IFD: One of carp fishing most well known figures, Solar tackle founder and former world carp record holder Martin Locke, shares his thoughts on carp bait…
If I am not mistaken, Solar Tackle was founded on your engineering background with you designing and making stainless steel bank sticks and buzzer bars because the standard aluminium ones were forever being bent out of shape when the ground was hard, so what made you go into the bait side of things?
ML: The bait side of Solar was born soon after the stainless steel part of the business. When I look back, it was a natural progression and born from fishing on the legendary Savay lake in the late 80s and early 90s. The anglers fishing there at the time were top of the league. Everyone had something different to offer, whether it be tackle or bait, there were always new things to try and it all added to the excitement of fishing there at the time. The lists of developments that were born from Savay anglers would fill far more pages than I’ve got available to me in this article, but suffice to say, the bait ‘edges’, some of which proved outstanding and others not so, were given proper tests from very shrewd anglers and the bait making, testing and developing simply gathered pace from there. As the syndicate members came from all over the country there was always info on how the lads on their local lakes were ‘taking ‘em apart’. Savay was like a huge melting pot of information from anglers fishing with a special camaraderie, all with one goal, to catch more carp.
Who or what influenced your bait recipes?
ML: That time on Savay influenced my thoughts more than any other, and not many days go by without me reflecting on those times. Not to reminisce, but to ‘click’ back into that way of thinking.
What is your philosophy on bait?
ML: Fishing with those guys, and even earlier in my times at Brooklands Lake in Dartford, lead me to always be searching for that magic bait or ingredient that will give me an edge so big that I’d catch a year’s worth of fish in a single session. At Brooklands we had it, as I’m sure you’ll remember Timbo. We were fortunate enough to be at the start of ‘nut’ fishing. There were some very good particle anglers on Brooklands, and all along the Darenth Valley. Maples, chickpeas and all the pulses were reasonably good, luncheon meat was also successful when fished ‘over the top’, as were paste baits. However, that all changed when a few lads tried using peanuts; catches were transformed. A good week on the ‘usual’ baits did you 3 or 4 fish, but the first week I used nuts I had 25 fish. The peanuts lost their effectiveness as word got out, but the next one to be ‘discovered’ was tigernuts and the same happened again.
My point of relevance to the question is that if that happened then, there must be things out there that can have the same effect again. Even if there isn’t, it won’t stop me looking.
I don’t just mean a particle, some of the flavours and food additives that I have available to me are fantastic and there are always new doors opening. It’s very hard to get the same success as back then though, mainly, I think, because there are so many people these days using so many different things that it’s hard to get a bait ‘roaring’ like we did back then as we all used the going bait without exception.
Those ‘in the in crowd’ earned the right to be there. Those who had become friends over a long period, fishing through the hardest conditions all year round and proved trustworthy not to tell anyone that ‘didn’t deserve’, after all, if it’s not your secret to give away it wouldn’t be right to do so.
That was exactly what happened at Savay too, so I feel privileged to have had it happen to me twice, given how few people are ever lucky enough to be in this position just once. Right place, right time, twice, bingo.
Explain your thought processes when you are trying to come up with a new bait?
ML: Apart from the particle-type baits mentioned above, a lot of my thinking is evolutionary, but revolutionary is still a possibility. That is to say that there are lots of things that I know to be very effective in a bait, so I have a solid platform to start with and build upon. Contacts are a massively important part of things, just like the old adagé ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’. Of course, the better your working knowledge of the ingredients the better you can use and adapt them and the better the baits you can develop, so knowledge is hugely valuable, but the wider your contacts reach the better. My contacts have been built up (and I’m continuing to do so) over 25 years or more of dealing with animal feed and human food companies, and they’re invaluable to my work. You only have to look how much supermarkets have changed over the years. The food available now is incredible, all made up from numerous (natural) enhancers and from ingredients from all over the world. I’m the geek reading the small print on the back, investigating what each ingredient does and why it’s in there. Most of the information falls by the wayside, but the question remains the same… “I wonder if the carp would like that?”
Do you believe that certain flavours are more attractive to big carp?
ML: Of course there are flavours that provoke more of a feeding reaction than others. Most bait companies have got a ‘signature flavour’, Richworth’s Tutti Frutti, Rod Hutchinson’s Scopex and our Squid and Octopus Koi Rearer to name but three. They all have an amazing track record and history of catching carp from all waters in all conditions. That for me is a mark of a quality attractor/bait, one that you can always rely on to ‘pull it out of the bag’, not just in winter when action is hard to come by, but when lads go on a once a year trip abroad or a ‘one shot’ match session, you want to be using something that you have confidence in to maximise your chances of catching as many as possible.
What is more important base mix or flavour?
ML: The combination of base mix ingredients and flavours together is just as important as the individual. The smell, or ‘label’ if you like, is given off by the whole bait and not just the liquid or powdered part of the recipe. To simplify, the liquid additives are often, but not always, the initial thing that we pick up on and the powders enhance the taste of the bait. These, together with the ingredients, form the profile of the bait.
Your Savay Seed Mix was a huge success, but why did you go for a seed mix and not a fishmeal?
