The solid PVA bag has accounted for my two biggest fish landed in the UK, and over the years I have refined the tactic but the fundamentals have remained the same, and it offers the angler a quick, effective method that can be used in a number of situations to great effect. In short, the solid bag could be described as the ultimate in rig concealment, a fooler of carp and a method that has caught fish from pretty much every lake up and down the country, and still does to this very day.

But what makes this tactic so good and are there times when another approach may be a better option? This feature takes a close look at my approach with solid bags, how I use them to great effect and constructing them from start to finish.

So, when is the solid bag an effective tactic? There has always been a time and a place for the solid in my angling and when I feel the time arises, the necessary items that are needed to construct a bag and suitable rig are to hand.

I feel the bag is most successful in a couple of situations; firstly, at those times when the fish are up for a feed but are not necessarily feeding hard on bait. These times may be when the water temperatures are low, or the pressure is high, whereby a well-placed solid bag can trip up a half-hearted feeding fish when a baiting approach may work against you.

Another situation where I have found solid bags particularly good is when fishing for small numbers of carp, where the numbers present are simply not enough to get them competing. In this situation, setting a trap on a feeding spot or a patrol route the fish are using regularly is more than enough to tempt a fish to drop down for a feed.

I am an advocate of solid bagging early season, certainly as the fish are coming out of their late winter mode and beginning to move about and search out food once again. A small parcel of highly attractive bait with a hook bait nestled among it has caught me countless fish from all manner of venues. These bags are also ideal for the roving approach, moving between swims or casting to showing fish before settling on an area whereby a quick bite may be on the cards.

The solid bag certainly isn’t just a small-fish tactic either; I have used them on prolific venues and low-stocked big fish waters alike to equal effect. I do generally tend to alter the way in which I use them for each, though. On a prolific water where there are greater numbers of fish present, I will use the solid bag over an area I am baiting with the spod. When spodding out a mixture of bait items, the solid bag perfectly replicates a particle mix and can get you bites much quicker as opposed to a single hook bait cast over the top of a baited patch. When fishing low-stock venues, I use the solid bag to set a trap and fish for that one bite, knowing that I have a small patch of bait perfectly presented around my hook bait.

So what type of situations lend themselves to use of a solid bag? They are pretty versatile, but because the hook link is within the confines of a parcel, they are particularly suitable for fishing spots whereby an exposed conventional rig would encounter issues. In circumstances where you are faced with obstacles that may hinder or even obstruct a conventional rig, such as lily pads, casting to overhanging trees and fishing to a canopy of weed, the solid bag can be an excellent tool at getting a hook bait and small patch of bait presented effectively.

Due to the fact that the hook link is concealed within the PVA, there is no chance of the rig becoming tangled or coming into contact with branches or debris. I have used the solid bag on a number of occasions to fish tight to islands and margins where there are overhanging trees present, allowing me to clip up tight and let the bag brush the branches before entering the water with no risk of it becoming tangled or snagged up.

When undergoing this type of fishing, whereby the solid is used to present among snaggy areas, it is vitally important to put fish safety first and angle with strong, reliable tackle in order to land each fish that is hooked.

There are times though, when I do feel the solid bag can be a hindrance and I certainly do not think it should be used as a way of getting around weed, as the short hook link can mean that it quickly becomes snared up if it were to sink into weed or debris.

A number of years ago I met up with Rob Hughes to photograph an underwater feature, whereby I was using solid bags to fish to a silty gulley out in the lake. On this particular occasion, I genuinely believed the ‘solids’ would give me an edge when fishing in the silt, picturing that they would be presented above the silt with the bait and hook link proud. After getting a positive drop on the rods, I was convinced a bite would be on the cards. The following morning I awoke to motionless bobbins and it was later revealed when Rob dived down to my spots, that the bags had sunk into the silty lake bed, with the hook bait completely masked by the soft silty bottom and fishing completely ineffectively.  

The fundamentals of the solid bag are very simple: a compact parcel of bait with the hook link and lead buried within the confines of the PVA outer. I always follow the same technical features with all of my solids, starting with the lead itself. This plays an important role in hooking the fish and needs to set the hook home quickly, therefore I opt to use nothing less than 3oz in the form of an inline lead. The inline lead applies the full weight of the lead once the hooklength is tightened, quickly pricking the fish and enhancing the bolt effect.

The hook link is always kept short, but most importantly supple, so that it can be wrapped inside the bag and maintain the same position without kicking out away from the bait or poking up at an unusual angle once the bag has melted. By wrapping the link up inside the bag it remains fully covered by the mix, adding to its overall inconspicuousness.

Much like my conventional hinge rigs, I opt for a big, strong sharp hook when fishing solids. I see very little point in dropping hook size, as once the bag has dissolved this is covered by the mix on the lake bed. More importantly, the hook bait itself must be critically balanced in order to act as light as possible when the fish approach the mix and suck in the lightweight food items present.

The main aim of this presentation is to ensure the hook bait flies back into the carp’s mouth with very little effort, pretty much shocking the carp as they take a mouthful of bait. To achieve this, I simply whittle down a pop-up until it slowly sinks under the weight of a BB shot placed on the hook link.

The bag can be used with either a wafting type hook bait or a slow sinking pop-up, but it is important that the hook bait is sitting close to the deck when it will be positioned among the loose feed items.

A lot of people often ask me if it is worth having bags pre-tied and ready to go by loop-to-looping leaders, but personally I prefer to make up my baited mix fresh and my bags as and when I need them. The Fox Rapide load system quite literally takes less than a minute to form a perfectly compact solid bag, making light work when re- positioning a bag and making a recast.

With regards to the mix, it is important to keep all of the particles small, with nothing exceeding 3mm in size. This means that when the bag is full and compressed down, there are no gaps present. From the autumn until the spring I opt for a low- oil type mix, generally light in colour with food items that are soluble and digestible for the carp in the cold water. The only time this will change is during the summer months, when I will switch over to an oily, fishmeal-based mix, where the oils and attraction can disperse well in the warmer water.

Powders and small pellets form the basis of my mix and I prefer to keep these items dry when adding to the solid bag, as they react naturally once the bag has melted, delivering particles into the column for added attraction.

If you are yet to use a solid bag, you should certainly give them a try – in the right situation, at the right time, they can be an extremely successful tactic and a fooler of even the wariest carp. 

For more great tactical advice from Mark, check out the full series every month in Total Carp!