Master Bloodworm & Joker
Standfirst: Matrix and Dynamite Baits’ Dan Jones discusses all you need to know to get the most from bloodworm and joker on your local canal.
Today I have brought the Pole Fishing cameras to the Coventry Canal in Coventry city centre to demonstrate how to approach a canal with bloodworm and joker. There are still many myths surrounding its use, with many believing it’s a difficult method to master, which isn’t necessarily the case.
In my eyes, the two most important factors that go into a successful session with the ‘little red men’ are how the feed is introduced into the swim in the initial feed, and how the hook bait is presented over it.
I have picked a typical canal swim today that is likely to hold roach, perch and skimmers and I will be introducing bait at the bottom of both the near and far shelf, which is where I would expect most of the fish to congregate in the colder weather. The water clarity and the lack of boats pushing fish up the shelf into the shallow water tells me these will be the areas to target from the off. I will plumb a far line over into the shallower water, but I won’t feed it or even expect to fish it unless I get an indication that the fish are backing off there.
Playing The Joker
The first thing to think about is how to prepare the joker for feeding. There are two types of joker commonly available today, which are Russian and Polish joker.
The Polish joker is bigger, darker in colour and more lively. It’s often preferred when fishing for roach as it bounces around on the bottom, much in the same way an active groundbait mix is preferred for roach. It is also what you’d use for hook joker, but is harder to keep as it needs to be tanked (kept in a tank of water with an air-bubbling stone) in between sessions if storing it week to week.
Russian joker is more vividly red, smaller and much more dormant. It’s also easier to keep and more hardy. It’s often preferred for bream and big fish, but can still catch roach. I mainly use Russian joker for feed as it’s easier to get hold of, and in all honesty it still catches me plenty of roach. Russian is too small to be hooked and can be kept in damp newspaper on a cold garage floor between sessions, so storing it is much easier than can be said about it’s Polish counterparts.
Both types of joker are available from bloodworm and joker suppliers but you will find that they sometimes may struggle to get hold of Polish joker at times. I get mine from Sam Wildsmith at Mill Tackle.
I will be honest, I am quite happy to use Russian and have never found it to attract any fewer fish, but I will sometimes bring some Polish hook joker to a match if I expect it to be particularly hard.
There are three main ways to introduce joker into a swim, which are: ‘raw’, in soil/leams and in groundbait.
Groundbait tends to be more for summer or when on lots of fish, so we will take that out of the equation for this article. That leaves raw – which refers to joker fed in its neat state – or fed with leam/soil. When deciding to feed in soil or leam, there’s an old adage that states “soil for roach and leam for bream” which isn’t too far from the truth. Soils are harder and heavier and don’t give off much of a cloud, which roach tend to prefer, whereas leam is very fine and clouds up leaving a column of particles in the peg, which species like bream and perch love.
Finally, joker can be fed in its neat state (raw) and this can be excellent on shallow canals as it’s visible and instant and is a great way of attracting fish into the peg. There are a couple of limitations to feeding it like this, though. Firstly depth comes into account; if it’s fed in water deeper than three to four feet it can spread out too much. Secondly, if there’s any amount of boat traffic, this can wash it around the peg, so careful consideration needs to be taken when feeding it like this, which is why it’s often best fed like this in the shallower water on top of the shelf away from any boat traffic.
How And Where
Today I’m going to feed three lines, all fed differently, to demonstrate the different ways in which feed can be introduced and how it can attract certain species and stamps of fish.
Firstly, I will be feeding a line at the bottom of the near shelf for perch. These tend to be the most consistent species to be found close in on canals in the winter, and they need to be targeted in a specific way.
Perch will come to a cloud but will also sit and guard a pile of bait, so I like to feed something that gives off a small amount of cloud initially but will then break down slowly once on the bottom, and doesn’t have a great deal of food content in. So for this I will use double leam, which is black damp leam with a small amount of grey leam added to bind it and keep it together on the bottom. I will mix up a pint of this and will add 50ml of joker to it, which will be enough for an initial feed plus top-ups throughout the day.
