Cockles for fishing bait

Used by themselves cockles are good for catching dabs and wrasse, but they mainly attract smaller species such as pouting and rockling which are not the major quarry of the sea angler. They are far more successful as a secondary bait for tipping other baits. The exception to this is during or just after a strong gale, when the cockles in their thousands are dislodged from the shallow sandy burrows in which they live. In these conditions all sorts of fish home in to feed on the cockles — and other shellfish too. At this time they make an excellent codling and whiting bait when fished from the shore. So if you are brave enough to face the elements you could be on for a good catch.

Collecting them

There are several varieties of cockle around the British Isles but the commonest one is the smallest, smooth-shelled variety Cerastoderma edule. There is a much larger spiny-shelled cockle {Acanthocardia echi-nata with a bright red fleshy foot. It is an equally good bait but is mainly found in the south and south-west of England. Habitat Cockles burrow into the sand and live just a few inches beneath the surface. The densest concentrations are found in wide estuaries and sheltered bays where the waves are not fierce enough to scour the cockles out of their burrows. They are distributed all around the British Isles. Local knowledge is the best guide to where to look – so ask in tackle shops. The simplest way to gather them is to walk along the low water mark. Cockles are sensitive to vibrations and snap shut at the slightest sign of danger. As the shell snaps shut it sends up a little jet of water. So as you stroll along the beach keep a lookout for spurts of water as the cockles feel your footsteps approaching.

The tines of a garden hand-fork are ideal for removing the cockles from their burrows. If you can’t dig them you can buy fresh cockles from a good fishmonger. Do not use any that have been processed in any way, though. They have to be fresh.

If you are going to use cockles by themselves then you need plenty, because they are small. To make the bait smell strong enough to attract the fish, you may need six or seven cockles on the hook.

Thread the cockles on to the hook and up the shank. If you are going to cast far, lash them on with some fine shirring elastic. It is particularly important to lash them on tightly when fishing for wrasse. These fish tear at a bait savagely and just one or two plucks can strip a soft bait like cockle from the hook before you have time to strike.

Preparation and use

To remove cockles from their shells, place two back-to-back so that the bits which stick out and form the hinge are diagonally opposed. Push and twist one of them while holding the other firmly. One of the shells should open.

Cockles keep for up to a week in a cool damp environment, but check them regularly and discard any that have died and opened so they don’t contaminate others.