If someone were to describe a freshwater bait that took hours to discover, entailed wading and sif-ting through thin, black mud, need-ed careful preparation and eventually required the finest hooks and Une to present it, they would no doubt be referring to the bloodworm. But, despite these many problems, this tiny bait has an enormous success rate. In fact, it is such a killer that it has been banned from use in angling matches in the past and remains banned in many areas.
The main reason for its being banned is undoubtedly linked with its devastating effects on all species of fish in hard fished waters. To put it as simply as possible, most anglers will not compete in matches against the bloodworm if they do not have ample supplies themselves. To ob-tain sufficient for a five hour match involves considerable expense when bought at the local tackle shops or alternatively many hours spent scraping the mud of semi-polluted ponds, streams and lakes, often in the dark depths of winter – a time when the deadly worm is most abundant and effective.
The bloodworms are the larvae of members of the midge family, Chironomidae. This is a vast range of insects with larvae that inhabit both still and running water and are well known to all anglers. Their superabundance makes them an im- portant food source for most freshwater fish, and also explains the ready acceptance of them as a bait by bottom-feeding fish.
Although many anglers may never have used bloodworms, few will be strangers to them, having seen the small, bright red larvae in a rain butt or garden trough. Here, they live either in the thin layer of silt at the bottom, or burrow into the thin green alga that lines the side. Warm weather will bring them out into the open where they progress through the water by a series of violent body contortions.
Their bright red colouring comes from the presence of haemoglobin in the blood – the pigment also found in human blood and that of all the higher animals. However, there are some species of chironomid that are green or yellow, and some which are completely colourless.
Haemoglobin, rare in insects, enables the bloodworm to live in water almost totally devoid of oxy-gen. It accounts for the larvae’s ap-pearance in waters which preclude almost all other forms of life, for the haemoglobin releases oxygen when the water is stagnant. The bloodworm’s food source consists mainly of minute particles of organic matter found in the mud.
Collecting bloodworms The largest bloodworms will be found in stagnant water. Those that inhabit running water are somewhat smaller in size and are referred to by the angler as ‘jokers’. The traditional instrument used for their cap-ture is a long firm pole some 5ft in length. To one end of this is fastened a thin strip of pliable aluminium at least l£ft long. This strip can be bent into various angles to suit the depth of water that is being searched, and the scraper is sliced through the top surface of mud a short distance out from the bank, with an even motion that traps the worms by folding them over its leading edge. After each sweep the worms can be gently slid off the scraper into a tin or plastic box. The whole action is rather like scything grass and takes practice to perfect. Polarized sunglasses can be a great help in allowing the angler to see and follow the contours of the bottom.
An easier, though more messy, method is to net bloodworms with a shrimping type of frame using a nylon stocking as the net. More worms will be collected by this method, but with considerably more mud and slime attached.
Once enough have been collected, they must be carefully washed to rid them of mud and slime, using nylon for a sieve and sifting out the worms under running water. Washed clean, it is possible to separate them into hook and groundbait sizes.
What you will then be left with is a tangled mass of worms, twigs, leaves and weeds. Sorting out this little lot will take hours and so the Northern professional scrapers have perfected a way of ensuring that only live, neat bloodworms are separated. The simple process involves half submerging a good sized maggot riddle in a dustbin lid with about 2in of water in it. The whole gooey mess is then spread on top of the riddle and within five minutes every living bloodworm will have found its way through the mesh into the water below. Pour the water into a fine sieve and you will be left with thousands of clean, bright red beauties; simple once you know how.
Storing lively bloodworms
They should be stored separately in moist, black garden peat which has been crushed and broken until it is a fine dust. Not only will this keep the larvae alive and active, but also provide a binding medium for those that are going to be used as ground-bait. The peat forms a black carpet across the bottom of the swim which is, in itself, an attraction. If hookbaits are kept for any length of time, they should be packed into damp moss and stood in a refrigerator where they will normally remain useful for several weeks.
Hooking bloodworms is an art. Naturally, only the smallest hooks, sizes 20 to 22, will be fine enough to match the small bait. Hooks should be mounted on fib or, at the most, 1lb b.s. Hook links. The easiest method of hooking is to lay the bloodworm on to the thumbnail, then pierce one end of the worm with the point of the hook and gently ease it over the barb. Good eyesight is important if you are to avoid split-ting the worm open, and some anglers resort to a watchmaker’s eyeglass as an aid.
When a long pole is being used to present the bait, a barbless hook is by far the best for the job as it causes minimal disturbance to the outer skin of the worm, thus preserving the natural colour and juices that fish find so attractive.
Need for small floats
The float is a very important item in bloodworm fishing. Often the bait will be taken ‘on the drop’ and, if the angler is counting on small fish to make up his weight in a competition, he will be fishing a mere 12-18in below the surface. This means that the float must be small, require very few shot to cock it, and that these shot be mounted into, or immedi-ately below, its body. Above all, that part which shows through the sur-face must be as thin as possible so that the smallest touch on the bait will produce an immediate response.
A tight-line tactic pays excellent dividends with bloodworm fishing, and the roach pole is probably the best instrument by which to apply it. Its easy style of casting will also prevent undue strain on the bait, which is so delicate that it will usually be thrown off the hook by a longdistance cast.
By presenting the bloodworm on delicate pole tackle, the French Na-tional squad have walked away with more world championship victories than any other country – often tak-ing fish that surprise English anglers with their sheer size. Carp up to 5lb are not uncommon and when you consider that a size 24 hook and a fib line have led to their downfall you will begin to appreciate just how devastating this pole bloodworm combination can be.
The bloodworm is not merely a match fisherman’s bait for small fish. It is equally successful with large fish and many specimen hunters seeking carp and tench have found it produces excellent results, especially on hard-fished or difficult waters. Several worms mounted on to the hook in a ball, or used as a cocktail bait with a single maggot, make up a mouthful that few fish seem able to refuse.
Thus all the trouble and care needed to collect and use the bloodworm is more than worth while – if you are allowed to fish them!