The final instalment in the Geoff Bowers story, and our favourite part. A no bullshit look at the scene, modern bait and Geoff's take on it all. Kettle on, kick back...
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about bait, and a lack of knowledge by anglers because they’re not being provided with the right information, they’re just marketed to
'All the good ones - Scar Bar'
SSJ: What about the Premier ads and comic? There was always a very no nonsense, no bullshit approach to the advertising, and plenty of humour. Where did that attitude come from?
GB: We always felt, right from the very beginning, that we would just tell customers exactly how we felt about things, just tell them straight and tell them the truth. We sold products that we didn’t actually think were that great, but we’d still continually get asked for them so we kept them in the range, and if someone asked, I’d just tell them it was crap if that’s what I thought of it! The adverts and ‘comics’ we did were often a piss-take out of what was going on with other companies adverts and catalogues. It was all tongue in cheek because everyone was starting to take everything so seriously. The ‘Celebrity Mixes’ and Tapir Campaigns, ‘London, New York, Paris, Ramsgate’, and all that was born from it.
The adverts and ‘comics’ we did were often a piss-take out of what was going on with other companies adverts and catalogues. It was all tongue in cheek because everyone was starting to take everything so seriously. The ‘Celebrity Mixes’ and Tapir Campaigns, ‘London, New York, Paris, Ramsgate’, and all that was born from it
It was around this time that the other companies started paying anglers to use their baits. Half the time, the fish weren’t getting caught on the baits they were saying they were using either. I knew someone (who we won’t name), one of the biggest names of that time, who caught a well-known big’un on our Fish Base and Peach Melba and who was bought out by another company to say it was on their bait. That kind of thing was starting to happen all the time, and it started the ‘bait wars’ era, as we called it. In some ways that was when the decline of Premier started because we just weren’t interested in getting involved in that side of it all.
'Yateley Copse Lake - The Pretty One'
It was around this time that the other companies started paying anglers to use their baits. Half the time, the fish weren’t getting caught on the baits they were saying they were using either
SSJ: Where did Premier go from there?
GB: Well, we struggled on through the recession, cut things back and stripped the company to basics, and just the essentials. We’d lost a lot of money, and we ended up owing a lot of money as well, but we cut our advertising, got a smaller unit and just focused on getting straight again, doing things the way we knew how. A lot of our loyal customers stayed with us, especially those that had been with us in the early days, and we just brought the name back through word of mouth, cleared all the debts and got back on track.
The nail in the coffin for me was when my partners wanted us to expand Premier and start up as tackle shop. It seemed as if how I wanted to do bait was a million miles away from how everyone else wanted to do things. I still wanted to make quality boilies for serious carp anglers; the lads who pre-baited, and put the effort in, and really believed in it. I didn’t want to start selling kilo bags of boilies into shops, and the customer end up paying extortionate prices because of trade mark-ups and all that. The customer who buys a kilo bag off the shelf is a completely different angler to the one who buys 100 kilos of freezer bait a year. I still wanted to research new ingredients, and move things forward and the way things looked like they were heading wouldn’t have left room for that. I didn’t want to become a shopkeeper, if you know what I mean?
The customer who buys a kilo bag off the shelf is a completely different angler to the one who buys 100 kilos of freezer bait a year. I still wanted to research new ingredients, and move things forward
'Bernie with the Lady of the Valley - Longfield'
SSJ: What happened then?
GB: I wanted to do things my way, so to cut a long story short, I just went in there one day, squared up with my partners at Premier and walked out. It was hard to leave something we’d built up from scratch, but sometimes you have to make decisions like that to keep moving forward, and so that was what happened. I sat back, re-thought my ideas and played around all winter with new mixes and ideas I’d had on the back burner, and started to think about setting up afresh as ABS - Active-Bait-Solutions.
SSJ: Why did you make the decision not to advertise any longer as ABS?
GB: We’ve never had to it, that’s the simple answer. We’ve been here eight years now and have gone from strength to strength with none of the hype and advertising.
