What’s this field testing lark all about?
Long term Nutrabaits users Brian Skoyles and Julian Cundiff talk about the pro’s and con’s of becoming a field tester...
Brian… For many years I’ve been helping with and/or organising events for junior anglers. In the last few years the same question keeps cropping up… How do I become a field tester? Or how do I get sponsorship? Jules, have you noticed the same thing?
Jules… I certainly have Bri. As you know I have always made my address available for people to write to me and in the last five years at least half of the questions I get are about sponsorship. Sure I get ones on baits and rigs but every other one is about getting deals, getting their profile up or generally being more ’professional’. I think with the ever increasing popularity of carp fishing the magazines have cottoned on and it’s quite ‘sexy’ to be in them I am told. So lads want to be in the magazines now just like I wanted to be in Carp Fisher and Carpworld in the eighties and nineties. And of course with the economy as it is a ‘bait deal’ can only make things a bit easier financially mate.
Brian… I think the first thing to clarify is the difference between field testing, and sponsorship. As far as I can recall Nutrabaits was one of the first companies to start using genuine field testers. These were a group of anglers that were chosen for their experience and knowledge, so they had a good base to work from. These anglers were then given ingredients, flavours, enhancers etc to try.
I was in this position, in the early days, and I can clearly remember bottles arriving, containing some unknown liquid, that Bill had sourced out. They normally had with them a brief note with a description of the possible product, a suggested starting point, and the familiar,” but I could be way out, so let me know how you get on”. You started doing trial mixes, and developing a “knowledge” of the product. I would normally fish a trial mix next to an “established” bait, and hopefully build up a picture.
Sometimes you made progress quite quickly, other times you just got more confused. Every now and again you’d give Bill a ring, and give your feedback, this was compared with other field tester comments, and you might go away and try other levels etc. In some cases you found yourself with a winner, and caught well, but at other times the potential product did not live up to expectations, and after many fruitless hours of trying it was dropped.
A genuine field tester walks a fine line between success and failure, and not that many anglers are prepared to give up their precious fishing time behind an unknown product.
Sponsorship is completely different.
Jules… Definitely, I really do think people need to get this sorted in their head. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and I have always been of the mind to play to my strengths. You of course mate are the ideal man to test products whilst by and large I think I’m best suited to promotion.
When Nutrabaits started, in fact just before they started Tim and Bill did give me items to test and would give me suggested levels and told me to experiment. Way back in the late eighties I did this with a couple of essential oils and some powdered attractors. To be honest though, I am not the greatest of field testers as I try to cut down on the percentages in my fishing. Whether or not the bait is right is not a percentage I like to have to worry about.
I know that when I fished the Tilery in the early nineties I had the original Fishfood Mix to try but unfortunately although the base mix was great I got the liquid attractor levels too high and used 5ml per pound rather than 2ml. To start with I caught and caught well but within a month I couldn’t buy a bite… and that continued until I dropped that attractor level. Boy oh boy did that have me climbing the walls. Bri you can field test for me in future…
I have just been in the office to look at my collection of Nutrabaits catalogues and I can see we had a huge team of field testers and ’promoters’ of the gear. The guys who were in the public eye were great to promote it in print whilst the quieter and more reserved lads were brilliant at field testing the gear. So guys like me who were in the mags like Carp Fisher, Carpworld and Coarse Fisherman really have you field testers to thank pal. I prefer to see if I can catch them on a winning combination and then do my bit for the team by getting in the magazines to promote the bait to the readership. Really it’s a perfect partnership as you have a team field testing and developing it and then others of us getting it through to the readers. ‘Hey guys this stuff is the business and if you use it this way you will catch’…
Brian… Things have moved on a lot since those early days of fairly basic bait development. These days, there is a much higher starting point, we know a lot more about the potential of many ingredients, and large research establishments are also contributing to the development of food sources to add to ever more effective baits. So a lot of the guesswork has gone, and your modern field tester is more about assessing the effectiveness of a completed bait against what is already available, rather than looking at individual ingredients.
The problem companies like Nutrabaits has, is that there are loads of anglers that would like free or discounted bait, but will their feedback move the development of the bait forward in any way? From your own experience Jules, how do you go about evaluating how good a bait is?
Jules… I was going to say it depends on how many carp I catch mate but that’s not the truth is it really. I always try and put things into perspective and I soon evaluate the time I am putting in, the swims I am getting in and whether I am on fish or not. Whilst there is a lot of hype in carp fishing the more experienced you get the sooner you can cut through it all. If I am not on fish and hardly fishing I can’t really blame the bait can I?
