Kent Coast Sea Fishing Compendium

Bait Additives

"Sea-fishing as a sport" (1865) Lambton J. H. Young at pages 60, 61, 95 & 96


Pilchard Gut. The entrails of the pilchard, or, as it is much more commonly called "pilchard gut", is one of the most attractive baits known and is much sought after both by fish and fishermen. It is simply the entire entrails of the pilchard as removed when the fish are prepared for curing; in the centre there is a hard substance like the gizzard of a bird and into this the hook is put, the pendent portion being coiled round the hook. This bait can only be used when at anchor, as the oily and fatty parts are washed out if towed through the water. Bass, gray mullet, and mackerel, as well as bream chads, are sure to be taken with it if in the vicinity; and to attract the latter, or, in fact, any and all kinds of fish, when at anchor, an old stocking or muslin bag is filled with the gut, and, a stone having been put in, is lowered to within about a fathom of the bottom, when the chads and other fish assemble in immense numbers to try for the dainty morsel, and are easily caught, two at a time, by letting down lines baited with the pilchard gut in the neighbourhood of the bag … This bait can only be obtained when the pilchard is in season, which is from July to November, and if at a loss for it you can purchase some pilchards and extract the bait from them.


In the year 1847 I was coming in from seawards one morning in September, off Plymouth Sound, when I heard a great blowing of horns (a custom very general amongst fishermen when catching pilchards), and on drawing near we found a boat whose nets were completely choked with pilchards, a fish being in every mesh; the weight was so great that the men could not draw in the nets and had hoisted one to the mast-head. Just as we came near the sun rose up out of the sea, and as the boat rolled to and fro the fish looked like a piece of scale armour, every scale showing a different tint, from emerald, red, blue, and green, with all the intermediate tints of the rainbow. Such a gorgeous sight is not often seen, and should have had a Byron there to have commemorated it in a poem of the sea and its wonders.

Both the pilchard and its entrails are very valuable for bait, all kinds of fish feeding on them very readily.

"The Badminton Library: Modern Sea Fishing" (1895) John Bickerdyke at pages 104 & 105


Pilchards are among the oiliest of fishes, and much valued on that account either as bait or ground bait. So far as Britain is concerned, they are not generally found very far beyond the coasts of Cornwall and Devon. The inside of a pilchard, though somewhat difficult to keep on the hook, will attract almost any fish that is to be found in the sea. It is a particularly good bait when mackerel fishing at anchor, in mid-water or near the bottom, and there is nothing better in the ground-bait net. If the flesh is used, the pilchard may be cut up in exactly the same manner as the herring, but the scales should be very carefully scraped off while it is still fresh. If it has dried at all, it should be soaked before this is done. But it is not a good thing to cut the bait into pieces until just before it is going to be used, for the oil which bleeds from the severed portion is, as I have said, very attractive. In Cornish waters a long strip from the side of a pilchard is a favourite bait for large pollack. Begin the cut by taking the whole width of the tail, together with some of the cartilage, and cut away gradually, tapering to a point near the shoulder. Some men start the cut at the shoulder. The hook should be stuck through the piece of cartilage at the tail end, the remainder of the bait streaming out and waving about in the current. Pilchards are sometimes salted down for use as baits, but when this is done they should be soaked in fresh water for some hours before being used.

"Modern Sea Angling" (1921) Francis Dyke Holcombe at pages 45 & 112

… It is a very good plan too to tie a piece of old sponge to the side of the bag, and before lowering it to pour about a dessert spoonful of pilchard oil … on to the sponge. Failing pilchards, the cleanings of fish, cut up into fairly small pieces with an old knife or pair of scissors - rather a "messy business" - and mussels, small shore crabs and shrimps, and the livers of skate or dogfish, pounded up between a couple of large flat stones, make a very good substitute. Work the ground bait up into a fairly stiff paste with a little wet sand - for which purpose the angler will find the boat's bailer will come in handy - and fashion it into balls about the size of a large walnut. When fishing, the ground bait bag should be well shaken from time to time, and occasionally it should be hauled up and a little more pilchard oil poured over the sponge.

As in the case of mackerel fishing too pilchard oil may be used with advantage; but when one is after black bream it is better to tie the sponge fairly close to the lead at the end of the line, which should be suspended from the bows of the boat, with the lead resting on the bottom.

