Bloodworm and joker have the reputation of being an effective part of the matchman’s armoury, but of little interest to the ordinary angler. While there is some truth in this, it does not do justice to two of the most effective of all natural baits. They are unbeatable in a match because they can attract and catch loads of small fish when the going is very hard. But used properly, there is no better combination for catching large numbers of bream, and other big species such as carp and tench.
Both bloodworm and joker are the larvae of closely related two-winged flies. Bloodworms become non-biting midges and jokers turn into gnats. They are both aquatic and live in the bottom sludge. Bloodworms only live in still, sometimes stagnant water, lightly polluted by, for example, farm run-off. Jokers, on the other hand, are only found in running water lightly polluted with sewage.
Both are worm-like and usually red, though you may come across other colours from time to time. Bloodworms tend to be sluggish and grow up to %in long. Jokers are smaller, only reaching Miin, but they are much livelier. It is these variations that make their uses in fishing so different and so complementary. Bloodworm, being bigger, are an excellent hookbait, whereas jokers, which dart around in water, are an unbeatable fish attractor, holding fish in a swim like magic.
Untangling the mess
Neat bloodworm andjoker form a tight ball from which it’s almost impossible to extract single specimens. Bloodworms are going to be your hookbait, so you need to separate them. This is done by dropping the tight cluster on to some finely sieved peat or compost. The bloodworms instantly begin to separate and crawl into the peat.
After about five minutes, put the mixture on to a sheet of damp newspaper, and fold it carefully so they cannot escape. Fold another sheet over the first but don’t wrap them up tightly or you may kill them. Store the parcel in a cool place in winter and in the fridge in summer. You can keep them for up to a week this way. Jokers are feed rather than hookbait, so separating them is not so important. Getting them into a state which the fish find irresistible is what counts. However, there is still some separating to be done -unless you fancy using the whole expensive ball at once. A substance called leem, made of finely ground clay, is perfect for separating jokers. Sprinkle it over your jokers, a teaspoonful at a time, until they have separated. They mustn’t be too damp at this stage or the leem clogs up, which can make them even stickier.
In the summer you can now add the mixture to your groundbait—they mix in far more evenly when separated. You can also use finely sieved earth from a mole hill instead of the leem. This acts both as a separator and as groundbait, adding colour to the water. In either case your jokers are now ready for use. In winter, fish respond far less to ground-bait, so it is better to loosefeed. Simply take some of the separated jokers, dampen them and roll them into a ball. The damp clay binds them together in a perfect loosefeeding ball. Store them in newspaper as you do bloodworm, though when neat they die more quickly. Never keep them in bait boxes as they will suffocate.
A size 20 or 22 fine wire hook is just right for bloodworm. Hook them in the head, but be careful as they are pretty fragile. They are deadly fished either on the drop in a cloud of jokers and ground-bait, or hard on the bottom with a ground-bait and joker carpet.
To take advantage of joker, you don’t actually need bloodworm on the hook. Such is their fish-holding power, they’ll keep them biting and in your swim, almost whatever the hookbait.