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Boilie is a rather inadequate word and a bit of history.

Posted by Shaun Harrison on 3 July 2017 |

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IMG 6952Good old Fred Wilton, he certainly has a lot to answer for in the boilie world with his first few articles on the subject of producing a food parcel that would fully match a carps food requirement and all wrapped up in a tough skin that would be difficult for the nuisance fish to be able to eat.

These first appeared in 1972 in an article in the British Carp Study Group magazine ‘The Carp’ and reproduced in the Third British Carp Study Group Book.
z1I guess it is fair to say that most reading this when they think of the word ‘bait’ their mind automatically conjures up an image of boilies.

The word boilie, like the word bait, is now such an ineffective word for describing such a vast subject covering a massive spectrum of different scenarios.  I won’t patronise you by describing what a boilie is here but will give a little insight into the different types of boilie which all tend to get dragged under the one name but are so very different.  So very different in as much as expecting the word ‘dinner’ to describe every type of meal we may sit down to eat.

It is always very difficult knowing what type of audience to pitch this sort of article towards. There are some brilliant long term carp anglers around to-day who have never had to worry about bait as it has always in their angling lifetime been available to purchase ready produced. So, why would they ever have had to worry about if an ingredient will work or not, if it will deem another ingredient useless, if it will improve another ingredient, if it will alter the digestion of the bait, or indeed what an ingredient will do in terms of assisting or messing the rolling process up?

I guess I am extremely fortunate in having a very active interest in bait and bait formulation for many years. I was experimenting with and producing my own baits in the 1970’s before most of the commonly used ingredients were being talked about and certainly before it was easy to purchase a lot of the ingredients that became ‘normal carp bait ingredients’ in the carp angling popularity boost years of the 1980’s. Would be bait/boilie producers coming into bait making in this day and age are faced with an absolute minefield of differing ingredient possibilities and I can’t help but think most of these are, I guess, basing their baits on the large part on the formulations and experiments that were going on 30 plus years ago.

I am glad I was in it from what is generally considered the start of the home bait making revolution, where the words on the lips of the time were Specials, High Protein and by the mid 1980’s High Nutritional Value and Animal and Fish Protein boilies were the main talk. By the end of the 80’s we started to see ‘Flavour carrier baits, High Attract Baits and so the story went on. I must say that the boilie world in my opinion appears to have stagnated a little with very little in the way of giant leaps forward in experimentation that we were seeing in the 80’s despite more and more interesting things becoming available and available for use in the food industry.

IMG 7069Those of us who have been around a long while have ingredient combinations, enhancers, stimulants etc that will work for ever more. Those coming into it in recent years have so much at their disposal through the modern means. Anyone can do a bit of a search on their computer and come up with all sorts of bait recipes which will catch fish but I must admit there is very little I ever see about what can only be called the ‘extra special added extras’ which will turn a very good bait into an exceptional one. Those ‘extra special’ bits that the experimenting bait person only stumbles across a few times in their life time (if they are incredibly lucky). Understandably, said bait maker will keep these very special things extremely close to their chests. It is a very competitive world out there to go offering a lifetimes work on a plate.

Well, with a tiny bit of history out of the way let me now move things forward a little and try and break down the word boilie into a few more useful and more descriptive sub-categories. For the subject of bait could take up a whole Encyclopaedic run let alone one small article.

So, the following is how I see the word boilie broken down into easy to understand types.

High protein
Fish and Animal Meal
Bird Food
Made to a price flavour carriers

Now we have  basic categories and all four of these could be broken down even further but for simplicity sake I will jot down and run through a few of my personal view on these sub categories.

High Protein

This one will be a difficult one to write about for fear of upsetting a lot of ‘old school’ types but I must write it very much as I see it myself after spending a lot of time trying to make baits higher and higher in protein content.

