Our 'Blast from the Past' theme revisits a feature first published during 2000 and is one of the most important and fascinating subjects many match anglers, especially in Europe, deem essential to a successful session/match... SOIL and GROUNDBAIT. The relevance of this subject has not diminished, even by today's standard and its main exponents are world-class leaders when it comes to the business of using them... the French and Belgians! We apologise to the few very long supportive visitors who may have already seen this and other forthcoming features, but we feel the importance of re-introducing this crucial knowledge-base back into circulation in our new look format will prove both informative and much appreciated, as well as being more easily accessible.

Since the mid-70's when a basic form of groundbait was first used in the UK, we have gradually gained more knowledge in its use and what it does, although the UK is still some way behind its euro-neighbours! We have increased our experience and confidence as choice and improved products have become more available to us. Yet including soil with groundbait has rather past us by. If you take a trip to any good French or Belgian tackle shop there are countless bags of different soils on sale. French anglers, like their Belgian counterparts, are masters at knowing what soil to use, when and in what percentage.

It is perhaps understandable, given the UK's progression into commercial fisheries, that soil has played a lesser part in our fishing, but when joker is to be used then soil IS an essential part of any groundbait mix. Joker needs a supporting bed to lie on once on the bottom of a lake or river. By adding soil to groundbait you create the ideal medium for presenting jokers into your swim. Frenchman Didier Guessard explained this quite clearly and logically, "On a bed of soil the joker is protected, put it within a bed of groundbait, even underwater, and the ingredients in the groundbait will quickly kill it. By adding soil, I'm guaranteed of having some joker still in my swim at the end of a competition"! This message from one of Frances' most respected and adaptable anglers is clear... soil is ESSENTIAL if you intend using joker with groundbait. As we are using joker more and more in the UK, the following feature will hopefully increase your understanding of what soils to use, when and why.

Soils: An introduction
Britain is composed of numerous varieties of soil within its landmass. There are sandy soils, loams, clays, soils which are nearly all organic (like peat), soils that stick, soils that don't, light, dark and everything in between.

All soils are basically formed of the same matter. There are elements of organic material, such as rotten leaves or grasses, but they consist mostly of weathered rock particles. There are three sizes of these particles: Sands (which are the largest), Loams and Clays (which are the finest). All soils will have varying percentages of these particles in them. A sandy soil will have a high proportion of sand (rather unsurprisingly!) and this means it will break up quickly. A clay soil... yes you’ve guessed it... it's high in clay and will bind well together. Most soils will be somewhere on a scale between pure sand and heavy clay. To make sense of these different types, we break them down into the main groups which are used for fishing.

Light loams
These are widely distributed throughout the UK. In France they are generally known as Terre de Somme or 'Earth of the Somme'. This does not mean that they only come from the River Somme valley, but the name comes from these light soils first being used by northern French match anglers.

The characteristics of light loams are: A loose soil which does not bind hard. It tends to be light in colour – beige to light brown. It clouds noticeably once in water.

This is why it's so widely used for fishing, because it does not bind, it doesn't greatly alter the action of a groundbait and, importantly, it does not add lumps to the groundbait. The attractive cloud it creates also helps to draw and hold fish, especially bream.

When you find a vein of loam getting it is easy (above). Try to avoid going after heavy rain, but a drought is not a problem as it is then easy to riddle off. It's best to gather soil with a small shovel or, better still, a small hand rake if the soil is slightly damp. Take a large bucket with you and simply scrape away at the soil and fill your bucket. Once you have filled a bucket with soil, riddle it off to get rid of any vegetable debris and stones then put it in a bin bag.

If you want to keep it for a relatively short time, say up to 4 months, then you can keep it slightly damp in the bin bag. If you want to keep the soil longer then it's best to dry it completely by either laying it out on boards in the sun or in the oven (to avoid accusations of insanity, wait until the wife leaves the house!). If you don't dry the soil, it will turn mouldy after a while as the bacteria starts to develop in the dampness.

You can easily re-wet dry soil. One way is to use a small atomiser but it is not the easiest or most efficient. The quickest way is to pour a small amount of water on the soil, like groundbait, and mix it round, preferably with a drill whisk. Once damp, push it through a riddle and all the lumps should knock out of it.

Another method is to lay sheets of newspaper over the top of a bucket of soil. Simply pour some water (not too much) over the newspaper and leave it overnight. The newspaper acts like a natural filter so the soil gets damp in the same way as after natural rain.