"Sea Fishing Simplified" (1929) Francis Dyke Holcombe & A. Fraser-Brunner at pages 15 & 16

Chapter II

Except when you are using a live bait, it is unquestionable that it increases its attractiveness to dip the bait in pilchard oil before putting it overboard … Probably you will not bother about getting any; but if you do, take special care that it does not get spilt over your clothes or tackle bag; it is vile-smelling stuff, and you can never get the smell out of anything that has had pilchard oil on it.

"The Sportsman's Library: Sea Fishing" (1935) Major D. P. Lea Birch ("Fleur-de-Lys") at page 90

Chapter V: Bait


… The pilchard has larger scales than the herring, while the dorsal fin is not set centrally as it is in the larger fish. A herring held up by the back fin balances level; the pilchard's head lifts and tail dips; a sprat's head dips and tail rises.

The fresh pilchard makes the best bait of all the herring family, as the superabundant oil seeps out from the cut fish and advertises its virtues afar. All bottom-feeders take pilchard readily. The guts too must not be forgotten, they make an extraordinarily attractive bait: even that discriminating gourmet the grey mullet will take pilchard gut. The oil which is extracted from the fish and bottled is useful for many purposes. It makes, in fact, an attractive sauce for adding zest to ordinary, and not very intriguing, baits. For example, a hook-bait can be dipped in pilchard oil, or a small sponge saturated with it can be attached to the ground-bait net …

"Modern Sea Fishing" (1937) Eric Cooper at page 21

Mackerel and Pilchard

The pilchard is practically confined to Cornwall and is seldom caught east of the Isle of Wight. A large number of the fish are exported and the oil extracted before they are packed. This oil is considered by many anglers to be most attractive addition to all fish baits. It can be bought - sometimes a fairly stiff price is asked - at the ports where the fish are landed. A small quantity can be poured into an old saucer, or lid of a tobacco tin, and the baits dipped into it before being dropped into the water. Do not allow the oil to be spilled over the boat seats. It is almost impossible to get rid of the smell once it has got on your clothes.

"Sea Angling Modern Methods and Tackle" (1952) Alan Young at pages 61 & 62

Pilchard oil is not a bait but serves to make most baits more attractive to fish, either because of its actual taste or because the oil, gradually disseminating down current, forms a "scent-beam" up which fish move to its source.

Any fish bait dipped in it is improved in quality, and its use is particularly recommended when baits which have been preserved in salt or formalin are being used.

Pure pilchard oil is scarce and expensive, but there is a commercial product on the market made from that substance and specially prepared for anglers.

Pilchard oil has an unpleasant smell, stains clothes permanently, and "runs" easily. I keep my oil in a tightly corked bottle and put the bottle in a screw-topped jar.

"Bass: How to Catch Them" (1955) Alan Young at page 43

Chapter III: Baits

No harm is done by treating any dead bait with pilchard oil, for it will not discourage clean feeders and it may encourage those bass that have a liking for highly scented baits.

"Sea Fishing Baits: How to Find & Use Them" (1957) Alan Young at page 69

Chapter VII

Miscellaneous Baits: Groundbaits


Pilchard oil is an attractor which is likely to improve any dead bait, whether fresh or not. It is particularly valuable when preserved baits are used.

Like most oils it "runs" easily, and the container should be securely corked. It should be handled with care for it stains clothes. A little on the finger-tips will do no harm when baiting up, as it neutralizes tobacco scent.

A few years ago pilchard oil was scarce, but it is now sold by many tackle dealers, and is advertised regularly in angling periodicals.

The oil from a tin of sardines makes a fair substitute. Though in most cases this is mainly olive oil, it is well impregnated with sardine scent.

"The Modern Sea Angler" (1958) Hugh Stoker at pages 38 & 65

Chapter Three


D. Fish Baits


An excellent bait, the pilchard is unfortunately more or less confined to Cornish waters. It is advisable to use only freshly-caught fish, bought direct from incoming drifters. Cuttings or whole fish are mainly used for hook bait, and the entrails for ground-bait. In addition, the oil derived from pressed pilchards is often used, both inside and outside the West Country, to make other baits more attractive. Small bottles of the preserved oil are obtainable from most tackle dealers.

The fact that the pilchard is soft-fleshed makes it unsuitable for shore casting.

Chapter Six

Rock Fishing

An artificial bait can only be regarded as a second-best; although a small piece of rag soaked in pilchard oil, attached to the hook of the lure, will give it a lifelike scent and make it more effective.

"Sea-Fishing" (1960) Arthur Sharp at page 26

… most bottom-feeders will readily take a strip of pilchard. The gut or entrails make an even better bait; and, as they exude oil, make a valuable adjunct to ground-bait.

