The ART of bait fishing

Thomas Crawford
In Tasmania Art is not commonly used when referring to bait fishing, but this form of fishing really is an artform. Recently I was lucky enough to spend some time in the England in a district called Worchester. Here I was privileged to fish with one of England's leading tournament fisherman, Graham Clarke. I was to learn about and appreciate a style of fishing that has unfortunately been seemingly forgotten in this state. Bait fishing is the way many of "us" start out on our fishing journey, so it was exciting to revisit this style.

This article is about the UK techniques used for catching carp, but the lesson is on how we can utilise their methods for catching trout, bream other species. Coarse fishing, known to us as bait fishing, is very popular sport in England and I suggest you try it, or go back to it.

Basic bait fishing
When bait fishing for trout, and many other species, the best results are usually early morning and late afternoon and on into the night. This is usually done from boats around shorelines in bays and shallows near cover and fallen trees.
There are several effective ways of catching fish using bait, most of which we do not make use of fully. I will not fully explain the English techniques as it is very technical and extremely hard to get the appropriate gear in this country, but what I will do is explain the more popular methods we can use effectively with readily available gear.
Variations of a running sinker rigs or paternoster rigs are quite common here so I will focus on basic ways you can improve these techniques.
Trout and some other species often have a wary nature and feed by sucking bait into the back of their mouths and chewing, they will often inhale and expel the bait several times when tasting it. If you do not pay close attention, more often that not this goes on without you even noticing. There are several ways you can take advantage of this feeding behavior which I'll outline below.

Relaxed approach - or doing nothing
If you prefer to sit back and relax and wait for a screaming run then there are a few things you can do to improve your chances.

  1. Use a chemically sharpened hook made of fine gauge wire and check the point regularly.
  2. Trout will often hook themselves when expelling the bait. When they spit the bait out they will feel the hook prick the inside of their mouth and then panic and bolt which sets the hook. If you use a large, heavy gauge or blunt hook they will suck it in, spit it out and munch it all day and you'll be lucky if you catch anything. Graham told me that if you can't scratch your fingernail by gently dragging the point of the hook across it, then it's too blunt and better in the bin. This could not be truer and applies to all fishing.
  3. If you are not constantly looking over your rod use a relatively large sinker (perhaps a ball or bean, size 1 to 4 or heavier), as mentioned above, the trout will feel the hook prick and bolt, and the weight of the sinker can be enough to set the hook. When a lighter sinker is used this often won't cause the hook to set fully and they are more likely to carry the bait and spit it soon after realizing that they are in danger.
  4. One of the questions I get frequently asked at work is "How often do I check my bait?'. Check your bait regularly, perhaps every 20 minutes even if you haven't had a bite.
  5. You should replace the bait even if it's all still there. Bait loses flavour and scent, and worms die and go limp. Trout rely a lot on taste and smell so you want your bait to be as appealing as possible when a fish is inspecting it.
  6. Present your bait properly, this means making sure you fill the shank of the hook with bait, leaving the bend and point exposed. Push the bait up slightly over the eye of the hook to hide the eye and knot if possible.
  7. Keep an eye on your rod, big fish can sometimes slowly bend a rod without ringing a bell or strike indicator.

Active approach - you can hold the rod
If you prefer the active approach of sitting by the rod or even holding a rod, here are a few things you can do to improve your chances

  1. As above use a chemically sharpened hook made of fine gauge wire (check the point regularly). If you don't have any it's worth investing in some quality hooks. I prefer Gamakatsu hooks but there are many good brands.
  2. If you prefer to handle your rod or pay close attention you can use a smaller sinker because you don't need to rely on the fish hooking itself. You can set the hook by striking when you see the rod tip bend, the line lift quickly or feel a tug or pull on the line. Trout are more comfortable with lightly weighted baits and will often carry and then drop the bait if it feels weight from a sinker or line so attending your rod can result in many more hookups and a lot more fish.
  3. As with before, check your bait regularly, perhaps every 20 minutes even if you haven't had a bite, consider replacing the bait even if it's all still there. If you feel or see a bite and miss it don't leave it more than a few minutes before checking your bait, chances are it's been stolen.
  4. Present your bait properly, again this means make sure you fill the shank of the hook with bait, leaving the bend and point exposed. Push the bait over the eye of the hook to hide the eye and knot if possible. With this style of fishing you can have less of the hook point exposed as you will be setting the hook.
  5. Big trout can give very tiny bites. Never assume a tiny tapping on the line is a small fish. When attending the rod you can strike at these small bites and quite often hook a decent sized trout, so expect every trout is decent.
  6. If you choose to hold the rod keep the line slightly slack, Trout can be spooked by unexpected movement of the bait or rig. Keep you index finger on the line above the reel with the hand that is holding the rod and you will feel the bites transfer down the line. You will soon learn what is worth striking at and what isn't. Windy weather can make this style of fishing difficult.