These methods are only used when soil is to be added to groundbait that is already wetted. We will see later that soil can also be added to a dry groundbait mix or as a muddy 'soup'. These different ways of preparing soil have a considerable impact on the action of the groundbait.

River soils
This does not refer to soils found by rivers – a river could flow through pure sand, for example and give you a sandy soil – but to soils used for fishing in rivers. They are commonly known as Terre de Riviere and have the following characteristics: Dark in colour – dark brown generally. Sticky and heavy, you can check the binding potential in  soil by rubbing it between your fingers. If it crumbles it will not stick. If it feels soapy and smears your fingers then it will. It will not cloud in water.

Obviously the binding properties required of a river soil will be different, depending on which river you intend using them on. From a UK perspective, fishing the River Trent, for instanc, will need a stickier soil than say the Warwickshire Avon at Evesham. For this very reason, most French anglers will have three or four types of river soils available to them, each with different binding properties.

You can test river soils on the bank or in your garden. Make up balls of soil and throw them out as if pole fishing at say 11 metres. The sort of range you need is a lightish river soil which will hold a ball together in the air but break up as it hits the ground. The heaviest soil will make a hard ball which will hit the ground with a thump and only be slightly flattened.

Gathering river soils is a more delicate affair than with the light loams. River soils will turn to mud when too wet and form hard solid lumps when too dry. The ideal place to gather them is in woodland (above) where they are protected from rain and sun by the canopy of the forest and leaf mould. Gathering them and storage is the same in practise as that for light loams.

Clays (or Argiles)
These are the fine powdered clays commonly referred to in the UK as Grey Leam and Bentonite. They come in a variety of colours from grey to green, through to beige or yellow and most are extremely sticky. Both Bentonite and Grey Leam for example, will bind groundbaits together rather like cement. A few hundred grams of either of these will change a light bleak mix into a heavy river one... so handle with great care! Some clays however, do not bind! This is just a note of warning as Sensas have some red and yellow damp argile  which actually acts more like a sand than a clay.

Gathering clay is difficult. Even slightly wet it turns into a sticky mud... you know the sort of thing that sucks off your wellies when you walk through it. Dry, it turns rock hard and you need to take a hammer or chisel to it to break it down. It all needs to be ground fine and past through a flour sieve.

It is probably best just to buy these clays/leams pre-packed as the amounts used are very small. This is a note worth bearing in mind for some UK anglers who are quick to mix a whole packet of grey leam with any groundbait and say it is a river mix! It may bind fine, but will it work as it should on the bottom and release your bait effectively? I think not!

Light sand soils
These are the complete opposite to clays and have no binding power whatsoever. In fact they can often act as a dispersant and help break groundbaits down. Light in colour, the most common is a sandy yellow. There's also very little actual clouding. Throw a ball into water and notice that it doesn't produce any lingering cloud.

Sands obviously occur on beaches, but there are large areas of sands inland which were created by shallow Jurassic and Cretaceous seas millions of years ago. Gathering these light soils is easy. Some rivers – like the River Wey in Surrey – flow through sand and you can get your kids with buckets and spades to simply dig up a load. It dries quickly and keeps well and should be treated in exactly the same way as light loams.

These sands are particularly useful for light bleak or skimmer mixes. The weight of the sand will help you get the balls further out, or get a mix to break up at mid-depth, rather than just off the surface. The sand will add weight, but not affect the action of any mix.

Other soils
The four soil types described above are the main ones for fishing. However, there are a whole range of soils which have some value in fishing. Take the soil in my back garden. It's a standard garden soil, dark in colour but with little in the way of binding power. This insignificant soil does not fall into any of the above categories yet I have used it for ages for winter roach fishing on canals. It adds dark colour to my groundbait but does not bind the mix, which is exactly what a winter roach mix should do. What's important to me is not what type of soil it is, but whether it does the job I want it to do!

Peat also falls into a hard-to-classify category. It is strangely unfashionable these days, although in the 70/80's it was the 'in-thing'. Peat is a good medium for pure joker or chopped worm and allow you to make small balls which break up on contact with the surface. It then clouds up nicely, good for roach and especially perch. You'll need to sieve the peat off finely and be careful which type you buy as there are many brands on display than there was 30/40 years ago! More versatile mediums are available in today’s market place!

