Part two of the Geoff Bowers story continues, get the kettle fired up again and kick back for the next instalment. It's a good one..
I’d said to Bamber that there was no point in giving the oil to our top boys to test, because they’d catch on anything, so we gave it to the noddies instead!
SSJ: I’ve spoke to Terry Dempsey about his and Tony’s historic opening week on the Tip Lake at Darenth, but what are your recollections of that?
At the start of that next year in ’86, the one when Terry and Tony fished the Tip at the start, we had gone down to fish College reservoir down in Cornwall, instead. At that time it was one of the few waters in the country that was open during the close season, so we thought if we fished it for ‘the off’ when everywhere else had opened we’d have it to ourselves. We took loads of bait and we landed over 50 fish between us that trip. I was with Andy Wilks and Bamber, who had become a partner in Premier by that point, and we decided to stop in on Terry and Tony on the way home. There were no mobiles then, so there was no way to find out what was going on, other than calling in.
When we arrived, the first bloke we came to told us that all the fish were stuck in front of the Rails, in front of a couple of blokes called Terry and Tony, and that they’d caught loads… promising! We walked on and came across Bob Morris set up further down. I knew Bob and we chatted for a while. He also relayed the stories about the boys having it off in the Rails, saying they’d had over 20 fish. I knew they’d catch, but was still amazed by how many they’d had. ‘They’re using a right crappy bait though!’ he said. He was adamant that it would blow and that was it was a load of old shit! Little did he know…
We wandered down and finally got to the smiling faces of Terry and Tony, and it turned out they’d had nineteen 20s and one 30 that week, even doubling up on a couple. It had taken a few days for it to kick in because Terry had realised that if they baited up as heavily as they planned to on top of them, in the Dry Dock where they were all held up, then they’d do the off, so the boys set up in anticipation of where they thought they’d turn up once all the leads started going in.
The fish had taken a few days to get on it, but when they did they really had it off. I’d told Terry that it would be a great summer bait, and although he hadn’t actually used it before that session, he knew about the six I’d caught at the start of the winter and just had faith in it. In the end, I decided not to fish Darenth that summer because those two boys were doing so well up there, putting all the bait and effort in, so I left them to it. Premier wasn’t really that busy at the start. Tel and Tony weren’t really saying too much about what their bait was at the beginning either!
SSJ: What did Premier have in the range at the beginning?
GB: About 30 flavours, all the separate ingredients, a birdfood mix, a milk protein, the Fish Base, Fish Feed Inducing Oil and that was pretty much it. We sold all the separate ingredients so people could do their own thing; that was how anglers wanted to make their bait in the 80s and 90s. We wrote the same old blurb that the other companies did in our catalogues, until Phil decided to start telling people exactly what each ingredient was and what it did. He was funny like that. Carp anglers generally have no idea what the ingredients in their baits are doing, if ten walked through the door now and you asked them what casein was, I would be amazed if any of them would be able to tell you why they are using it, and what it does. They don’t know; they’ve taken someone else’s word for it. Phil’s idea was to try to get people thinking about these things, and teach them a bit about what was in their baits, as well as have a laugh at the same time – hence the comic.
We wrote the same old blurb that the other companies did in our catalogues, until Phil decided to start telling people exactly what each ingredient was and what it did. He was funny like that
SSJ: Were your initial sales just word of mouth? How quickly did people latch on to it?
GB: That first year, it was just word of mouth. Terry and Tony had turned a few heads with what they’d achieved in such a short space of time on the Tip Lake, and people were starting to ask. I went down to Darenth to fish the Tip myself a few weeks after Tel and Tony had finished. Tel had joked saying that the fish would all be ‘going cold turkey’ by now with no bait going in. I had six that first trip, and lost three, which was great. What was a nightmare was the people continually turning up in my swim asking if I had any bait they could buy! It ended up with people waiting in the car on the day they knew I’d be turning up in the weeks after that. I’d have all my fishing kit in the motor and the rest would be filled to the brim with bagged up Fish Base Mix and bottles of oil! ‘I’ll have five kilo bags please, Geoff, and a bottle of oil’. Give us your money, next… ‘I’ll have three bags as well and a bottle of oil, mate’. Next… it was mad really, but they’d seen, or at least heard of, what we’d been catching on it ourselves and wanted to get in on it. Those early days really were phenomenal.
‘I’ll have five kilo bags please, Geoff, and a bottle of oil’. Give us your money, next… ‘I’ll have three bags as well and a bottle of oil, mate’. Next… it was mad really, but they’d seen, or at least heard of, what we’d been catching on it ourselves and wanted to get in on it. Those early days really were phenomenal
Everyone had their own little edge, and was adding their own flavour combinations so although the base and oils were the same we were all on slightly different variations. I was using a ginger; we had a really lovely ginger flavour which I cut with cinnamon oil. It was a superb combination that, and one no one really uses these days, either.