Although Fred Wilton was writing about and championing the use of high in protein milk products such as Casein, Lactalbumin and Calcium Caseinate in the early 70’s it is only right to say that most anglers weren’t really starting to experiment with these ingredients until the late 70’s and early 80’s. The first time I saw them on offer to anglers direct was when Bait 78 first formed. No prizes for guessing when this was! It was then easy for anyone to order a lot of the ingredients they had only previously heard whispered mention of.

007 4By the Mid-80’s most anglers rolling their own boilies were producing high protein/milk protein baits which would generally contain many common denominators such as Casein, Lactalbumin, Sodium and Calcium Caseinate, various milk replacers, egg powders  and flours.

On the whole the carp had hardly seen anything in the way of boilies back then, most combinations would work great so long as you didn’t get too carried away with ruining good food by adding too much in the way of artificial flavours.

Keen pioneering anglers will always strive for an edge and naturally try and progress things much further and the obvious route to follow was to make the baits as high in protein as was physically possible. Anglers were talking of the carps powers of nutritional recognition and like so many things in angling if it is repeated often enough then it becomes folk lore.

I must admit I went down this route a long way and being in the position of feeling I had a good understanding of actual ingredients having been using them from their beginnings (well being easily accessible to the humble angler anyway). I had learned what effect each ingredient would have in a bait one at a time without having several thousand ingredients dumped in front of me to suddenly have to learn about in one go.

The bait gurus of the time who were writing a lot about bait had me hanging onto their every word and I must admit I was slightly brainwashed into taking a lot of the suggestions as to what was happening as gospel. I read between the lines that the higher in protein I could make my baits the better they would become. I started to source real high protein ingredients and soon Collagen at 97% protein was added to my 95% protein Caseins and Caseinates along with the 88% Lactalbumin and 90% protein Soya Isolate. I reduced the quantity of my usual flours and meals to keep the protein content sky high and guess what?

Yes, my catches deteriorated. I put it down to a bad batch of casein, I blamed it on all sorts of things, for how could this type of bait I had read so much into, be so wrong?
IMG 7751
I free wheeled for a while and fortunately due to the cost of the milk protein baits I was using I still used to often fish particles on one rod (or both when I couldn’t afford the ingredients) and I would catch carp!

I guess it should have sunk in then but it didn’t. I was catching carp on the milk protein baits but not in the numbers I perhaps should have been doing.  It is all so easy to become brain washed. It wasn’t until I was desperate for boilies in a time when I couldn’t afford to be producing my normal ones that I finally made the step which was to change my whole outlook on carp bait.
It was a brilliant coincidence, for at this same time I happened to walk through a room where a television was on and heard the immortal and for me, life changing words...

“High protein diets binds the insides of animals up as protein takes longer to digest”.

To this day I haven’t a clue what was on the TV but those words suddenly lit a light in my head. Could this be the case with fish as well? Are we all feeding them food they are struggling to digest thus not needing to feed nearly as much as they used to?

I only had a small amount of my ultra high protein Milk Protein base mix left so bulked it out with a couple of low protein ingredients. Looking back in the old bait diaries I simply added 10oz of Semolina and 10oz of Soya Flour to my last remaining 10oz of protein mix. Never did I realise at the time, just how much this was going to turn my angling around.

First trip out I caught well, which said nothing about the increased digestibility of the bait as they didn’t really have time to digest it to see the results, but somehow or other, this greatly reduced protein bait seemed more attractive to the carp than the bait that we were all convinced should have been.

Further experiments did show that the inclusion of the lower protein ingredients had allowed a quicker seepage of flavour/attraction/stimulation out of the bait.

Subsequent session in what was the Autumn leading into winter and the indicators were flying left right and centre. I was now experimenting with a lot of ingredients I hadn’t used in the past as I had been initially put off by their lower protein value. Some of the breakfast cereals I was grinding up by this stage were superb ingredients, particularly some of the mixed muesli type products. I was soon well away from the simple soya flour and semolina combination I had first diluted my protein base with.
Andy Little CopyThe more I expanded my mind and the more I looked at the dietary requirements of carp, the more obvious it became to me that the high protein route certainly didn’t seem to be the best route in terms of offering the carp a balanced meal, that it not only really wanted to eat, but would suffer no side effects other than growth by doing so.

