Friday 20 January 2012

My Way with Bread

I've done a great deal of bread fishing over the last few years and through hundreds of hours of various failures and successes have learned a great deal about this apparently simple bait, so I thought I might fess up about my hard-earned fluffy stuff methodology.

As you might have gathered reading this blog I am a roach nut. It's not that I don't love to catch chub, bream and dace, the other three worthwhile river species with a proper love for bread, but I find that fishing and searching for roach with bread invariably finds me those fish if they are present but without negating a chance of roach if they are present too. It's the only bait that I know that will select roach consistently, maggots and worms having their day but finding too many small fish in the first case and the second being rather inconsistent on rivers where roach are concerned.

I used to use the traditional method of hanging flakes of bread on the hook but was never happy with it. This consists of folding the bread around the hook shank and squeezing it on tight. This works, but works rather badly in my experience as the compression necessary to have the bread glue together is too much pressure, any less and the bread fibres are not sufficiently matted together and the flake simply unglues itself, opens up and falls off the shank as water soaks in and expands the bread. Too much pressure and the bread makes a hard knob around the shank that impedes the hook. Getting things just so is too fine a point to reckon with and especially under wet and/or cold conditions

My theory about hooks, and this theory is supported by evidence gained from all kinds of fishing, from bass and perch to zander and roach, and with all kinds of baits, is that it's not the point of the hook that hooks fish, but the bend. Simply put, if the gape of the hook is clogged with bait then the point simply cannot find a hold unless you strike with such excessive force that the hook is pulled through the obstruction. The ancient (pre 1980!) days of carp fishing spring to mind, a time before the advent of the hair rig (its public dissemination, rather) when carp anglers had to strike ferociously to get the hook through the bait to have any chance at all of hooking the fish.

Bread fishing is no different. Clog the bend and fill the gape with a lump of compressed dough and the point cannot penetrate easily, in fact it skates off any surface where it might otherwise find a hold. I learned this the hard way fishing for roach in a tiny stream. All day long I'd persisted in striking bites to no avail. I was free-lining with just a small shot on the line to sink the buoyant bait and fishing very close up, and with just a few yards of line off the rod top. So close to the action, every little movement of the line and rod top was seen clearly but that only served to magnify the problem, a  problem that was solved when I finally suspected it was the way I was mounting the bread that was at the root, so I experimented with alternatives finally settling upon a method that was to be the foundation of my current practice. I simply compressed a flake of bread between thumb and forefinger and hooked it through once, dropped it in and then proceeded to catch six roach over a pound in weight in the last hour of daylight where for the previous three all I'd managed to catch was icy cold air. It was no accident, the new method had made all the difference in the world.

The sixth was caught after these beauties went back!
Of course this was a variation on fishing punched bread -- a compressed disc of bread that expands in water. It's nothing new. I tried to find bread punches of sufficient size to do the job for me but alas bread punches are routinely used to make miniscule baits for match anglers and I found that none were available in the kinds of sizes I wanted, which would be 10-40mm diameter, not the 2-10mm sets on offer.

40mm sounds big for a roach bait doesn't it? Well, it's really not so big that big roach won't take it and for chub it's a medium sized bait as a three pounder will gladly suck down a 60mm quarter slice in one gulp, and without blinking. My usual size range is around 20-30mm, a one pence coin and a fifty pence coin if you like, which are about the right sizes for size twelve and size ten hooks respectively, though I've found that the hook size is not so important as the hook ends up completely buried inside a big ball of soft mush when the bait has been in the water just a few minutes and because the bend of the hook is not impeded it will strike through very easily, so if I start out with size twelves and get lots of little pecks that whittle the bait down and want to mount a big bait to compensate I won't change hook size to a ten or eight to accommodate the larger bait nor will I go down in size if I decided to use half-sized 10-15 mm baits as the bread will still expand and hide the hook.

After a couple of years of trial and error, nowadays I cut my discs from a medium slice of bread with various diameter sections of a broken carbon whip that have been filed internally at one end to create a sharp edge. These discs are uncompressed and remain so till I decide how much compression I want on the day, and this is an important point. If I am ledgering in sluggish water then the bait will expand as it soaks but retain all the air trapped in the fibres which means that it will pop up off bottom and float in midwater if left uncompressed.

If well compressed then much of the trapped air has been forced out and the bait will be less buoyant and less inclined to float. Between the two extremes there are a whole range of buoyancy options that allow the bait to be presented with great finesse under all conditions, something that commercial bread punches do not allow for with their one-compression-fits-all construction.

