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Hemp and tares

Over the past 100 years, hemp seed has proved itself as probably the best of the particle baits for attracting and holding fish such as roach in the peg.

Hemp bait

Hemp was once believed to have magical powers of attractiveness, with a unique aroma and giving off an oily trail once thrown into the water. Fish were said to home in on it and become transfixed into feeding on nothing else other than the ‘black seed'. Of course, there is no such thing as a miracle fishing bait, but most canal match anglers will take hemp with them as part of their portfolio of baits.

Preparing hemp

Hemp is small dark seed bait that is soaked and then boiled until the shell splits and bright white kernels are showing. You can buy dry hemp and then prepare it at home in several ways.

  • Put the hemp in a flask and add boiling water. Add about 70% hemp and 30% boiling water the night before and then in the morning the hemp will be spot on.
  • Boil in a saucepan until it begins to split and the white kernels become visible.

Do take note that non-fishing members of your household may take umbrage at the unique aroma that the cooking of hemp inevitably fills the house with. If ‘spirited debate' is a likely outcome, then it's probably best to purchase ready-cooked hemp from the local tackle shop, or buy it from a local food store or supermarket.

It's a little-known fact that hemp used for fishing bait has 20% VAT included in the price but hemp used as a pet food is VAT exempt.


Tares are often used in conjunction with hemp, with some anglers preferring the larger size and ease of hooking. Tares are a dark brown/black seed and can be bought from most tackle shops, or pet and animal feed shops.

Tares are prepared the same way as hemp. Many anglers soak them overnight in water and then boil them until they become soft.

Hemp and tare fishing

While it's generally used as a feed and attractor, hemp can be used on its own and can on occasions deliver magical results. Other times the fish will not appear interested.

Large roach and dace are particularly fond of a large single hemp seed presented on a small hook. Take care not to over feed as this encourages competition within the fish shoal, leading to fast, difficult to hit bites.

Hemp and tare fishing history

Hemp seed was brought over to England by Belgian refugees during the First World War and quickly took off in the south of England, where it became so successful that you couldn't win a match without it. This resulted in many clubs banning its use. One of the pioneers of tare fishing was Trent legend Johnny Moult. You can find out more about the history of the use of hemp and tares in the video below.

How to store hemp seed between fishing sessions

Hemp and tares can be stored fresh in the fridge for a couple of days but after that they can start to go rancid. A good tip is to prepare a large batch and then freeze it.

Only place the amount of hemp you would use in a session in any one bag. Half a pint would be sufficient for most canal fishing situations. Take the frozen bag out of the freezer the evening before the fishing trip and it will have thawed by the morning. Others prefer to cook their hemp fresh on each occasion and then use the hemp water to mix groundbait. Its aroma may help attract fish into the peg.

Motty's tips on how to get the best from hemp

Advice from canal angling champion Simon 'Motty' Mottram, who trains our Let's Fish! coaches on the best canal fishing methods.

  • On canals you can feed a bed of hemp in combination with caster which is used to hold roach or bream in an area.
  • When fishing squatts, with which you will be feeding every put in, firing in a few grains of hemp every now and then creates splash, which seems to help keep the roach feeding.
  • When fishing squatt on the hook and feeding both squatts and hemp, it's worth having a hemp rig set up with a size 18 or 20 hook and giving it a go every now and them. If you're going to get bites they will come quickly and the roach will be bigger than average.
  • A brilliant method for hooking hemp is called pinning the bud. Use the stem of a pole float to pierce a hole in the black shell and pass the hook tip through this hole. The tip of the hook should protrude through the white kernel. Using this technique, the hemp stays on the hook better and you can catch several fish in the same grain.
  • You can even plan ahead and get a few grains pinned in advance.
  • For some reason, tares seem to work better on rivers, such as the River Trent, than on canals.

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Last Edited: 14 December 2020

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