Secret methods and secret baits have forever occupied the angler’s imagination. If someone catches fish, others want to know how they were fishing and, more important, which bait they were using. Ivan Marks once remarked on how often other fishermen believed he had something special in his groundbait. He admitted that he once added sugar; whether there were other ingredients apart from breadcrumb depended on who you listened to.
Bread was the main constituent of groundbait for decades. Now there are many proprietary mixes sold at considerable cost, typically £4 to £5 a kilogram. This is double the cost of a bag of flour. One of the earliest examples, Pomenteg, looked like a bag of flour, as did its contents. Possibly a mix of powered potato and egg, it was the ‘invention’ of Walker and Fred J Taylor, sold by Efgeeco, no doubt as a magic bait. Readers may consider how effective it was now that it is no longer obtainable.
But effectiveness is not really the main consideration. It’s the belief in a special bait that motivates fishermen to buy commercial groundbaits — and the fact that plenty of others use them and catch fish. Follow the herd is a big motivator too. Today there are many groundbaits on sale; whole sections of tackle shops are devoted to them. The two big manufacturers are Sensas and Van den Eynde. Sensas started out as a vegetable oil and animal feed producer, then realised that the leftovers from production could be sold to anglers as bait. The company still produces animal feeds which tells you what is in the groundbait, a mix of ground cereal, which incidentally describes bread. Fishmeal has been used in animal feeds even longer; this also is added to groundbait and pellets to the detriment of the marine environment.
The French have been concocting groundbait mixes for many years. I once got hold of a French magazine which contained recipes using ingredients such as maize four, ground biscuit crumb, molasses amongst others. Commercial groundbaits will contain the same stuff; in fact they even sell packets of single ingredients. Add some colouring and flavourings and, hey presto, a magic bait mix is born.
The question is do these expensive baits work any better than those you could make yourself from whichever selection of ground cereal and food flavourings you care to use. Bait companies don’t dwell on this. They merely say that extensive trials are used. What these entail is not made clear. Do they give samples to ‘top anglers’ and tell them to go out and test them? Or do they stick some fish in a tank and put dollops into the water and, as in TV catfood tests, see which they prefer? I’ve asked both Sensas and Van den Eynde. Sensas didn’t reply — too hush hush perhaps. V d Eynde responded but were not more forthcoming than to say baits are tested in several countries, method unclear.
How can you distinguish between the effect of a groundbait and all the other many factors that influence catches? I’m not sure you can. It would be more difficult than running a drugs trial. Again, this does not really matter to anglers: if they catch fish using a groundbait then it works, end of story. This is why there are so many choices; that they bear names such as Magic, Super, Pro and Gold is a smart marketing tool that persuades us to buy into the myth of a magic or secret bait.
Packaged groundbaits are really a giant marketing wheeze. Distinctions between baits with a name like Gardons (roach) and Gros Gardons (big roach) are comical: when does a gardon become gros, and how does a bait select the gros from the petit? But even this is not as big a con as packaging up soil, calling it leam, and flogging to the gullible fisherman. There are many articles in which match anglers in particular — there are still a few — offer all sorts of sophistry to justify various mixes of soil and groundbaits. My favourite is how they riddle groundbait to remove lumps before squeezing it into a lump to throw in the water.
For the groundbait companies it’s a good earner (Sensas turns over more than $30 million a year, though that will include fishing tackle and animal products). If you like your groundbait in nice plastic bags and are happy to shell out the hefty cost, go to it. But remember the original Sensas business of oil and feed: the same stuff is available at much lower cost, with the advantage you can devise your own groundbait, one which no one else will have. Truly magic! Ah, but then it won’t have that ultra-secret ingredient and the pretty picture on the packet; and then the other guy using Superduper-Secret-Magic goes and catches a fish, and you’ve yet to get a bite . . .
That’s why groundbait is so profitable for the manufacturers.