Conker: the hard fruit of the horse chestnut tree – a children's game played with conkers on strings and one is then hit against the other to try and break it.
Not quite a definition which could be applied to fishing, unless of course we are referring to a fish hitting the paste! But it does paint a picture of just how graphic the method is... a large lump hanging from a piece of string (line).

The Conker
Paste fishing methods are governed by what's on the end of the line... a large conker-like lump of paste for instance! I know it's a pretty obvious statement, but you need to bear that in mind when considering your fishing options. We've already covered paste on the pole quite deeply in Part 2 , which relies on the paste covering the hook. Yet, there are two other styles which do not, but can still prove devastating on the day. None more so than the aptly named Conker method, which effectively is a hair-rigged lump of paste!

We can confirm that, along with a worm dangling on a hook, paste is perhaps the second oldest bait, probably going back to the earliest days of flour production. Even now, we still throw out a lump of dough, or paste, into the water and catch fish. However, things have become slightly more developed... such as using a rod and reel, or pole! Nevertheless, the basic principle is still the same, mould a pliable piece of dough around a hook and away you go.

Many will probably say that a lump of paste has a certain 'conker-like' appearance, hence its name. But the Conker we refer to here is the one used when feeder fishing. This method can quite literally blow-away all around you, if you approach it correctly. For the purposes of this feature, all references relate to mixing-up paste from a suitable base crumb, NOT a shop bought pre-mixed and packaged product.

Rob has been at the forefront of this method for some time and was instrumental in passing on the 'knowledge' to his side-kick Perry Stone. Now Perry, for those of you who don't live in the south of England, has been one of it's most affable and devastating carpers' around for the past decade and his close association with Rob has furthered his tally of match wins and venue records even more. Most of these successes can be directly related to the use of Yorkshire Bait products, but also fishing the Conker... and as Rob always reminds me "I showed him that!"

Perry's match record with this particular method, has taken just about every big name scalp, including our current world champion during one memorable match in 2008... and off the next peg at Gold Valley! I believe the tally was 36 for, 3 against! Perry then immediately conducted an impromptu Masterclass with Will, showing him ALL, which will no doubt make it even more difficult to beat our world champ! Thank you very much Perry!!!

However, this series is about Rob and methods he excels at, so we'll endeavour to explain and expose the secrets (if they can be called that) and tricks of fishing the Conker, in particular on the feeder, which is its main carrier, although it can be used on the waggler and fishing shallow.

While it can be argued that this method is an out-an-out carp tactic, it's also an effective means of catching bream, under the right circumstances. This was borne out by two of the sessions we conducted with the PasteMeister himself, at both Bury Hill Fishery and carp mecca, Gold Valley. Although both pole and feeder were used on each venue, it was fair to say that a fair proportion of the catch came on the Conker.

Bury Hill was arguably the first commercial day-ticket fishery in the country which conducted open matches. This were frequented by the cream of southern anglers, including Steve Gardener and Kenny Collings, and made its name from the massive attendance's it attracted in the 70's, unheard of for a lake complex at that time. Even though the venue consisted of only one lake with around 70 pegs, the owner at the time, would squeeze every last peg he could around its banks, sometimes up to 150!!! It was a sight to behold. We were more fortunate on our visit during last October and swims were more freely available. During these early years the waggler reigned supreme for small fish and a few skimmers/bream. It wasn't until the advent of the feeder that catches of 'proper' bream hit the headlines. Although the main lake is pretty much as it was then, it's catch record has rocketed on. Both pleasure and match anglers now regularly take zander (one of the first venues to stock them), carp, tench, crucians, silvers and of course bream in their catches. The bream, in particular, play a dominant role in match weights averaging 3-4lb and are widespread, with the front bank and early pegs on the long bank being the best areas.

It was with some curiosity and uncertainty that we ventured onto the long bank, just short of the island's tip... this would be a good place to aim the feeder at, we decided. The reason for our uncertainty was the fact that while our target was the hordes of bream that abound here, we would be using a bait and method they were totally unfamiliar with, hence the added curiosity! We needn't have worried as it didn't take long for the tip and float to produce the goods.

Our visit to carp mecca Gold Valley was equally productive and again it was to a bait and method not generally used here. While bream only constituted a small proportion of the 135lb haul that Rob banked, they did compete with the more dominant carp residents for the Yellow Toffee paste ball when fished on the pole. Due to the weight of carp taken, they were spared the pressure of the catch shot opposite.

