Fresh bait greatly improves catches. By digging and collecting your own – and storing it properly at home – you can be sure of a varied, ample and ready supply.
Long, spring tides are best, as many baits aren’t uncovered at low water on short, neap tides.
Lugworms and ragworms
Lugworms and ragworms are widespread and relatively easy to dig. Common lug live in shallow U-shaped burrows quite high up the tide line. They show small blow holes and untidy casts. You can trench-dig them, as they are very rarely deeper than 14 spits (fork-depths) down. Flat-tined potato forks are best. To make life easier when digging in sand, first drain the water away by digging a moat. Yellowtail lug are found deeper down in the mud or sand — and nearly always below the neap tide low water mark. They don’t show blow holes – all you see are just small but neat circular casts. Usually, the blacker the casts, the deeper the worms. They are best dug with a narrow-bladed spade – you can buy purpose-made spades from tackle shops. Dig for them individually directly beneath each cast, keeping the hole small and following the burrow. Taking lots of small spadefuls rather than a few large ones is more effective and less hard work.
Put both types of lug into sea water as you dig them, so they purge themselves of sand and mud. Wrap them, singly or in tens, in dry newspaper. They stay alive for several days in this wrapping. To keep them longer, – a week or so – store them in the fridge in shallow trays of sea water. Red and king ragworms are found among stones, sandy shingle and mud, mainly in estuaries and harbours. Their presence is revealed by tiny holes which are hard to spot. Watch for spurts of water under your feet as you walk along. In most cases they are found in sufficient numbers to trench-dig- use a fork with narrow tines.
In some areas you find the best ragworms by moving the biggest stones, or draining puddles of water, and digging under them. Any mussel beds covered with tube worm colonies are also usually home to both red and king ragworms.
Red and king ragworms purge themselves of mud if you put them into a bucket of sea water. You can then keep them for a week or more in the fridge, in a shallow tray lined with plenty of newspaper or some moisture-absorbing particle chips. Harbour rag or maddies can easily be dug from harbour or estuary mud. Usually, the blacker the mud the more worms there are – dig where the surface of the mud is pitted with masses of tiny holes. You can store them in the fridge for up to a week in sea water or shredded newspaper. White rag are found in sand and shingle, usually among tube worms and nearly always at the low water extremes. Occasionally, you can find pockets of them in loose wet shingle at the high tide mark where they have been washed by storms.
Keep white rag in the fridge in a tray of fresh sea water. They last longer if you add a small amount of coral sand.
All sorts of shellfish can be dug or collected around the coasts of Britain. Razorfish (also called razorshells) like sandy ground. You can pick small ones straight from the sand. Spot the razor sticking out, grip it firmly and pull slowly. Larger ones can be dug – look for ‘key-holes’ in the sand or small squirts of water as you walk by. You can also try sprinkling salt down the holes, to make the razors surface.
Cockles and various other bivalves can be collected from the sand at the extreme low water mark, or from intertidal sand bars. As the sand dries they are revealed by small squirts of water or a small lump of sand. Mussels are easily collected from rocks, groynes, pier stanchions and the like. You also sometimes find large colonies of them
Shrimps and prawns
From spring through to autumn you can gather shrimps and prawns at low tide. Shrimps like sandy beaches. Wade out to your knees and push a shrimping net along the bottom parallel to the shore. Prawns prefer weedy pools among rocks and around pier stanchions and the like. Scoop them out with a small hand net.
Shrimps and prawns can be kept alive for several days in a bucket of sea water (preferably aerated) or in damp seaweed.
Dig sandeels with a fork at the low water mark. They like coarse sand and are usually just below the surface. You can store them in aerated sea water, but they are hard to keep alive for more than a few days. on estuary mudflats.
Slipper limpets can be found scattered in piggy-back clumps on sandy beaches, especially after a storm.
Piddock clams are found in the mid-tide region in chalk or clay rock that is covered in seaweed. Extract them by breaking up the chalk or rock with a small hand-pick.
All these and other shellfish (such as whelks) can be kept alive in the fridge in shallow trays of sea water. Check them daily and remove any dead ones.
Prickly peeler crabs
Two main types of peeler crabs are used for bait: shore crabs and velvet swimmers. Shore crabs are commonest. When peeling, they hide under rocks, among weeds and in mud around groynes, and in holes in estuary banks – often close to the high water mark. Store them in a polystyrene box with seaweed or wet newspaper. Velvet swimmer crabs are found in similar places when peeling, only lower down the tide line. They are more difficult to keep alive for long periods and are best stored in a tank of aerated sea water.