Category: Fish Baits

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.




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.

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.

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.


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.


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.