"Sea Fishing" (1964) Harvey Torbett at page 56

One form of groundbaiting which has caught the imagination of British anglers is that involving the use of pilchard oil, which is used to flavour baits before use. The notion is that, as the oil washes off it provides a scent trail leading to the bait. A tackle-dealer friend of mine recommends the use of an ordinary "swim-feeder" as used in freshwater fishing. The plan is to fill the tube with cotton wool which has been well soaked in pilchard oil. This is attached by a sliding link to the end of the trace, being stopped a foot or so above the bait. It certainly provides a lasting scent trail, although it is possible for the quarry to be attracted to the feeder-tube rather than to the bait, and seize this instead.

"Sea Angling" (1965) Derek Fletcher at pages 39, 73 & 103

The Mullet Family

… I find that from records kept more rock mullet are caught with bread than anything else. First use a small tinful of breadcrumbs moistened with pilchard oil to attract the fish to the rocks, or, if the mullet are already there, to induce them to feed. This should be lightly tossed on to the water giving a cloud effect which slowly sinks to the bottom. Some will find its way into rock crevices, hanging to weed, generally making an attraction for the fish. It is then advisable to wait five minutes or so, quietly, but watching the water for movement. In another tin, mould dampened stale bread into pellets, and then throw these in, making sure that your arm is not casting shadows on the water.

The Tope

Some tope enthusiasts double the attraction of fish-baits by stuffing the mouth with cotton-wool soaked in pilchard oil. This does help, particularly for the shore caster who has not the opportunity to seek his quarry like the boatman.

Chapter 12: Flat-Fish Family

… The strangest successful lure appears to have been a small piece of white rag, soaked in pilchard oil, and simply hung from the point of a hook. This, slowly dragged across the bottom, secured a bag of twelve fish at Brighton a few years ago. Dab fishing calls for little skill.

"The Sea Angler Afloat and Ashore" (1965) Desmond Brennan at pages 183, 184 & 282


A thick "soup" of crushed and pounded fish makes about the most useful ground bait. Pilchard is superior to any other fish on account of its oiliness, followed by herring or mackerel but most any soft fish will do and the addition of fish oil will greatly help to attract the mullet to the bait. Pilchard oil is the best for this job but even a quantity of veterinary cod liver oil which can be obtained quite cheaply will prove useful … On beaches which do not strip too much and where there is a suitable incline, a good plan to adopt is to bury ground bait in a very shallow trench running up towards high water mark. The incoming tide and light surf will disturb the sand, uncover the bait and release the oil, providing a steady supply of ground bait to keep the fish interested and enabling you to fish up the tide. Sand releases oil slowly and in little bursts and a small tin of pilchard-oil-soaked sand placed close to the ground bait is a very useful addition at any time … Fillets of fish or the filleted carcasses of fish to which soft shreds of flesh are attached can also be used. The fillets can be anchored by tying them to a small stone or the lid of a tin which is then buried in the sand. They can be smeared thickly with fish oil or a tin of sand soaked with oil can be placed close by. Remember to give the fish a choice so use a number of fillets located in an area about 15 yards wide.

Where the ground is already pre-baited, as frequently happens in harbours, towns and seaside resorts by local dumping, it is usually a matter of waiting for the tide to cover the ground bait and for the mullet to arrive and feed. In others it will be necessary to bring them on the feed as described in the last paragraph. Where suitable waste is discharged at regular or irregular times, such as at sewer, factory, cannery or creamery outlets, it may be necessary to wait for this discharge and fish in it if you have no suitable ground bait with which to entice them in between. Sometimes in these conditions a cloud ground bait made up of crushed barley meal mixed with fish oil and thoroughly soaked with water, makes a very attractive cloud in the water and not alone gets but keeps the fish interested in feeding for a considerable length of time.


… The addition of blood or fish oil to the rubby dubby is a big asset in attracting tope to where you are fishing …

"Feathering for Sea Fish" (1966) Fredrick William Holiday (aka "Ted Holiday") at page 22

Chapter 2. Design and Dressing of Feathers

Obtain a screw-top jar about 4 inches in diameter and half-fill this with sardine or pilchard oil. Immerse the lures in this till required. During use, feathers can be "freshened" by applying more pilchard oil with a brush. In fairly slack water predatory fish seem to be definitely attracted by the oil. Moreover, it seems to keep them hanging round the marking, acting as it does, like a miniature rubby dubby bag.

