Category: Sea Fishing Bait

Looking after Ragworm

The first thing to remember if you want your ragworm to stay alive for longer is to always is to always try and get your ragworm as close to the start of your fishing session as possible since they won’t last forever. This doesn’t mean you have to run the risk of not being able to buy any just before your session as more often than not you can phone the tackle shop in advance and ask them to put some by for you when it comes in on the day you intend to fish – just let them know when you will be there to pick it up.

When you do have to store ragworm though (ie. During or after your fishing session) remember that the longer you can keep them in a cool, dark place, the longer they will last. In fact, maybe that should be rule number one…

Unfortunately ragworm can’t be used after being frozen as the freezing process kills them – and since half the attraction to fish is that they wriggle in the water, the dead ones are next to useless as they cease to be quite so active. Remember: Guns don’t kill rag, freezers do.

So, how else can you best look after your ragworm?

 

When Fishing:

Where possible, keep your ragworm wrapped in their newspaper and put that in a small coolbox along with any frozen baits you may have. Try and keep the lid on when you are not using it and keep it out of the sun. This ‘extreme coolbox discipline’ will help you keep the same batch of ragworm for several fishing sessions if necessary.

 

Between Fishing Sessions:

There are two schools of though on how to best keep your ragworm alive between fishing sessions, but whichever way you choose store them always keep them in a cool dark place. The two main methods used to keep ragworm alive for longer are the dry and the wet method.

 

Dry Method:

Put your remaining ragworm in either peat or vermiculite (both substrates are widely available in garden centres) and then loosely wrap them in newspaper. Then, pop this parcel in the fridge and check on it every day or 2 to remove any dead worms. Dead ragworms will seriously affect the lifespan of the others.

Unless you’ve had dead worms sitting in the substrate for too long it can be reused or alternatively you can sprinkle it on the garden.

If they were fresh when you bought them, ragworm should last for several days using this method.

 

Wet Method:

Another effective way to keep your ragworms alive for longer is by storing them in sea water. The first wet method is to shallow fill something like a cat litter tray – but really shallow, like just enough to cover the bottom –  and then put the worms in. You can lay seaweed/newspaper/a damp tea towel over the top of this if you wish, but most importantly keep the tray in the fridge. Remember to collect more sea water than you need so you can change it every couple of days. This water is best kept in the fridge also so the new water is introduced at the same temperature as the old. Pick out any dead worms as soon as you see them as they will trash the water.

The second wet method is to go the whole hog and set up a deep live bait tank . It may sound ridiculous at first, but it is possible.

The quick fix is to put a deep container filled with collected seawater in the fridge and have a small air pump clipped to the side (air stone in the water). Put your bait in this and to be on the safe side change at least 50% or the water every other day. The larger and more frequent the changes are (up to a point: you have to weigh up water quality with disruption caused by the changes) the better environment you will maintain for your ragworm, although the downside to this is that you will need to collect A LOT of sea water to accomodate the water changes.

The more permanent (but much more involved) method, however, is to build ‘proper’ live bait tank . If you are in it for the long run and think you will want to store bait often then this is definitely the way to go.

Sea Fishing Bait: Sandeel

Float or ledger fishing with a live sandeel is a successful and exciting way of fishing, and a good alternative to other live baits.  The good thing about sandeels are that they are fairly easy to collect. Failing that they are also a good dead bait whether from frozen or fresh.

 

Sandeel

 

There are five varieties of sandeel that are indigenous to British waters:-

Ammodytes marinus (aka Raitt’s sandeel) – This is an offshore species preferring depths down to about 175 metres, although occasionally they can occur very close inshore around estuaries –  grows to about 10ins.

Ammodytes tobianus – This is the most common inshore variety and rarely exceeds 20cms in length

Gymnammodytes semisquamatus (aka Smooth sandeel) – This is also an offshore species in depths of up to 600ft, with a maximum length 25cms.

Hyperoplus immaculatus (aka Corbin’s sandeel) – This is yet another offshore type in depths of between 100ft and 750ft and grows to around 30cms.

Hyperoplus lanceolatus (aka Greater sandeel) – This is common in depths from low tide level to 200ft. It is often referred to as ‘launce’ and grows up to a length of around 38cms.

 

Sandeels are mainly thought of as a summer bait as that is the time that they are mostly available to catch around estuaries and coastal areas.  This is not the case, however, as they can still be caught when the water is at its coldest in January and February especially in the southwest.  As a bait, they can be used all year round.

They are so called as they seek out sand and shingle banks to hide/bury and protect themselves when threatened from predators.  Other places that they seek for protection are around pier supports, large mooring buoys. They try and keep close to the fringes of the mud flat creeks and drainage channels, and can be seen swimming close to weed beds and the edges of breakwaters and jetties.

 

How to catch Sandeel

Push Net – You need a push net made from a wooden frame, Y shaped and wider at the front than the back with a section of fine meshed netting to trap the fish/prawn/shrimp.  A good set of waders is also advised as it involves wading in to the low water surf on a fairly calm day until the water is just over knee deep. Put the front of the net on the seabed at a shallow angle, then walk pushing the net in front of you across the surface of the sand as you go and stop every 10 – 15 meters or so, and without pausing lift the net clear of the water and empty the contents in to a bucket of fresh seawater.  You never know what else you will find in respect to other bait in the net such as peeler crabs, prawn, shrimp, small flatfish etc.