SSJ: What about some of the other baits in the range? You developed a number of different base mixes that were really successful. It wasn’t all just about the fishmeals, was it? Fishmeals had no real winter form, did they? So what were you doing through the colder months?
GB: I did a bit of time with John Bevan that first winter, with the idea of using a quality milk protein. Even though I was now a thoroughly converted fishmeal angler, I was still convinced we could catch more on a protein-based bait through the winter when it got really grim. We carried on fishing with the fishmeals but started to introduce the proteins, just to get a few going in with the idea being to see when the fishmeals slowed down. I used to take them in a flask and it was the bollocks, that bait. It really was as good as we could make it, but it had to made and frozen within an hour, and then I’d bait up with it straight from the flask. There was a little quirk with that bait though, it had two phases of effectiveness; you either had to use it fresh from the flask, or after about three days when it had just started to catalyse and react and ‘turn. Much longer than that and it became useless, so you had to be very careful about rolling and storing it.
It is funny how things develop, when you look back. We actually stumbled upon a better set of levels for the ingredients for the milk protein mix by accident. The golden rule in the protein baits was always to use more casein than lactalbumin because it rolled better, but one day when we were knocking up some for a winter trip we got it the wrong way around and put in a much higher level of the lactalbumin. We realised what we’d done, but it was too late by that point because we didn’t have enough of everything else to counter the mistake, so we knocked it up as it was.
You can’t even get proper lactalbumin any longer, but the one we used was the secondary protein in milk and more digestible than the casein. It was about 85% protein, reasonably soluble and 100% dispersible. Even though casein has a higher protein content it was so hard to digest. It wasn’t the greatest bait to roll but it tasted and smelt beautiful, and we used it in combination with a really low-level Tropical Fruit flavour we had. It went on to catch us a lot of fish, that bait, and became the Winter Pro 90 we sold. You can’t make this bait any more because you can’t get the ingredients so there’s no harm in me telling you exactly what was in it. We used to call it the ‘1066 mix’; 10oz of lactalbumin, 6oz of casein and 6oz of calcium casienate. It went everywhere in the end and did really well. Amazingly, I still get the older-school anglers asking if I can make them that mix to this day.
SSJ: When did the Robin Red come in? That is something still widely used to this day that has probably caught every single carp in the country at some point or other.
GB: Even though the standard Fish Base was still doing really well, people are always looking for something new, something different, but at the same time people always have this nostalgia and talk about baits they’ve done really well on in the past. Maybe they did, but I always tried to work out why it worked so well and then consider whether I could use it in a more modern way. Robin Red was a logical step forward, and I knew no one had put that in a fishmeal, up to that point.
Robin Red was a logical step forward, and I knew no one had put that in a fishmeal, up to that point
SSJ: Had it been used in birdfood baits, though?
GB: Yeah, it was quite a common ingredient in the birdfood mixes, and let’s face it… everyone loves the colour red. It seems that all northerners want their baits red. “Is it red?” they ask, (laughing). If they’re from up north you just know they’re going to ask you! If it’s black, or brown, they want it red. I liked the look of it, and it made sense to try it in the fishmeals, so I bought a load and stuck it in the Fish Base. Everyone loved it and it caught really well and so that, eventually, went on to become the Spiced Fish Mix. Even to this day, red fishmeals still do incredibly well, 20-odd years on. That year on the spiced version, I caught Scar at what was the record for the Tip at the time. I had H as well, the Pilgrim, Big Bollox… quite a few of the good ones.
Even to this day, red fishmeals still do incredibly well, 20-odd years on. That year on the spiced version, I caught Scar at what was the record for the Tip at the time. I had H as well, the Pilgrim, Big Bollox… quite a few of the good ones
SSJ: Did the baits start to dominate the waters where they were getting used heavily?
GB: I think one week on the Tip there were 44 takes in a week on our bait, which was unbelievable really; everyone who was on those baits was catching. When I say ‘our’ bait, I mean the idea; the fishmeal, milks, CLO and oil. Of course, as others developed their own versions it became more of a concept that people were using, as opposed to any one particular combination.
SSJ: What about the oil issues? I remember them getting quite a bit of bad press for a while. Was there any truth in the claims people were making?
GB: From the early days, we quickly discovered that 30ml was the best working level to use, any more and it became saturated and wouldn’t roll. The arguments being made against the oils were complete claptrap, and based on no proper evidence at all - even Paisley admitted that in the end, and 30ml of oil is equivalent to 30 grammes, 30 grammes in a thousand (per kilo of base mix) is nothing, especially when you consider a lot of that gets lost in the boiling process.
