We have all been through it, ‘What you have that on mate?’, as a voice is heard from the top of the bank. It’s surprising that this often predictable response to catching something hasn’t worn thin over the years. 

Yes, angler’s still want to know your ‘secret’, but more often then not, the secret is not one of bait, nor is it just plain luck that many would have you believe.

Application in your angling is key to any success you may have now, or in the future. You must apply the bait correctly in order to gain a true perspective of what is or isn’t possible.

Boilies have grown in popularity over the last few years and it is this that many barbel angler’s choose to use when targeting them. Days of using hemp and meat/sweetcorn combos are sparsely used by barbel angler’s nowadays.

I guess it’s no coincidence this has coincided with many new bait companies popping up on social media, almost daily promising you that this new bait they have ‘tested’ for 3 and a bit years is much better then anything else out there.

I am not going to sit here and pretend 3 Foot Twitch wasn’t built on a social media platform, it was! However, what I can say is our testing is scrupulous and will always consist of the many variables to provide longevity in its application.

This is not an article about the why’s and wherefores of my bait company, so lets move on…

I have decided to split these articles into two or three parts, due to its enormous complexities and sheer size of the bait concept.

I get a lot of questions via social media (one of the reasons for this article), asking what type of boilies they should go for in winter? Do they smell? What flavouring are they? What do you use? I could go on but you get my drift…

I don’t blame anyone for asking these questions, how else do you learn?

So I want to try, in this article to answer the most pertinent questions.

Science may or may not back up a lot of what is written in this piece so please understand that these are my findings during research and tests.

I will try and avoid using too much science during the articles as not to confuse things too much. I confuse myself sometimes.

Are Flavourings Important?

Smell (or olfaction) is a very important sense for many fish, including barbel. Many of you will be aware of two little holes below and either side of a barbel’s eyes. These are called nares which (you may be forgiven thinking they were nostrils as you and I would know it) don’t lead to the throat but into a chamber lined with sensory pads. It’s basically a valve that allows water through (anterior) and exit (posterior) with the fishes breathing.


Credit Angling Times

A key to a strong sense of smell is the ability to move water through these sensory pads, not every fish can do it as quickly as others. It’s quite a complex system and when even being immobile some fish are still able to use their olfactory system to pick up chemicals in the water column…

Notice that I have used the word chemicals here and not smell?

When the sensory pads are able to pick up these chemicals they respond in a way they feel appropriate at that time.


Credit Angling Times

Chemicals are released by all sorts of reasons, sometimes by fish themselves when injured or dying. Pike, perch and eels are hard-wired to detect these chemicals for example in dead or dying fish.

I believe cyprinids are also hard-wired to detect these chemicals in the water, making flavouring questionable in its use, mainly because for anything to be picked up on by the olfactory (smell) system it must be soluble. Much research into this has put my mind firmly in detection and investigatory triggers as opposed to using a fancy flavour label.

Flavouring’s catch angler’s in the most part, and to make a product marketable. At 3 F T for instance we ensure that our customers are immediately taken care of (smell). The first thing they will do is smell inside the bag, we know that, it’s a natural response but this and this alone doesn’t catch you fish. We will make sure that the olfactory needs of a barbel are met also by a variety of chemical stimulants and investigatory triggers in our boilies.

It’s true of course that some flavourings poccess an element of attraction/chemical that fish do respond to, this ingredient/chemical is generally a small percentage of the bulk flavour, therefore flavours are not required to catch fish persay.

Association with flavours is a lot more plausible argument, fish learn a smell signals danger, or alternatively learn that it’s food. This can be a reason a certain bait will blow on certain waters. It’s not the actual flavour but the actual concoction (solubles) made up within that boilie, whether the actual flavour leaks or not is insignificant.

Many angler’s get bogged down with this flavour, or that flavour. Simply put, these are fish – what seems a unique blend of creamy white chocolate and Ala Salar might smell appealing to you, the fish science does appear to say different.

Amino Acids

Amino acids play a significant role in the human body as well as in fish. Aminos are essentially building blocks of protein which play a vital role in the gustatory detection (taste) for fish. More on this later… images

Amino acids are the chemicals which the fish can detect in very low doses, but research suggest there’s not one single amino that can give the best result. A combination of many is required. It’s important to know what barbel (or carp) can detect. Supplying a good food value base mix in a particular boilie is also important. 

Barbel and carp are very sensitive to these amino acids and as such I have spent a lot of time and money trying to understand what makes a barbel/carp tick. I have come to the conclusion that money thrown at it and buying these expensive aminos is not the answer, but looking for items containing them instead suggest this is probably the best course of action. 

The answer lay in a good base containing amino attractors in both powder and liquids. 

