A Beginner’s Baiting Guide for short Session Angling

What’s Going On Down There?

A Beginner’s Baiting Guide for short Session Angling

By Mike Dragone

The million dollar question…

Whether you are an avid tournament fisherman, a long session angler, or the average day session angler, most of us ask ourselves this question every time we wet a line.  I am often asked by new carp anglers how to properly bait a swim during a session. Sometimes one of the hardest things to do is to get a handle on what is going on below the surface during a fishing session. Knowing fish density & feeding intensity can be important to success, especially for short sessions. This discussion will be based on a typical short session. What is considered a “short session”? My personal definition of short session is classified as 24 hours or less. Getting a good feel for this can sometimes be quite challenging, as often there are multiple factors that come into play. Fishing new waters for the first time can certainly magnify these factors, as there is often no base information to draw from. What is the fish density for a particular body of water? How much bait should I put in to start? What kind of bait should I put in? These are all questions we ultimately ask ourselves at the beginning of every session. Very often your initial baiting strategies can often make or break a session, especially a short one.


Starting point

Picking the right spot to fish should be your first objective. If you are not visibly seeing fish activity, try to find a spot that makes sense. What time of year is it? If it’s Spring/pre spawn, maybe the entrance to a typical spawning area. Is it Summer? Maybe find a bottom feature near deeper water. Fishing a large river? Perhaps you can locate a current break behind a point or jetty. Practice some watercraft, plumb the swim if possible to determine bottom contour & make up. Surprisingly, the majority of anglers do not bother with this step! The bottom line is you should try to avoid pulling up to a spot and fishing blindly.


Fish population

What is the fish density in the body of water you are fishing? Are there large numbers of fish? Don’t really know? The answers you come up with may dictate how you should start off your baiting strategy. If it is a spot you are familiar with, and you know the fish numbers are low, it could be a disadvantage to over bait the swim at the start. The same may apply to any new water, until you can determine otherwise. Piling in 5 gallons of feed where there are few fish about around can kill a short session fast. You may get the fish in the swim alright, but it may take a considerable amount of time for the fish to wade through all of the free offerings before they find your hook bait. If you feel you may have done this, one way to battle the issue is to boost your hook baits, with a dip or other additive, which can help the fish hone in on your specific hook bait.


How might you approach these situations? Here are some thoughts:


Small/tightly baited areas

Instead of scattering bait over a large expanse, try to bait a small localized area. Once you have plumbed your swim, you can find your preferred ambush point. Then you can catapult or spod to a tight area. A good sized area might be roughly 10 feet in diameter per baited line. I like using a Spomb in these situations if fishing out of catapult range. It will only drop your bait where it lands, with no bait scattering about on the cast like a typical spod setup. If you have a line clip on your reel, it can help even more to bait up a tight area. When casting hook baits at range, use a piece of power gum or other indicator on your main line, to help you properly place your baits on a spot every cast. This is almost essential if you are fishing this way once the sun goes down.  Just pick a landmark on the horizon that lines up with your baited area and cast straight to it, the marker on your main line should keep you at the right range.


The “Disappearing” bait source

Another way to prevent potential over feeding is the use of a “disappearing bait source”. Examples of these are fast dissolving pellet, ground baits, etc. You can be a little more liberal with application in this case. Fish will be rooting around looking for more substantial offerings and will not get filled up too quickly, often pouncing on a well placed hook bait. Daytime fishing with a small brightly colored pop-up can be deadly in these situations!


Method/pack bait fishing

This is another good way to fish a swim when a limited number of fish present. Instead of tossing out freebies, fish method or pack style. Every cast in a sense is baiting up your swim a little at a time. There is nothing like a nice little attractive pile of bait for fish to investigate. A light colored method/pack can really stand out on a dark bottom substrate, attracting curious fish. This is a favorite of mine in these situations.


This discussion so far deals with low fish densities. What should you do if you begin catching? Pile it in? How will you know when there are lots of fish in your baited area? What are the signs when fish are there in numbers? Here are a few…



Often, especially if your line is not pegged tight to the bottom, “line bites” can be common. Fish swirling in and out of your baited area while feeding can inadvertently make contact with your main line. Chirping bite alarms, dancing rod tips, short false takes are all signs that there could be a number of fish about.


Quick Takes

Most of us have experienced this at one time or another. You cast, and while placing your rod down on your pod or bank stick the line tears off, sometimes even before you have had the chance to engage your bait runner! This is a classic sign of competitive feeding, when even the plunk of a 3 oz lead hitting the bottom does not deter the fish from grabbing the bait. This is another good sign there are numbers about. Fishing many of the many prolific carp waters here in the northeast US, I can’t count the number of times this has happened to me!


Double/Triple Headers

Especially if this happens more than once (ruling out coincidence), there has to be large numbers of fish present & competing for baits for this to occur. This is a “no brainer” situation! Fish are feeding hard! Keep the bait going in!


Rolling Fish

Fish crashing over your baited area in any situation is a great sign that they are on the bait. Although there is much debate over why fish exhibit this behavior, there are a couple of schools of thought I agree with. First is that it is believed that when fish are feeding heavily, they accumulate silt & detritus in their gills, and the act of breaching helps clear this material. Gulping air, they push it through their gills when diving back down to resume feeding. Often you can see these trails of bubbles, giving away their movements along the bottom. Another belief is that the fish use this behavior as a communication tool to other fish, letting them know there is a food source available.


So what do these clues all mean?


When there are numbers of fish feeding heavily, they can certainly clean off your baited area quickly. In most cases it would be prudent to keep bait going in at a steady pace, to keep the fish in the area for as long as possible. In large river systems & lakes with large populations of fish, you could potentially have a shoal of a hundred fish or more move through & eat every spec of bait in a very short time.  Once the bait is gone they will often move off looking for greener pastures, leaving you high & dry until they return. In these situations I often like to keep it going in, a couple of catapults or Spombs after every couple of fish, to keep up the competitive feeding as long as possible.



These are what I consider general guidelines, and can be a good starting point for most short session situations in new/untested waters. Although results may vary during each session, you will eventually develop a feel for how to proceed with a sound approach. And once you have mastered this you will have a better understanding of “What’s Going On Down There?”!