Friday 27/10/2023 Worms

Friday 27/10/2023 Worms

Dry so far this morning in Foxford, we have had quite a lot of rain throughout the week though. The river is at 1.5m at Ballylahan bridge. Overall water levels in the are are high.

The humble earth worm

The humble and sometimes scarce earth worm 

“€6.50 for a tub of worms, Tiernan is a robbing bastard.” I would say that prayer has been offered for me many times on the riverbank and a few have said it at the counter while I handed them their change. Its water off a ducks back at this point. Not because I am thick skinned or a robbing bastard. No, we sell bait at a fair price and I know that for a fact.  We make a little bit of profit and our supplier makes a little bit of profit while our customers get good quality worms a lot cheaper than paying themselves for the time it would take to dig them.

As tackle dealers it has always been difficult to consistently supply fresh worms on demand to customers. In the past they had to be dug, gathered at night with a torch or there were a few other methods which were possibly illegal and bordered on dangerous. In my fathers time it was possible to pay a local guy to gather a few tins and he was happy enough to make the price of a few pints. We ourselves have had some very good guys supply us. Nowadays, it just does not pay to be a worm digger. Worms are scarcer and the cost of living has increased so much that it just cannot pay enough.

Demand and supply

I said “On demand” purposely because that is how that trade works. The worms must be available when the demand is there. It is no good having twenty tubs of worms behind the counter when fish are taking flies and the sun is beating down. We have a lot of years of experience and we are pretty good at judging this demand and the many factors that influence it. We still do not always get it right and losses can be high.

One of several heated tunnels, it’s a big operation.

Breed my own

As anglers many of us had a go at breeding our own worms. An ever-ending supply of nice fresh worms ready to pick whenever they are needed. Yeah, been there and done that.It does not really work out though, does it? We have all thought about it and some of us have given it a good try. There are just too many pitfalls for it to be successful on a small scale and to much investment for it to pay on a big scale.

The worm farmer

There are some people who have perfected the process and discovered ways to make it profitable. Worm farmers, well in actual fact they are large compost suppliers who have a sideline in supplying the angling trade with bait.

Highly valued by gardeners, top quality worm compost

Their main income is from the top quality compost they supply. We took a quick spin North to Donegal for a visit with Our worm supplier, Neil Crossan at Living Green. Neil gave us a tour of the farm and talked us through the processes. It is a big operation and I was amazed at the science and engineering behind the worm breeding and the compost manufacturing. This man has his head screwed on and is on the ball. I now know why my worm farming attempts failed, it just boils down to intelligence 😊.

Neil giving us a guided tour of the farm. He knows his stuff.

Fishing the Worm

This brings us nicely onto worm fishing. I just read back on a piece I did on worm fishing a couple of years ago. I cannot say I would change a lot of what I wrote at that time, so for those who have already read it I would say have another read and for those who have not tried the worm or are new to angling I would say give it a read, there is some good advice hidden throughout.

At its simplest worm fishing is merely using an earth worm and hook attached to a piece of fishing line, something that as kids we enjoyed catching little brown trout and eels in a local stream with. It has always been a favoured method on the Moy where indeed many parts of the river are only suitable for bait fishing. It is a productive and interesting method if fished properly but fishing it properly takes a degree of skill which is something many purists seem to miss. I have often heard anglers dismissing worm fishing because in their opinion it did not require skill or thought and was so simple that it is unsporting. In my opinion these people have never witnessed a “good” worm fisher practice his craft. I grew up in an era where there were several of these anglers who fished various parts of the river, each had intimate knowledge of his “Spot.” Knowing where the fish would lie at certain levels, where the snags were, the correct weight to use, how to slow down or speed up his bait, how to react to each take, whether to use a float or “fish the bottom”, a good bait from a bad bait so on and so forth.  Most of these anglers were happy enough to see a young lad fishing and would share knowledge. Others had to be observed, sometimes from a safe distance but I am happy enough to say that I learned from the best and at the age of nine caught my first Salmon on the worm.

The Moy Bung, the traditional float for worm fishing on the Moy

“The worm” is probably at its best as a method when fished on a falling flood when the water is still somewhat colored. At this stage there are two main methods of fishing it i.e., with a float or “on the bottom” which is fishing without a float, just using a weight, swivel and hook. Both methods work. In general, there are two critical factors to success No.1 Speed, No.2 bait / presentation.

Egg or round shaped leads are good for fishing “on the bottom”

Speed: The correct speed is achieved by choosing a suitable weight and adjusting the length of our “Cork Line” (i.e., the length of line between the hook and Line stop). The angel the rod is held at and whether our fishing line is off the water or lying in a belly on the surface is also a factor and a useful one in fine tuning. Too fast and you will catch nothing, to slow you will feed the perch and eels. We are always trying to have our bait moving along at a moderate speed, about 1m every 15 seconds. Of course, this speed will not be exact, the weight may get caught on the bottom in places or you may find it necessary to speed it up a little now and again. The idea is to find a happy middle ground. Judging the speed the bait is fishing at is easier done with a float, we can see the float moving. When fishing without a float we must learn to judge by feel what’s happening.

