Buy them, dig them, fish them, preserve them—lug contribute to the diet of so many inshore fishes that you can make killings all year round with whole or mangled worm baits.
The lugworm, Arenicola marina, is one of the most popular of all baits used in sea angling, particularly with anglers fishing the East Anglian and Kent coasts. It is a smaller species than that other very popular choice of sea anglers, the King ragworm, but when used from beach or boat it can be one of the deadliest baits for cod.
A good percentage of the sea fish found around the coastline of the British Isles will usually take this bait readily and, besides being ideal for cod, it is useful for the small varieties of flatfish—plaice, dabs and flounders.
Lugworm vary in size from 3in to 7in, although few reach the greater length. Being a ‘wiggleless’ worm, it is used almost exclusively for bottom fishing. As the body of the worm deflates the instant it is pierced, most anglers bait at least three worms at a time and quite often double the number on a hook. This is very much the case on the East Coast where beaches of 150 yards plus are common. The lugworm is almost useless as a bait in association with a single-hook, long-trace method so much favoured by South Coast boat anglers after pollack and coalfish. It is not a popular bait either along the English Channel coast of Devon and Cornwall. This can be largely attributed to the presence of the giant King ragworm which grows to more than 2ft long. Many inland sea anglers prefer to buy a day’s supply of lugworm from their local tackle shop, but anybody can easily dig an adequate supply for himself.
The best environment
The lugworm prefers sheltered beaches with a good depth of top sand and where the sea has a low salinity. River estuaries, therefore, provide the best environment. One never has to travel far along the British coastline to encounter such habitats—Whitstable, Dale Fort, St Andrews, Millport, the south coast of the Isle of Man, Clew bay on the West Coast of Ireland, are just a few “ TS of the many well-known areas where the lugworm can be dug in numbers. Size and colouring can vary considerably from area to area—in some cases there is a marked difference between the worms dug from the same sandy bay—due to environmental factors.
The common lugworm is often known as the ‘blow’ lug to differen-tiate it from the black lug which is very thick-skinned and requires gutting to prolong the time it will keep, and from the Deal yellow-tail, a worm peculiar to the south side of the Stour Estuary in Kent.
Lugworm live in a U-shaped bur-row in the sand, the entrances of which are marked at one end by the tell-tale spiral casts and at the other by a depression in the sand known as the blow hole, though which the worm draws its food. Into the tunnel fall particles of sand mixed with water and organic matter, all of which the worm eats. The organic matter is digested and the sand is excreted, forming the cast at the other end of the burrow.
For digging the common lugworm the ordinary flattined potato fork is the best tool; a spade chops too many worms in half. Lugworm casts are found on any sandy beach below high water mark but, normally, the nearer to the extreme low water mark the greater the number of casts to be found and the bigger the worms. If the sand is covered in casts no more than 2 or 3in apart, then worms can be dug by tren-ching, that is, digging the sand as one would the garden. However, if signs are few and far between, ‘singling’ is best. This involves removing the sand between the blow hole and the cast, thus uncovering the worm after about three forkfuls. The burrow is lined with mucus from the worm’s body, giving it a bright orange colour rather like rust, and enabling the angler to see exactly which way the burrow is running at each forkful.
The worms should be removed to a clean wooden box or plastic bucket. Never use a galvanized pail as the zinc kills the worms very quickly. When sufficient worms have been dug, they should be washed in clean sea water to remove all particles of sand as well as any worms pierced by the fork. These should be put into a separate container for, although they will live as long as the whole worms, the blood exuded by their wounds seems to have an adverse effect on the others.
When you return home, the worms should be placed on clean, dry newspaper in a single layer, with another piece laid on top so that the bait is sandwiched between two sheets of paper. If the weather is cold, the temperature not rising above 4.4°C (40°F), and the worms are stored in a garage or outhouse, they will stay in good condition for 4-5 days. In the summer, when temperatures are high, this life is reduced to less than 36 hours unless the worms are refrigerated. Another method of keeping worms alive until required is to place them in a well-aerated saltwaterfilled aquarium. With this method remove any dead worms immediately before they can pollute the water. –
Unfortunately, the peak of autumn cod fishing coincides with the time when lugworm is most difficult to obtain, for it is spawning. Although the actual day it occurs varies from colony to colony, in nearly all areas spawning takes place between the last week of September and the middle of November. Lugworms are not hermaphrodite (having characteristics of both sexes) but sexed male and female. The eggs of the females and the sperms of the males begin to accumulate from mid-summer on- wards, moving around in the body fluid and giving the worms a milky appearance. If a worm is broken this fluid will be found to be rather sticky and slimy.
When the worms are ripe, the spawn of both sexes is released on to the sand, where fertilization occurs. If the worm survives the spawning it will go right to the bottom of its burrow and remain immobile for two or three weeks while it recovers. During this period it eats very little, creating no tell-tale casts to mark its presence, so that areas of sand that previously appeared to contain millions of worms, now seem completely barren.
Four or five days after spawning, the larva hatches. About l100in long, it is pear-shaped, opaque, and bears no resemblance to the adult worm. By early spring it has taken the form of the adult and is found high in the sand, working its way downwards as it matures. At two years old it spawns for the first time and usually lives to spawn a second time, at three years, but this time the lug dies. There is evidence that adult lugworm will come out of the sand and swim freely in the sea. This phenomenon usually occurs in the early spring.
The Deal yellow-tail
The Deal yellow-tail is probably a sub-species of Arenicola marina, although many authorities believe it to appear different simply through environmental factors. However, the worm behaves entirely differently from the common lugworm. The cast, instead of being a haphazard spiral, is perfectly symmetrical, and the worm burrows to a greater depth than the common lug.
The yellow-tail is generally larger, and when dug appears very limp, seeming, to the uninitiated, to be dead. It also has the peculiar habit of coiling itself into a circle when held in the palm of the hand, whereas the common lug will only bend slightly. The best way of keeping the yellow-tail—its name derives from the bright yellow stain it leaves on the hands—is in clean sea water.
Another sub-species is the black lug, which is even bigger than the Deal yellow-tail and has a very thick skin. It often lives in a mixture of mud and sand, where the most successful way of obtaining it is to use a small, long-handled spade, digging straight down from the cast and following the trail until the worm is sighted. It is rarely possible to trench for this worm.
Roll them in newspaper
Immediately after digging, the in-testines and blood should be squeezed out through the head end and, to keep them in perfect condition, the worms should be rolled singly in sheets of newspaper. The black lug is large enough to provide several small baits from a single worm, although for cod fishing a whole worm should be threaded on the hook. Because it is tough, it makes an ideal bait for beachcasting.
Common lug can be threaded either singly or doubly, depending on size, when beach fishing for cod, but for boat fishing it is usually better to hang them from the bend of the hook, just passing the hook in and out of the body where the sandy tail section joins the fat part. The number of worms put on a hook depends, first, on the size of the worm and, second, on the size of the fish expected. When fishing for varieties of small flatfish, a largish worm may be broken in half to pro-vide ample bait for a small mouth.
Lugworm, however, is much used by anglers fishing the Atlantic side of the Cornish and Devon peninsula, where large numbers of lugworm can be found. The Padstow estuary, the shoreline of Constantine Bay and the vast Bridgwater Bay in Somerset hold millions of lug. It is also located in quantity at many places on the Welsh side of the Bristol Channel, and the many bays of west Wales. The South West’s huge tidal river complexes also hold large Common rag, rated as a much superior bait to lug.