I put my head on the line in the 80’s by daring to say I felt many had got it wrong in their experiments to make ‘the ultimate carp bait’ (it will never exist) by going along the highest protein is best route.

The work had already been done on this by people much better educated in fish food nutrition. Check out your average carp pellet manufactured originally and solely for the fish farmers (before anglers cottoned onto the fact that most stocked carp saw them as natural food) to grow the carp on at a good healthy rate – protein content around 40%!

So, without taking much more space up I think it is obvious where my mind stands on high protein carp baits.

They are expensive, they give the carp digestion problems, you are much more limited in the ingredients you can use and the carp can’t benefit from that excess in protein, so a lot of it will be wasted anyway. A decent milk protein bait is still a superb bait, but for me they are greatly enhanced by the addition of a few other bits and pieces.

Fish and Animal Meal

The whole of the carp angling world owes so very much to the legendary Rod Hutchinson. He pioneered particle bait and seed fishing as well as the type of boilie so many anglers use these days. In my mind it was the great thinking man himself who first started championing the use of fish meal ingredients in boilie recipes. I guess living close to Grimsby Docks he had great access at the time to all sorts of fish product and with his unique and inquiring mind you can be sure he would have exploited this to the full.

These days a lot of bait companies are forced into buying very similar blended fish meal products to each other due to the rape of the seas and the physical shortage of fish available to turn into fish meal. With so many pet owners around these days and the pet food trade being such a huge industry, even the largest bait companies are tiny in comparison to them so struggle to get much of a shout over what is available at a cost effective price. But, back in the day Rod was buying separate ingredients and blending them into his mixes himself. Things like Sand Eel, Mackerel, Capelin, Sardine, Anchovy, Shrimp, White Fish meals and Codlevine which is derived from fish offal.

Fish meal based baits have become almost standard these days with so many of them being offered and form a pretty cheap way of producing a balanced food type bait. There are still lots of different fish meals to choose from and the obvious ‘bulk fish’ that you see so much of in various forms around the world such as Salmon, Tuna and general blended white fish are all quite affordable ingredients. It sickens me in this day and age that we still have millions of tonnes of waste sea food and fish tipped back into the sea because they don’t come up to size legislation. Surely this could be turned into very useable fish meal for many different trades and slacken the strain on the allowed size fish stock? Anyway, that one is a different matter and hopefully it will one day be sorted. Now is not the time for me to climb upon my soap box.

Unlike the high protein baits above I can’t give you a long history of my fish meal usage as I have hardly used them in my own angling. This surprises so many as like I say, it seems to be the main type of bait used these days so I would rather leave it to someone with a good in depth knowledge who can pass some extra information on to cover these.

It is because I felt it difficult to be ‘very’ different with fish meal based food baits that I have never produced many. I have a couple that work incredibly well in my armour particularly in the warmer months but further progression with these I have never felt the need to mess around ‘improving’. I have always strived to be different in my approach to angling and try and rule out as many common denominators used by others.

Many follow the baiting team strategy where several get onto the same bait in an effort to domineer a water with the one bait. I have never gone down this route, despite several trying to talk me into it. I’m quite happy being in control of my own bait and have certainly never been in a position where I have felt I can’t compete by being different. But I guess, every person to them self.

I must admit to having a personal stumbling block with fish based baits in my head and is something that used to be a much bigger problem than it tends to be these days as more bait makers have started to become more educated in looking at what the bait is actually doing to the fish rather than if it will catch or not.

I need to be careful what I write now as it is certainly not a dig at anyone in particular and hopefully most companies have now cleaned their act up with the excessive abuse of fish oils which used to appear to go hand in hand with fish meal based baits when they really started to be used heavily on lots of waters through the 90’s. It was the accepted thing then to lace the baits up with bulk oils, mainly at the time Cod oil and Salmon oil being the most widely used. The catches made were astounding through the summer months and the carp appeared to be doing well with growth rates.