For the far shelf, I am looking to target roach with odd skimmers and perch. Experience has taught me that three to four feet is the best depth to look for, so I’m going to plumb two lines in this depth at the 10 o’clock and two o’clock positions. The left-hand side will be fed with soil with a little grey leam added to bind it. I’m hoping this will be a line that will yield bigger roach and will get better as the session goes on. This is because the feed will break down slowly, with little activity.
As you are not exposing your feed and the activity is being kept to a minimum, this avoids the attention of the smaller stamp fish, but will likely pull in the bigger fish, which will work at the feed to get to the joker inside. I will put two tangerine sized balls here with 100ml of joker in between the two.
On the right-hand swim I will feed this with 100ml of raw joker. As it’s only shallow I can get away with this, and the clear water tells me there isn’t much boat traffic on the canal so I don’t need to worry that my feed will get washed away. If it had been deeper, or I expected a small amount of boat traffic, or there is some tow on the canal I may elect to add some grey leam to bind it slightly.
Raw joker is great for getting an instant response as it’s very visible, as all your bait is exposed; however, it can attract the attentions of small fish that can become a nuisance if you want to target quality fish. Sometimes you cannot afford to be picky and just have to catch what is in front of you, so some consideration also needs to be given to this. However attracting numbers of small fish can actually attract the bigger fish later on in the day, so sometimes this line can also get better throughout the day, but every day can be different.
As the session progresses the fish may become spooky and push across into the shallow water, so I may feed some neat joker there later on in the day, but for now I don’t want to split the fish too much so will only do this out of necessity.
With the feeding addressed, it’s now time to look at the rigs. I tend to set up three different types of rigs but they can often be used on all three lines. The first is a light rig for fishing single bloodworm, single joker or even bunches of joker. This will be on a 4x8 or 4x10 float with a strung-out shotting pattern. This can be deadly for big roach, which often like to watch a bait fall before having it.
It can also be really effective on the close-in perch line as they like to chase a bait down, so you will often get bites on the drop with this. Hooklengths on this rig are 0.07mm Reflo Power to a size 22 Kamasan B590. Fish are not hook shy when it comes to using bloodworm and joker as they get so preoccupied with the bait, so using a decent sized hook will mean less missed bites. A fish will happily take a single joker on a 22. It’s important, though, to use a fine-wire hook that doesn’t damage the bait. I also like to use a hook with a long shank that aids unhooking, for speed purposes.
The second rig is more of a ‘standard’ rig with a bulk and three droppers and is the rig I usually start on. Positive droppers need to be used on this rig so you can count them down as the float settles. This is imperative as quite a lot of bites will be hold-ups as the fish rise off the bottom with the joker, so something like a No11 will be far easier and quicker to read than a No13 dropper. This will usually be a 4x12 or even a 4x14 in slightly deeper water or if conditions are adverse. This rig can also be used for fishing overdepth for targeting bigger fish. This will be coupled with a 0.07mm hooklength to a size 20 B590.
The third rig is a ‘clattering rig’, which is designed for one thing – catching lots of fish at speed. There is no finesse with this rig. It’s usually a 4x16 or larger with either a bulk or an olivette six inches from the hook, and a single No9 dropper three inches from the hook. This rig is designed to get into the catching zone and show up bites as quickly as possible. The large dropper makes hold-ups incredibly obvious, so making for a faster rig when speed is of the essence. This will be coupled to a 0.07mm hooklength and a size 18 B590.
With bloodworm and joker fishing it is imperative to lower your rig in straight, stopping your float four or five inches from the water surface to let everything straighten out, and then lower it in the last little bit. This, I find, shows up bites most effectively, especially those hold-ups that are so common with this bait.
It is also important to let the fish tell you what depth they want to be at. You may start the day catching overdepth or dead depth, but could end up fishing six or eight inches off bottom. Lots of hold-ups or lift bites will tell you the fish have come shallower.
With the feed introduced I will start on my close-in line hoping to catch perch fairly quickly. If I start to catch roach here this can be a very positive sign that there will be lots of them on my two far-shelf lines, which can often mean a good day will be in store. Perch will often sit off bottom so if I catch a few fish dead depth and bites tail off, I will come off the deck six inches, which will often see an increase in bites and sometimes a better stamp of fish too.