"Pelham Manual for Sea Anglers" (1969) Derek Fletcher at pages 28, 79 & 131


On the continent the value of bread as a sea bait is realised and French and Belgian anglers make good catches on it. Mostly they soak it in pilchard oil first to give it flavour.

Pilchard Oil

The oil is sold in bottles equipped with a small brush for coating various sea baits. It leaves an attractive scent which fish follow up, and is useful for anointing preserved baits. Use it carefully and avoid contact with clothes for resulting stains are difficult to remove.

White Rag Lure

This type of lure is not much in evidence these days, but used regularly a few years ago according to old angling books. It can be used mainly for luring flatfish when normal baits are scarce. A small piece of white rag material, soaked in pilchard oil and hung from the hook is moved slowly over the seabed. Best catches recorded in recent years include a 'bag' of 12 dabs at Brighton and 22 flounders at Exmouth.

"Sea Fishing for Beginners" (1970) Maurice Wiggin at page 77

Chapter IV

Pier and Jetty Fishing

When the mullet are right on the surface it isn't a lot of use to offer them conventional fishy or 'natural' baits. I think I mentioned macaroni. Bread is also reasonably effective. "If they won't eat bread, give them cake", said Marie Antoinette. Or almost. I have approached this state by mixing custard powder in my bread paste, just as I do ashore. I don't know that it made it work any better. A bit of floating bread crust I once saw do considerable execution when fished from a jetty in the West Country. But since I was standing alongside the floating crust expert, and catching them lower down in the water on bits of ragworm, I'm not sure what that proved. But I do fancy that a touch of pilchard oil mixed with the bread paste really pays off. So far as anything can be said to pay off in this branch of fishing. Mullet are real worthwhile targets: they can tax the patience of a saint, yet on occasion they can give great rewards …

"Competition Sea Angling" (1970) Bruce McMillen at pages 46 & 47

4. Methods

Bait additives

The competitive angler should improve his catches by using additives, such as pilchard oil, either on the bait or in its close proximity. These additives do quite definitely act as fish attractors and they have, in this respect, proved their true worth by helping me to win many competitive events.

In order to introduce, say, pilchard oil into the bait, various novel ideas have been successfully employed, these include hypodermic syringes, fountain pen fillers, oil cans and other similar devices. A small strip of felt coiled around the line just above the hook, will if soaked in the oil, gradually release a slick for quite a long period. When competition fishing I have had great success, particularly with codling, when using a sinker which I designed. It is hollowed out and has perforated sides. To save the trouble of boring a block of lead, ordinary lead piping can be used. Plug the hollow centre with felt or cotton wool - a substance which will hold a quantity of pilchard oil. The oil will gradually disperse in the region of the baited hooks. I can assure you that this idea really does work, just try it !

When buying pilchard oil always make sure that you are supplied with the 'full-strength' variety in order to gain the greatest advantage from using it.

'Rubby dubby' cubes containing pilchard oil are obtainable and each packet is accompanied by a number of small mesh nets for holding them. These cubes can be used in place of a casting weight, and in fact I have utilised them in this manner with very successful results when beach fishing for bass.

"Sea Angler's First Handbook (Pan Anglers' Library)" (1975) Alan Vare & Arthur E. Hardy at page 112

Sea Fishing Methods

Float Fishing

… Baits for mullet fishing are many and varied, and include bread, small worms, bits of fish, maggots, strands of water weed, bacon fat, banana, cheese paste, etc. The list is almost endless. But we have two special favourites. One is simply white bread but employed in a rather special way. Here's how. Mix up about half a bucketful of well wetted and mashed bread, then blend in, thoroughly, about two ounces of pilchard oil (get it from your bait shop or tackle dealer). Then place the mixture in a fine-meshed vegetable sack and, if you're fishing in a harbour or estuary, hand the bag in your chosen swim. Every so often, jerk the bag to release particles of oily mush and, pretty soon, you'll get the mullet interested. Don't be in too much of a hurry though, it could take several days of baiting-up at high tide before you really get the mullet on the feed.

"The Long Book of Sea Fishing" (1975) Dick Murray at pages 72 & 73

Mullet … live on insect, weed and tiny marine life. Worms, fish gut and soft foods like cheese and banana will also take them. Pilchard oil is a good attractor to add to the groundbait.

Mashed bread thrown into the fishing area will help encourage the mullet to feed. Soak the bread well in a bowl of water and add a good measure of pilchard oil.

Squeeze the oily bread into lumps the size of a golf ball. The bread must be thoroughly soaked so no dry lumps remain.