When ledgering add a shot of whatever size necessary and at whatever distance from the hook you choose and you increase the presentation options exponentially, in fact there have been many occasions when bites have been impossible to hit or very finicky indeed but the problem has been instantly cured by pinching on a shot a few inches from the hook to nail down a hook bait, that up till then has been drifting about unnaturally on a long tail in a turbulent current. This has been especially useful when fishing in weirpools where it's impossible to know where the current is flowing one moment to the next. It's worth experimenting with placing small shot on the tail as it really can improve things, an inch of adjustment often making a mile of difference and though I can't find a reference to anyone else ever using shot in this way when ledgering (but it can't possibly be new practice!) I think about it all the time when fishing with buoyant bread and constantly experiment to get the optimal set-up for the conditions.

Compressed, folded, hooked, the work of three seconds...
Of course when float fishing then correct shotting against, or with, the bread's natural buoyancy becomes an even more important matter to consider and is a point of finesse that makes the difference between few fish, or lots.

The discs are used thus ~ They are compressed between thumb and forefinger and folded in half but not so that the two halves stick together. The hook is passed through the top of the fold and the bait cast out without further preliminaries. It never comes off on the cast no matter how forceful, or on being dragged sharply under by the feeder. In the water the bread expands, the two halves fold out from each other and within a minute or so you have a ball of soft mush with the hook in the centre but completely hidden inside, wafting seductively in the current.

Just seconds underwater, opening up already...
Having the discs cut at home does away with all kinds of problems encountered winter fishing in sub-zero temperatures. At times I have had such cold hands from handling fish, nets, rod and reel (metal centrepins may be lovely to look at and use, but they are the worst reel to employ below freezing point) that fumbling in the packet, pulling a correct sized piece from a slice, trimming it and all the rest, is extra operations too many and the apparently simple task of putting a piece of bread on the hook has taken upwards of a minute!

Believe me, fumbling with half-frozen bread with half-frozen fingers takes all the manual dexterity you can muster, such an otherwise easy operation rendered all but impossible by the fact that the nerve endings have given up the ghosts and shut down! Now I grab a disc of bread, fold it and hook it through once -- even the coldest, most insensitive of hands can manage this, half the work being already done and if the bread freezes too, then I hold it between the fingers for a few seconds after compression and it will thaw in seconds, however cold the fingers feel to be.

Two minutes later - where's the hook gone?
And freezing cold brings me to a second advantage. These discs can of course be frozen for storage and be ready for use at a moments notice. A large bag of discs can be produced from a single loaf and that's enough hook baits ready-made for three or four sessions. And that brings me to a third possibility.

I found quite out by accident (laziness!) that discs of bread left in the bait tin for a few days dry out hard and tough but still expand in water in a few minutes to the same fluffy mushy ball that roach find so irresistible. It takes twice as long to expand as fresh bread does but that doesn't matter as the roach will still have a go and finally have it whole, in fact the bait is now more durable than before and resists the attentions of small fish for longer.

Which brings me to the fourth dimension of fishing bread discs. The dried discs (pellets) can be pierced easily with a sharp point (I use an old brass dart body) and hair rigged in ones, two's or threes. If the hair is filled with dried discs then on expansion the hook will eventually end up inside a big ball of mush, if in two or ones then the ball of mush will be below the hook (or above in water, to be accurate)

Fresh left and dried right
To take things a little further, because these dried bread pellets float, they create either a critically balanced bait when mounted singly on a hair, one that will slowly sink under the weight of a large hook, or a more and more buoyant bait when mounted in multiples, and that means that they are an effective bait for when fishing over weedy bottoms, or, as a floating bait fished on the surface for carp.

That they can also be catapulted out as loose surface feed, though not very far it has to be said, is another string to their bow as is the fact that properly dried bread pellets will keep indefinitely and are very light indeed so a bagful can be stowed for good in the bait box as back up for those moments on the bank when you need bread at a moments notice.

And there's yet another interesting possibility -- if you stack three or four slices atop each other, cut through the lot in one go then push the result out with a finger, what you get is a big fat pellet of bread with all the slices compressed and stuck together. Truly a big bait for big fish!

Three dried discs hair-rigged to a size eight hook

Lastly is choice of bread. Rubbish bread makes rubbish bait. I unhesitatingly recommend Warburtons Blue as I have found it to be the most fishing friendly bread of all. Use other breads by all means but they ain't half as good, let me tell you. It's perfect as it comes -- doughy, malleable, durable and industrially reliable -- that fish love it is also a good thing! I've had to give other, lesser breads a whirl when my local shop runs out of the holy slice, but every time I have sorely regretted not making the extra effort to get to Tesco's for the real thing. Other breads just don't have what is necessary -- too open in texture, crumbly, weedy, dry out too fast in sun or frost, can't take a good cast, pull off the hook when the feeder sinks, and too many other infuriating disadvantages to mention. In my experience, a day spent with bad bread was a day best spent at home, so give me always...

