I have been fishing since I was eleven, and my first fish came after 10 months of persistent fishing down the local pits, when a suicidal pike took my lure. Nobody at home believed I’d caught a fish so I went back in the afternoon and got another. Next day out I got another and then two the day after that. It was my first carp, all one and a half pounds of it, that really stuck in my mind though, and from that day to this, I have dedicated much of my time to catching them, and, by default, helping other people to catch them with my baits.
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the commercial bait industry was in its infancy, and the likes of Bait 78, Richworth, Hutchy and Duncan Kay targeted a very obvious gap in the market. It was actually with Duncan Kay that I experienced my first taste of industrial bait making. Now, to set up a manufacturing business, experience in accountancy, logistics and mechanical engineering are essential. It’s as simple as that, and without these skills you will fail! Unfortunately, Kay lacked these skills even though he was very knowledgeable where bait was concerned, and many of today’s ‘experts’ could have learned a lot from him. I worked there for a couple of years and I like to think my skills helped to make it a success, if only for a short time; a poor, one-sided, distribution arrangement with a large tackle company eventually killed the business off.
Not long after, I was contacted by some creditors, and after a brief discussion, they persuaded me to buy up the machinery and start afresh. I quickly found some premises—an old cow shed—and got to work renovating it. You quickly learn skills you didn’t know existed when you haven’t got the cash to get somebody to do a job for you!
So, in 1988, Mistral was born. My vision for the company was, first and foremost, to produce affordable baits here in the UK, that caught lots of fish; so that's exactly what I did! My baits catch fish, and lots of them, but one of my biggest bug-bears is when people confuse the term ‘affordable’ with the word ‘cheap’, and the negative connotations that go with it. If you look at the various bait firms out there, there are so many ‘Fred in the Shed’ bait-makers who claim to offer the very best hand-rolled baits, full of protein and blah blah blah! What their customers don’t realise is that they are buying the guy’s labour and not much else. The quickest guy on a table may do 50 or 60 kilos a day. We have made this within 10 minutes of starting our machine. If this guy is taking minimum wage, then about £2 of the cost of the bait is in labour. If he is taking more than minimum wage, then this figure is obviously higher. Couple that with the fact that we can buy ingredients at half of the cost that he can, and you will soon see why commercially rolled baits are generally a much better, and a more affordable bet. In addition, we pay tax just like you do from your wages, unlike some of these chaps!
In my mind, one of the biggest problems we face as a commercial bait company is when the general fishing public base their decisions on what they’re told by the latest ‘superstar’, who just so happens to be sponsored by a bait or tackle company who invest far more into their marketing strategies than they do into the actual products. Marketing is a great thing, and I wish I was good at it, but so many companies are pushing quite inferior baits or tackle, and are getting away with it! They pay huge sums to these ‘superstars’, who in turn tell you how good their stuff is, and the gullible just lap it up. This month (June 2017) a debate has been started in a trade magazine regarding ‘sponsored’ anglers and their part in the decline of the tackle industry. We will wait to see what happens there but if there isn’t room for a tackle dealer to sell bait, for instance, you may well have to spend £20 on fuel or wait for the postman to get a packet of hooks.
Let’s take the shelf-life v freezer bait argument, a favourite of mine because I can dispel or often destroy the myths. I will state that in the vast majority of cases, if not every case, a shelf-life version of bait X will be just as effective as the freezer version if the same ingredients have been used. Most anglers don’t realise that moisture is the thing that makes baits go off, so the introduction of a mild inhibitor is all that is needed to stabilise things. Sugar is a great preservative. Historically, salt was used to preserve meat to prevent scurvy epidemics on board trading vessels. Vinegar is a very effective preservative, and can prevent most moulds from starting to reproduce. It sounds awful CH3 COOH and NaCl on your chips with C12H22O11 in your tea. Hands up who puts preservatives in their tea and on a bag of chips?! Shelf life isn’t so frightening now is it? The misconceptions, and in some cases downright lies, that many of the big names in carp fishing are professing, bewilder and confuse their customers, and this has a negative impact on the more honest and reputable companies out there. You could have the best bait or piece of tackle out there, but because ‘so and so’ is promoting a more inferior product with the backing of an enormous marketing budget, you can’t get it off the ground. It’s just wrong.
Mistral has been going strong for 29 years now by sticking to the same principles that I built the company up on. People can be confident that when they spend their hard-earned cash on one of our products, that they have invested in something manufactured here in the UK with only the highest quality ingredients. Experience counts in this game, and the proof is in the pudding: Mistral baits catch fish!