everything you need to know about BAIT...
Softy bodied blow lugworm
Lugworm are large marine worms that live in U shaped burrows in the sand or sand and mud mixes. You rarely find them in the shingle, broken shell or other locations where ragworm are sought, but you will find some ragworm in lugworm beds. You may also find other baits such as clams and even the odd shrimp left behind by the tide. Lugworms' presence on a beach or mudflat is given away by the piles or 'squiggles' of sand deposited above the burrows. The more squiggles, the more worms there are in the target beach/area. The common "blow" lugworm typically grow to 8 inches long (20 cms) and the larger worms are found in the richer marine habitats and farther down the beach... Black lugworm - the preferred lugworm bait - is only collectable at low water and in some locations only on spring tides, when the water is farthest from the shore. Blow lugworm have very soft bodies, with a hard "tail" that is filled with this sand. Black lugworm are bigger and tougher hence the angler's preference for using them.
For blow lugworm, the simplest method is to dig a long trench along any given line with lots of squiggles. The best implement for this is a short handled fork, rather than a spade. You can flatten the tines with a lump hammer to give it better grip if the sand is fine and relatively dry. Typically it is oozy and quite wet. Spades are not advisable in trenching for lugworm as they will cut the worms. A broken or halved lugworm is not much use as a fish bait. Wellington boots are useful especially in the mud flats. Alternatively you can use a bait pump. Hawkish eyesight is good and a fellow angler is very useful - one digs, one looks and you change roles regularly... or you can both dig at the same time and keep any eye on each other's trenches! In my experience the bigger worms live deepest down and on some mudflats you have to be very careful not to get stuck. Never dig alone. If you must, bring a mobile phone, check the coverage and tell people where you are going and when you will return. Remember safety first.
When seeking black lugworm you will find that there is a distinct pattern to the marks on the sand or mud. A squiggle marks one end of the burrow and the other end is marked by a small circular depression in the sand or mud. These identify the ends of the "U" shaped burrow. Digging for black lugworm involves seeking out individual worms. Select a single pair of marks, squiggle and depression and make sure they look fresh. Nothing worst than digging up an empty burrow! Take a "sod" out at the depression end first. Take the next one out at the squiggle. Take one or two loads out at the piece in between these points. Most worms are found in this last piece. Dig at an angle rather than straight down and you may be able to follow the track of the burrow. It may need a second spadeload to get at the worms, although most tend to be within a foot (30 cms) of the surface. As indicated, some will be within an inch of the surface if there is water on the surface nearby. Otherwise you will find them at or just above the water table. Drop the spadeload of sand from a few feet up as it often fractures along the burrows made by the worms, making them easier to find.
It is amazing who well camoflagued blow and even black lugworm are given their varied hues - ranging from black to green to red. Each beach or mud flat has its own unique characteristics - on the Cockle Beach behind Bertra Strand in Mayo the best spot is in the shingle, shells and loose stones at the high water mark, where they are only an inch or two underground... In Duncannon in Wexford the best spot for black lugworm is the highest point on the sandbanks at low water (at the south end of the beach) and the worms are down deep.
If you can not be bothered or you have no lugworm beds near you, most local sea angling shops will supply them for you. It is best to book your supplies well in advance. Frozen black lugworm are now commonly available from tackle shops, and there are even mail order companies ready to deliver them anywhere in the UK!
Storage & Presentation:
Most lugworm will keep alive for a day or two if kept cold and out of the sun / drafts. The best option is to wrap no more than a dozen worms - having checked them for damage and discarded any dodgy ones - in newspapers with a bit of weed thrown in to keep them damp / apart. Alternatively some people put them into a bucket with a load of coarse sand and a little bit of sea water, mainly to keep them cool and damp.
If you plan to keep them longer than that, you can freeze lugworm. The method used in freezing depends on whether they are blow lugworm or black lugworm. Most people in Ireland do not freeze lugworm for the simple reason that they are so plenitful but if you have some left over from a session, here are the best options...