Clear seas are not as good as when the surf is carrying a little a colour, sandeel panic easily when in clear water, but seem less cautious and prove easier to net where the surf is churning up the sand.

 

Sandeel rakesRaking – the main way that sandeels are collected inshore are by the way of raking using a thin curved laded tool known as a ‘Vingler’.  It is drawn through the upper layers of sand along the upper edges of sandbanks – any wet sandbank next to standing pools of water will do.  The Vingler is drawn repeatedly towards you in short zigzag strokes of about 8 to 10 cms.  Once a sandeel is caught in the curve a resistance is felt and the blade can be lifted up out of the sand.  Make sure that you are ready for the sandeel as they can get away extremely quickly.

 

Net/Trap – These are nets or baskets that are cylindrical in shape and are open at both ends with a mesh of some kind to stop the captured bait escaping.  There is normally a place to put in some bait to attract the fish etc.  The trap is then lowered into water and left for a few hours before being retrieved.  These traps also attract crabs, prawns, shrimp and other small fish, or as in one of my recent forays a dogfish (probably gorged on all of my caught bait as there were none in the trap).

 

Feathers – The larger sandeels will quite happily take mackerel feathers, but you can substitute these for feathers with a smaller hook size.  I have used white feathers with red binding and size 6 or 8 hooks in the past with some measure of success.

 

There is still the possibility of getting sandeel on other very light tackle with small hooks (down to about size 18) if you are that desperate to catch your own, or there is always the alternative way of getting them – buy them from your local tackle and bait shop – when in season you can get live sandeel, failing that you can get the frozen ones.

 

How to look after Sandeel

If you have taken the effort to catch your own (or if you have bought live ones) then you have to invest in an aerator and a bucket to keep them alive. If you don’t have an aerator, ensure you change the water in the bucket VERY regularly to provide ample oxygen to keep them in good shape. You can also keep them in wet newspaper/wrapped in a wet teatowel or cloth for a surprising amount of time (almost like they are when they are in the sandbank). To do this, dunk your cloth in sea water, carefully layer the eels and wrap them over with the cloth. If the layers of cloth are thick enough, resting the whole wrap on a frerezer block will keep them cool (whilst avoiding freezer burn.) I’ve kept eels alive overnight in the fridge many a time this way.

Pack of frozen SandeelFrozen sandeels are best kept frozen whilst in transit to your mark, either in a cool box with ice blocks, in a thermos or failing that insulated well with newspaper.

As with all frozen fish baits the best quality bait is governed by how quick after capture it was frozen down, the longer it takes to be frozen the less effective it can be.  Top quality frozen sandeel is normally blast frozen within an hour of being caught.  The longer the fish is left, then the flesh starts to deteriorate and discolour with blood, and when the fish is thawed it will be soft fleshed and difficult to cut and present on the hook.

More evidence of this is if there is evidence of excessive blood weeping from the eyes and gills.  The best test with frozen sandeel is to bend them round into a U shape after thawing them, if they burst at the sides and belly then they are not that good a quality.

 

How to bait up using Sandeel

Live – you can present the sandeel on either one or two hook rig in varying ways. With a one hook rig either up through the roof of the mouth, or lightly though its back just behind the head, or lightly through its tail so it can remain alive and kicking.  With two hooks it is one through the roof of the mouth with the other ¾ the way down its belly.  Live sandeels don’t work so well when ledgering, and are best used on a float or a freeline rig.

 

How to mount Sandeel on a hook

 

Fresh or Frozen – These can be presented in similar ways to above with the addition of being able to thread the bait all the way onto the hook, or by cutting the sandeel up into different chunks.  You can also hook dead sandeel through the eyes.When you bait up as in the picture above (with a frozen sandeel), whipping a bit of bait cotton around it will ensure it stays where you want it to and not slump down the hook. Apart from not looing as much like a sand eel, it will also cause it to spin peculiarly in the water onthe retrieve and/or as it sinks – not only will this not look as natural, it may also twist and tangle yr snoods up. Removing the tail fin will also reduce this spin.

 

In a Cocktail – There is another method and that is to add other baits to make up a cocktail.  One such cocktail to wrap the sandeel in a slice of squid and secure the squid with a bit of bait elastic, leaving the head and tail of the sand eel protruding.  This method helps to protect the eel and it should keep a lot longer on the hook before having to change it.

 

What can I catch using Sandeel?

Fishing from the shore then you can expect just about anything. Live sandeel is good for bass, mackerel, garfish, pollack, sea trout, salmon and flounders. Frozen sandeel will take rays, bull huss, Pollack, wrasse, dogfish, whiting, coalfish.

Fishing offshore then sandeel is very effective over wrecks for pollack and Coalfish, over reefs for pollack, bass, codling, coalfish, rays and turbot, and over clean ground for turbot, huss, ray and tope.

Using small chunks you can expect whiting, dabs and dogfish.

Hermit Crab – A Stone Cold Cod Killer!

hermitcrabimageTo be honest, cod will take most baits offered if the mood takes them, from lugworm, ragworm and mussels through through to squid, mackerel and peeler crab. There is one bait however that is an underated cod killer and that is the hermit crab. Whether used on its own or married with another type of bait in a potent cocktail, these predatory fish go nuts for them.

Where to get them? – Some tackle shops will stock a supply of a stock of hermits frozen in their shells but without doubt fresh are the way to go and are easy enough to procure through the right contacts. It is well worth taking a trip down to your local harbour as the crab potters come back with their hauls as many get a large supply as a by-catch whilst targeting edible crabs and perhaps lobster. Even if they do tend to ditch them at sea, you may be able to work a deal where they retain a few for your use.