SSJ: Many people will not realise, especially the newer anglers, but you could well have constructed the baits that they are using, even though they are packaged under a different company name. Roughly, how many different, smaller, independent companies do you roll and design/produce baits for?
GB: I’d say that about 50% of what goes out of our door is re-bagged by other companies. I think there are about a dozen companies that we actually roll finished bait for, and another ten that we provide the base mixes and powders for now. We’re expanding in the near future; we’ve got another unit and the rolling, boiling and drying facilities are also going to be redeveloped and expanded very soon.
SSJ: Fishmeals have gone on to dominate the market, even to this day. Why do you think that is? What percentage of the baits on the market do you think have been influenced by those early developments into fishmeal usage?
GB: They are so digestible, and so attractive. The actual principles of the fishmeals still apply today; those basics – fishmeal, plus milk proteins and some birdfood. What you have these days, in addition to that, is much more advanced and developed additives, so you have the predigested meals, enzyme digested fish liquids, hydrolysed marine proteins, the betaine and acidic triggers, liquid predigested livers… it’s all about what else goes in there as well now.
What you have these days, in addition to that, is much more advanced and developed additives, so you have the predigested meals, enzyme digested fish liquids, hydrolysed marine proteins, the betaine and acidic triggers, liquid predigested livers… it’s all about what else goes in there as well now
In some of the well-known companies’ baits, the emphasis is always being put on the attractors, so there are new ones coming out all the time, because the long-term food values often aren’t good enough to keep the bait working. My principle has always been that the fishmeals just don’t blow out; they keep on going because of the natural attraction and high food value in there.
There’s a lot of misunderstanding about bait, and a lack of knowledge by anglers because they’re not being provided with the right information, they’re just marketed to. For example: a very rich bait will have a tough spell when the water temperatures are at their peak because the carp don’t need Vitamin B at that time of year, which certain baits are very high in, things like that. Whose bait rollers are telling them things like that?
SSJ: There are lots of claims made by companies about revolutionary ingredients. Have there been any other significant breakthroughs in bait design since the late 80s/early 90s?
GB: The things that we have developed in the last three or four years are pretty major, and if some of the things we are doing were being applied on a much larger scale across the industry. I think it would shock a lot of people. ABS does a hell of a lot of bait, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to what the bigger, more mainstream and heavily advertised companies are doing. I’d rather go to Tesco to get my ingredients than use some of what is passed off as a boilie by some other companies.
I’d rather go to Tesco to get my ingredients than use some of what is passed off as a boilie by some other companies
You can never say never with regards to new ingredients, but one of the most digestible sources of protein on this planet is fish, and we’re using those in their purest already pre-digested, enzyme treated forms. My view is to provide the most balanced and attractive food source you can, whilst at the same time making something that is as digestible as possible but also retains it’s properties that allow us to use them as boilies.
It is very rare that I see anything new in any baits these days, most of it is just advertising hype, and the same old products being rebranded. I think we’ll see things develop, of course, but it is variations on a theme. No matter what I do, and what I’ve experimented with, it all still comes back to 1983.
SSJ: Do you still believe in the significance of the ‘food value’ of a bait?
GB: I do, yes, absolutely. If you’re putting a lot in, then you have to. Let’s face it, carp fishing is a huge, money-making activity these days, and I certainly don’t think that principle is high on all companies’ priorities, because it’s much cheaper and easier to cut corners with high food-value stuffs.
SSJ: How much do you think the widespread use of fishmeals and quality boilies has affected the growth of the country’s stock?
GB: Not that much, actually. On a rich water, with plenty of naturals, even when you’ve got a bait rocking and things are going really well, I still believe that the bait they eat only forms a small percentage of their total food intake.
SSJ: How much do you think those developments in the fishmeals changed the way people have used baits, and how much they put in?