Random Tips
Try not to hammer in rod holders, push them in if possible. I know the waters edge at some lakes is rock hard but the hammering transfers vibrations through the water and spooks the trout. Yes, I know it might sound over the top, but trust me on this one.
If you haven't caught a lot of trout before, consider backing your drag off a little. Trout have more pulling power than they are given credit for and a hook can easily pull from their soft mouths, or they can break you off on light line. At worst they can drag your rod in if it isn't secured properly.
Try not to get sun block or insect repellant on your hands because it will be transferred to the bait, and fish rely heavily on their sense of smell and taste. Wash them thoroughly if you do. Often rubbing your hands with a mild scent can be a good idea.
The idea of "big bait, big fish" doesn't necessarily apply to trout. You don't need a massive hook or bait to catch a massive trout. You will catch many more on a smaller hook perhaps size 8-2. If the wind is blowing hard make sure your sinker is heavy enough to hold your rig in position, otherwise it can roll along the bottom and pick up weed or sludge and perhaps snag up.

Bait Selection
When fishing live baits for trout it can often be best to stick with simple baits such as a worm on a hook. When fishing a worm it is best on the bottom with a light sinker, or fish it suspended with a light weight under a float. By using these methods you will cover the middle column of water or the bottom. You can fish worms all year-around, but they seem to work particularly well in the wormer months.
There are many other good live baits for trout. Some of the more popular ones are crickets, grasshoppers, maggots and grubs. In the summer, grasshoppers and crickets fish particularly well. When rigging them you should hook them through the harder part of the body just in front of the front legs. Fish them slowly on the surface and sub surface and allow them to drift downstream into the trout's cover.
When live baits are hard to access you can use some of the pre-packaged baits that are very effective easy to just as easy to use, or you can make your own trout bait recipe. Using cheese as the main ingredient you can make all sorts of trout baits. But make sure what ever you use is legal in our waters.
UK Techniques
The main style of fishing I tried in England was known as coarse fishing and I will give you a brief out line on what exactly it encounters.
Coarse fishing originated in the United Kingdom in the early 19th century. Before this recreational fishing was a sport of the gentry, who angled for salmon and trout which they called "game fish". Other fish were disdained as "coarse fish"
Depending on what fishing style anglers are using, different types of tackle will be used.  As is with Tasmania most common is a rod and reel, but where we would use a 6'6" to 7'6" their rods are typically between 10 and 13 feet long.
However, the use of "poles" is also very popular. Here, the line is fixed to the very tip of the rod, with no reel used at all. The pole itself is taken apart in sections until the line can be swung to hand. Because the line cannot be cast, poles are often very long in order to increase the angler's range - up to 16 metres. The pole often has an elastic rubber end which will stretch up and down to help aid in catching the fish.
The main techniques used in coarse fishing are float fishing, legering and spinning.
A float also called a bobber is a device used in fishing, which serves two purposes. It suspends the bait at a predetermined depth, and it serves as a bite indicator. Floats come in different sizes and shapes. The long, thin ones are very sensitive and are used for coarse fishing. There are many different types of floats and all are used in different circumstances. A thin tube of plastic, called a waggler, is the most common running line float on still waters and has the line threaded through an eye at the bottom. An avon float has a largish oval shaped hollow area near the tip allowing it to be cast further because more shot should be added to the line to leave only the tip showing. An avon is used in slow flowing water.
There are also floats that allow you to control the direction of your float when moving. Using these in a river you only need to cast one time if the current isn't too fast, after that you can steer them left or right as they float down stream reaching areas you couldn't reach any other way. When fishing them on a lake with no current you can reel them ¼ the speed you would normally on a river.


When coarse fishing with a float and leger, ground bait is usually thrown into the water to attract fish to the area. Ground baiting, or berleying is illegal in Tasmania's inland waters. Outside inland waters it is a fantastic technique however.
Typical baits in England are worms, maggots, bread, luncheon meat and sweet corn and many pre-made baits. We may use mashed up worms or maggots and natural substances. Lately, advancements in technology and market competitiveness have led to many types of other ingredients being introduced, including chemicals, such as pheromone attractants that stimulate the feeding response in fish. Boilies are popular baits for carp fishing. These are balls of bait that are compacted together.
Ground bait is used in coarse fishing in order to attract fish to the fishing area. We call this berley and is more popular in our Salt water fishing circumstances. It is often a mixture of multiple natural ingredients, for example bread crumbs, vanilla sugar, hemp, maize and other ingredients. It is moistened with water so it's possible to make balls. These balls are then thrown out into the water at the fishing spot. Often they will be thrown out before fishing has commenced in order to attract fish to that spot. Depending on the ground bait mixture, the balls may break up quickly and create a mist of particles in the water. This is particularly attractive for mid-water feeding fish, or it may sink to the bottom where it will slowly be released attracting species feeding on the bottom. When used by professional anglers, the amount and ingredients of ground bait being used is aimed at a balance. This is done to prevent the fish over-feeding. If the fish over-feed it will cause to the fish not to bite. The aim is to draw as many fish as possible to the fishing place and stimulated them to feed. Due to concerns about the ecological impact of introducing nutrients to a water system and them acting as fertilizer, ground bait in some waters are controlled by regulations on their use.