Why not just use peeler crab? – Peeler crab is a pretty pricey bait at the best of time with a single crab retailing at 75p each during the summer when supply is plentiful. In winter supply and demand pressures kick in and if anything the price per crab will likely reach £1, if not higher. In comparison you can pick up frozen hermit crab from bait suppliers for around 30-40p each. Even better, if you are able to come to an agreement with your local crab potter/trawler skipper, a crisp £10 note could get you around 60 of the little devils. At 16p each, it’s a bargain!

How to present them? – A pennel rig really does help with presentation and bait elastic is an absolute essential if you want your offering to survive the cast.

hermit2hermit3The first challenge however is to coax the shy hermit crab out the shell which is sometime easier said than done.

Occasionally a little bit of brute force with either a hammer or a rock is necessary to break the shell away. Other times you will be able to tease it out by pulling gently.

The bulk of the hermit crab is a fleshy sack that oozes with flavoursome juice so take care not to damage this too much, I like to keep the legs and claw on as something to hook into. Two hermits make a decent sized bait and are more than adequate especially if you have threaded on some lugworm or a whole squid before hand.

hermit5Secure the lot with some bait elastic – you can pull it quite tight around the legs but be careful around the juicy main body. Without doubt hermit crab provides one of the most scent laden bait out there. Don’t be scared to put a really big bait out there for the cod as even your average sized codling has a mouth big enough to take the lot on a 5/0 hook.

The only drawback to this bait is the same as many other delicate baits in that it can get washed out in a short period of time meaning regular re-baiting. One way to cater for this is to have detachable traces so you can bait up the next one whilst the line is in the water. This is a great tactic for maximising fishing time.

So save your pennies and opt for hermit crab – the results will be well worth it!

How to Use Ragworm

ImageAs a sea fishing bait, ragworm is the quintessential all rounder. Not only are many different species attracted to them, but it’s pretty much the bait of choice for several of them – and for that reason alone I almost always take some along wherever my sea fishing session takes me.

 

Since you never really know what will be fishing well when you arrive, you can easily hedge your bets cover a lot of the bases if you carry a few quid of rag in your bait tub.

Depending on what species you intend to target there are several ways to present you bait, so here are some of my favourites including mentions of what you may catch (as a rough guide, not an exhaustive list!):

 

Head Hooked – It does exactly what it says on the tin. Select a good sized ragworm and pick it up just behind its head to avoid any little nips from the two pincers that pop out from its head. Tease its mouth a little with the tip of the hook to encourage the pincers to pop out and grab it and, when they do, push the hook in and bring it directly out behind the main bulk of the head. That’s all there is to it.

It does look a little flimsy and you could be forgiven for thinking that a fish will eat the bait and miss the hook altogether – but although this does happen when your fishing among hordes of smaller species, a larger fish will take the lot, hook and all.

The benefit of this method it that the worm stays alive and wriggling in the water for a long time, and the whole of its body will move incredibly naturally making it irresistible to many fish. Its best fished in clear water since the scent trail is lower (than if it were punctured several times) and you are principally relying on the ragworm’s movement to attract fish.

The head hooked ragworm can be fished on the bottom or in mid water – on either a float, free lined,  or retrieved over rocks as a lure.

 

Downsides to head hooking ragworm:

1. If your swim is plagued by mini species and other fish such as small, hard hitting wrasse as dropping down among these with long trailing baits will result in plenty of unproductive knocks, severely shortened ragworm and well fed fish!

2. It can be a little fragile, so go easy when casting out.

TIP. Dipping the ragworm in the sea just before casting is a good way to reduce the chance of your bait disintergrating/breaking when it hits the water for the first time.

Expect to catch: Pollack/bass/ mackerel on the retrieve or when free lining or float fishing, mullet (small ragworm on the end of a Mepps spinner), flounder/plaice/dabs/dogfish/ gurnard on the bottom. Wrasse just off the bottom.

 

Big Bait – When it comes to catching bigger specimens, Rule #1 is never skimp on bait – it’s a false economy. Using ragworm too sparingly may make it last longer, but its highly likely that you’ll hook into less fish during that period than if you were to have a shorter session with more generous baits.

With this in mind, if you choose to fish a head hooked worm in can sometimes beneficial to feed a fat, juicy ragworm over the hook and up the line first. This will give you a bait that’ll be twice as long, still have the same movement, have a larger scent trail and look even more appealing! Setting this up on a Pennell rig (with something like a size 2 or 4 hook at the top and a larger 1/0 hook at the bottom) will ensure that the bait doesn’t end up bunching around the bottom hook during the cast/retrieve.

In addition, cramming a couple of worms up the line will only serve to increase the scent trail further and works particularly well when bottom fishing stationary baits. If you’re feeling extra generous then also consider using multiple head hooked ragworms even greater appeal. Although there are no hard and fast rules regarding how many worms you should use, longer thin baits will be more effective as midwater lures whereas bunched baits with a greater scent trail will be better off the bottom. Using a bait needle makes life a lot easier.

 

Baiting up with Ragworm

First, feed the worms onto the bait needle…

 

Image


…then push this onto the bottom hook and feed them on.

Expect to catch: Better Pollack and Bass on the retrieve/float, more flatties and dogs on the bottom. Wrasse of the bottom.