Two simple rules
Now many will wonder about the mystiqué of the Conker. How can you keep it in place without it flying all over... this was something Perry had clarified with our 'champ'. In a nutshell, there are just TWO simple things you must do correctly:
  1. Create a suitable grip for the paste on a hair rig
  2. Mix your paste firm enough to stay on it!

Everything else is a basic feeder set-up. The feeder itself can be free running (as required on many fisheries) or on a loop.. and preferably of the cage variety. That's it. It is all revolves around just two simple actions.

Suitable paste grips
There are several ways of creating a grip to mould the paste and keep it in place on the 'hair'. Several are freely available in your local tackle shop. There is the Bait Screw and Paste Spiral from the innovative carp company Korum. They also market a new device called a Bait Arrow which can be hooked directly onto the shank of the hook, rather than tied on via a 'hair'. These products are quick and easy to use, but there are also other effective ways to keep the paste attached.

Again, Korum come up trumps when finding a gripping solution! Quickstops can be tied to a 'hair' and pushed through a drilled hard pellet, boilie or sweetcorn to create a suitable base for the paste. This has a distinct advantage over the previous bits of tackle described above. By leaving a tempting morsel attached to the 'hair', should the paste come off, you increase your chances of hooking a fish!

Perhaps the simplest and cheapest method is to tie your hook with a small loop at the end of a 'hair', about 25mm (1”) long. Take three shot, No.6 are ideal, any smaller and they will become ineffective. Then spread them around the loop to form a holding pattern. The paste can then be formed around this. It's cheap, easy to repair and is just as effective as any shop bought product. Rob confirmed his prudent Yorkshire upbringing by using this during our 135lb+ session at Hampshire's Gold Valley lakes!

One thing to re-establish, is Rob's preference for eyed hooks, which he believes are much better when it comes to strength and tying on. This is especially relevant if you're someone who finds whipping on a spade end a problem. Remember, leaving enough line off the hook for an adequate 'hair' is also important, as can be it's length, but this is an issue which you can establish through trial and error.

What makes a good paste?
The one thing that paste relies on is a specific binding-type constituent, not a crumb-based groundbait, and for a very good reason. Groundbait, whilst absorbing water, does not bind very well because of its crumbly biscuit base. Pastes on the other hand have a binding quality, much like flour which creates a dough like texture. The forerunner to modern day pastes, flour, was the only thing you could mix and get to mould around a hook. Modern day pastes are usually made out of crushed pellet, preferably expanders, as these particles will absorb water and then bind together naturally. Rob's own brand is a specifically manufactured crumb which will act both ways... as a fluffy groundbait or a stiff paste, dependant on the quantity of water used. Few groundbaits on the shop shelves have this dual capability and many pastes on the shelves are pre-mixed and sold in pots. The advantage of Rob's own brand, is that you can mix whatever quantity to whatever consistency, at the fraction of the pre-mixed price. Normal guide lines would be 300 gram per pole session, that's a third of a Yorkshire Bait 900gr bag and equates to no more than a pound... or at current exchange rates, ONE euro! Note: You will probably find that when fishing the Conker, you will need double this capacity, as explained further on.

A good Conker paste
In simple terms, imagine what consistency of paste you would use on the pole and make it 50%+ stiffer. Although this is not engraved in stone, it's a useful yardstick to work to. Other factors will influence consistency... size of fish, casting distance and surprisingly, conditions. For instance, if you find yourself in wet conditions you may experience the paste becoming slightly softer and it will therefore need stiffening up again. Remember not to add more crumb to a dry paste ball... always wet the paste first so that the crumb will absorb better into the existing damp paste.

In reverse, hot conditions can form a crust over the paste if you do not keep it covered. Bait, no matter what, will deteriorate if not kept in a cool condition. A useful appliance is a small damp cloth to cover the paste.