The Majestic Blue

The one bread purpose designed by roach anglers, for all anglers...

Or so it would seem.

So there it is. Bread. A simple bait in essence, but in practice, probably the most difficult of all to use effectively. Half the battle is in preparation, half again in usage, but like all good games it's a game of three halves and the third is undoubtedly, confidence.  Since using bread my way I've come to have supreme confidence in it. I know it's still there on the hook and only when the bites stop has it been removed, and then by fish. I know that roach love it above all else, that it only needs be there in front of them and well presented for them to take it confidently and that I can easily achieve that good presentation on the day. Lastly, the sheer convenience of having ready made baits in the sizes I require in storage, means that I no longer have to put up with inferior materials bought on the spur of the moment from unreliable local vendors.

I would go on to talk about roach bites on bread but that's another subject that would take an hour of your time to read. It's sufficient to say, well-presented bait is likely to produce confident bites, so ignore the tippity-taps and wait it out for that unmistakable slow inching of the tip. In the meantime sit on your hands and keep them warm, 'cause it's fiddly stuff is bread.

Now, where're those big 'uns I keep talking about, but lately, never seem to catch?


  1. Couldn't agree more about roach and bread, Jeff. In clear water, it catches roach that you would never know were there if you stuck to other baits. Hemp aside perhaps, but then hemp doesn't work instantly like bread does.

    Smashing picture of those big roach on the snow, by the way.

  2. Brilliant, I always thought there must be a better way - can't wait to try it out on mullet. Thank you

  3. Excellent Jeff, bread is a bait I use far too little these days. Much food for thought.

  4. Excellent and thought provoking write up Jeff, like Gurn I don't use bread quite as much as a hookbait these days, generally putting it to use as an ingredient when making pastes only.

    Those Roach in that winter photo are simply wonderful bars of silver too.

  5. Great article Jeff, I'm definitely going to give your tips a go.

  6. Great stuff, thought about it, never tried it, will try it!!

  7. Well, I'm very happy that this has been of use! Try it out, it does work but as you can see from the latest post, it needs a little time to swell up. Then again so does bread used conventionally.

    Mullet, now there's a fish I want to catch. If only Cov had a harbour next the sea...

  8. Great article on bread fishing for roach , some food for thought there.

    thanks jeff.

  9. Many thanks for sharing your knowledge. I admire your way with the bread discs; it's inspired me to give it a serious go on my local Trent (for chub). Fresh thinking applied to an old bait! Again...thank you!

  10. Got me back into bread again. First cast caught a trout !?
    Got a couple of larger roach on two occasions just by starting bread just as all the youngsters were busy looking for the next maggot. I will owe you one if this happy coincidence continues.

    Good luck with the book.

  11. Well, thanks for the optimism shown by all and readiness to try it out. I hear plenty have already given it whirl and report, well, success. That's great.

    And, I see that AT have ripped off the idea of hair rigging bread discs for a buoyant winter carp bait in a regular column of their Feb 9th issue.

    Accident? coincidence?

    No such thing in journalism ...

  12. Hi Jeff, thanks for a great article. I've never been a fan of breadflake and often end up using a bread punch. Like you I find them too small and considered using a meat punch as they are a bit bigger. I will definitely try this method out, so thanks.

    1. Do try it, Nathan. It does work and stays on no matter what

  13. Excellent article. I have been a fan of bread as a bait for roach for many long as the chub don't get there first. Warburton's of course, what else, although I have preference for orange myself. The texture of Warbies is such that, if undisturbed, it will remain on the hook, in stillwater, for a long time. I cannot use it though without being reminded of that great ad, where the kid is standing by the canal, enthusing about the exquisite taste and texture of a slice of Warburton's. Cut to his mother " For Christ's sake, just throw it to the ruddy ducks"

    1. Never used orange myself but tried green and it was too thick for my purposes. The orange 'Toastie' is it lighter in texture? None of them ever come off easily but strike through no trouble. Marvelous breads.

  14. Thanks Jeff, missed three tench/carp yesterday (got the forth, carp) with compressed blobs and the hook-point up the side. With try thumb-flat folded fresh bread next time. thanks again.

  15. Yes, do.

    Richard, I'll guarantee they'll be no problems with impeding the strike. So long as it's been in the water just a little while it'll swell up and offer very little resistance.

    Good luck

  16. really great read Jeff,just off to make some punches & a Warbies loaf
    cant wait to try,many thanx for the info.