 

As a cocktail – Adding squid(S)/mackerel (M)/prawn (P)/peeler crab(C) to the mix can be incredibly effective. You can either feed a worm up the line (again, using a bait needle can make life a lot easier here) and tip of the hook with, for instance,  mackerel or squid strip, or use a well secured fish bait up the line and tip of with a wriggling head hooked ragworm or 2 to give the bait scent and movement.

Expect to catch: Thornback Rays (P), Huss (M/S), Dogfish by the bucket load (M), gurnard (M/S), and rockling (M) on the bottom and more Bass (P/C) and possibly bream a bit higher up (S).

 

Mini Bait – I mentioned bigger baits for (potentially) better specimens, but if there are only tiny fish around or you just want a wild half hour then switch to tiny hooks (size 6 or smaller) with tiny baits (sections of ragworm no bigger than your little fingernail) and scratch around tight to underwater features such as harbour walls, rocky outcrops, or pier legs etc. When the fishing is slow, embarking on a  mini-species hunt can be just what’s needed to inject a bit of fun back into the proceedings!

Expect to catch: poor cod, blennies, gobies, rockling, corkwing/goldsinny/small Ballan wrasse and weavers(be careful!) to name but a few species.

 

Of course, there a few hard and fast rules when it comes to sea fishing and these are simply a few tips and suggestions to get you started. After all, the chopping and changing of baits and rigs and the experimentation involved is half the fun of fishing!

Sea Fishing Bait: Prawn & Shrimp

prawn1

Float or ledger fishing with a live prawn is a successful and exciting way of fishing, and a good alternative to other live baits.

Aside from their effectiveness as a sea fishing bait, one of the best things about prawns and shrimps are that they are easy to collect. You can either have a prawn trap set up off shore, or collect them by hand.  If you consider how many prawns and shrimps there are, and the locations they are found in, they must be a staple food source for most of the UK fish species (and also liked by many people).

Prawns or Shrimps?

There is a quick way to distinguish between prawns and shrimps and that is to check the outer antennae – on prawns the antennae will be about one and a half times the length of the body, whereas the antennae on the shrimp is only about as long as the body itself or less.

The colour of the prawn tends to be a semi-transparent grey and carries a purple to blue hue whereas a shrimp is also greyish in colour but carries a brown mottling across the back and sides with faint red or deep orange tones. (Shrimps can adjust their colouring for extra camouflage).  For those that don’t know prawns and shrimps only turn that pinky-white colour when they are cooked for eating.

How to Catch Prawns and Shrimps

As I have said there are many ways to catch your bait with some examples listed below.

Rock Pools – why not get your children involved with this one – all you need for this is one of those kids nets they sell by the seaside.  Find yourself some rock pools and working the net through the overhanging weed and underneath rock edges scooping up the hiding prawns as you go. You will have to be quite quick as the prawns have a powerful swimming action propelled by the segmented tail.  Another way is to put a small chunk of mackerel in to the middle of the net and rest the net on the seabed. You need to keep a constant watch and when a prawn is feeding on the fish, lift the net clear of the water.   You never know what else you will find in the rock pools either…

Push Net – This method is easier to catch the bait, but much harder work. You need a push net made from a wooden frame, Y shaped and wider at the front than the back with a section of fine meshed netting to trap the fish/prawn/shrimp.  A good set of waders is also advised as it involves wading in to the low water surf on a fairly calm day until the water is just over knee deep. Put the front of the net on the seabed at a shallow angle, then walk pushing the net in front of you across the surface of the sand as you go and stop every 10 – 15 meters or so, and without pausing lift the net clear of the water and empty the contents in to a bucket of fresh seawater.  After around half an hour you should have collected enough for bait (and maybe even enough for your tea). You never know what else you will find in respect to other bait in the net such as peeler crabs, sandeels, small flatfish etc.

Clear seas are not as good as when the surf is carrying a little a colour, prawns and shrimps panic easily when in clear water, but seem less cautious and prove easier to net where the surf is churning up the sand.

Prawn Net/Trap – These are nets or baskets that are cylindrical in shape and are open at both ends with a mesh of some kind to stop the captured bait escaping.  There is normally a place to put in some bait to attract the prawns etc.  The trap is then lowered into water and left for a few hours before being retrieved.  These traps also attract crabs and other small fish, or as in one of my recent forays a dogfish (probably gorged on all of my prawns as there were none in the trap).

prawn2

Drop Net – Using a drop net, bait it with old fish and lower down alongside a wall of a pier or jetty, leave it for 10 minutes and then haul it up quickly – you should have a few prawns for bait, and may also end up with the odd peeler crab or even a decent edible crab.

Homemade Prawn Funnel – get a large soft drinks/water bottle and cut the top off (the end where the screw top is) to about where the label stops. Turn the top around and shove it back into the bottle – the neck creating a funnel. You then need to fix this in place (stitching is a good idea) – make sure it can be easily removed and replaced when emptying the prawn trap.  Fill it with some sand for weight and attach a line to the prawn trap, Bait it and lower it along side a harbour, pier or jetty wall for a food few hours and then check your results.

Once you have collected your prawns/shrimps you will need to keep them alive. This you can do quite easily with a decent bait bucket and aeration pump.