But, feed your family a lot of bulk oily food and they will also grow much larger at a much faster rate than they have before but hopefully, you see when put into human terms it suddenly hits home how unhealthy this was/is for the carp. They were simply building fat tissue and putting weight on rather than actual structural bone growth.

This is obviously a very unhealthy type of weight gain and puts a lot more pressure on the carps vital organs which like us will result in an early death. Some minor ailment they/we can survive when fitter can suddenly turn them/you over.  

Unfortunately, like us, carp like fatty foods but it wasn’t long before I noticed that the lakes which had been subjected to the high oil diets suddenly stopped producing carp in the numbers that they had before in the winter.

The carp were bulked up on stored fat and had little need to feed as much as previous winters. Not only that but because the anglers had done so well on their baits through the summer months it was difficult for them not to continue using them through the colder months, little realising that all of that attractive oil of the summer, would now be congealing inside the bait and have very little effective pulling power, not to mention the horrendous problem a cold blooded creature will have digesting them when eaten.

Bad news all round but thankfully the message is getting through to most now. Fish meal baits are incredibly effective baits particularly in the warmer months and are perfectly safe in the winter when used in sensible amounts without lots of extra oil content. Fish meals are naturally oily in the first place.
What Hook do you use
Meat based baits are something I have experimented a lot with and have witnessed some truly exceptional feed responses from the carp. Liver powder in various forms is something used quite widely in carp baits but there are so many other things which seem to be very much over looked.

Liver products are available in so many different forms and it does make me smile when so called bait experts bragging about a brilliant liver product they have sourced.

My first response is usually along the lines of is it Pig, Cow, Lamb or a Chicken liver product? This is usually met with a totally blank expression and often a ‘I didn’t know there were different livers’ until they realise the silliness of what they have just said, then cover their backs with some waffle.

I went through a lot of different liver products before I stumbled across one that really triggered the carp.

The pet industry uses loads of meat based products and so many of these can be well worth investigating. Just watch the carp on floating dog biscuits to get an idea how special some of the meat additives can be.

This area in boilie production to me is the least exploited so if you are wanting to do things different from the norm then you wouldn’t go far wrong looking at a meat based bait.

We seem to have come away from this in favour of fish but just look how effective the humble luncheon meat has been over the years not to mention the more modern Pepperami /Salami type sticks - food for thought perhaps?

Bird Food

Now we are onto a favourite of mine and possibly the least understood section of boilies. So many times I hear reference to cheap bird food based baits, yet little could be further from the truth. Most of the well known bird food ingredients such as Robin Red,  Red Factor and Prosecto, will all cost you more than most fish meals on offer with things like Nectarblend, Egg Biscuit and PTX not being very far behind. I have only mentioned Haith’s products here as they tend to be the most well known in the carp side of things (once again thanks to Rod Hutchinson) although there are loads of different companies offering very similar products if you do a little research.

So , why are they a favourite of mine?

Again there is a massive choice out there. You can purchase separate ingredients or take some of the hassle and time out of it by purchasing one of the blends as mentioned above and treat as one ingredient.

Your recipe may look simple on paper but you could have oils, spices, seeds, ground nut, egg biscuit, dried insects, fish meal and so on depending which you choose. All of the bird food ingredients I have used, the Carp like. Quite simply they offer a great change in texture, they are all easily digested, even in cold conditions, can be blended into all the other types of bait listed above and they also allow the all important added attractants and stimulants to leak out of the bait quicker than most other ingredients commonly used in the bait game.
IMG 1575
Some of the ingredients such as Nectarblend, Red Factor and Egg Biscuit will allow you to drop your egg quantity if you so wish. This can be useful if you are trying to create a particularly acidic bait to stand out.

Most of the bird food ingredients are pretty subtle in their aroma which allows even the gentlest of attractors and essential oils to shine through without being overpowered by fish and meat smells.

