Category: Worm Baits

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.

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…



…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!

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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