Bait Presentation: Prawns & Shrimps

There are many schools of thought when it comes to baiting up the prawn / shrimp as you can use them in a manner of ways – live bait, dead bait (useful when you haven’t had time to catch live ones – just pull some out of the freezer that you caught previously) and cooked and peeled (even those bought from a supermarket).  It also depends on what type of fishing you are doing, either float or ledger.

prawn3Float Method – there are different thoughts on where to stick the hook through for this method, although all use a fine wire type Aberdeen hook.  Using a sized hook relevant to the size of the prawn and the fish you want to catch (number 4 – 3� – a larger hook obviously hampers the prawns swimming ability, so it’s a case of hooking power against natural presentation, you will need to be the judge) and going from the underside stick the hook through the prawn and out the other side somewhere between the first and fourth segment from the tail end.  This allows the prawn to hang upside down and be able to swim and look natural under the float.

Try and fish it about 1 – 2 meters from the bottom, or the top of weed etc, depending on where you are fishing. If you get a lot of missed bites, you are either being plagued with small fish or cuttlefish I would change my hook to a small treble and hook the prawn using one of the three hooks. Let the float wash around with the swell which imparts added movement to the bait.

Ledger Method – If you are casting with any sort of power at all then mount the prawn on the hook by pushing the hook through the first segment above the tail, pull the hook right through, insert the hook back through the same segment and pull right through, reinsert the hook through the fourth or fifth segment and pull right through, insert the hook back through the same segment and pull right through, insert the hook through the segment just behind the head but making sure you miss the black spot.  If you do go through the black spot you will instantly kill the prawn.  You should now have a prawn with the line nicely laid along the underneath side its body and with the tip of the hook protruding out from just below its head.

It is very important that the prawn’s body lies straight along the hook.  This should now make it secure enough to cast.  Some people start at the opposite end so that the hook protrudes tout underneath by the tail.  Either way is ok and I leave it up to you to experiment and work out which is best for you.  You can always bunch the prawns/shrimps up in 2’s or 3’s and tipping them off with a thin strip of mackerel, squid, or ragworm and this will often make the bait even more attractive.  When using them in groups of two or three, nip them lightly through the tail so that they can move naturally.

prawn4When using cooked peeled prawns put them on the hook in bunches to get maximum scent and secure them on the hook with bait elastic but don’t wind it too tight or you will cut through the prawn and render the elastic as useless.

Fish to Expect

Prawn and shrimp whether dead or alive including cooked will attract the attention of many fish species such as wrasse, bass, black bream, whiting, pollack, pouting, coalfish, gurnard, flatfish, rays especially thornbacks, cod, poor cod, mullet and many more.

The big prawns are deadly for bass and pollack float fished around rock fingers, over boulder beaches and close in to pier and jetty supports.  Larger shrimps can be used singly for smaller fish such as dabs, smaller flounders, schoolie bass, whiting and pouting, again, go for a fine wired hook and just nick the point through the rear quarter of the tail section.

Bunches of shrimps also take thornback rays as well.  In estuaries, single large boiled shrimps or bunches of two or three make an excellent flounder bait and is most effective when the water is clear and the rig is light enough to roll along with the tide – this combined scent and movement appeals to the flounders hunting style and as a bonus you’ll pick up the odd bass and dabs as well.

Sea Fishing Bait: Squid

Box of Squid

 

Calamari SquidFloat or ledger fishing with a squid is a very successful and exciting way of fishing, and a good alternative to other baits.  Squid are not that easy to collect as they are quite fast creatures that will easily come off a normal hook.  The most often used type of squid for bait is not found in British waters at all, but the Californian or Chinese squid often known as calamari.  These are smaller than the common squid found around Britain and averages between 10 and 15 cms.

Squid is often confused with the other residents of British water such as the octopus and cuttlefish.  Squid and cuttlefish have five pairs of tentacles – four pairs of which are the same length and 1 pair that is longer, whereas the octopus has eight tentacles all the same length.  All can be used as bait but the more common is squid.

The common Squid does thrive in British waters and normally grows to around 60 cms and around here are more common during the latter part of the year (offshore) and springtime (inshore.)

 

How to catch Squid

Squid Jigs – As mentioned above, trying to catch squid using normal hooks is nigh on impossible.  Special squid jigs are needed in order to get you prize – these are purpose made and weighted lures of various sizes, colours and designs that have a upward facing metal spikes.  They are worked like a jig up and down in the water through a shoal of squid.  When a squid takes the lure it becomes snagged on all the spikes and then can be reeled in like any other fish.

Squid Jigs

 

Top Tip: When squidding, once you feel the dull pull of a squid on your jig ensure you maintain a steady lift to the surface. Stop for a moment and the squid may well come free, since its the positive contact that really keeps it there on the barbless hooks.

 

Furthermore, once the squid is on the surface, don’t mess about otherwise it will be likely to ‘get off the hook’, literally.  Also, when its on the surface looking at you, don’t gaze longingly back into its eyes – the first squirt might mainly be water, but the second will surely be ink!

As long as the skipper is happy, just get it in the boat – and remember, once you see it emerge from the depths, it’s worth letting your fellow fishermen know that very soon there will be an angry, ink squirting creature making its presence felt nearby!

Of course, an easier, and far less messy way to get squid is to buy it in – either fresh or frozen; the latter is the cheapest way.  1lb boxes of frozen Calamari can be picked up from your local tackle and bait shop.  Supermarkets are more likely to sell fresh squid, normally larger if that is what you want (but remember, the flesh will also be thicker.)  When buying fresh squid then the fresher the better, normally older and less fresh squid take on a pink tinge to the skin and flesh (normally white).  If the flesh is bright pink with a strong smell (hard to miss) then don’t bother with it. With frozen squid, freshness is also a concern. The same applies as fresh.  Some squid have a natural pinkness to the skin and this is ok, its when the flesh itself has turned pink that you need to think twice about it.