Bird food based baits have for years been my number one choice when it comes down to winter fishing. I have said this often enough in the past and people have often misread what I have said and think that they are only suitable for winter use. Far from it, my most consistent all year round baits have been heavily based on bird food ingredients.

I see bird food based boilies as giving a great double whammy. You have an attractor bait, oozing out stimulation, but backed up by actual food ingredients too.
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Although you will and I have, caught plenty of fish on baits with very high percentages of bird food ingredients, my favourite way of using them really takes us into what could easily become another category and that being ‘Combination Baits’

Adding a blend of coarse textured bird food ingredients to the High protein/Milk protein baits and the fish Meal and animal Meal type baits in my mind improves them no-end.

Made to a price flavour carriers

Now this is a category that sadly so few anglers get past thus never get to see the incredible results some of the above mentioned boilies can achieve.

It is a simple matter of fact that boilie production, the actual mixing of ingredients, the extrusion and rolling and finally the boiling process is a costly business and there are a lot of companies out there that simply produce boilies to a price rather than to a quality.

The unfortunate thing though is that most boilies will look very similar to the casual observer but it is the ingredients that go to make up the base mix in the first place that are by far the most important parts of a boiled bait.

Many anglers simply go by smell though and it totally amazes me that so many don’t really care what the actual bait is made up from so long as it smells okay when the bag is opened. What you smell isn’t very often what you think you or the carp come to that will taste.

Made to a price flavour carrier boilies are usually totally reliant on synthetic flavours to make them smell appealing to the angler. The thing many anglers fail to realise is that a lot of synthetic flavours are ‘smells’ rather than ‘tastes’. The smell you get from baits made up with them is very different to the taste. A lot of flavours simply don’t taste anything like what they smell of – fact!

Some do taste similar but in my mind this is still a bit of a waste of time producing this type of bait if you are expecting consistent success on all manner of waters. Boilies in this category I liken very much to pasta. I find bringing bait subjects into easy to understand human terms to be the best way of describing things to none bait buffs.

So for cheap flavour carrier boilies (low price tag boilies) think pasta. Now you can make pasta taste and smell beautiful. You can make pasta taste however you want it to taste and so many, myself included, enjoy a lot of pasta meals. But, now this is a very big BUT. We don’t tip our pasta meals into water for a few hours before eating them do we?

If we did, we would find that all of that attractive taste (its sauce) is washed off and all we are left with is pasta. This is the best way I can describe to someone a flavour carrier, made to a price, boilie. They start off looking and smelling like a boilie but that boilie is so very different after a few hours in the water and does little to represent what you had first thrown in.

Yes, they will catch fish but they won’t catch anywhere near as many or as consistently as a proper formulated food source, which should still taste good after a couple of days in water. Sometimes it takes a couple of days for the carp to stumble across bait in some waters and if you are trying to establish a bait and get the carp actually looking for a particular type of bait then you want it tasting good when it goes in as well as a couple of days after it has gone in.

Well, here I am just short of 5,000 words trying to show what an inadequate word ‘boilie’ actually is, as it covers many different food parcels, from a balanced food source, right through to a simply ball of synthetic chemicals trying to imitate a food item the carp would want to eat.
4 mixed 10 and 15mm baits work well in a Spomb
If I could give everyone just one tip in regards to boilie choice it would be to buy the very best you can and use less of it rather than lots of a poor quality one.

I am happy with a handful of a quality food bait scattered around my hook bait and would definitely rather fish that way for the rest of my life, than to fish with kilos of a lesser attractive food source.

Remember these words I often remind myself.

“Better can be cheaper, because less can be better”. 

Best fishes
Shaun Harrison

About the Author: Shaun Harrison

shaun profile pic

Quest Baits boss Shaun Harrison has put over 40 years of experience into developing his range of carp baits ” This bait range is the culmination of the bait knowledge I’ve gained throughout my carp fishing career, a journey which started in the 1970’s. It has truly been a long and winding road – frustrating at times, fascinating and rewarding at others….. Our range you’ll only find proven baits, the ones I use myself 

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