Berley Basics

burley bag

Ground bait, berley, chum – call it what you like – but there is no doubt that using a concoction to attract fish to your fishing area is usually very advantageous. Berley works in many ways, all of them good. Deploying berley can attract a feed on days when the fishing is really hard, and when it’s easier, you might induce the fish to feed in an absolute frenzy, to the point they will take anything, even an unbaited hook.

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Berley is nothing new in fishing terms. It was used from the earliest days when anglers hung animal carcasses from tree branches over the river. When maggots started falling from the fly-blown carcass into the water, fish were attracted to the area below, making it easier for anglers to catch them. I am firmly of the opinion that if you berley a spot for long enough, it will turn into a good fishing spot. Good examples include areas where abattoirs or dairy factories discharge organic waste. These spots are well known as great fish producers.

Wharfies unloading grain boats around Auckland often used to catch good snapper right under the wharf, with the grain spillage attracting many fish. This in a spot where you would rarely catch a legal-sized snapper on any other day! Armed with the knowledge that putting food or scent in the water will attract fish is the only part of the equation though, as it’s also important to consider what to use for berley, how to dispense it and why certain species of fish respond to different ways of berleying.

Mussel barges make a mega berley trailBerley works in two main ways: firstly it attracts small fish, which in turn attract the bigger fish looking to eat them, and secondly, the scent and food morsels carried along by the water attract hungry fish.  So from how far away can fish be attracted by a berley trail? Research shows that sharks can detect one part of blood per million parts of water. Not all fish are as sensitive to smell, but even allowing for differences between species, you don’t need to put a lot of smell in the water to attract fish from quite some distance.

Current, water depth and wind all play a part in how far your berley trail will be effective – as will the actions of inexperienced or downright inconsiderate boat skippers who motor across your berley trail less than 50 or 60 metres from your transom! Natural sources of berley should not be overlooked when you’re fishing, either. A good example is when the mussels are being harvested at the mussel farms. The rich soup of broken mussels and small crustaceans and invertebrates that live on the mussel lines can cause snapper to swim around on the surface hoovering them up.

Another source of natural berley is behind commercial fishing boats. Whether it’s a scallop dredge or a trawler, the scraps left behind as these boats haul their gear attract everything from snapper to the giant bluefin tuna caught behind hoki trawlers off the West Coast of the South Island.

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You can use just about any food source for berley and it will attract fish. Some people have their own magic potions that can work effectively, while commercially-made berley bombs also work fine. In many cases berley can be quite simple. Here are a few of the ingredients I use to make my ‘magic potions’, along with the species they work on. They can be used on their own or mixed to taste. Leftover bread mixed with rolled oats: especially good for sprats and piper, but can also attract snapper, mackerel, parore and trevally

Cooked rice: various baitfish, snapper and trevally
Crushed kina and mussel: really good for snapper and trevally
Skipjack tuna (‘bonito’): snapper, kahawai, trevally, kingfish and sharks
Pilchards: kingfish, trevally, snapper and tuna
Tinned cat food: snapper, kingfish, kahawai and trevally.

(Note: the use of mammal by-products for berley is not permitted in any contest or club, national or world record, governed by IGFA rules).

Berley dispensersThe way berley is dispensed will play a big part on how effective it is in various fishing situations. The easiest way to berley is by simply chopping up some of your bait and throwing it around the area being fished. However, while this approach works, a more measured and consistent supply is better.

To do this, put your berley in a dispenser of some kind. Onion sacks are a cheap, quick and simple option. The small mesh allows small bits of berley to escape and avoids over-feeding the fish. A berley pot mounted on the boat is also great, as you can convert unwanted or old bait into berley while fishing.  Dispensers of frozen berley bombs, like Wobbly Pots, are also very good. They’re ideal if you want your berley dispersed near the bottom in strong currents, as they can be lowered to the desired depth on a rope.

The main point when berleying is to maintain a constant trail of smell and small bits of food. It is important not to put so much berley in the water that you are actually feeding the fish.Berleying can take on specialist forms, the best known of which is cubing. This is where small cubes of pilchard or skipjack are dropped over the side every 30 seconds or so. This technique is used to attract yellowfin tuna to strip baits or live baits. Cubing also works on snapper and kingfish in deep water, providing the current is not too strong. Another specialist form of berleying involves scooping live fish out of baitfish meatballs. These are then thrown back into the water in small quantities to keep predators feeding, even if the meatball is eaten or disappears.

Berley is as attractive to fish as the smell of cooking bacon is to us, and should be an integral part of any fishing trip. It works while drift fishing or anchored, and when live baiting or lure fishing, so all anglers can benefit.


 This article is reproduced with permission of
New Zealand Fishing News

2009 - by Adam Clancey
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited

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