 

What can I catch on Squid?

Squid attracts the attention of many fish species such as wrasse, bass, black bream, whiting, pollack, pouting, coalfish, gurnard, flatfish, rays, cod, poor cod, dogfish, conger and many more.

 

Bait Presentation: How do I use Squid?

Hooking Squid TentaclesSquid can be fished either under a float or ledgered.  Much of the scent from a squid is in its head and gut section and if fishing with them whole then it is a good idea to puncture these areas to let scent out.

 

They can be presented on the hook whole, in half (head or tail) or in strips.  When fishing whole squid most anglers use a two hook pennell rig – the sliding hook on the snood goes through the tail end while the hook at the end of the snood goes through the head.

Other ways to mount squid on a hookExperimentation of mounting half a squid or strips is the best way to find out what works for you.  Remember to use a hook that fits the size of bait you are using and the type of fish you are hunting for.

Another good way (and arguably the best way) of using squid as a sea fishing bait is to combine it with other baits as a cocktail. You may hear of anglers using ‘worm tipped with squid’, for example. Squid makes for a great ‘tipping off’ bait as it is firm and compliments and protects more tender baits, such as worm baits, when it is loaded last. In addition to using squid to keep other baits onthe hook, it can also be used to completely wrap baits (such as sandeel) in a big, squiddy blanket. Doggies, in particular, love ’em.

 

Another way it can protect bigger baits is by using a whole calamari body to make a squid bomb, which is a particular favourite when used with Lug and/or peeler crab.

How to Make a Live Bait Tank

If you’ve ever had to pour half a bucket of live sand eels into the sea after a fishing session, or if you have planned to reuse a parcel of ragworm only to find half of them dead after a few days then, like me, you may have toyed with the idea of setting up your own live bait tank.

Or if, like me, you love a good project and have both a shed fascination and way too much time on your hands, again, you may have thought about making a live bait tank.

Either way, if you’re both a regular, keen sea fisherman and you’re serious about keeping your bait in as good a condition for the longest time possible, then building and running your own live bait tank may be the way to go.

Now, there are two ways to go about it: a quick, short term way and the more involved, long term live bait tank.
If you just need to preserve some ragworms for a few extra days or keep some of your sand eels alive until the next day then you can do the quick fix.

Put a deep container filled with some previously collected seawater in the fridge and clip a small air pump to the side (with a tube going into the water with an air stone on the end). Put your live bait in this and, to be on the safe side, look at changing at least 50% or the water every other day. The reason we need to do this frequently is simply because there is no filtration system in place – which means the water quickly pollutes and become death in a tub for its residents. The larger and more frequent the changes are (up to a point) the healthier the environment will be for your live bait.

The more permanent and much more effective (read: much more involved) method, however, is to jump both feet first into the wonderful world of aquarism. Yup, in effect you’ll be building a salt water aquarium. It may sound incredibly involved and quite a daunting task, but that’s probably because it is! So then, is it worth it? Well, if you do a lot of sea fishing are looking to keep your bait in A1 condition for an indefinite time then the simple answer is “yes”.

Although its more difficult to get going than the quick fix, once its up and running its much, much lower maintenance than it’s ‘ice cream tub in the fridge’ counterpart.

So, how do we go about it?

 

EQUIPMENT NEEDED FOR YOUR LIVE BAIT TANK

Most of these items you can pick up in the classified section of your local rag or on eBay for a fraction of the normal retail price:-

Large water container – you can use a very large bucket or similar container, but I would recommend a proper glass tank as it’ll make things much easier when it comes to inspecting (and removing) bait in the tank. Also, as you become used to seeing healthy marine life in it, you’ll be able to see at a glance if something is wrong – you can also spot any dead stuff a lot easier and a lot sooner. If you have a glass tank, make sure you sit it on a couple of polystyrene ceiling tiles to take out irregularities where it sits.

Water pump/filter – These are the all-in-one units that circulate the water and maintain the healthy environment. Once the tank matures and completes its cycle (more about that in a bit) these bio-filters turn harmful waste into a harmless by-product and ensure your bait stays healthy right up until the moment you put a size 2/0 Aberdeen through its head.

Marine Salt (aquarium salt) – Turns tap water into sea water. Hallelujah! The reason to make seawater as opposed to collecting the ‘free stuff’ is 1. The effort involved in lugging (and transporting) gallons of sea water around, and 2. Normal sea water already has many bio-organisms and what-have-you in it which invariably die after the sea water is taken from the main body of the sea, more often than not this will cause the ‘dead’ sea water to bloom and go a bit stinky. You’re best off making it yourself and keeping it under tight control.

Hydrometer – Use this to check the specific gravity of the water when mixing in the aquarium salt to ensure the correct salinity. There is a benchmark figure for this, but double check with ‘real’ sea water in your area.
Bucket – For making your salt water and for your water changes.

2 optional extras:

Water Treatment Drops – Depending on the type, just a few drops of this into each gallon of tap water makes it safe for aquarium fish.  For proper fish keeping (as in keeping  long, long term pets) its standard practice, but for bait? Well, I don’t think it matters so much for the time periods we’re talking about. As cold as it may sound, the sand eels aren’t going to be dying of old age.