Bite Alarms
There are many different types of bait indicators and they can range from some thing as simple as a bell on the end of your rod to some of the more sophisticated electronic bite detectors. There are thousands of different ones and they all do the same result. It is just up to you on how far you want to go with them.

Quiver tip
Quiver tips are a good way of making an existing rod into a super sensitive bait rod. The tip of approximately 1-2ft in length that can be attached as an extension to the end of the rod by a put in or screw-in method. The quiver tip itself is a means of improving bite detection in conjunction with the ledgering method of fishing, whereby a weight is attached to the line close to the hook to assist in casting.
A variation of this method is the swim feeder, which is a small weighted container with small holes in which loose feed can be placed to attract fish to the area near the hook bait.
If you are fishing still water fishing spots after casting, the rod should be placed in a rod holder at a 90 degree angle to the direction of the cast with the tip near to the water to reduce the effects of the wind vibration on the tip. If you are fishing moving waters such as rivers the rod should be placed on a stand pointing towards the direction of the cast with the tip high in the air in order to reduce the impact of the water flow on the line. The line between the end of the tip and the weight/swim feeder should be tensioned so that a slight bend in the quiver tip exists.
This will allow you to detect different sorts of bites. One type of bite occurs when the fish takes the bait and moves away from you, causing the line to tighten and pull on the quiver tip. The second type of bite occurs when the fish takes the bait and moves towards you causing the line to slacken and the quiver tip to straighten
Quiver tips can be bought in various strengths and this relates to how stiff the tip is. The ones I saw were measured in ounces. The lower the ounces, the less stiff the tip is. The number of ounces or strength of the tip should be carefully considered as it could drastically impact on the bite detection of your rod.
In Tasmania many of our fish can be targeted with bait with great success. Some of the my favorite are bream, gummy shark, rays, salmon, and of course trout.
The two most popular rigs I use for bream are as follows. If I am fishing from a boat I will use a small ball sinker sitting against a size 4 octopus hook. This allows the sinker to run freely up and down the entirety of the line. This works particularly well with a bit of slow moving water. This is also the rig I will use if I am fishing at night time. One of the main advantages of this rig is that it is almost snag proof. This will also allow the Bream to pick the bait up and swim away with it with little resistance.
My other favourite rig is a running sinker rig with a swivel used as a stopper. I will use a trace of approximately 50 to 70 cm with the trace being the same weight as my main line. I recommend approximately 8lb line. The sinker should be only as heavy as it has to be. The idea is to keep the bait on the bottom and oftem a small sinke will do this. If you are fishing a still water try using no sinker. This works well but you will nedd to pay close attention to your line to detect any bites.

Gummy Sharks
There are a few rigs I use for gummy shark.
When fishing from the shore I use a running sinker rig similar to that of which I use for bream but with the main difference being the weight of my leader. I tend to use a snap swivel as my sinker stopper with a nylon coated wire trace of about 100lb breaking strain. The trace should be crimped up with a loop on the non hook end. This loop is used to clip onto your snap swivel. The hooks I use are about a 5/0 octopus which is crimped on. The other rigs I use are variations of this for example having a running hook on my wire trace or using ganged hooks.
From a boat I will use a running sinker rig when possible but often a heavy duty paternoster rig will suffice.

All though I do not take rays for a feed they are extremely good sport. I find the same running sinker rig I use for Sharks will be for perfect rays. Please take note that when handling rays some may have barbed tails and care should be taken.

Australian Salmon
In still water I will use a running sinker rig with a gang hook set up instead on a single hook. This works well in still water but you may struggle with turbulent water.
In the surf I will use a heavy sinker with a three way swivel approximately 40 cm above it. I will tie a trace off the three way swivel approximately 40cm long. I use either a gang hook set up or a suicide 3/0. This rig is designed to allow your bait to drift around in the current whilst the heavy sinker will hold the base down firmly in the sand.
Another popular way is to suspend a whole pilchard under a float. You will need a large oval float. I like the ones with a mirror on them but any oval float will do. The rig consists of a float stopper above float and a small piece of split shot below the float. This piece of split shot serves two purposes 1; It will act as a stopper for the float and 2; will hold the bait under. Another small piece of split shot can be added just above the hook to help keep the bait under the water.  
Some of the more popular places I fish include the Derwent river for bream. This is a superb bream fishery with many good sized bream about. Try the lower reaches around the Tasman bridge and area's throughout Battery point. The out side of Bruny Island is a great place for sharks and rays. Look for drop offs on your sounder or gully's just off the beach. You can see these by looking for a drastic color change in the water. Salmon can be caught off rock ledges and in the surf.
I hope this article has given you a insight into what has become a dying art. Bait fishing can be one of the more challenging and relaxing methods in this sport an I hope you get out there and give it a go.

Thomas Crawford