For black lugworm, take them home, remove the tail, thread them onto the hooks without puncturing them, whip on shirring elastic as required, wrap them in newspaper and put them and the traces into the freezer. When you go to use them, take them out of the freezer and drop them into a large thermos flask, or a cooler box. They stay frozen until you get fishing, but will 'degrade' eventually once cast into even cold sea water.
For blow lugworm bring them home, cover them in salt for a few hours to draw out all the water, and then freeze them individually wrapped in paper. They never go fully "hard" for the lack of water and get rubbery and tougher, but they will work and tend to stay on the hooks longer than fresh lugworm. They rehydrate to a degree once cast into the sea.
All this said, fresh lugworm is a far superior bait since it is the scent trail that is a lugworm's vital ingredient.
Blow or common lugworm with soft bodies are inferior as fresh baits to Black Lugworm, big, not as soft and preferred by most fish. Blow lugworms are difficult to present effectively due to their very soft bodies. They tend to fly off hooks, fall apart and make a mess. Black lugworm are also known (especially in parts of the UK) as yellowtail lugworm. Shirring elastic is used a lot in good bait presentation, and crucial in shore fishing where long distance casting is required. Regardless of which worm you are using, remove the sand filled tail by pinching it off between thumb and forefinger, taking care not to take all of it off otherwise the guts will spill out and the bait will be useless.
Crabs are a common problem when "bottom" fishing with lugworm. Put a small float like a pierced cork (big enough to lift the bait clear of the sea-bed) on the trace a few inches above the hook(s) and/or use a bit of squid as well - small fish and crabs will have a hard time removing it and a small piece on each hook point will keep the lugworm in place longer.
Lugworm - unlike ragworm - do not wriggle on the hook, so they are less likely to attract fish in this regard, but those big fat bodies do give off an excellent scent trail. Dipping them in a fish oil like Pilchard or Ultrabite (some people spray the bait in WD40) also helps especially if you are going to freeze them, since the oil releases as they thaw.
Hooks, Rigs or Traces:
Nowadays there are specialist hooks for presenting marine worms, and most will feature a long shank, up which the worm is threaded. The Aberdeen design is well suited to this type of fishing. Avoid cheap hooks that have the barb turned in or with tiny mini-hooks along the shank - in my experience they do not hook any fish! Presentation typically demands that one or more lugworms are threaded up through the hook shank from head to toe, or vice versa, with shirring elastic holding them in place. An alternative is to put several lugworm onto the hook by their heads, and bring their tails up past the hook eye and tie them into place with shirring elastic to produce a large lugworm sausage, with a hook on the end. You can use several worms on a two hook pennel rig for better presentation, the more so if you are going after fish like Cod or Codling. Lugworm work as a bait in just about every condition, but surprisingly they work best where they are not common. They are used a lot in "cocktails" - mixtures of baits such as lugworm and squid, or in "kebabs" with mackerel, squid and other wild ingredients will often catch 'fussy' fish. Another option is the squid pocket -w here you stuff the body o f a squid with lugworm, especially broken worms, and tie it up with shirring elastic. This makes an excellent big, streamlined and crab defeating bait. Finally consider using a pennel rig (two hooks) which allows for better presentation of larger multiple worm baits. If you have to cast any distance, use an impact shield and clip down the baits otherwise they will fly to bits in a power cast and/or smash up when they hit the seawater. You can incorporate a swimfeeder full of bran, processed fish oil and bits of lugworm into most shore rigs as well to boost the scent trail and bring fish towards the baits.
All flatfish (Flounder, small Turbot, Brill, Megrim and Plaice) love lugworm, indeed most fish will happily take lugworm. It is a very good bait for Wrasse fishing, and will account for most fish off the bottom including Cod, Haddock, Pollack, Coalfish, smaller Ling, Whiting, and all the Gurnards. Locally in Mayo I have had Mullet and and Sea Trout on lugworm that was cast in search of flatties. Bass find a big lugworm bait very attractive in the right conditions. Lugworm are an effective bait from shore and from boats on inshore marks. The bigger the fish the bigger the bait, and quite often lugworm have to be used in combination with one or more other baits such as squid, mackerel strip, sandeel etc. And finally and quite bizarrely Dabs prefer half rotten five day old lugworm, dead, messy, and it draws them in like nothing else!