White ragworm (also known as catworm, silver ragworm and snake) is seen as one of the most effective sea fishing baits, often being rated alongside peeler crab in its ability to entice fish to bite. Indeed, in some competitions white ragworm is banned as a bait due to the perceived advantage it gives anglers, with some anglers believing that white ragworm has the ability to tempt fish into biting when they ignore all other baits. Despite being a highly effective bait white ragworm can be difficult for anglers to find – most sea fishing shops only sell this bait on a sporadic basis, while it can be difficult to find for anglers buying their own bait.
There are a number of polychaete (segmented) marine worms which are which are white/pale in colour and can therefore be classed as white ragworm by anglers and bait collectors. The most common species is Nephtys hombergii, pictured above. However, other species of white ragworm such as are also found around the British coastline – read this article for more information.
White ragworm species are found around the coastline of the United Kingdom and Ireland, although their distribution can vary from place to place with some areas holding this species and other locations nearby being devoid of it. They are a predatory species which can consume tiny sea creatures including other marine worms, but can also take the sustenance they need from sea water. A slow growing species when compared to other ragworms, some white ragworm species are thought to be able to live for between eight and ten years.
Appearance and Habitat
White ragworm are similar in shape to the more common king ragworm and common ragworm as they have a segmented body with bristly ‘legs’ running down either side. While white ragworm are light in colour but they are not necessarily bright white. They are often a pale creamy colour and sometimes have a colouration which includes tinges of pinkish or red. In terms of size white ragworm can be over 25cm (10 inches) in length but most are smaller, averaging around 10cm to 15cm. They are often located deep into the intertidal zone. In some cases it may take the lowest spring tides to uncover the locations of white ragworms. This species can be found across a range of seabeds, but often seems to prefer hard, tightly packed sand, or seabeds which have a high clay content. Unlike other marine worm species they move around under the ground from location to location, rather than remaining resident in a burrow. They are a relatively shallow burrowing species, often being found in the upper section of the sediment, although a change of temperature, or reduced salinity due to heavy rain can see them burrow deeper.
Buying White Ragworm
White ragworm is very hard to get hold of for most anglers. Most fishing tackle shops will have only have white ragworm for sale on a very occasional basis, with some never stocking it at all. One answer to gaining white ragworm is to look to online bait retailers, but even these only have white ragworm in stock on an intermittent basis as it is very difficult to keep reliable supply line of this bait open. When white ragworm is available to purchase it is often much more expansive than the more commonly used ragworm species, with prices often more than double those of more common worm baits.
Digging White Ragworm
Unfortunately digging white ragworm is not easy either, as locating a white ragworm bed is extremely difficult. While white ragworm burrow under the sand in a similar manner to king ragworm, but as previously stated they can move around under the sediment and do not live in a burrow as such. This means that there is no tell-tale signs giving away the location of white ragworm and the fact that white ragworm often live well into the intertidal zone make them even harder to gather. When areas holding white ragworm are located many anglers keep this information to themselves for obvious reasons, and even professional bait diggers can have difficulty in finding white ragworm.
Venturing to the low tide mark on the biggest of spring tides can offer the best chances of finding this species, especially in areas with dense sand and clay seabeds. Areas around rocks and shellfish beds also seem to be more likely to hold white rag. As with digging other species a garden fork can be a better choice than a spade as this reduces the chances of cutting worms in half. Fortunately this species does not tend to burrow deeply, often being found within the first 15cm (6 inches) sand.
For these reasons the vast majority of anglers gathering white ragworm simply come across this species as a welcome bonus when digging ragworm and blow lugworm. If white ragworm are found on a bait digging session they should be stored separately from all other species of ragworm. Broken or damaged white ragworm should be kept separately as they can easily spoil whole, undamaged worms.
Storing White Ragworm
One bonus of white ragworm is that it is relatively easy to keep for long periods of time. All that is needed is a shallow tray (a cat litter tray is ideal) with a few millimetres of seawater inside. If the white ragworms are placed within this they will stay alive for a few days. After this period of time the water will discolour and the worms will die soon afterwards. However if the water is changed with fresh water every few days the worms will keep for weeks. It must be noted, though, that that seawater which is used for water changes should be pre-refrigerated as pouring room-temperature seawater over the white ragworm will kill them.
All sea fish found in the UK which forage and scavenge on the seabed for food will be caught on white ragworm. Worms can be hooked singly in a manner identical to the way other species of ragworm are presented, or a number of worms can be used on the same hook if the size of the white ragworm is smaller. As white ragworm are such a scarce and valuable bait many anglers use them as part of a cocktail bait, tipping off other less expensive baits with a white ragworm. White ragworm can be added to any other bait with a blow lugworm or king ragworm threaded onto the hook followed by a wriggling white rag, or they can be added to mussel, squid, mackerel, black lugworm or any other baits. However, it is a peeler crab and white ragworm cocktail baits which are seen as possibly the best possible bait in UK sea fishing.
The use of white ragworm as a tipping bait offers the best of both worlds to anglers – the white ragworm is able to wriggle and move to attract fish, but as worms are being used single the supply will be eked out for a much longer amount of time.