Herring (Clupea harengus) is a small, pelagic (mid-water) fish which is abundant in the seas around Britain. It is vitally important to the food chain as it provides a source of food for a huge range of predatory fish found around the UK, as well as seabirds and marine mammals. While mackerel, or increasingly bluey, is seen as the number one fish bait, herring are a good second choice if these first two baits are not available. Despite being a seldom used fishing bait, a wide variety of species from dab and whiting to conger eel will take herring. In fact most species in British waters will happily take herring if they are feeding and this bait is presented in front of them. There is a separate entry on herring as a mini-species on this website.
Catching or Purchasing Herring
While herring have declined in popularity as a food fish in the UK they are still widely available from fishmongers and supermarkets up and down the country, and are reasonably priced. It is possible to catch herring on a rod and line, with the vast majority that are caught in this way go to anglers using feathers and daylights who inadvertently catch herring when going for mackerel. The chances of catching a herring on rod and line can be increased by swapping the mackerel feathers or daylights which will be fitted with size 1 or 1/0 hooks for specialist feathers with size 4 or 6 hooks, usually on sabiki rigs. However, this is only worth doing in an area where herring are known to be present.
Herring which have been freshly caught, or bought from a supermarket or fishmonger can be stored in the fridge and will remain an effective bait for several days. As herring, like mackerel, is an oily fish it will go off quickly (especially on a hot day or in a warm environment) so it is important to get herring into refrigeration quickly to keep it in good condition. Herring can be frozen but the already soft flesh can become even softer and difficult to use once it is defrosted. Some anglers toughen herring up by salting it prior to freezing. However, as herring is fairly easy to purchase it is always best to use fresh herring rather than frozen.
Herring Bait Presentation
Much like mackerel herring can be used in a number of different ways. Small sections can be cut for baits for small fish such as whiting and dab, larger strips cut for fish such as rays, bass and strap conger. When targeting large conger or other big fish herring can be cut into flappers in the same way as mackerel, or even whole herring can be used. However, if whole herring are used it is a good idea to slash the flanks of the fish in order to release scent and juices. The flesh of the herring is a little softer than that of the mackerel and so it is a good idea to secure strips of herring to the hook with bait cotton, or clip the baits down behind an impact shield, or both. A good bonus of herring is that the shiny, scaly skin will glitter in clear water and provided and added attraction which will work especially well when targeting flatfish.