Blow Lugworm

Lugworms

Lugworms are one of the most popular baits used by UK anglers.

Blow lugworm (Arenicola marina) area species of marine worm which are found around the sandy and muddy coastlines of the British Isles. They are one of the most popular sea fishing baits and are available from fishing tackle shops around the country. Blow lugworm can also be dug from beaches as they leave a tell-tale cast next their borrows which means anglers can easily identify areas where blow lug are plentiful. While all species of fish in UK waters have at one time or another been caught on lugworm this bait has an especially good reputation when fishing for cod, especially when used as part of large cocktail baits. Blow lugworm are a separate species to black lugworm (Arenicola defodiens) which is also an excellent bait and has a separate entry on this website.

Description

Lugworm

Blow lugworm are typically smaller than ragworm, rarely exceeding 20cm in length, with the vast majority usually being smaller than this. Their body is made up of a rounded thick main section with bristly gills down one side and a much thinner tail section. Colour is usually brownish, although in some regions they can be a reddish, and in others darker to the point that they are almost black, with the tail section being a lighter yellow colour.

Distribution, Habitat and Life Cycle

Lugworm are found in the highest numbers in the cooler climates of northern Europe, meaning they are most common around the British Isles and Scandinavian countries. They are found elsewhere around Europe across the coastline of countries such as Germany, France and a number of Mediterranean countries, although they are not as common in these locations.

Lugworm Casts

Lugworm casts covering Ballyholme Beach, Bangor, Northern Ireland.

Blow lugworm are also found along the eastern coast of the United States and Canada, although the closely related species Arenicola cristata is much more common across North America. Blow lugworms inhabit the intertidal zone of sandy and muddy beaches and within sheltered estuaries and harbours. They live in a U-shaped burrow with can be easily identified by a small, circular depression on one side of the burrow and a distinctive swirled cast on the other.

Digging Lugworm

Generally, smaller lugworms worms live nearer the high tide mark with worms becoming progressively bigger closer towards the low tide line. Blow lugworms are filter feeders, taking in food by consuming the mixture of sand and organic particles that fall into their burrow. The worm digests this mixture and filters out the nutrients before excreting the indigestible sand and silt outside of their burrow. This process creates a cast on the sand which allows anglers to identify exactly where blow lugworms are located. As the sand that makes up the cast has passed through the digestive system of the lugworm it is often a different, darker colour to the rest of the sand on the beach which makes it even easier to see. Many casts can be found close together on beaches where blow lugworm are numerous.

Cast and Diagram

Left: the cast and depression of a lugworm burrow, right: a cutaway diagram showing a lugworm inside of its U-shaped burrow.

Once located blow lug can be easily dug out as their burrows are much shallower than those of ragworm. Most bait diggers prefer to use a garden fork, as a using a spade will result in too many worms being inadvertently cut in half. Anglers should always check that bait digging is permitted on beaches. Recent years have seen an increasing number of areas being closed off to anglers who wish to dig for bait.

Digging for Lugworm

An angler digging for lugworm at low tide.

If many casts are close together it is possible to ‘trench’ for the worms. This means simply digging up a section of beach in the same way that a garden is dug as this will uncover plenty of worms and anglers can collect them as they come across them. However, where worms are scarce on a beach it is more productive to adopt a ‘singling’ technique – that is identify casts and dig out worms one at a time. Whichever method is used any holes that have been dug should be filled back in and anglers should be careful not to take too many worms from one beach too often as stocks can be depleted. Anglers coming across large numbers of immature worms should leave the area alone as this will be a nursery area which will repopulate the beach and ensure that the steady supply of bait remains.

When collecting lugworm is best to store them in a plastic bucket as lugworms can react badly to some types of metal and die quickly. Blow lugworm spawn in autumn, and during this time, lugworm will be full of a slimy milky liquid. They will emerge from their burrows to release this spawn onto the sand where it is fertilized. During this time the worms are vulnerable to being attacked by predators such as seagulls. The worms which survive then return to their burrows where they will not feed for two or three weeks. For this reason there will be no casts on the beach for this period. This can leave bait-collecting anglers puzzled as to how a beach previously full of lugworm can now appear barren. Lugworm are known to leave the safety of their burrows and swim freely in the sea. This has been reported to happen mostly in April and early May when large numbers of lugworm have been spotted swimming at the surface of the sea. Despite research by scientists the reason for blow lugworm doing this remains unknown.

How to Store Blow Lugworm

As lugworm are being dug any cut or damaged worms, or ones that have been pierced with the fork, should be stored in a separate container. Although these worms can live as long as undamaged ones, the blood released by these worms will affect the others. Storing lugworm for a short amount of time is straightforward. Simply wrapping them in newspaper and placing them in the fridge should see them survive for several days. If a fridge is not available (or family members are not keen on worms being kept in the kitchen fridge) then wrapping them in newspaper and placing them in a plastic bucket or container in a garden shed or unheated outhouse or garage will see them live for two or three days in cool weather, but only a day (or even less than that) if the weather is hot. To keep lugworm in top condition for longer periods they can be kept in the fridge in trays containing a few millimetres of seawater (the exact same way in which ragworm are stored). As long as the water is changed every other day (with refrigerated seawater), they should live for a week or possibly longer. Blow lugworm do not freeze well, but black lugworm do.

Bait Presentation

 Lugworm Bait Presentation

A single large blow lugworm presented on a size 2/0 Mustad Viking hook.

Blow lugworm are hooked in a similar way to ragworm, through the head and then pushed up the fishing line. As they are much smaller than ragworm it is often necessary to use multiple worms to make the bait a sufficient size. Sometimes blow lugworm can be watery and seem to deflate when pierced with the hook – this is usually due to incorrectly stored worms, or lugworm which have been kept for too long. Keeping worms correctly will see them retain their quality and not end up in this inferior state. Blow lugworm are very popular to use in cocktail baits. Squid and lugworm is a classic cod bait, with strips of squid or even a whole small squid being combined with lugworm to provide a large bait for winter cod. Mussels are also a popular option to add to lugworm baits, and mackerel and peeler crab can also be used.

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