Chiller Unit – in the warmer months you may find that the tank temperature rises beyond that needed to keep your bait alive and kicking, in which case a chiller unit could be called for to maintain a lower temperature. For example, during my first summer I caught prawns and kept them in the tank ‘sans chiller’ – within a day they were still alive (just) but they’d turned a rather pinky-opaque colour. Although the water felt cold to the touch, I believe they must’ve actually started to cook. Man, did I feel bad. Keeping the tank in a cool, dark place will help considerably, but in a heat wave it may still need a chiller.

Ok, once we’ve got the gear we can move on to the second stage:

 

SETTING UP YOUR LIVE BAIT TANK

Clean the tank thoroughly and place it on a sturdy, flat, level surface in the coolest place possible (to avoid ‘The Prawn Scenario’ and the need for a chiller in all but the hottest times.) Also, ensure it’s not ridiculously close to electrical outlets – no matter how careful you are, water always manages to get splashed everywhere.

Mix up your sea water (check regularly with hydrometer) and fill your tank up half way. There’s no need to fill it right up at this point, you can do that later once you are happy with everything.

Set your pump/filter up and get it pumping the water around the tank.

 

PREPARING YOUR LIVE BAIT TANK FOR USE

Although the tank looks like its ready to go there is still one crucial thing that has to happen before you can fill it with live bait:  the tank has to ‘mature’.  It can take up to 3 weeks in total to complete its Nitrogen Cycle. If you put bait in before the tank is matured you will just get an almighty ammonia spike that will probably just kill everything in the tank.

To mature the tank, simply run it as if you were keeping live bait in it. Have it full of water and have the pump running at all times. To kick start the nitrogen cycle (and begin establishing bacterial colonies that will turn harmful ammonia generated by waste into nitrites and then into harmless nitrates) drop a strip of old mackerel or tea spoon of cat food etc in there and let nature take its course.

Marine aquarium test kits can be bought pretty cheaply to check its progress if you are keen to see how it’s getting on.
Then, after the tank has cycled and the ammonia and nitrites have tailed off, all that’s left to do is to stock it with live bait!

 

MAINTAINING A HEALTHY LIVE BAIT TANK

Once your tank is stocked with live bait, check on it from time to time to ensure all is well in your new underwater world and be sure to remove anything that does die for whatever reason since this will only put more load on the filtration system. Also, its advisable to do a 20% water change (salt water mix) twice a month to keep the tank – and your live bait – in top condition (as opposed to a water change every two days with real seawater in the quick fix example.)

And that’s it: all you need to know about building and maintaining a live bait tank. Although it may appear quite labour intensive to set up, a well maintained live bait tank is unquestionably the best way to keep ragworm or any other live marine bait indefinitely.

Types of Ragworm

ragwormThe 3 main types of ragworm used as sea fishing baits are White Ragworm, Harbour Ragworm and King Ragworm.

 

White Ragworm: Although widely regarded as the killer bait, the ultra-lively White Ragworm (also known as “silvers”) are seldom used in the West Country since you just don’t seem to get them down here.

 

Harbour Ragworm: Of the 2 other variants, the smaller Harbour Ragworm (commonly known as “maddies”) are a superb flounder bait and, since they are commonly found in estuaries, a cracking bait for estuary fish in general. Unfortunately you won’t generally find these in the tackle shops so if you want them you’ll have to dig them yourself.

Harbour Ragworm are used to best effect by head hooking a small bunch (maybe 3 or 4) to a small hook and fishing them off the bottom.

 

King Ragworm: The 3rd variant and the one most commonly used when fishing Devon and Cornwall is the King Ragworm (Nereis virens.) When found in their natural habitat these ragworm can grow to over a foot long and be as thick as your finger, but the farmed ragworm commonly sold in tackle shops will be smaller at around 4-6 inches.

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Alternative Baits: Bacon

As a sea fishing bait, bacon is not the quintessential choice of the normal fisherman.  If I was a betting man I would say that 99% of anglers have never even thought about using this readily available meat from any corner shop or supermarket let alone heard of anyone using it.  It is not always my choice of bait either, but at certain times with no other choice of bait available it can be a godsend.

 

Through my travels of the world it has caught many species of fish from moray eels to trigger fish and snapper.  ‘Hold on’ I hear you say ‘we are not travelling the world fishing in exotic places’, and yes I know that but I have also caught many species around the south Devon coast on this strange bait – these include Bass, Mullet, Pollock and Smoothhound to name but a few, so there is some method in my madness.

 

The type of bacon – The type that you use doesn’t matter, but I tend to use a cheaper medium sliced rasher.  I have tried many types but the ones with more meat than fat are better.  The question then comes down to smoked or green / un-smoked bacon, and that is up to what you can lay your hands on.  I have had success with both but I tend to go for green / un-smoked myself for reasons that will become apparent later.


Preparation – The first thing to do is to separate the bacon into its slices and then cut around the fat and remove it so that you are left with the meaty part.  For some reason the fish don’t like the fat, although this fat doesn’t go to waste.  Using a knife or pair of scissors cut the meat in long strips and put aside.  As for the fat, this can be either shredded or cut up and then used as part of your ground bait.  The size of the strips depends on the size of hook you are using. As far as preparation is concerned, that’s it .