Filling the feeder
It may be that you have some preferences when it comes to filling the feeder. However, it's wise to remember that when fishing the Conker, you need to adopt a slightly different strategy. Under normal feeder sessions using groundbait with maggot/caster/sweetcorn/
worm etc., you'd generally opt for your favourite groundbait, or one which has at least seen successful service. What's important when using paste on the feeder is not to fill it with groundbait. You are looking to attract fish onto your flavoured paste 'blob', so it would make sense to try and combine the same flavour and consistency within the feeder. Simply pushing some stiffened paste that forms the Conker into a feeder, is not such a good idea. It will almost certainly dissolve much slower than the time it takes to get a bite. Just image what sort of pressure, other than the fish, that you would be hitting against on the strike!

To mush, or not to mush!
Rob's solution is so simple it tends to be overlooked. When you prepare to mix your initial batch of paste, double the quantity of crumb you would normally use for the hook and mix as normal until you arrive at what you think is a suitable consistency for the Conker. Take half of it and dampen down further to a sticky paste, but not too runny. This filler-paste will be used to plug both ends of the cage/grip feeder. Trial and error will prove the best indication of how well it holds together during casting. So, you now have a hair-rigged lump of paste hanging below your cage feeder and a mixture of softer paste ready to plug both ends... but what do you fill it with? This question has been covered more extensively in Part 3, so we will not duplicate that information here, although it's fair to say that hemp and pellets should be high on the menu!

You may also find, as your session progresses, that you start running out of 'filler-paste', therefore you will need to mix up another batch. This is a good sign, as it means that you are building up the swim and at some stage could reap the benefits when and if the fish turn up! Once fish are comfortable within the area, bites can become quite savage.

Fishing shallow with paste
I suppose we readily assume that fish would take pellet or caster off the surface and therefore paste would be a somewhat slower and redundant bait? Not so. Let's look at pellets for instance. How many times have you tried to use pellets for fishing shallow and found that you are plagued by inferior species to the ones which you know will win you 'coin'? Think for one minute, about a tantalising morsel of paste, ouzing flavour and particles just under your hook. By doing this you are placing something in the area which is actively working to produce an attractor, aimed directly around the hook! Something which a static hard pellet can fail to achieve.

The only alteration you need to make with this method is the rig, ie, the float. Because paste is somewhat heavy, it requires a more bulbous and bouyant float to keep it hanging below the surface. There will be no shot down the line, just the paste is all that's required to 'cock' the float. There are models on the market, but the more adventurous and DIY minded of you out there will already be thinking of ways to make their own. Again, a hair-rig with a paste grip, is all you need. One last point to make is that you should not need any cable tie to help ship the rig out. Because of the depth you would be fishing this would pose a problem due to lack of line coming from the pole tip! When fishing shallow, your feeding can adopt a slightly different approach. Instead of just spraying pellet, try feeding a mixture of sloppy paste and micro pellet from a tip cup.

This time we really do mean sloppy. What you don't want is it too fall too fast, but rather loiter in the top layer of water creating a constant cloud which blends in around the paste. The micro pellet give some substance with which the fish can hunt around for as a reward. Because they are small, the rate of their descent will be slower than a larger, heavier pellet. This procedure of filling the tip cup each time you ship out, will ensure a constant cloud of paste-like flavour drifting in the water, an ideal focal point for fish anywhere near the vicinity.

The waggler
Although we have only dealt with two methods, a third one is an option for those fishing rod and line. The waggler set up, while being a somewhat more cumbersome approach in it's casting application, can be compared with the pole technique, although we don't really recommend it for a match environment. It remains one for those lazy pleasure days!

We did say early on that the Conker was a simple method. Well, having cleared up several misconceptions, I trust we have given you all a greater understanding of the methodology behind the mystiqué. Rob has never been one to 'fancify' an approach. All his paste methods have a no-nonsense, theoretical and practical base, which he himself follows. There's no magic ingredients (unless of course you are familiar with Yorkshire Baits) and little skill involved, but like anything in angling, practice definitely does make perfect. Do not expect to attend your next match armed with Rob's A-Z knowledge base and think you'll walk away the winner, if all things in life were that easy everyone would be doing it! Practice the methods, approach and reasonings behind our instructional series and you will undoubtadly increase your skill levels and possibly your income!

To conclude the Rob Hitchens A-Z of Paste Fishing series, we have created an Index to make finding a specific subject from within the five part series more easy. Simply click the picture opposite to access.

We also offer you the opportunity to contact Rob, via our special email link, and put any questions to him that you feel would help you understand paste fishing even more.
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