ML: I think the main reason that the Savay Seed Mixes were so successful is that they were the first out-and-out birdfood baits. High in carbs and digestibility, they also had a unique texture about them and a high flavour leak off, but the texture was so different that the carp really wanted it. The best comparison I can think of is chocolate, a bar of solid chocolate is nice, but the texture of a Flake or Ripple makes it completely different.
Most of the lads on the ‘Looney Rota’ used the baits during those years and the rest, as they say, is history.
Do you think that there is likely to be a new major break through in bait like the boilie was?
ML: I think I answered that one earlier. I’ve seen what can be done with the right bait and will never believe that there aren’t other things that could do the same once ‘discovered’.
Do you think that carp have learnt that round boilies spell danger, or does their natural instinct to eat just get the better of them?
ML: I don’t at all think that round baits spell danger. I think they spell food.
Sure, in certain situations we have all seen carp ‘shy off’ our baits. In the edge for example, you may have seen the fish ‘tighten up’ on occasion and become instantly wary of the little round balls, but crumb them up and the same fish start gorging on them. Even though there are lots of ways to get even the smallest crumbed baits out in the swim we can never be sure as to how long it lasts, due to all the other things that live in the lake and get to it before the carp without our knowing.
Other shapes all have their uses, mainly presentation wise, and are a bit different. I often use a Corker (dumbell shaped pop up) to be different, but really I think it’s for my own benefit because I’d probably get the same result on a round bait. Dumbell baits will sit on the sides of bars a lot better than round baits, something I have great faith in in some swims on some waters, but with the various ways of getting boilies out to your spot, you’ll never beat round baits. Aerodynamic and great in a stick, easy to catapult, and because that’s what we use, that’s what the carp eat.
What is your view on plastic baits and why do they work?
ML: Plastic baits and their undoubted attraction has, and will continue to, provoke many theories from many anglers for a long time to come. Do they home in on the smell of the plastic? I’m not sure. There are so many different companies producing them from so many different materials that I doubt it, but I beg to be proved wrong.
I can’t get into using just plastic though, even though many anglers have done well on it.
Carp are curious creatures and without hands the only way they can ‘test’ texture and question what’s laying in their domain is by sucking it up. What I am sure of is that they know more about their habitat than most of us give them credit for. So, “What’s that laying there, it wasn’t there yesterday?” may be reason enough for them to pick it up and get hooked.
I don’t use them on their own, but often use one of our flavour soaked, 8mm Everlasting Hook Baits to tip a hook bait as more of a sight attractor than anything else, giving the fish something to home in on if they’re not really feeding. If they are feeding then it won’t hurt either.
How much does the cost of ingredients affect what baits that you bring to the market?
ML: The cost of ingredients, as all the bait boys and manufacturers will tell you, has, and still is, rising, sometimes several times each year and with every batch ordered. Being in our position I try to ‘put our name on’ X amount of a particular product and am often able to get the supplier to hold the cost so long as we take the quantity ordered throughout a specified period. Obviously, there’s only a certain price that (most) anglers will pay for boilies and even though I could easily make a bait that would cost me £60 a kilo to produce, there wouldn’t be a very long queue of anglers wanting to buy it.
Getting the balance right is what I have to do, but I always produce the bait first, then work out the costs and then haggle with the suppliers to get the prices down to where we need them. That way we get the bait we want at a price anglers are willing to pay. On the whole it’s swings and roundabouts though, some baits are more expensive than others to make, and added to this is the production costs. For example 14mm baits are slower to produce and therefore more expensive to roll, but they’re the same price as 18mm and 22mm baits on the shelf.
Is there a bait ingredient that goes into all of your baits and why?
ML: The only ingredient that goes into every bait we roll is egg. Some of the ingredients go into several of the baits, but egg is the only common denominator in all of them.
Is the size of bait important?
ML: I can only speak for my own fishing in that the baits I use need to be of a size to suit the situation. It wouldn’t be much good turning up at a swim with only 14mm boilies and best spots are 120 yards out, with only a catapult for a friend. With the various methods of baiting up at our disposal I would always go for more, but smaller baits, to get the fish ‘grubbing around’, except where silver fish and other critters are the problem. Bigger baits would then be the order of the day.
Can you over flavour or under flavour baits?
ML: Over flavoured, low-level flavoured and washed out baits, they all work. We as anglers use logical methods to come up with theories and reasons as to why we’re catching to build up a picture of confidence as to why we caught on a particular trip. Whether right or wrong it’s great to extract every detail and log it in the memory. For example, if you left the bait out there for a long time, more than 24 hours, and start getting action then the first thing that you’ll think is that washed out baits are ‘the one’ or a quick take on a pre soaked pop up would lead you to think that over-flavoured bait were ‘the one’. What I’m getting at is that all things work at some time or other. The lake/river/water is constantly changing, it’s got lots of moving parts. Weather conditions, weed growth, natural food, Ph of the water, I could go on. With so many variables it’s no wonder that different things work better than others on different days. When it comes to formulating the baits, I take all this into consideration and produce something that will get a feeding response in as many of these conditions as possible.