Presentation– There are a few ways of presenting bacon, although I tend to concertina it up the hook until it is tightly packed.  It may seem strange, but once the bacon hits the water it starts to soften up and it can easily be pulled off the hook.  For this, I tend to use a hook with barbs going up the shaft that are designed to hold the bait in place better, although this is not essential.  The other way of placing it on the hook is by skewering it twice on the hook and leaving a bit of a tail to let it flap and move around a bit more.  Either way has had success with me, but I find the tightly packed version stands up better when casting long.


Spice it Up – There are other thing that you can try as well.  1 method is to add some scent to the bacon to make it a bit more appealing to the fish.  This is a method I have used and I normally add the scent to the bacon at least and hour before to let the oil / scent soak through it to give maximum effect in the water.  Another method it to make cocktails using the bacon like you do with other baits, mixing and matching to get the best results.


In fishing half of the fun is chopping and changing of baits to see what happens and what species take what.  So, next time you go out fishing, why don’t you just try a little bit of bacon and see what happens? You never know, you might be surprised…

Sea Fishing Bait: Mackerel

mackerel1Mackerel has to be the most versatile and well known baits in use for sea fishing.  It can be used for float, ledger or livebait fishing, whether on its own or part of a cocktail.  The naturally high oil content of the flesh makes it appetising to a wide range of fish species.

Mackerel are easily recognisable by their sleek slender bodies with an average weight of between 6 to 10ozs, although they have been known to grow to over 6lbs.  Their colouring starts on their back with an iridescent blue/green with black irregular lines.  This fades into a paler green colour in the middle and goes to a pale white belly flecked with faint bronze and pink shading.  During the season they are always on the supermarket fish counter in abundance.

The season down in the southwest starts around mid April with the odd fish showing up, then increases in number as the year progresses and the shoals move inshore from June to September.  As the weather starts to turn worse during the Autumn months the fish begin to disperse.  It is not unheard of to still get the odd fish as late as the end of November.

 

Catching Mackerel

mackerel2There are a many ways of catching mackerel including float fishing, ledgering, feathers and spinners.  All these methods are covered in other areas of this site.

When you do catch you mackerel you will need to kill it quickly so that it doesn’t suffer unnecessarily which can be quite cruel.  There are a few ways you can do this.  I tend to use either of two methods:  The first is use a bit of blunt force trauma to the back of the mackerels head (using a stick/baton or the like), or the second method is to break its neck – Hold the fish in one hand with the head facing towards tour other hand.  With your free hand place your thumb behind the head and place your index finger inside the mouth (don’t worry about the teeth as they cannot hurt you, so you are safe). You now pull the head back towards its body and you will snap its neck, which in almost all cases will instantly kill it. You will still notice a few nerves twitching every now and then but that is normal.

 

Buying Mackerel

An alternative to catching your own mackerel for bait is to buy it from a good tackle and bait shop or supermarket.  The later is not as good because you don’t know how fresh the fish is.  The normal way to get mackerel from a tackle and bait shop is frozen either as a whole fish or as fillets.

mackerel3

The best quality of any bought frozen bait is governed by how quick after capture it was frozen down, the longer it takes to be frozen the less effective it can be.  Top quality frozen mackerel is normally blast frozen within an hour of being caught.  The longer the fish is left, then the flesh starts to deteriorate and discolour with blood, and when the fish is thawed it will be soft fleshed and difficult to cut and present on the hook.  More evidence of this is if there is evidence of excessive blood weeping from the eyes and gills.

Another little known factor that affects the quality of frozen mackerel is the depth and time of year at which it was caught. If the mackerel are deep and in colder water when caught they freeze better than when from shallow waters in the height of the summer. It’s logical when you think about it.

When buying frozen mackerel or any other frozen fish, first check that the eyes are clear and the eye sockets are not badly blood stained, then check the gill area is clear of blood also. The flesh should still retain some of it’s natural colouring, although inevitably, this is will start to fade somewhat after death. There should also be no yellow tinge to the belly i.e. it should be stark white.

 

Bait Presentation

mackerel6There are many ways to present your mackerel, and it all depends on what you are actually fishing for, and everyone has their own preferences.  It can be presented whole, cut in half, used as a flapper or cut up into small strips as indicated by the diagram below and placed on the hook.  For fish that have gone slightly mushy you can make a sausage out of it using bait elastic to keep it together.

mackerel5

mackerel4Mackerel can also be used in conjunction with other baits and this too can increase the catch rate of other fish.  I have myself after being taught by a fellow angler injected extra fish (sardine) oil into the tiny strips of mackerel and float fished with it with great results.

As stated previously you can also use mackerel as a livebait and free-lining it of rocky areas  it for larger predatory fish like bass.

 

Fish to Expect

Mackerel will attract the attention of many fish species such as wrasse, bass, black bream, whiting, pollack, pouting, coalfish, gurnard, flatfish, rays, dogfish garfish, cod, poor cod, mullet, ling conger, huss, tope and many more.

Flappers are excellent for large ling, conger, huss, tope, and rays.  Chunks i.e. the head with the guts trailing makes a superb bait for huss, big bass, rays and conger. A whole chunk from the centre of the body is a conger, huss, ray, or ling bait.

Frozen mackerel catches all the species that fresh mackerel will, but dogfish and huss show a definite liking for the blast frozen fish.  Big shark and common skate have ignored fresh baits to hit a frozen bait – It is probably due to do with the way the flesh breaks down and the corresponding change in the way the bait smells.