A cocktail bait is simply two or more baits presented together on the same hook. There are no hard and fast rules about what baits can be combined together and it can be productive to experiment with different baits to see what combinations work best to catch different species. While there are no rules about the baits that can be put together some conventions have emerged which are discussed below.
Tipping off is a form of cocktail bait which uses a main bait (often ragworm or lugworm) and then adding a small section of another bait to the hook to create a cocktail. For example, a ragworm bait may be presented in the usual way and then a small section of mackerel used to tip off the bait and allow the bait to produce both a stronger scent trail and have a better visual attraction. Similarly, lugworm can be tipped off with a long sliver of squid which will flutter in the water and attract fish, especially inquisitive flatfish species such as flounder and plaice. Peeler crab legs and claws are also excellent for adding to worm baits and can be used to attract a range of species.
Cocktails can be especially effective when fishing for large species such as cod. Lugworm and squid is a classic cod bait while squid/mussels and peeler crab/mussels are also favoured by those fishing for big winter cod. However, when targeting some fish such as big bass many anglers avoid cocktail baits, believing species such as bass prefer natural-looking baits such as whole squid, a medium to large sandeel or a single large ragworm. Cocktails can also be used to eke out a meagre bait supply. Cheap and common shellfish such as limpets and cockles do not make great stand-alone baits in most circumstances (due to their lack of scent), but they can be used to bulk up worm or mackerel baits and help anglers make a bait supply last longer. Similarly, a limited supply of valuable bait such as peeler crab can be extended by cutting the crabs in half and including them in cocktail baits with more plentiful bait.
Anglers should give some thought into the order that baits are put onto the hook. When making a cocktail of squid and mussels it makes sense to thread the soft mussels on the hook first (and secured them with bait elastic or cotton) before the tougher squid is added as this will help stop the mussels sliding off the hook. As mentioned, limpets, cockles and whelks are not great baits in themselves but as they are tough they can be added to stop soft baits from coming off a hook during casting. Salting these types of shellfish prior to use can make them even tougher and better for this purpose. There is nothing stopping three baits being used in a cocktail, although this can be seen as overkill and can make it difficult to present the baits properly. Whichever combinations are chosen anglers should always make sure that the hook point is visible once the baits are on the hook so that any fish showing an interest in the cocktail bait will be securely hooked.