What’s your view on winter baits, what are the best winter flavours and can fishmeals be as effective in cold water?
ML: Since I was a lad I’ve always loved winter fishing, just as much as in the warmer months. I love the challenge, the fishes’ metabolism slows down, they feed for shorter periods, but they are in tip-top condition and at maximum weight. The die-hard anglers that are out there in all weathers are great company and exchanging ideas and tales with each other is of huge interest and really gets everyone thinking that bit harder. One thing often leads to another and new ideas and theories are born. Winter has only got one massive drawback… prolonged darkness.
It’s those early evening hours that can drag the energy and confidence from you. There hasn’t been a fish out for weeks, it’s flat calm and frosty by 6pm and all of a sudden it hits you and you ask yourself the question, “What the **** am I doing here?”
Without the luxury of choice to pack up and go home (my early fishing was all by train) I sat and got on with it. Determination took over and that’s how it still is today. Fishing in the colder months is when you can really get yourself some confidence in a bait, as success in adverse conditions is what sticks long in the memory and builds you as an angler. Getting a bit of consistency and ‘nicking’ the odd take does wonders and makes it all worth it. A snow capture or a fish pic with a half frozen lake in the background are always foremost in your mind. These are the things that breed determination and confidence, both very necessary when doubt sets in .
Other things to draw confidence in are that, once located, the fish will often stay in an area far longer than they would do in the warmer months. Once found, you’ll find no need to chase them around the lake. They (generally) eat less, depending on conditions, so there’s no need to carry industrial quantities for each trip .
Back to the bait, the opportunities to try different things increases more at this time of year too. The normal one is to carry several different pop ups and chop and change until you catch on one particular colour/flavour. The Esterised flavours, such as many of our Mixmaster flavours (an Ester is a refined alcohol) are, in my experiences, very good in cold water for several reasons. The boiling point of those we use is higher than water, so nothing is lost during the boiling process and they are ‘thinner’ than water, so ‘leak off’ is guaranteed however low the water temperature gets. So there are two good reasons for me to use the esterised flavours and baits containing them, coupled with the fact that over the years I’ve lost count as to how many times they have caught that ‘odd one’ when all else has failed, I don’t leave home without them.
When conditions are ‘right’, then an autumn approach, but with a bit less bait will work. When I develop a bait range it is always with 12-months use in mind. Why would you want to ‘start again’ from November onwards?
Fishmeals with their oil content and ‘thick consistency’, logically suggest to us that the attractor signals will be kind of ‘locked in’ in low water temperatures. That’s reason enough for most anglers to swerve their use in favour of fruity, attractor-type baits. I’m not going to try and change the thoughts of a nation here! Suffice to say that the number one ingredient in your bait, even more so in winter, is your confidence.
What are your views on preserving baits and what affect it has on the bait?
ML: All of us that have been brought up ‘rolling our own’ will only ever be happy using preservative-free baits, never to be convinced otherwise.
Those in the ‘McDonalds generation’ don’t know anything else but shelf life baits and will never be convinced that they are any less effective than frozen.
I have a saying here at Solar that goes, “ If I can’t use it then I can’t sell it.” For years, I wouldn’t do the shelf life thing, but with the way the methods of preserving have moved on, after all just about everything we buy to eat and drink these days has preservatives of some form in them, I’m now 100% happy with them.
Another good example is that in Europe, where the carp scene is as big, if not bigger, than it is in the UK anglers have only ever had shelf life bait available to them. Just look at their incredible catches and, more importantly, see how the fish have grown in the years that they have seen a lot of boilies. They have only ever eaten shelf life baits… Food for thought?
Is Solar developing any new bait products that you can talk about?
ML: Following from my earlier comment, evolution not revolution, we are just about ready to release the Chilli Club baits. The success of the Club Mix over the years has been amazing. Some of the biggest catches and biggest fish across the UK and Europe have been down to this bait. Also, that it has been so successful for such a long period and the huge number of repeat captures is testament to what can happen when you get a bait formulation ‘right’.
The effectiveness of the Club Mix was never in question, but me being me and always on the lookout to make things better, I started playing around with another group of ‘in vogue’ and proven carp attractors, those being chillies and other associated hot and spicy products.
The result was that the taste profile increased perfectly, like putting salt on your chips, and our longest serving and one of the most successful baits in carp fishing just got better as the results suggest, by some margin. It’s one of those baits that when you open the bag and smell it, then taste it, you can’t wait to get out there and use it because you just know it’ll work.
Do you think that the modern carp angler has become obsessed with using boilies because they are so convenient?
ML: I don’t think that at all. Anglers are far less likely to be using only boilies now more than ever. There are so many different options and methods available today that we’re spoilt for choice, to the point of confusion.
Turning up at the lake with only boilies these days you will almost certainly be in a minority. Good or bad thing? Not my call, just do what’s necessary on the day to get the result and it’s always best to have more than one string to your bow. A plan ‘B’ is sometimes very handy!
If you could only use one bait what would it be?
ML: What would I use if I could only use one bait , one flavour or one additive… hmmm, now there’s a question to end with! After MUCH thought though, I simply can’t answer that one boys.