Popular among shore anglers as a bait for bass and flatfish in summer, razorshell are wary creatures that require skill and cunning if you are to gather enough for a day’s fishing
Among the animals that bass and sea cod feed upon as they follow the incoming breakers are a number of molluscs of the bivalve group (two-shelled animals). These creatures include the rock-borers, the gapers, the piddocks (which include the notorious ‘ship-worm’, the teredo) and the razorshells – the name being derived from the likeness of the elongated shell to an old-fashioned ‘cut-throat’ razor. In all these animals the long narrow shells are open at each end, and have a long ‘hinge’ joining the two shells.
There are four species of razorshell found in the sand and mud of the British coastline, the largest of these being the pod-razor, Ensis sili-qua, whose shell grows to 8in long and lin deep. The three other razor-shells are the grooved razorshell, Solen marginatus, and two other species not having popular names, Ensis arcuatus and E ensis. Both are very similar in appearance but the latter is smaller, often having a reddish brown foot. The grooved razorshell inhabits muddier areas than the other species, and is found up to 18in deep in the muddy sands of the south west coast of England. All razorshells live in mud or sand and move rapidly downward when vibrations reach them through their surroundings. They remain in the vertical position with their muscular foot at the bottom, where it is swollen by blood to anchor the creature down. From the top end, which is in fact the rear of the razor-shell, siphons extend from beneath the surface to extract small food particles from the water. Oxygen present in the water enables the shellfish to breathe.
The presence of razorshells can be detected by the small jets of water thrown up from the siphons and the small depression the animal makes in the sand or mud. Collecting them demands quick reflexes and adroitness, for they can burrow quickly beyond the reach of the spade.
For anglers, the most commonly found razorshell is the pod-razor, largest of the British species. Gathering them is an acquired skill, for when disturbed they disappear downwards extremely fast and burrow even further by extending the foot to grip the sand, then using their strong muscles to pull the shell downwards.
The traditional method of gathering razorshells for bait is by the use of a tool about 3ft long with an arrowhead point. One must approach the area so as not to create the vibrations which will send the animal burrowing downwards. The ‘spear’ must be thrust down the hole into the shell’s two halves and twisted so that the point grips the sides of the shell to prevent further burrowing. The razorshell can then be withdrawn quickly.
Sprinkling with salt
Digging with a fork or spade must be fast and accurate, but the angler seeking a supply of bait quickly may well spend more time digging than fishing if he is not long-experienced in the art. It has been suggested that if the depressions marking the razorshells’ positions are sprinkled with salt, the animal is irritated and forced up to the surface.
To extract the animal from its two hinged shells, carefully cut through the hinge with a sharp knife. Do not prise open the two shells along the unhinged side as this will damage the creature. The attractiveness of the razorshell as a bait lies in its meaty foot, but the whole animal is hooked with the foot supporting the softer organs.