Herring as Bait

Herring is cheap to buy and easy to find.

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 is also a good choice and one which appears to be under utilised by anglers. 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 and are reasonably priced. It is possible to catch herring on a rod and line, although few anglers target them and most which are caught go to anglers fishing for mackerel. The chances of catching a herring 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 usually only worth doing in an area where herring are known to be present.

Storing Herring

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. As herring is fairly easy to purchase it is always best to use fresh herring rather than frozen.

Herring Bait Presentation

Herring Bait Presentation
A strip of herring presented on a size 1/0 hook.

Like mackerel and bluey, 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 and 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 whole herring can be used. If whole herring is 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 issofter than that of mackerel and so it is a good idea to secure strips of herring to the hook with bait cotton. A good bonus of herring is that the shiny, scaly skin will glitter in clear water and provided an added attraction to the bait which will work especially well when targeting flatfish.