Other soils worth considering are red brick dust, which forms a lingering cloud when wet and ideal for regular feeding for small fish, particularly in coloured water.

Just before I finish this section, it is worth mentioning molehill soil. Anglers have extolled the virtues of molehill soil for years, yet there is no such soil called molehill. Obviously the nature of a soil from a molehill will depend entirely on the characteristics of the soil the moles in your region decide to burrow through!!! Even so, it's a superb carrier for chop worm and also as extra weight to a mix, as it is of a particularly fine composition, courtesy of those little furry creatures!

A note of clarity and caution!
Much is made of the terminology 'Damp Leam'. It's a term widely and generically used in packaging certain soil products, for what reason we cannot understand. Our descriptions above give a true meaning and understanding of the soils available and should act as a clear representation of each soil category. So next time you walk into your tackle shop and ask for a bag of damp leam, you should be aware of what's in the package (ie Somme/Riviere), not necessarily what it says on the label!!!

Pure or flavoured?
For many years soils were used pure and mixed with a standard groundbait in a relatively haphazard fashion, usually to add weight or reduce the nutritional value of a groundbait. Soils have also come and gone out of fashion. Continental anglers could not leave it alone during the 60's and 70's, only to see soil fall from grace during the 80's. The last decade has seen it re-emerge and the way it is now being used. Nowadays soil is prepared like any other part of a groundbait mix. Some anglers flavour it, others colour their soil and many mix different soils to get exactly the right action for a particular venue. For example, light loam could be used to make a river soil work quicker on hitting the bottom.

Flavouring soils has long been regarded as a well kept secret amongst top French anglers. Jean Pierre Fougeat was fanatically secretive about flavouring soils, especially with brasem or vanilla. These are no longer secrets as all top anglers have realised that secrets do nothing to promote our sport and JP, like many others, now openly share their knowledge on how they prepare their soils and groundbaits.

Just about every top angler does something to their soil. The French and the Belgian's are famous for flavouring soil. The English and Italians at the highest level are well-known for mixing them. All world class anglers will colour their soils if necessary.

To flavour a soil you can use either powdered or liquid flavours. Powdered flavourings are easy to mix with soil, you simply sprinkle on and mix in. Liquid flavourings are a little trickier. The best way is to mix the liquid with water in an atomiser and wet the soils by spraying. In any case, FLAVOURED SOILS SHOULD ONLY BE USED ON THEIR OWN to lay an initial carpet for joker. You should not add flavoured soils to groundbaits as the flavours could work against each other.

It is also worthwhile flavouring soils a few days before fishing with them. Some flavours will also affect the action of a soil. Sugary flavours, like molasses or Aromix, will increase the binding power of a soil. You could transform a light loam with say Aromix, into a light coloured cloud sticky soil, which is different from traditional river soils but ideal for river bream fishing!

Pure or coloured?
Colouring soils is now common practise in many angling circles. Sensas have even produced a dark version of the famous beige Terre de Somme. Simply by darkening the soil they have preserved the action of it yet created an ideal soil for cold or clear waters. Obviously there is such a great range of groundbait colouring agents available, that anglers can mix in just about any colour they like. The most widely used colours tend to be dark brown, black and yellow. The first two allow the soil to blend in with the natural shades of the lake bed. Yellow is most useful for bream, or for top-up balls when you want the top up to cloud.  The yellow cloud effect can be boosted by adding yellow litou.  This sort of cloud and colour combination is a classic for summer skimmer fishing and top anglers will try a yellow or even white clouding top up to tempt a bigger bream later in a  competition if they feel they are there but simply not feeding.

As with flavourings, there is little point in colouring a soil and then mixing it with groundbait. You would be much better mixing the soil with the groundbait first, then colouring the whole lot together!

How to use soil

Soils can also be mixed with each other to create a cocktail which optimises their action for a particular venue. One fashionable mix is a light loam with a small quantity of Bentonite. Alan Scotthorne is expert at this method. It means he can feed tiny balls of soil, which bind hard allowing him to vary the amount of joker he feeds at different stages of a match. The more Bentonite used, the more the mix sticks and the greater its capacity to hold joker. This way he can feed balls of almost neat joker in a flow and be sure the bait gets down to the bottom. He has been known to use as much as 80% Bentonite to 20% loam, so that the joker content of his feed can be maximised.