When fishing from jetties where the fish are directly underneath bread may be crumbled in the hands to flake off to the mullet below.

Many west country anglers use neat fish oil and offal to attract their quarry. They literally spoon feed the fish.

"The Bait Book" (1979) Ted Lamb at pages 11, 136 & 172

On Baits in General

Magic Baits and Additives

Well, is there such a thing as a super-bait ? Certainly there are concoctions, guarded as trade secrets, which lay claim to being so, and some are looked at later in this book. More often than not, although, a simple bait, clean and lively in the case of worms and other livebaits, and wholesomely prepared in the case of inert baits, will tell every time. The rest of their success is attributable to good mounting and presentation.

The most worthwhile use of an additive that I can think of is dunking stale bread or preserved sea baits in either pilchard oil or fish liver oils. This can work wonders.

Cleanliness and Taints

Fish have a highly developed sense of smell. Most of them, and night feeders in particular, rely almost entirely on smell to locate food. They'll ignore anything which smells 'off' to them, and most of the taints likely to put fish off are transmitted to the bait by the angler's hands. Always carry a piece of plain soap and a towel when you go fishing so that you can frequently wash your hands.

Fish seem particularly averse to taints from tobacco and mineral oil from engines, cigarette lighters or reels, so guard against these when baiting up. Also avoid keeping dead worms or stale bait along with fresh samples - throw stale material out before it begins to taint the rest - and keep bait and groundbait containers scrupulously clean when they are not in use, since they quickly grow fuzz and become musty if left dirty.



… There are quite a few ways of preserving lug, but none of these baits are quite so attractive as fresh worms, and it is always useful to perk them up before use by dipping them in pilchard oil.

Other Baits and Oils

Attractant oils

Sea anglers have been through the same ground as fresh-water anglers, trying various scented oils in the hope of hitting on something so special that it draws fish from miles around. While there is little chance of this ever happening, even with the once highly recommended aniseed oil, there is advantage in the use of fish oils to perk up tired or stale baits, and even to give fresh ones extra zest.

By far the best oil for use on sea baits is pilchard oil, and this can be obtained from most tackle and bait dealers. It is very strong and need only be used sparingly. The other useful oil is cod liver oil, which is sold in chemists as a vitamin supplement. It, too, is strong, and all you need do is dip your bait in it quickly.

"The Graeme Pullen Guide to Sea Fishing Baits" (1988) Graeme Pullen at page 120 & 122

I have a great liking for pilchard oil extract as a bait additive …

For the boat angler, you can use it straight as it is but a small tip here for shore anglers might put an extra fish or three on the beach. As everybody knows, oil floats, and pilchard oil is no exception. Although much of it stays on the bait and is not washed off as the bait hits the water, there will nevertheless be a surface slick where it entered the water. If you want more oil to stay down near the bottom where it will do most good, you can make up a mix of pilchard oil and liquid emulsifier. Emulsifier is obtained from a tackle shop and is usually used by the carp angler in his bait mixes. The emulsifying agent will break down the oil and keep it nearer the bottom and therefore nearer the fish.

I personally use pilchard oil on both fish baits and worms, especially lugworm … I went out off a Hampshire beach during a December neap tide (not the best for shore work, but it had to do) and I even took cod on ragworm which had been soused in pilchard oil - and fishing with two rods using identical bait and rigs, the one with oil consistently gave me more bites than the plain ragworm … there have even been synthetic lugworm and amino acid concentrates. Now I'm not saying they don't work, but none of them beat having a good fresh bait on the hook. What they are is an additive, namely, an additional smell factor or factors that might just enhance the natural smells your bait is already giving off … There is only one scent that in my experience has proven to catch fish well and that's pilchard oil.

Stinky Stuff

Stinky Stuff has been in development for the past two years, starting from a concept of breaking down other baits and finding the core amino acid from each bait that was attracting fish to feed. Stinky Stuff is aquatically and environmentally safe and in balance with a fish's digestive system.

Stinky Stuff Sea - Peeler Crab (100ml) £9.99

Taking the Original concept and adding the amino acids from peeler crab (green shore crab) a bait has been developed for the shore and boat angler which works for species such as smooth-hound, cod and bass.

Stinky Stuff Sea - Original (100ml) £9.99

The Original Stinky Stuff in testing has proved to be very effective for saltwater species such as flounder, brill, turbot, plaice, conger and huss. The Original has produced fish when conventional baits have failed in difficult conditions.

Copyright © David Ramsdale 2010 - 2018
All rights reserved