Of the many kinds of ragworm found on the seashore, none is more eagerly sought after by the angler than the King ragworm. Few fish can resist it and as a bait it is second to none fall produces several jets of water, ‘trenching’ is the best method. A good day’s supply of bait can be obtained from one hole.
At spawning-time the king ragworm changes its bright red colour (with a pale green back) into a slate green and, when broken, exudes a slimy, milky liquid. During this season, which varies from area to area.
Just as the soil of the countryside is a home for many kinds of earthworm, so the seabed provides sanctuary for many kinds of marine worm. One of the commonest species is the ragworm, of which several kinds exist.
The ragworm differs from the lugworm in that it tapers very gradually from head to tail and is much fleshier. Most ragworms are bright red and all varieties have hundreds of ‘legs’ down each side of the body. The head is armed with a pair of bony pincers which the worm can thrust out and retract at will and a large worm can inflict a painful bite on the unwary angler.
Where the ragworm is found
King ragworm is probably the most common and the most sought-after for bait. The angler can obtain two large, or several smaller baits, from a good-sized specimen which can be over 2ft long. The worm is found close to the high-water mark but the nearer one goes to the low-water spring-tide mark, the more prolific it becomes – although this varies from coast to coast as does the worm itself. The best localities are estuaries where there is a mixture of river mud and shell, where it lives in a U-shaped burrow, the sides cemented with mucus from its body. Once it has dug its home the worm can propel itself through the tunnel with its many ‘legs’.
The bait-digger seeking this worm treads the ground carefully, watching for a waterspout pushed up when the burrow is compressed by his boot. If worms are scarce it pays to locate both entrances to the tunnel and remove the soil between, looking for the tell-tale burrow. In some areas you may have to dig to a depth of 2ft or more to secure the worm. Where there is an abundance or worms, and each foot-290 area but is usually in spring, the worm is of very little use as bait. One interesting fact, however, is that during the breeding season, large numbers of worms leave the safety of their burrows and swim freely in the sea. If, as often happens, there is a sudden onshore wind, great numbers are thrown up by the breakers onto the beach, either to die in the sun, or be swallowed by seagulls.
All worms deteriorate very quickly in high temperatures and, once dug, they should be dried and cooled as soon as possible. Whole, undamaged worms should be wrapped singly in newspaper and stored at 2°C in a refrigerator, where they can be kept in good condition for more than a week. Damaged worms should be separated and used first. But if keeping is not important – perhaps all the worms are going to be used next day – they will keep perfectly in a box of ver-miculite (insulating granules).
Mounting the bait King ragworm can be an extremely effective bait, particularly for bass and pollack. For these fighting predators, worms up to 1ft long can be used whole. Secure just the head on the hook, leaving the rest trailing. Mounted in this way it is very life-like and pollack and bass rarely bite short. They have insatiable appetites and take the whole worm into their mouth before making off with it. The largest worms can be cut in half and baited in a similar way. Other species that prefer ragworm to lugworm are flounder, thornback ray, and sharks such as dogfish and smoothhound.
White ragworm is a variety which has become very popular over the past few years, particularly with beach anglers. It is smaller than the king ragworm, one 8in long being a good specimen. Because it is a very localized worm it cannot be dug in sufficient numbers to ensure regular commercial supplies.
The white ragworm lives in sheltered bays where there is an abundance of soft yellow sand, although it is sometimes found in the same area as king ragworm if there is fine surface gravel. A relatively shallow-burrowing worm, the white ragworm is rarely found more than 9in deep, and often only 2in or 3in, below the surface.
Preserving the white ragworm
The white ragworm does not keep as well as the king ragworm and the most useful preservative is a plastic bucket full of fresh seawater. As well as being much smaller than its cousin the king ragworm, the white ragworm is also more delicate, and a fine gauge wire hook is recommend-ed to avoid damaging the worm.
Rockies are another small member of the family and, as the name implies, they are found in chalk rocks among deposits of mud and sand in sheltered bays. These deposits tend to fill the natural crevices in the chalk outcrops and the worm lives in these, so that a pick-axe is more useful than a fork for prising this bait from its habitat.
Rockies and Maddies
Rarely exceeding 5in or Gin, the rocky is a very active worm with bright red colouring. To keep it at its best, put it into a box of fine grit dampened with seawater. In a refrigerator it should remain active for three or four days. As with the white rag, a fine wire hook is recommended to avoid undue damage when baiting. Presented in this way white ragworm will catch the same species of fish as the king ragworm. Maddies are the smallest member of the family, rarely growing to more than 3in in length. They are most likely to be found in estuary and harbour mud, living like the king ragworm in burrows lined with the mucus from their bodies. Because the mud is smooth, the tunnel entrances appear as large pin-pricks on the surface. When the area is trodden upon the tiny holes emit small spouts of water. Maddies appear to live in colonies for it is not unusual to dig as many as 30 worms with one forkful. Its small size and soft en-vironment make it a delicate worm and one very difficult to keep alive for more than 24 hours. It is highly esteemed as bait for mullet fishing, particularly in and around harbours and, fished on a small hook it is an excellent bait for garfish.