All sorts of combination of soil type and characteristic are possible. Using fine sand, like the Litou, with light loams ensures that a loam-based soil breaks up instantly once it hits the top of the water increasing the potential cloud thereafter. The possibilities of lightening a river soil, or adding weight to a loam soil are endless.

Getting the mix right!
The exact quantities of soil to groundbait is a question even French anglers often ask and there is no simple answer. The right amount of soil can vary from 10% to 100% of a mix and only the conditions and venue on a particular day can determine exactly the right answer. However, there are some basic rules which need to be observed.

Soil is all but useless for carp fishing, except when used in extremely strong flowing rivers. Some soils are so powerful as binders, like Bentonite and the other clays, that only a small percentage needs to be added to a mix. In other cases, pure soil may be the best option. We mentioned in our introduction about Didier Guessard feeding joker in pure soil to keep it alive longer, but chopped worms are also damaged by the salts and sugars in pre-packaged groundbaits. So this is something to consider before using them in any initial bombardment!

Interestingly, French anglers favour using pure soil as a way of feeding hemp in a flowing river. As soil is inactive with no feed value, it does possess a temporary holding quality which will allow you to concentrate quantities of hemp much better in powerful flowing rivers than simply loose feeding... and it's certainly quicker to use than a bait dropper!

As a guide for classic lake fishing you should use 20% loam in summer for actively feeding fish in a mix. This will rise to about 70% in winter if fishing is hard, as this will considerably reduce the nutritional value of your feed.

River mixes will vary from 10% in summer to 50% in winter with a binding river soil. Canal fishing can go as high as 80% soil in winter, with 30% as a starting point in summer.

Where to use
In Europe, the sheer nature of the river and canal systems has already generated a knowledge-base of soil use within the fishing community and need little explanation here. Within the UK, light loam soils are the most useful for all-round fishing, as they do not significantly change the action of a groundbait. They are ideal on lakes, canals and slow flowing rivers. River soils are most useful on big rivers like the Thames, Trent, Severn, Bristol Avon etc., and on shallower but equally powerful rivers like the Wye, Ribble and many in Yorkshire. Clays are most useful on flooded rivers and are almost never used pure. Lastly the sandy soils which break up quickly are ideal for top-up feeding and act especially well on muddy or silty bottoms where they help break up groundbait very quickly.

Wet or Dry?
One remaining question worth answering is, in what form should you add the soil to a mix? Should the soil be dry or wet, or should the groundbait be dry or wet? These are important questions because the way you mix the in the soil will affect the way the groundbait ultimately reacts.

If you combine a dry soil with a dry groundbait and wet them together, you will get a heavy and dense mix which will need riddling after adding water. This becomes interesting when you want to use a light loam (Terre de Somme) in a river mix. By using TDS instead of Terre de Riviere, you're able to create a mix that will hold a lot of bait and get down onto the bottom of a slow to medium paced river, then work quicker at releasing the feed.

On the other hand, if you mix a damp soil with a wetted groundbait you don't change the characteristics of either the soil or the groundbait. It is worth noting that you should over-wet the groundbait first, as the soil has a tendency to dry a mix out, even if the soil has already been dampened. Over wetting the groundbait stops you having to add extra water once the soil's been included. Remember, if you add water to the combined soil and groundbait it will quickly become dense as the soil clags it up. It's therefore best to add more water to the groundbait and let the soil dry the mix out once added. Before the use of whisks, mixing soil and groundbait together by hand was very risky, because if you were not quick enough the soil would turn muddy on contact with the over-wet groundbait and ruin the entire mix. Today, whisks have almost eliminated the risk and should be used systematically for any of these preparations.

One final solution is to mix the soil with water into a sort of a mud which, when mixed with groundbait, gives a really stiff mix. This method is especially useful on deep rivers where bream can come to the noise of top-up feeding.

So there you have it, a lot of technical information on soils and mixes which make perfect sense to your average French and Belgian match anglers.

Keep in mind that...
Soil is mostly used with joker and chopped worm. Chopped worms are essentially liquid and these will change the characteristics of any soil and groundbait mix, so make sure you have a dryish mix if you intend adding plenty of chopped worm.

We hope this article has given you some ideas on how to use soils in the future and consequently increased your appetite for further knowledge into improvement feeding methods which you can make yourself. We shall continue our upgrade of certain features shortly, with another fascinating insight into soil, by one of Belgium's 'Master Mixers'. More will follow on joker and hooker care, and yet more on soils and leams from Belgium as we gradually work through upgrading our archives.

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