera batteries!