Bait digging essentials

Digging your own lug or rag or collecting sandeels, cockles or crabs isn’t the most glamorous way of spending an afternoon. But there are many advantages in doing so. Fresh black lug, for example, is unsurpassed in tempting winter codling, and if you dig your own you can save a great deal of money. The following tools can help make the job easier.

Garden tools

A useful tool for bait digging is the humble garden fork. With its three or four narrow tines, it easily goes down into sand or gravel.

Use this fork for king ragworm. Start by digging the mud from around the hole itself. Then continue working away from this in an ever-widening circle until you find the worm.

The flat-pronged potato fork is wider and has longer, flatter tines than a normal garden fork. Use it for making trenches over blow lugworm colonies living in mud or sand along the mid-water line of beaches and inside estuaries.

A new fork usually comes with a wooden handle. It can break very easily under the pressure of lifting heavy gravel mixed with rocks. Experienced lug diggers replace the wooden handle with metal tubing.

A standard garden rake comes in very handy for collecting cockles just under the surface along estuary sandbanks and on beaches.

Specialist worming tools

Black lugworm also live at the low-water line and can be collected using custom-made lug spades or bait pumps. If the sand is dry use a flat-tined fork; if it is wet use a spade or pump.

Lug spades are veiy popular and can be bought in most seaside tackle shops. Instead of having square blades like those of normal garden spades, they taper so their cutting edge is half the size of the top end. This makes digging easier. Others have long, narrow blades that require less effort to use – it also helps if you hone the blade so it is sharp.

For black or common lug-worm, locate the worm’s cast on the surface of the beach. Start by digging about 15cm in front of this going about a blade’s depth down. Now move back to where the cast is and take a deeper cut about 30cm deep. Move back again and go down a good 45cm.

The bait pump, which is like a large stainless steel bicycle pump, is also popular for collecting lugworm. It extracts a core of sand 50cm long. Start at a cast and make consecutive pumps, expelling the sand on the beach, until you find the worm. This tool works best in wet sand and takes some practice to master.

Get netting

A push net has a section of netting fixed to a frame: it is pushed along the low-water surf line of beaches, stirring up the sandy bottom and trapping sandeels, shrimps, small flatfish, cockles and even peeler crabs. Though a few tackle shops sell push nets, you can make your own using netting from a coarse angler’s old keepnet. Attach it with cord or wire staples to a rectangular wooden frame and sturdy pole. The front of the frame needs to be rounded so that it skids over the surface sand.

Ordinary landing nets worked up the sides of weedy harbour walls are excellent for locating peeler crabs hiding among the weeds. A length of bent coat-hanger wire is worth carrying when you’re after peeler crab living along weed-covered stones. The crabs hide in deep holes and you work the wire behind them to drag them out.

A home-made metal spike with a small barb on the end is excellent for ‘spearing5 razorfish. Find a razorfish hole, carefully insert the spike and pull the razor out. The barb prevents the razor from slipping back into its hole.