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The Ragworm: The first thing to know about ragwom is that they are predators and give sharp nips!  The king ragworm can grow to over a foot long (30 cms) and you do not want to get a nip off one of those 'snakes'!  There is an amazing supply of them in terribly oozy mud and sand right outside my brother's house in Baldoyle, in the estuary.  We have taken lots of monster king rag out of that estuary but we stink horribly afterwards!  By far the most common ragworm is the red ragworm, far smaller, unlikely to grow to more than a few inches (10 cms), but don't turn your nose up at this excellent bait. Known locally as "maddies" or harbour ragworm, they are a very effective bait when used in a bundle.  The herringbone rag is smaller still and uniquely coloured, whereas the white rag or "silvers" are the prized bait.  They are only found at extremely low water, i.e. spring tides, and apparently for some reason next to masonry worms beds (which are useless as bait).

Collection:  Ragworm are dug up in exactly the same manner as lugworm, however they move like lightning! King rag are remarkably powerful - you have to dig out the whole body - no use in pulling at them... so it is down to the mud flat in the wellies and the fork and a bucket with lots of seaweed.  Mussel beds are a favourite spot for digging ragworm and shingle and shale beds rather than mud itself is the best option.  Ragworm like the relatively dryness and ease of movement afforded them by the shingle and shale or broken shells.  Heavy cloying mud will never hold ragworm although in many locations like the Back Strand in Tramore in Waterford, you will find ragworm alongside lugworm and other baits like clams.  Digging in this kind of substrate is done with a fork rather than a spade.  You will often find rocks mixed in with the sand, shingle, shells etc. and a fork gets around this problem.  A spade will only leave your cursing...

Storage & Presentation:  King rag can be split into several pieces, and since their main feature is the electric wriggling they do on a hook, a big king rag represents several baits.  If you break one, and you are fishing immediately / shortly afterwards, keep it but if you are not fishing within an hour, discard it. Ragworm are predators so it is not a good idea to store them with small lugworm or ragworm.  If you are keeping them for a single day or so, give them plenty of room and lots of wet seaweed and coarse sand as cover.  Ensure that bucket has a tight lid.  A cold dark spot is essential.

Ragworm can not be frozen.  It kills them and since they will not wriggle after that, they are largely useless as a bait.  If you need to keep them for some time, try coal dust and slack or coarse sand with some sea water added and keep them cool and in the dark. They can be stored in this manner for several days but you will have to check them regularly and throw out any dead worms.

Ragworm can be bought in most tackle shops and from mail order bait companies.  It is now farmed commercially and often arrives stored in vermiculite (a water absorbing material). If you have vermiculite, mix it with peat and sand for an ideal holding material for ragworm, and you can spread it on the garden afterwards!

Bait Presentation: To recap, there are four species of raworm in Ireland - mostly on the east and south coasts - red, king, herringbone and white or silver.  If you want to fish in the west of Ireland, bring them with you.  They are very rare, in fact they're like gold dust out here!  King Rag and Silver or large white ragworm are a superb bait and one is more than enough.  Clealy they work best in calm conditions and in good clear water - lots of sand or mud flying about and/or casting them into strong currents is not ideal.  Since ragworm have nippers I prefer to thread the worm on head first, and if you squeeze them just behind the mouth - apart from avoiding a nip by holding them there - it will open the jaws and allow the hook be threaded easily.  This lets the tail wriggle.  Do not leave too much of a tail on  - an inch (2 cms) is fine - you are not feeding the fish, just teasing them into taking the bait!  The problem with ragworm is that small fish will nip off bits, the wriggling bits, so you must change baits more often than with lugworm.

Rigs or Traces: Again standard long shank hooks are the preferred hook and an Aberdeen design like the Kamasan B940 is ideal.  Hook size is defined by the size of the rag bait and the target species.  We have threaded king rag onto 6/0 hooks, but red rag require a small hook, below 1/0 and even down as far as 4s.  Ragworm work in most conditions from shore and estuary to off rocks to deep water reef or wreck marks.  

They work best in calmer conditions and clearer water - if there is a lot of sediment thrown up by the surf or waves, a scent trail is better so try lugworm instead.  They are particularly effective on a float rig for mackerel, mullet, wrasse, garfish and other species available in/about harbours or off rocky marks that give access to deep water.

Fish Species: Everything that swims loves ragworm.  If you have to bring one bait with you, for any conditons from any location, with any rig, bring king rag or a variety of ragworm.  You would think that as a worm they would work well on the bottom, but I've found them to be more effective off the bottom, e.g. on the topmost hook in a paternoster or on a corked / pop-up hook.

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