Bait:  There are a few different schools of thought on which worm is the best to use, some will say it’s the Black Head also known as a Blue head, some will say a Lobworm and others a Red head or Dendrobena. I honestly do not know; I can say for definite that each has its good and bad points. The Black head is very tough and a bait will last a long time but they are scarce and expensive. The Lobworm is big and Juicy but they are lifeless, soft and break easily. The Red head is reasonably tough, more plentiful, and very lively but they have a strong smell and squirt yellow juice when stuck with a hook. They also have a habit of escaping through the smallest of holes! Whichever we choose to use (normally dictated by what is available) we should present the bait as best we can.  A fresh, clean medium sized bait is best. Generally, 3 worms, the first two are threaded onto the hook and slid up the line, the third is threaded onto the hook to just above the barb with the point left protruding. The bait should be “freshened up” periodically. We do this by pulling of one or two worms from the line, sliding the worm already on the hook up the line and putting a new worm on the hook. Always keep an eye out for weed which has been picked up from the river bed. Remove this immediately because when a fish does take it, it will instantly “drop” a bait with weed.

Worm Rig for float fishing.

 The set up: For float fishing we start the set up by putting a rubber stopper or stop knot on our main line. This stopper is movable and can be adjusted to suit different depths of water. After we have put on a stopper we slide a small plastic bead onto the line, normally an 8mm plastic bead is ideal. Make sure that the stop knot cannot slip through the hole in the bead and that the bead itself cannot slide through the hole in the float. Place a suitable float with another bead under the float and then tie on a normal barrel swivel (about a size 8). We then tie a 20cm piece of monofilament to the other end of this swivel. Slide a weight (either a pierced lead bullet or a bait controller) onto this piece of line followed by a rubber shock absorbing bead, we then tie another swivel of the same size to the end of this piece of line. The rubber bead stops the lead weight hitting and damaging the knot. To the other end of this swivel we add another piece of Monofilament line of approx. 60cm, we finally attach our worm hook to the end of this piece of line. Hook size and line size are a personal choice. I use hooks between size 1 and 4 normally, changing the size depending on water conditions and time of season. Normally larger hooks in spring time and the smaller ones in summer. For Monofilament I use Stroft ABS in sizes 0.27 up to 0.35mm, again depending on conditions and time of season.

Thread stopper, used to control the depth our bait fishes at.

The Method

The stopper should now be set at a depth which is approx. one and a half times the depth of the water where we plan to fish e.g., water is 2m deep set stop knot at 3m. This will allow our weight to go to the bottom of the river and our float will lie on its side on the surface, once the bead above the float reaches the stopper it cannot pass and the float will now start moving downstream pulling our bait along. We will see the float react as the weight moves along the bottom and over stones etc. This is where we need experience and some skill in mastering the speed we fish at. As I already said too slow or stopped and we will get lots of bites from perch and eels, too fast and we will catch nothing. Play about a bit, raise, and lower your fishing rod so the line is off the water or creating a belly of line to pull the float along, see what the difference is. Try different weights and increase or decrease the “Cork line”. Take time and get it right, these are the differences between success and failure. When a fish bites (The Take) varies, some fish are aggressive and take fast and hard others play with the bait, picking it up and dropping it. They may move out or back down slowly with the bait. All these things you need to experience to decide how best to deal with them but typically when a fish takes you will notice a “Livelier” action on the float. Normally an initial two or three sharp dives under the surface it may then move further along, the best thing to do initially is just wait. You can slowly wind up any slack line that may be out. Once the fish has taken the bait properly it will run, you will see the float disappear under the surface, and at this point you should already have the slack line taken in and be ready to strike. Do not be half-hearted, a good swift sharp strike and set the hook properly.

Worm works very well on a falling flood, just as the water starts to clear.

Up to now I have spoken about float fishing with the worm. As I said earlier it is easier to physically see what is happening when we use a float. We can pick a stretch of water and quite easily fish in rotation along the entire stretch keeping parallel with our float, trying different casts, closer in or further out. So why would we choose to omit the float and fish with just the weight

The main time I would recommend fishing without a float is in a very heavy flow, whether this is the normal current which is strong or we are fishing during a high-water period. either a flood or early season and there is an increased volume of water which means we need larger weights to slow things down a bit, to remove the float can be a good idea.  Another occasion would be sometimes when we are fishing in a confined space where it is not possible to walk parallel to the float it is a good idea to fish with just a weight and try various casts, letting the bait sweep round in an arc. In very low water, some of the streamy parts of the river can be well worth trying using very light weights and just letting the bait run freely through the water, this is best done without a float. The main difference between fishing with or without the float is that obviously enough when we use the float, we have an indicator as to what is happening with our bait. Without the float we must depend on our senses, holding the line on the tip of the index finger we feel what is happening. A slow steady pull, we are snagged on the bottom. Two or three hard long heavy pulls, a springer. A series of lively tips, a trout. It is a simple and exciting way to fish. All we need is a suitable weight and a swivel with 60cm of monofilament to which we attach a hook and bait of worms. Try casting to various lies from different angles. When a bite is detected let out a few meters of slack line to give the fish a chance to take the bait properly without resistance, once the bite gets stronger, strike. On the right day in the right place, it is as interesting and sporting as any other method. On another day when you have lost 6 hooks in 6 casts it is frustrating as hell, but… Life can be like that some days.

Next Friday, I will give a little report on our progress with the Pike

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