Cheap, versatile and plentiful, earthworms are one of the most effective baits available to the coarse fisherman. But for best results you need to know how to look after them properly.
Earthworms have been used as a bait for fish for a thousand years and more, and today they are just as effective. All species of freshwater fish can be caught on worms, and indeed several record fish have fallen to this bait. Even the salmon or trout may be taken in this way, sometimes deliberately, sometimes by chance.
There are some 25 kinds of earthworm found in Britain, but only three species are of real interest to the coarse fisherman – the lobworm, the redworm and the brandling. The lobworm, sometimes called the dew-worm, is the largest, the most used as bait and probably the easiest to find. It can be fished whole for the bigger species, but just the head or tail, commonly offered to roach and dace, will often take larger fish too.
Lobworms may be gathered from a lawn, but if the grass is long it may be difficult. Cricket pitches and close-cut sports fields will also yield lobworms in plenty if access, at the right time, is available to the angler. The best periods are after dark and following a heavy dew or shower or, when conditions are dry, after a lawn has been watered. Early morning can also prove fruitful for worm collecting. It is important to move stealthily, for worms are very sensitive to vibrations and will soon dig themselves in if disturbed. At night it is necessary to use a dim torch or a beachcaster*s lamp that straps on to the head and leaves both hands free. A worm must be seized quickly and firmly when it has come partly out of its hole on to the wet grass.
Carry a tin of fine sand in which to dip your fingers to give them a grip on the slippery creature. The lobworm has tiny clusters of erectile bristles at intervals along its length, and these enable it to grip the sides of its burrow. So having got hold of the worm, maintain a steady pressure until it relaxes and comes out smoothly with its fish-attracting tail intact.
The redworm is a smaller species, not usually over 4in long, and is a useful roach, dace, bream and perch bait, although any species of worm may appeal to all freshwater fish. This worm is found in compost heaps, and under large stones or rotting logs; any sizeable object in the garden could conceal enough worms for a good day’s fishing.
The brandling is of similar size to the redworm but is distinguishable by a series of yellowish rings around its red, often shiny, body. It can be collected from manure piles or compost heaps. The presence of a compost heap will, of course, mean a regular supply of worms. If the wormery is tended by adding potato peelings, tea leaves and vegetable waste, the worms will grow much bigger and probably breed there, thus supplying a constant store of bait. Where grassy conditions are suitable, worms can be dug at the river bank. Be careful to fill all the holes in and not leave places which other anglers can stumble over.
Cleaning and toughening
Although very effective on the hook, most worms become soft and lifeless very quickly in water and often drop off the hook during casting out. Their quality can be improved to overcome this by allowing the worms to work through a good soil for a few days prior to use. Sink a box in the earth, providing small holes in the bottom for drainage. Place the worms on a bed of soil (a dark, loamy kind is best) and cover with sacking. In wriggling through the soil they will scour themselves to emerge brighter and so more attractive to the fish. They will also be tougher, and will stay on the hook longer and wriggle more enticingly. ‘Faddist’ used to recommend that worms be kept in fine red sand or brickdust, suggesting that this gave them an added colouring as well as making the texture of their skins much tougher.
Alternatively, a bucket containing sphagnum moss (obtainable cheaply
from a florist) provides a medium for cleaning and toughening your worm bait. They will burrow through the moss, which should be damp but not wet. To keep worms fresh immediately before and during use, put them in clean moss and place in a linen bag. Tins and jars should be avoided, for they do not allow the worms to breathe properly. Remember also to weed out dead and dying worms, for one dead worm in a bait tin tends to trigger off an extremely fast mass mortality among the rest.
Hooking the worm
It is important to hook a worm correctly, for this ensures that it stays on the hook and that it will wriggle naturally to attract the fish. A whole worm can be hooked anywhere along its length. If necessary, pierce a long worm several times and feed it along the hook. Tails or pieces of worms should present no problem and stay on the hook. In general do not try to cover the hook, for a worm is a very tempting bait and, if lively, will probably wriggle enough to expose part of the hook anyway.
Apart from using a single hook, there is the two-hook rig known as pennell tackle, and the two- or three-hook Stewart Tackle. These multiple-hook rigs are best when the whole of a big lobworm is used.
Look after worms, they are an all-purpose, all-weather angling bait.