Please understand that fish detect chemical signals that require an investigation or feed trigger. The chemicals are usually made up of a combination of aminos and/or attraction powders.

Aminos play a vital role in taste (gustatory receptors) also. Take note that barbel (and carp) are attracted into your swim by chemical signals that leak from your baited area and will, once in feed mode pick up everything, twigs, stones, silt and gravel. They will eat the edible and eject the unedible. They will take your bait acting upon various sensory systems. Once in the mouth a further valuation is made and it will either be ejected if not palatable (no nutritional benefit) or decide to eat it if the requirements are met by the gustatory receptors. Taste in the true sense of the word is not important (it wouldn’t matter if it tasted of dog dirt to us), if the food signals are there it will get picked up. If the boilies are a good nutritional source of food the carp or barbel will eat it. 

There’s not many studies carried out with barbel, and as such a lot the testing must be done (with our baits at least) over time to get a consensus of what barbel can detect, pick up and feed on time and time again. 

Of course in natural invertebrates such as lobworms, bloodworms, slugs and snails that seem senseless to us are detected through low amino acids that fish can detect.

Any invertebrates living or dead/dying will send food signals through the water and be detected by fish. Dying bloodworm will cause enzymatic reaction as well as free amino signals.  

In the past I changed my boilie with every cast, (I am sure you have done the same) but this does in fact go against all my principles now in fishing situations. A break down of a boilie releases amino acids and it’s no coincidence that the softer the bait becomes the more appealing it is to fish. This is not a washed out effect but a chemical effect that causes this reaction in a barbel or carp taking your bait.

Don’t change it until you catch a fish, or is no longer usable. 

There’s also little things you can do such as place in a bucket of water from the lake or river you are fishing. Leave for 8 – 10 hours and then use.

There’s reasons why paste moulded around the hook bait can be so good. The attraction is merely the breakdown of paste and at a much quicker rate than that of a boilie due to the boiling/steaming process needed for boilies. The attraction leakage is also at a optimum level. 

Does shaving the sides off boilies work?

In short, I am convinced that it does make a difference as the outer seal is broken allowing the amino within the boilie to leak out easily. I do this a lot when I feel as though there’s barbel in my swim and I want a quick bite from a direct signal source. This is as opposed to allowing the seal to become saturated and eventually falling away after some time.

Shaving the sides release those soluble liquid aminos to be released quickly, opposed to housing them inside and releasing at a much slower rate.

What boilies are best?

Boilies are a much or a muchness nowadays, I don’t even want to think what goes into some of them. When you think that a major company produces a kilo for £1.25  and sells for nearly £11 it does make you wonder. Even at wholesale price it’s not a lot.

However, for barbel soluble amino is paramount and a good base mix which also contains aminos such as lysine in my view. For obvious reasons I won’t elaborate for fear of being accussed of advertising on my own blog (I know who would have thought it hey?).


Base Mix

Think about the dietary needs and understand that boilie fishing alone nowadays is not always the best idea. Aiding digestion is paramount in winter also, so birdseed or CLO added in a fishmeal base is ideal.

When Is The Best Time To Use Boilies?

I will use them all-year round, even if I know there’s probably a better option, but through what I do I find the best way to test, is to use them – anytime.

However , I have found that for barbel there isn’t necessarily a optimum time in terms of season, as long as the right chemicals and aminos are leaking and doing the right things. I believe it’s dependant on the trend of weather, warmer southerly winds in winter and temperatures rising, boilies will catch. Small pellets or even maggots will be the choice if fishing in low, clear and cold water.


At the very start of this article I stressed on the importance of application when using any baits. Most often angler’s fishing for barbel that fail in their quest do so because of their lack of application. 

When fishing boilies understanding first of what you’re buying, such as HNV (High Nutritional Value), food based or attraction based bait is important. For example HNV require less bait to be used through their higher nutritional values than anything else you’re likely to buy. So 500gr of HNV equates to something like 1kg of bait. Consider this…

Use a spread of bait on the river, at different ranges in your swim, get them looking for it! Accuracy is not your friend here, but you don’t want to spread everything downstream of you as that will only work against you. Upstream and in front at different ranges is ideal.

Keep two to three boilies going in every half an hour. Doing it this way is utilizing your swim and is much better than a pile at the beginning as fish eventually home in to your area through the little and often approach. More is definitely less and in winter it’s important to maximize your paste wrap.

By now I have probably bored you to tears with my ramblings but I really could go on and elaborate further but hopefully you get the idea. 

In the next part I want to discuss edges in traditional baits and steer clear of talking about boilies and pellets.

Oh and before you ask I have done a bit of fishing too…but not much…hopefully I will have a good late February and March.

All Middle Trent Fish15391334_10154462058352479_1341288144542339776_o