By Christian Barker
This season I have had a fantastic year Chub fishing and looking back through my catch records, I attribute part of this success to adapting my techniques and exploring the possibilities using the Laguna SAC products and a brilliant new product designed by Darren from the Hook Bait Company. The SAC juice product has some unique properties – not least of which its ability to resist freezing and has been tested down to temperatures as low as -46 degrees. The Hook bait company? Their expertise helped to eliminate some nagging doubts using an ‘all-time’ classic Chub bait – Cheese paste!
Making the most out of cheese paste.
Winter Chubbing is synonymous with cheese paste; in fact as soon as the nights start to draw in and the first early frosts have arrived signalling the onset of winter, I can’t wait to get my mixing bowl out in anticipation of spending many days and nights in search of my favourite species. There is no doubt that plain cheese paste is a fantastic bait. The problem as I see it, it is a victim of its own success – everybody uses it!
Cheese paste is both bold in sight and smell and Chub simply adore it. But by association with capture, they learn to avoid it – or certainly approach it with caution. I am sure this fear diminishes with time after capture, or is less of an issue in coloured water – but is certainly worthy of consideration.
It’s quite interesting to watch the reaction of feeding fish to different baits and presentation. If a single fish senses danger or uncertainty this fear is transmitted to any fish in close proximity and it’s as if the whole shoal gets the message that something is wrong. It can certainly be alarming to place cheese paste in good swims with chub in them, to return the next day and observe the same said pieces uneaten!
Does pastry have a role in cheese paste?
Cheese paste is simply a brilliant paste bait – but made in the traditional way it does have significant drawbacks. It is possible to reinvigorate cheese paste beyond recognition with the addition of a few flavours. Better still, this season I felt I was able to address some of its other failings.
Cheese paste is dead easy to make, 500g of the ripest vintage cheddar, 600g of Danish blue cheese and a 450g block of frozen short crust pastry – just as it comes in packets from the Supermarket. Simply grate all the ingredients, add any additional flavours at this stage and knead them together to a smooth consistency.
On reflection, I am certain the addition of pastry to a cheese paste has perhaps cost quite a few Chub too. Let’s face it… Cheese paste comes into its own in winter months; thinking logically, it hardly seems ideal adding more fat!
Does flavouring cheese paste work?
The greatest part of experimenting with a bait like cheese paste is that for the most part, you can work on a hunch. I have caught Chub on elderberries, blackberries and other fruits and have always been surprised how preoccupied they become on such a low energy food source. Is there something inherently attractive that makes fruit flavours so effective? I suspect that old Chevin has a surprisingly sweat pharyngeal tooth.
With this in mind, I was inspired to experiment with the Laguna SAC juice. It appealed to me principally because it is actually made from the real thing! Don’t ask me why, but I was instantly drawn to the banana flavour and promptly ordered a few bottles. It’s not a highly concentrated flavour and felt that the whole bottle needed to be used in my first small exploratory batch.
The use of Banana flavour as a Chub attractor is in-fact nothing new. The earliest reference I could find to its use specifically for Chub was in-deed Peter Stone in his forward to the brilliant Chub Study Group book ‘Chub’. It also transpired that some other rather talented Chub anglers have managed to capitalise on this rather unusual attractor over the years.
Suffolk Chub go bananas over…… well, banana flavoured cheese paste!
First outing with a new idea is always a leap of faith and in this instance it was no different – except for one thing. On this occasion I also had an angling companion; a competent angler, so the pressure was on. My approach is always mobile. We walked up to the top of the fishery in order to work our way back to the van. I always like to start on a ‘confidence’ swim just to anticipate from the fish’s reaction to what type of day it’s going to be. The plan being to work each swim, leap frogging back every half hour to an hour or so, to cover as many potential features as possible.
The first cast fell perfectly just brushing the raft. The line falls slack; I gently pull back the bait and observe the effect on the tip of my feeder rod. It feels perfect as it easily trips back a few inches indicating it had found its resting place on the clear gravel patch. Introducing a bow in the line, I set the rod on its rest. I like this additional form of indication as I feel it gives a wary fish a little more confidence under minimal resistance. I find on slow flowing rivers, if you tighten up to the bait, this results in a lot of missed bites.
Everything in place, I draw deeply on a cigarette trying to focus on where the line enters the water. I enter an instinctive and primitive heightened sense of consciousness, poised to act. A hesitant twitch!!!! Heart race pulsing, an instant metallic sensation floods my taste buds… the line tightens and before the tip fully deflects I have pulled into the first fish of the day; a lively fish of 3lb13oz. I rest it in the net in the margins in anticipation of another fish. Nearly instantaneously, a second fish fell to the same presentation of banana cheese paste, at 4lb1oz, a good result for a small river! The brace was quickly photographed and the fish returned a few meters upstream to minimise disturbance to the swim.
