The lug is a natural marine bait but its habitat is so secure that fish rarely encounter it. Sometimes, though, a heavy storm knocks out a sandbank and washes the worms into the surf: then, the fish go on a feeding frenzy.
Lugs take all types of sea fish except for mullet, shark and conger. Digging your own lugs can be a back-breaking business but the rewards of catching plenty of fish using an excellent free and natural bait are certainly worth all the effort.
There are two distinct types of lugworm that you can find. They are the common lug and the yellowtail lug. Common lugworm Commons are found in sand and mud fairly high up the inter-tidal range. They have a soft skin and are usually less than 15cm long but they can grow up to 25cm.
Large commons tend to consist mostly of sand, so the smaller worms are preferable. These have a high water content which causes a fresh worm to explode on the hook, releasing an irresistible scent trail to a hungry predatory fish.
Yellowtail lugworm The yellowtail varies in appearance from one coastal area to another and is known by different names including: gullie, black, runnydown and sewie. It grows to between 10cm and 30cm in length but a worm of about 20cm is a good sized bait.
The yellowtail’s tunnel is vertical and goes down as far as 60cm. Because the tunnel goes into mud, its cast is blacker than the common’s – the blacker the cast, the deeper the tunnel. The shape of the cast is also distinctive – unlike the common’s untidy heap, the yellowtail’s cast is almost always a perfect conical heap of spiral coils.
Dig for lugs when the tide is right out. For best results choose the longest spring tides rather than neap tides which expose the least low tide sand.
Digging commons You can either dig worms individually by following the line of the tunnel from the cast towards the blow hole or, where casts are plentiful, by digging trench-fashion.
If the worm’s habitat is fairly dry, use a flat-pronged potato fork. A fork lessens the chance of the worm getting damaged and the flat prongs support the sand so that it doesn’t break up, making the sand easier to remove.
When you’ve dug down to the worm, don’t try to pull it from its tunnel. Instead lift out the lump of sand that the worm is in and break it open to release it. Digging yellowtails Because of the yel-lowtail’s wetter habitat it is best to use a small lug spade. These can be bought from good tackle shops. Using a lug spade makes the job a lot easier. Follow the worm’s tunnel down from the cast, quickly taking out small spits of sand so that the hole doesn’t fill with water.
Storage and preparation
In general, fresh, live lugworm is superior to frozen bait but frozen yellowtails can be an effective alternative when fresh bait is not available. Avoid preserved lugworm sold in tackle shops; as a bait it’s next to useless.
Commons Because of their high water content, commons are unsuitable for freezing. However, they can be kept alive for up to a week if stored in dry newspaper in the fridge.
It is also possible to keep worms for 2 or 3 months or more by ‘tanking5 them. Some anglers do this by keeping the worms as they would fish: in an aquarium, with an aeration pump and filter system.
A simpler method of tanking is to put the worms in a shallow bait tray, cover with about 4cm of sea water, and keep them at the bottom of the fridge. It is not necessary to use a pump. The important thing is not to put too many worms into one container.
Check the worms daily and remove any dead ones. If you keep a bottle of sea water in the fridge it will be at the right temperature to add to your worms when they need it, but once the tray is set up disturb it as little as possible.
Yellowtails Fresh yellowtails can be stored in the same way as commons. They make an excellent fresh bait because, like the common, they explode on the hook but the tough leathery skin makes them more resistant to attack from crabs and also makes them suitable for freezing.
To freeze, first gut the worm by squeezing out its innards. Next, blanch it by pouring boiling water over it. Then wrap each worm in newspaper and freeze.
Gutted yellowtails stored in the fridge in newspaper are also a useful bait. Check them every so often to see if they’ve gone off or they’ll stink the fridge out.
Presenting the bait
Lugs need a long shank hook so that they stay on the hook. An Aberdeen pattern from size 4 up to 2/0 or 3/0 is ideal.
Worms can be threaded on to the hook-shank and snood in twos, threes or fours, depending on the fish you’re after. Use fresh worms each cast as the natural juices are quickly sucked out in the sea, making the worms much less attractive to the fish you are after.