Even after I’ve decided to come off this line I will continue to feed it with little balls of the double leam and joker mix all day, as dropping back on this line on occasion to rest your other lines can often yield odd dumpy perch to keep you ticking over.
Upon arrival it was obvious that the canal had gone very clear; in fact, you could see the bottom four to five metres out! I chose to sit on a wide bend that gave me the best option of targeting the deeper, darker water in the middle, but in all honesty it looked like we might struggle for a bite.
My peg was roughly 16 metres wide and, after plumbing up, I chose to fish at six metres just down the shelf into the darker water. This is where I expected to catch mainly perch, so introduced a ball of double leam with only 50ml of joker in.
My two far lines were plumbed up at the bottom of the far shelf in four feet of water, at 10 o’clock and two o’clock. There was a brisk wind so I didn’t want to fish any further across and then struggle to gain proper presentation. The 10 o’clock line was fed with two balls of soil and grey leam with 100ml of joker in, and my two o’clock line was fed with raw joker with a little grey leam to bind it as it was slightly deeper than expected.
First drop-in on the 6m line and a 2oz perch was the result; this was a good sign. Two more followed before that line seemed to slow up and I feared the worst. I decided to have my first look over on the raw joker line early in the session. With this being fed raw, it’s likely to be the line that produces the quickest as the bait is exposed immediately and you are not waiting for any leams or soils to break down.
A bite as soon as the bloodworm hit the deck resulted in a 10oz roach, then one of 14oz on the very next drop-in – a great sign! After five more stamp fish in as many casts, and with the wind getting up, I reached for my heaviest rig, which would not only allow me to boss the conditions but would allow me to really clatter the fish as it looked like there were a few there.
For the next hour it was a bite a chuck. Stepping up to a No4 elastic allowed me to guide the fish away from the shoal quickly, to avoid spooking them in the clear water. It also allowed me to swing more of them to hand, rather than using the landing net, again a means of speeding things up.
It was obvious after a short time that the fish had come off bottom as they competed for the feed, as I started to miss the odd bite and some of the fish were hooked in the bottom lip. Taking six inches off the depth soon resulted in really positive bites and some better stamp fish making an appearance.
After that initial 90 minutes I started to catch a few more perch, and experience has taught me that this is a sign to top up. I potted in 50ml of joker in grey leam and left it to have the first look on my left-hand swim where I’d fed joker in soil. Bites here were also instant, but it was clear that the fish were of a smaller stamp and with a few more perch added to the mix.
On the day, the small roach just preferred to be over the raw joker, perhaps because its more visible and the fact that the bait is exposed and bouncing around is causing the fish to compete more instead of the ‘quieter’ mix of joker in soil that isn’t as active.
Fifteen minutes of catching these smaller stamp fish and it was time to look back on the raw line. It was solid with roach again, with the first drop in resulting in the biggest roach of the day, soon followed by a 12oz hybrid. It quickly became clear that single bloodworm was the best hook bait as bunches of bloodworm seemed to result in perch; perhaps with it being such a visible bait, they were on it quickly, not giving the roach a chance. Joker didn’t yield a better stamp of fish, as it often can do when conditions are a bit harder when fewer fish are expected.
This set the precedent for the day: catch on a line until either bites slowed, you caught perch or the stamp of fish decreased, indicating it was time to top up and move to another line. I feel it’s important to say that you should never overcook any one line. Leave some fish still feeding when you top up. Catching every fish off a line before you top up can have a very negative effect, so it’s important to pick your top-up timings carefully and look for the clues I’ve mentioned above.
By rotating lines and not pressuring one line too much, I’ve managed to catch stamp fish all day and have put together double figures of roach, perch and a lone hybrid in only three hours on a gin-clear canal that most would have thought you wouldn’t get a bite on.
Bloodworm and joker is not a dark art, but it’s also not so simple that you can just fill it in and forget it on most venues. Following these guidelines so see you catching a fine net of redfins from any canal that allows bloodworm and joker during the winter months. Tight lines!