It is unusual to get multiple fish from a small swim due to the commotion of playing and landing a lively Chub, but on this instance I was soon to be admiring a second brace from the same swim; this time a 4lb2oz and a stunner at 5lb2oz! Four fish in little under an hour was obviously enough for this swim; however, I did give it another 40 minutes before moving off downstream.
After allowing myself to settle into the next swim, I cast and eventually received a tentative, twitchy style bite which I allowed to develop before finally striking into thin air! Now in this instance, this may sound alien to anyone used to fish a river an appreciable flow, I recast and left the bail arm open to allow the fish to ‘run’ with the bait under minimal resistance. After about 25minutes, the tip sprung into life and line began stripping off the reel. Pointing the rod towards the fish, I closed the bail arm, waiting for the tip to deflect and pulled into the fish, a beautifully conditioned fish of 4lb1oz. A note of caution regarding this technique; used appropriately I have yet to land a deep hooked fish, but I would resist using this method other than to solve the problem of missing bites having first used conventional bite indication methods.
The session ended with a ‘red letter’ day tally of 9 fish, 7 over 4lb with the best fish remaining 5lb2oz; very respectable for can only be described as a small, slow flowing Suffolk river. My angling companion? A missed bite – and plenty of action behind the camera – this made for a pleasant change as more often than not, it works the other way around!
It would have appeared that on this day, at least, the fish seemed to have a specific liking for a banana flavoured SAC juice cheese paste over more traditional offerings of bread and luncheon meat… From my perspective? What a great way to let them get one of their ‘five’ a day!
The perfect cheese paste?
In many ways, pastry in a cheese paste is superfluous – it’s just the way I had always made it… read any chub article and there it is! I have always accepted it as a bulking component and to a greater extent a binder to produce a paste of the ‘right’ consistency to stay on the hook. Nutritionally, the flour and fat could be considered a great energy source – but let’s face it, cheese is the secret ingredient.
Typically, winter baits would ideally have a low fat/oil content otherwise they tend to solidify and have reduced flavour leakage. In the coldest of conditions, the fats in the cheese and pastry turn an otherwise soft pliable paste into a hard lump that I am certain has cost fish due to impeding the hook on the strike.
Considering these concerns, it was during a conversation with good friend Darren McCann from the Hook Bait Company that he suggested he may have the perfect solution. A new product based on his successful ‘Milk-pro’ base mix. The benefits of using a milk protein base are more than evident – highly soluble and attractive to chub. Better still when Darren mentioned he had devised a cheese paste version called ‘Big Cheese’ based on his brilliant ‘Milk-pro’ base it seemed the perfect solution. To be fair, there is little Darren and his team of consultants don’t know when it comes to specialist baits and his advice is always very welcome.
As my paste baits have a habit of being constantly refrozen and thawed I opted to produce the Hook Bait Company ‘Big Cheese’ base mix without eggs. The initial problem of not using eggs in the mixing process was to get the base mix to bind in a way that it could stay on the hook whilst still withstanding a cast.
In place of the eggs, 20ml of Big Cheese liquid flavour, a bottle of Laguna Blue Cheese SAC juice and a further 2 parts water would be added to mix the base mix. After a bit of experimentation, I found that by further adding a grated block of mature cheddar, a block of Danish blue and a glug of vegetable oil I arrived at the perfect consistency – better still, you have a cheese paste that absolutely reeks of cheese!
It has to be said, the Hook Bait company have got their ‘Big Cheese’ liquid flavour spot on…. a nice creamy cheese flavour with just the right levels of n-Butyric acid. Leaving out the eggs makes the paste far more soluble allowing attractants to dissolve out and draw chub to the bait. It quickly became apparent there were other more crucial benefits… No longer did my cheese paste become anywhere near as hard in cold water. In fact whilst remaining pliable enough to stay on the hook for casting, even in the coldest conditions it could be struck from the hook cleanly!
Another great little trick, I discovered that it was possible to ‘crumb’ the paste up by gently breaking it apart between my finger tips. For the majority of my Chubbing I use single hook baits; it is good for confidence on occasions to be able to draw fish to the hook bait using the minimal amount of free offerings. I want to catch them – not feed them.
Have I arrived at the perfect Cheese paste that meets my demands? I would have to say yes! Firm enough to cast, a steady leakage of soluble attractants, ideal in mild conditions and most importantly, no more nagging doubts about its use in really cold water. Combining the Blue Cheese SAC juice and the Hook Bait Company ‘Big Cheese’ base mix, I really feel I have nailed it.
Over the course of a season, it’s these little attentions to detail that make the difference; these little refinements really do give you that all important edge. It’s certainly worth giving careful consideration to bait and presentation. It gives you confidence to concentrate on what is really important… Catching fish!