GB: Oh massively so, because if you’d put those kind of quantities of milks in you’d have killed it stone dead. The digestibility changed everything and meant that they’d eat so much more of what you put in. Tel and Tony caught the same fish twice in a week on that first session on the Tip. If they’d been using that amount of milks, that fish would have still been digesting the bait a week later! I reckon you’re looking at less than an hour, maybe even half an hour for a well-designed fishmeal to go through a carp. Occasionally, in the old days of the milk proteins, you’d see these plugs of bait hanging out of the back of them as they struggled to get it through.
SSJ: Just moving off that subject for a minute and going back to what you mentioned about flavours and attractors. Carp anglers have historically been suckers for new flavour baits. What’s your view on how valuable they are?
GB: You could put 100 flavours out on this table, and sit and sniff them all day long and discuss how great they smell, but it doesn’t matter what they smell like. The only thing of value they really do for a bait is to change the pH. When you put something like n-butyric acid in a bait, all it does is alter the pH. It’s the same with the little, bright, over-flavoured pop-ups; they trigger a pH change, and of course, you have the colour as well. Carp will pick anything up once. They are inquisitive so it’s hard to bugger up a bright single. It’s different with your main bait because they have to come back and eat it, again and again.
When you put something like n-butyric acid in a bait, all it does is alter the pH. It’s the same with the little, bright, over-flavoured pop-ups; they trigger a pH change
There will always be certain areas on lakes where it’s almost impossible to buy a bite, and I’m sure that’s because of the pH of the lake bed masking the bait, or making the signals from it less obvious. Carp don’t see or sense things like we do, or as we imagine they would. In the summer, they’re literally swimming around in food in the rich pits; weed, daphnia, algaes, aminos… there’s all this stuff floating around and happening in the water that we can’t see. People always used to say that their milk protein baits would start to work in late October or November, and I used to think that was rubbish. It was just because the signals from those baits during the summer months were no better than anything else the carp had on offer. You have to think about the bigger picture.
SSJ: Just to finish, what’s your take on the whole carp scene in general? How do you see things from your point of view, having seen so many changes?
GB: Once you get through all the marketing, it’s still based on the same things. You see lads tying up these fancy fandango rigs, but even those are just variations on a theme from the 80s and 90s, nothing has really moved on that far. The best anglers, the real top boys, are often the ones who fish very simply and effectively, and work hard at it. If you’ve got something on the end that they really want, and you’re putting it in the right place on an effective rig, consistently, then you’ll catch. It is a simple equation, really, but bait is still like the Holy Grail for many carp anglers. Everyone is always searching for something new, something better, even if what they are using at the time is bloody brilliant and they’ve had a great season, best ever… they always want something new.
Carp anglers are notoriously bad for blaming their bait when they start to struggle. It’s often the first thing they turn to, even when they’ve caught so many on a particular bait, and have had so much confidence in something, they’ll often be ready for changing within a few days, or weeks of blanking. Even if they’re having the best season of their lives, if it just dips slightly, their confidence in a bait will go, it is human nature, though, to want to change something, even if you know for certain that it isn’t the bait that is the problem.
Oz Holness is a recent case in point. He’d been fishing Burghfield for a few years and had decided that maybe he needed a change in bait to catch the common, despite having caught 60-odd fish on his original one that they’d seen loads of. We discussed it, and I told him what I thought. John Holt had told him he wouldn’t catch it out in the open, off his baited areas where he was getting his other bites, and that he needed to fish the nooks and crannies and corners. He changed his bait anyway, but eventually changed it back to what he knew and had used originally, and that was what he caught it on. Full circle and back to the beginning.
'Oz, full circle and back to the beginning at Burghfield'
SSJ: Thanks Geoff. That’s been a fascinating few hours.
Check out Geoff's current bait at https://www.activebaitsolutions.co.uk/
Once you get through all the marketing, it’s still based on the same things. You see lads tying up these fancy fandango rigs, but even those are just variations on a theme from the 80s and 90s, nothing has really moved on that far. The best anglers, the real top boys, are often the ones who fish very simply and effectively, and work hard at it. If you’ve got something on the end that they really want, and you’re putting it in the right place on an effective rig, consistently, then you’ll catch. It is a simple equation, really