More and more anglers are waking up to the importance of adding soil to groundbait and the reasons why we use soil may be different for each angler and situation. Some use it to add weight, others to reduce the feed content. Many reach for the soil during winter when things become much harder and rivers are pushing that little bit extra. Not so the Belgian's. They take soil one step further and regard it as an integral part of fishing with joker, for ALL species... ANYTIME, ANYWHERE!

Such is the skill of these anglers that many of the top rods in Europe have used mixes specifically designed by our Belgian friends. To share some of their soil secrets with us, Nicolas Detry went to meet one of their finest practitioners, top international Frans Schoubben.

For Frans, the most important quality of soil is neither its weight nor its low feed content. The real strength of soil, he explained, is it keeps joker alive longer than any other feed medium. He goes further with his philosophy seeing the role of soil in a mix as a vehicle to hold and disperse joker underwater over a period of time, thus holding fish in your swim longer once they have found your feed.

As soil is essentially a medium for keeping joker alive, it seems logical that you do not need soil once you are feeding casters, maggots or seed baits. The one exception to this rule is chopped worm where, like joker, soil will keep the bait more attractive for longer than if added to a cereal feed. Historically, Belgian anglers followed this golden rule to the letter... Soil = Joker... and lots of it!

Before joker quantities were limited in matches, the amounts of joker used by Belgian anglers was quite staggering! Some anglers would mix 1 kilo of joker with soil four days prior to a match. They would then repeat the process with another kilo of joker the day before and then add a third kilo on the morning of the match itself! This rather seemingly extravagant preparation had a triple action. The four day old joker would be dead by match-day, but would have impregnated the soil with its juices. The joker put in the day before the match would still be alive, but a lot less active and as a consequence would not wash out of the feed as rapidly as the quantity added on match morning. This fresher joker, being the more active, would also help break up the balls, thereby providing a more instant stimulation for any fish present.

This sort of mixing joker at various time stages allowed anglers to hold fish in a swim for a full five hours, without having to top-up. This way of preparing feed provided a great boom to joker scrapers, but has since been outlawed in all matches. With the total joker limit now set at no more than 1.5 kilos, Belgian anglers no longer start a match with joker already mixed into their feed, as bait quantities are rigourously inspected prior to any continental match (perhaps an idea here for UK angling?). This has led them to find other solutions, like the ones Frans uses on many of his matches.

Preparing soil the 'Schoubben Way'

1. Frans uses very fine groundbaits to mix with his soil. This helps avoid overfeeding the fish and makes it easier to mix the groundbait with the soils. If the groundbait he wants for a venue is too coarse, he will put it through a food processor the night before to get it finer. What's surprising in all his mixes is that the proportion of soil to groundbait is the same... 8 kilos of soil to 1 kilo of groundbait!
2. Frans adds a sweet additive to the mix, either in liquid or powder form. He always adds his sweetner to the dry groundbait, never the soil. Dry groundbait absorbs liquid additives much easier than the heavier damp soil. Frans uses quite a fair amount of sweetner in a soil mix, at least double the dose recommended by the manufacturer (these dosages are usually based on adding to groundbait, rather than soils).

3,4,5 and 6. Frans mixes the groundbait to a wet slop. He makes sure that every bit of the cereal is thoroughly wet. What this does is get rid of one of the traditional problems associated with mixing soil and groundbait, namely that the soil dries the groundbait out. Take one look at the slop in Frans hand and there is no way that stuff is going to dry out in soil! This avoids having to re-wet a groundbait with heavy soil in it and run the risk of the whole mix setting like concrete!!!

7,8 and 9. Frans then riddles off the soil and mixes it with the sloppy groundbait thoroughly. He gives the mix a final riddling then adds his joker. His mix is well wetted, very dense and smells of the groundbait. Obviously the speed with which it breaks up depends on the soil used. Terre de Somme will break up quickly and slightly cloud the water, whereas Terre de Riviere will break up much more slowly. The final mix does look different from normal soil mixes, feeling more plastic and dense.

For Frans the secret of this mixing is that there is enough groundbait thoroughly incorporated throughout the mix to calm even the liveliest joker down, essential in holding the fish for a long time in your swim, without killing it of course!

This way of mixing soil is quick and easy and the results are guaranteed. The traditional way of wetting soil by putting newspapers or towels over the top, then letting the water filter through to the soil, takes a couple of days of planning. This process means the volumes of water are hard to judge in order to make sure that all the soil is evenly wetted.

The importance of a properly wetted soil cannot be overstated. Many UK shop bought soils, called Damp Leams, feel almost wet enough to use straight from the bag. However, they are not damp enough to hold feed together, once on the bottom. This means that your feed will break up too quickly and the joker will wash away quickly.

NOTE: To clarify what LEAM is, one needs to be aware of some misrepresentation on packaging termed 'Damp Leam'. THIS IS NOT LEAM... Leam is a clay! Packaged 'Damp Leam' is in fact either a LOAM or a RIVER soil, usually dark Terre de Somme (Loam) or Terre de Rivere (River). Why this misrepresentation has gone on for so long I do not know. Perhaps the manufacturers confuse the word LEAM with LOAM, there is after all only ONE letter difference!!!

Some classic Schoubben recipes
Frans can of course adapt his mix to different situations by playing on the feed value of the groundbaits he chooses and the type of soil he adds to it. Below are four of his classic mixes, which should give you a feel of what he means. Note: These mix quantities are relative to many continental venues and applications. For UK consumption a more conservative approach will probably be needed, so reduce the quantites below proportionally:

Big fish/river mix
  • 2kg Sensas Super River fine
  • 16kg Terre de Riviere
  • Secretix coconut additive.
This obviously is a very heavy and stiff mix.

Big roach on slow rivers/large canals
  • 2kg Sensas Super River
  • 16kg light coloured Terre de Riviere
  • Secretix hemp additive.
Just as heavy as the river mix, but less sticky.

Small lake fish
  • 2kg Sensas Lake 3000
  • 16kg Terre de Somme
  • Secreterix bitter almond additive.
A much less stiff mix that the two above but one which will cloud up alittle with the Terre de Somme- attracting and holding smaller fish.

Bream in shallow lakes/small canals
  • 2kg Sensas Super Lake Bream
  • 16kg Terre d'Etang (Special lake soil)
  • Sweetix.
This obviously is a very heavy and stiff mix.

You can, of course, vary the colour of a soil mix by using a powdered color additive. Frans recommends mixing colour to the soil before it's incorporated with the groundbait, in order to obtain a more consistent spread of the colour throughout the finished mix.

Belgian anglers, like Frans, are way ahead of anglers elsewhere in Europe when it comes to understanding just how soil works and what effect it's having on joker in water. How many times have you fed joker and caught well for an hour or so, then seen the bites dry up? Top-up feeding brings you a few more fish, but they never come back the way they did at the start. You could negatively analyse this situation in terms of fish response as: They spooked after a while... There were not that many in the swim in the first place... A predator spooked the shoal and they never settled back over the feed, etc.

OR positively view it in terms of your feed, following Frans' line of thought:
  • Did the joker simply die out too quickly, taking the fish with it?
  • Did you have enough joker to truly hold the fish for longer than an hour?
  • Or, did the joker that you initially fed remain alive and attractive to the fish?
These are the real questions which should be asked, if you truly wish to understand the benefits of such a basic component as soil! One thing's for sure, when it comes to soil, the UK lags well behind in its use. We hope Frans has given you all food for thought when it comes to preparing your next mix.