Look what goes into pellets these days. What we used in those early fishmeals was a fraction of what’s in a high oil pellet! Of course, it wasn’t just that. They were criticised because of the amounts that were going on the outside of the boilies, as people were glugging their baits so heavily, but most of that would be dissipated straight away into the water and passed back into the overall food chain in the lake. The weight gains and improvements in condition that the fish saw on lakes dominated by those baits were incredible. Fordwich is a prime example, and that place saw more fishmeals than anywhere!
SSJ: How much did that affect you at Premier? Because you were right in the middle of a heyday really, weren’t you?
GB: It affected us massively. Because readers of those magazines didn’t know the truth, or the science behind any of it, they would just believe what they read. That pretty much put an end to the glugging of fishmeals on a widespread scale. Some lakes and clubs even banned the practice. It did us more harm than anyone, I think.
It affected us massively. Because readers of those magazines didn’t know the truth, or the science behind any of it, they would just believe what they read
SSJ: What’s the story behind Noddoil then?
GB: Among other things, Noddoil was actually used on the NHS to treat heart conditions, and that came from Seven Seas as well. Noddoil was a pure fish oil to which we had the exclusive rights. It was winterised as well, so that made a big impact on the usage and success of fishmeals all year round. You know why it was called Noddoil, don’t you? I’d said to Bamber that there was no point in giving the oil to our top boys to test, because they’d catch on anything, so we gave it to the noddies instead!
SSJ: One thing Premier could never be knocked for was your sense of humour!
GB: That’s true! After that, things developed quickly. We started to expand the range, developing new mixes like the Supreme, Marine and Aquatic Formulas, with seaweed and liver extracts and pushing things forward as demand increased and word spread.
SSJ: How important were the catches of anglers like Jock, Terry Pethybridge, Terry Dempsey, Selman etc., to the widespread usage of the fishmeals and the rise of Premier? Were a lot of those lads getting their bait cheap or free? Nowadays, that is quite normal, but how did it work back then?
GB: They all still paid for it. We stuck to our guns and we never paid anyone to use our bait, or really gave much away free. There was no need to, apart from new product; we would always send those out to the lads we trusted to test for us and get feedback. There’s no doubt that the lads helped massively with word of mouth, and showing the way forward on the lakes they fished. At the peak of things we were advertising everywhere we could, as well, with big double-page spreads in the mags. The 80s were great, but when the recession hit in the early 90s, things started to get tough for everyone, so many people went bust on us. We’d always kept the retail side of things as well as trade, so we always supplied to the public as well as the shops, but we lost a lot when shops and accounts went under. We made it through, though! Just before that economic downturn, bait had actually taken an upsurge with the new pre-digested fishmeals we had discovered.
'Andy Martin, aka ‘Pizza’ with the Dustbin'
'Hippy Paul, Crinkle Tail from the Copse'
'I did a bit of time with John Bevan that first winter…'
They all still paid for it. We stuck to our guns and we never paid anyone to use our bait, or really gave much away free. There was no need to, apart from new product; we would always send those out to the lads we trusted to test for us and get feedback
SSJ: Where did they come from? They still make up a percentage of today’s baits, don’t they?
GB: They were a big development in the fishmeal history, and one that, again, no one else had used prior to that as far as we were aware. Everyone uses them now, it’s an industry standard. Les Bamford and Geoff Rendall were doing really well on the Premier gear in the Colne Valley, and one day Les had sent me this article about pre-digested fishmeals that he’d seen in a publication about fish farming. I did some research and went to places like ICI and BP nutrition, chatted them up and managed to get myself a few bags to try. The guy that I dealt with at the suppliers knew fuck all about carp bait, but they often didn’t, they’d just show you things and ask if you thought they’d be any use. There were two grades, a cheaper one with a higher fat content, but we went for the better grade which had a higher protein content and lower oil content because we intended to put oils in with it ourselves.
I knew it was going to be a great ingredient once we’d got the mixes sorted, and after some experimenting and trials we got it right. That was the basis of what became the incredibly successful Aminos mix, which was the first base mix to include a pre-digested fishmeal. We did a couple of versions; the standard, the Super, with everything in there, Robin Red, liver, seaweed and the GLM, with high levels of GLM. We used it high, any less and I don’t think it was worth putting in. We changed the name of the Aminos GLM because for whatever reason it didn’t sell, apart from to the lads in the know who were doing really well on it, but as soon as we rennamed it ‘Matrix’ it flew.
The concluding part will be up in a few days with more unpublished old slides and the split from Premier to ABS and Geoff's take on the modern bait game. Stay tuned..