HNV is a subject often discussed by carp anglers, by those with a deeper interest in bait, those that have been around long enough to remember its first ‘birth’, and those just coming across it in their own journeys through carping. Whatever your exposure to it, you’ve almost certainly heard about it, and discussed it at some level. So, what is it all about, why do some rave about it and others dismiss it, what are the real HNV truths?
Now, make no bones about it, I’m a fan of HNV baits, however this is an open and honest account of what they’re about, so let’s get that out-of-the-way now. If you want to challenge any statements made here, please feel free, the comments section below is there for you to use, so use it.
I’ve got a deep love for science, especially chemistry, biology and physics, indeed I spent all of my further education studying the subject of Environmental Science, right through to University level; I just love learning about and exploring the wonders of the natural world. No doubt that core founding in science is what initially took me down this path with my bait, it all just makes sense, its how the natural world ‘works’.
Let’s start by properly defining what I deem HNV to mean, just so we’re all on the same starting page.
HNV stands for High Nutritional Value. This is commonly taken to indicate baits with a very high protein content, and dizzying numbers such as 80% and even 90% protein content stats start to get banded about in conversation. However, that’s not really high nutritional value, not in the true sense of the term, that’s just a glut of protein. Add to that you are hard pressed to find useable and more over attractive (to carp) ingredients carrying such high levels of proteins, and you start to question the validity of it all, and rightly so.
No, high protein levels should actually be considered to stand at much more sensible levels, and 50% is actually high in this sense of the term. High protein doesn’t equal a better bait, however, high food signals of course does, and that’s what is partially being tapped into in these high protein baits, amino acids, food signals. A bait by its very nature is, or should be, designed to entice the carp to eat it, that’s how we catch them! The trick often missed with these high protein baits is digestibility and solubility, or lack of, and the type of aminos, especially free aminos available in the finished bait. A fish can’t even attempt to eat what it cannot find.
True HNV for me means; a bait that is as close a match as possible to the carps entire dietary requirement. This is where you start to understand that actually, whilst high protein can carry decent levels of food signals, it also has heavy drawbacks. Carp do not need as much as 80% protein in their diets, and eating foods of such un-balanced nutrition actually harms catch results; carp spend vast swathes of their time digesting the protein saturated meal, totally un-catchable in the mean time. This situation doesn’t impart a lasting positive imprint, on the fish or the angler! True HNV however, as a fully balanced bait in every aspect, certainly does. The fish don’t search for nutrients per say, but they do search out that feel good factor, as all living organisms do by default thanks to evolved instinct. Feeling good is a survival instinct in the natural world.
This is hard for us to grasp as humans, given the ‘McDonald’s V Fresh Salad Theory’ no doubt some of you reading this are thinking about. But consider this, we are so removed from our natural instinct its unreal. We go to the gym, we are told to eat 5 a day, eat plenty of fibre and on top of all that take 2 multi-vitamin tablets a day. Oh, and let’s not forget regular checkups with the doctor, to make sure we’re healthy. In the natural world you have none of that blanket of detachment from survival; you either eat to survive, or you die, game over. Those that thrive, are those that instinctively know what to eat, and that instinct is carved out over many, many years of evolution. Organisms that evolve to fine tune their senses into what enables them to thrive, inevitably do just that, thrive. This is where the carp’s link to amino acids comes from, it’s the reason they’re sensory receptor sites are evolved perfectly to detect amino’s. It’s not coincidence, it’s simply evolution. Again, you can now see why early protein heavy baits did well against the competition at the time, which was certainly more cereal and carbohydrate based. Again though, please remember high levels of anything only tick one box, and all amino’s aren’t made equal, far, far from it!!
That’s why HNV to me means EVERY box ticked nutritionally, so that maximum positive imprints are imparted on the carp, which in turn helps massively to overcome negative, danger signs when the carp comes across the bait in the future. Of course, all this is pretty useless if the carp has to again spend large amounts of time digesting its food, so this is why it absolutely has to be balanced nutrition, you most certainly can have too much of pretty much anything when it comes to bait ingredients, especially regarding excess nutritional elements.
Critical to any baits success is how easy it is to find for the fish, once you’ve done the hard part and imparted those all important positive imprints, you really want the bait to be easy for the fish to find again. This is where amino acids really start to play their ace card, seen as the carp are physiologically engineered to detect them, and hunt them down. Solubility is vital for anything that you want to travel through water, sounds obvious that but its amazing how many people seem to forget it. Again, and I don’t want to sound like a broken record but this is where high protein doesn’t equal high attraction, protein isn’t always soluble, so how can a fish actually know it’s there? The signals have to be soluble!
The trick with bait is to make sure the carp get that strong, overwhelming positive imprint, that they like to eat the bait and crucially can easily find it over distance time after time. A high quality HNV bait can tick all these boxes.
Common questions about HNV
‘The HNV theory’s flawed, how can you be sure the carp eats a full kilo of your bait? If it doesn’t it’s not getting the full nutrition from the bait is it?’
This is a question I’ve seen and heard lots of times, what’s missing is the point that carp don’t need to eat a kilo of bait, they just need X nutrient in Y quantity PER kilo of food consumed. Depending on conditions, size, age and many other factors a kilo of food might be consumed every few hours, or every few days, and it really doesn’t matter, it’s whatever suits that particular fish at that particular time. Whats important is the ratios of nutrients, that’s why they are (or should be) always stated in percentage terms.
‘How can the HNV theory work with all the naturals and other baits in the water, the carp has un-balanced nutrition anyway?’
