Very few big fish give harbour rag a second look. These small but juicy squirming worms are primarily a bait for hard shore venues where small fish are the target. High on the list of takers are flounders and thin-lipped mullet, but they also attract small pollack, wrasse, garfish, scad, pouting and herring. The only big fish they may tempt are bass and thick-lipped mullet.
Harbour rag are orange-red and very soft. They live in the thick mud of harbours, estuaries and tidal rivers.
Collecting them when the tide is out is fairly easy in spring, summer and autumn. Dig where the surface of the mud is pitted with hundreds of tiny holes. The worms live just below the surface in big colonies. You can simply turn over clods of mud with your bare hands before picking out the worms. However, there’s always the danger of cutting yourself on broken glass or a rusty tin can, so it’s better to use a garden fork — one with narrow tines is best. green weed you find around boat moorings and pier pilings. For longer periods – up to a week or so – fridge them in shallow trays of sea water.
In winter, harbour rag are usually scarce in harbours, and those you can find are often thin and green. Look instead in the deepest, blackest mud you can find in estuaries and tidal rivers — here the worms remain fat and bright orange-red.
Whatever the season, wherever you dig, beware of deep mud, don’t dig around moorings, boats or pier supports, and always back-fill all holes. Also, when you are digging in tidal rivers, take great care not to undermine the banks.
You can fish harbour rag singly or in bunches, or you can use them to give a bit of wriggle to a large but lifeless scent-trail bait like lugworm. They are so effective that many match anglers wouldn’t dare fish a team event without them; they often help to tempt a small, points-scoring fish from apparently barren beaches.
A major problem with harbour rag is that, being so soft, they all too easily fly off the hook in mid-cast. Bait clips can help for smooth, short casts, as can dunking the worms in the sea just before casting. Another dodge is to dry them with tissue paper – this toughens them up a bit. For distance casting, though, there is only one answer — a Baitsafe bait capsule. This device encases the bait and doubles as a streamlined casting weight. It opens on impact with the sea, releasing the bait intact.