So to evaluate you have to be brutally honest about you and your fishing which from my own observations many lads are not at all able to do. Some baits really do seem to make a massive difference when they are released, say a bait like Big Fish Mix and Trigga. However generally the bait is just part of the equation and being able to see if it is good, or better than a previous one is not as easy as you’d imagine. The more experienced you are the easier it is to pick up on the signs so that’s probably why ‘proper’ field testers usually are experienced carp anglers who have walked the walk as well as talking the talk so to speak.
Brian… So if you think you have the aptitude and organisation to make a good field tester, how do you go about it?
Jules… Lets be totally honest about this Brian carp fishing is a business and bait companies need to keep their businesses run on a sound basis. If any business is not run properly it will fail… period. Nutrabaits started in 1986 and twenty three years later it is still going whilst hundreds of other ‘firms’ have come and gone. This has not been down to luck but is because the boys have balanced supporting field testers and sponsored anglers with making sure that they promote the bait to its full advantage…
Unlike some firms I am proud to say that Nutrabaits don’t ‘chase’ the ‘next biggest thing’ and prefer to be loyal to those who are loyal to them. In fact I know Bill and Skid have sent many a high profile angler packing when he has tried to get a deal when its clear he will be here today gone tomorrow. Proper field testers generally are the more experienced anglers but anyone can raise their profile enough to make a bait deal ‘possible’.
The golden rule I always tell lads is ‘What are you going to bring to the Nutrabaits stable?’ It’s got to be a win win situation that benefits you and Nutrabaits mate. The best way to get yourself on the Nutrabaits radar so to speak is to raise your profile. So how do you do that? Well quite easy really. First thing is that you have to go fishing. No I am not being stupid but being an armchair angler and ‘going’ to do it is no good at all. You have to be out there doing it on a regular basis. Remember a lot of anglers talk a good session but from what I’ve seen a lot never get beyond their armchairs or computer screens… If I could give somebody some tips on raising their profile these are what I’d say:
- Find yourself an action water where you get plenty of runs so you really can find out how a bait or rig change really works.
- Find yourself a water that you can catch carp in winter from. If you can catch carp from fifteen to twenty five pounds regularly in the colder months you will get in the press.
- Find yourself a water where there is a chance of catching a thirty pounder.
- Whatever you catch photograph it and make sure that you have a proper digital camera so that your pictures are pin sharp.
- Get as many pictures as you can into print. Carp Talk is a great place to start and if you send them to the regional coordinators you can get carp of all sizes in.
- If you are catching big carp then not only Carp Talk but Angling Times and Anglers Mail will use them.
- Start going to the conferences to get your face known and to see what goes on. A must is the 5-Lakes Carp Conference early March each year. The Carp Society’s show at Sandown in November is good too.
- Go to the local meetings that are in your area. Some are run by the Carp Society whilst others are local carp groups. Your local tackle shop will point you in the right direction.
- Use the internet to good advantage. Contribute in a positive way to promote Nutrabaits and never get drawn into arguments.
- Be sure of what you want and stay loyal. It’s a long term thing and if you flit from company to company people will soon learn to avoid helping you out.
And as I always say Brian, anybody who drops me a line with a SAE to Willows, Thorpe Lane, Thorpe In Balne, Doncaster, DN60DY I will help them with personal tips. That’s honestly what I’d do today if I were starting from scratch. In fact I did and people like Andy Little, Tim Paisley and co did for me what I hope I can do for others. The higher your profile is the more chance you have of getting Nutrabaits to say ‘Welcome On Board’.
Brian… Thanks for that. I know that Bill finds this whole area quite tricky. In many ways it’s a compliment that so many people want to be involved, but on the other hand too many anglers involved can confuse the issue, and be counter productive. Let’s be honest it’s a business, so the role of field tester has to be taken in context of enhancing a companies potential to sell more bait.
I hope we’ve gone some way to helping you understand the position of a genuine field tester, it’s not just about getting successful products to use, and going fishing with them. Promotion is a different thing, and I’m afraid very few get to the stage of being offered products just on the basic of their name/reputation. If you do it’s usually as a result of a lot of hard work and considerable success, so the company gets payback from using your name etc. If you are hoping to reach that stage you have a lot of hard work to do first.
Follow Jules’s advice and if you are lucky in the long term, you might get that deal, but remember if you don’t, why did you start fishing in the first place? It’s all about enjoyment and personal satisfaction, the excitement of the catch, and the sharing with friends. If you’ve got that, you’ll still be fishing in years to come, long after the latest sponsored “super star” has been dropped in favour of a newer model.
So for now, have fun, enjoy every moment of it, and good luck with your fishing.