This is very true, the middle part anyway! Quite obviously the carp often has a multitude of food sources available to it, chief among them naturals. It’s no coincidence waters high in naturals are the ones people often find the hardest to get consistent results on, after all, when your competing with nature as we are when we angle, when nature stacks all the odds in its favour we have to expect the challenge becomes all the more healthier.
That said, again the points been missed a little; yes naturals can make catching fish harder, however there are no naturals that offer such complete nutrition as a true HNV bait, so we have a foot in the door. Make that bait really ‘tasty’ and easy to find, and we have the door open and both feet on the ‘welcome’ mat.
When you take a step back and think about it, the more ‘un-balanced’ the naturals and other baits in a water make the carps diet, the more advantageous a HNV bait becomes; remember what a true HNV bait is, as defined above? Every nutritional requirement met, and not exceeded too much; always winning, always offering whats needed.
Again, in this statement remember that its percentages and averages that matter, that’s what we’re working with here. It’s the same as everything in angling, tipping the percentages and averages in our favour is essentially all we’re doing, all the time!
‘Do carp look for nutrients?’
I broadly agree carp don’t ‘look’ for nutrients, they don’t even ‘think’ about what they’re deficient in. It’s actually much more basic and fundamental than that, it’s a matter of survival. All living organisms need nutrients to survive, and they will at times go to great lengths to get at what they’re deficient in; not because they do it consciously, it’s a totally unconscious survival instinct, and if you stop and think about that, what can possibly be more powerful?
Carp aren’t overly intelligent, but they do have strong instinct, and a solid ability to learn by association. That goes for both positive and negative experiences. Carp learn by association; it’s a commonly held belief that carp learn danger signs; lines in the water, obvious rigs, hard fished areas, areas with little or no cover. We readily accept that carp see these things as dangerous, they’ve learnt this by association, not thought, but instinct imprinted over time, maybe even over generations through evolution. Why do we find it such a leap to accept that the exact same thing happens with bait, both positively, from top quality HNV baits, and negatively, from poor quality and low or un-balanced nutrition baits? Carp spook off lines not because they ‘know’ they’re fishing lines, but because they’ve learnt to associate that line with danger, with being caught. It’s exactly the same with bait, but more so. Bait HAS to overcome the carps fear of being caught, or the fish won’t even investigate it to start with.
‘Do you need a HNV bait, carp are ‘mud pigs’ anyway that eat anything aren’t they?’
True, anything they find they will investigate, however investigate is a wide term and it certainly doesn’t fully over-lap with ‘eat’. Carp are continually investigating their environment, through soluble molecules suspended in the water, sight and sound vibrations. They are constantly ‘auto investigating’. Quite conversely though to ‘eating everything’, fished-for carp more often than not evade most things they auto investigate; lines, noise, cold, alien objects, predators and anything else they associate with negative imprints driven by their unconscious from previous experiences.
Something new however will almost certainly be investigated more proactively, hence new baits or differing tactics or rigs often produce results, we call them ‘edges’ most of the time. The problem here as far as bait is concerned though is that it has to impart enough of a positive imprint to be taken again, enough to overcome negative imprints already ‘learnt’ by the carp. If the balance of negative to positive is too weak, the self-preservation instinct overcomes it, and the baits effectiveness will fade away. Over time if enough carp gain enough negative imprints a bait can really lose its effectiveness. There’s always the ‘mug’ fish that is wired up slightly differently to the rest of the population in a water, but the bulk will naturally learn by association of the impending danger.
The only way to overcome this is to impart enough positive imprints to out weight the negatives, palatability really helps, but ‘feel good’ positive imprints are the ultimate, and they come most readily through perfectly balanced complete nutrition
‘Are HNV baits instant?’
Whilst it is true that HNV baits become more and more powerful over time as they’re applied to a water, due to the positive imprints being imparted, this doesn’t mean they can’t also be ‘instant’. It may have once been true of the baits developed early on in the theory’s ‘life’, and certainly might be true for baits simply relying on a high (non soluble) protein content that they are not especially ‘instant’. Either of these maybe where this question has emanated from, or rather disappointingly it maybe due to really poor baits simply falsely claiming to be HNV, damaging people’s perceptions of whats really possible with a true high quality HNV bait.
Quality HNV baits contain all of the good points from other types of baits, plus the huge added advantage of those all important positive imprints. Instant? Yes, absolutely, and long-lasting performance too, you’ve got to ask what more you really want to get out of a bait, haven’t you?
Dom and I rinsed this water, using Musselberry, Excelsor and a bait we were developing, but at the time of writing this still hasn’t been released, none of which the water had seen before! We caught almost 70 fish to just shy of 30lb, including a number of recaptures over a 6 day trip, where we fished for 4 days, and didn’t even do the nights. Instant? Yes!
To round up
If you get HNV right, it can be devastatingly effective, your dialling into the most fundamental instincts of all, those of survival. Through the fog of time some of its true meanings may have become blurred, so it’s no wonder it can be hard to determine whats fact, and whats fiction, but I do hope this blog has gone someway to answering your questions about it all.
If your still none the wiser, consider this question; the basic principle of a bait is to get the fish to eat it, so why wouldn’t you use something its instinctively driven to eat?
Bait should always be about catching fish, enticing the fish to take the bait into its mouth, so we can catch it! After all is said and done however, confidence plays a huge part in our angling success, especially when it comes to bait. Use whatever gives you the most confidence, and I really mean that! For me, that means ticking all the boxes, all the time; I want instant, long lasting attraction over short and long ranges, I want maximum positive imprints, I want the bait to be highly palatable, digestible and recognisable. For me, that means a high quality true HNV bait.
Tight lines everyone, have confidence in your bait and catch a shed load of fish!