Alan Stevens Sea

Seasonal Baits That Make A Winning Session

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OK let’s be clear from the start. Sprats don’t catch mackerel, well at least they don’t on Clacton Pier on a cold, misty January morning. But the sprat season is well under way and as I watch the birds working the oily water surface I can only imagine what carnage is going on underneath the waves as the shoals of sprats are being targeted by all sorts of predatory species.

I love the sprat season. Mainly because it brings an additional challenge of matching the hatch but also, as anyone with a fish finder will confirm, the challenge is recognising that the action mainly occurs mid water as the sprats bring the usual bottom feeders up to play. I see so many facebook posts at the moment talking about poor catches – for me I believe and often prove that the fish are still here, just not in their usual feeding modes. understanding this can bring outstanding results during these often meagre months, especially from shore. 

Thankfully, Liza at Mersea Seafood Company had top quality fresh sprats at bargain prices and my detour to her fish stall at Bonners Farm on the approach to Mersea Island meant I had the finest bait ready to tease the passing target species of thornbacks and dabs, with of course the mandatory whiting which you either embrace or stay home. 

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I did, on top of my fresh sprat baits, have a variety of lug worms, which being totally honest here was the originally intended subject of this blog. So, my session on the pier was turning out nicely with fresh seasonal fish baits and the whole spectrum of lug choices. Let me explain more about the worms..

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We are spoilt on our coast regarding fresh, high quality blow lug. Our estuaries are prime breeding grounds for these beautiful and succulent baits. But let’s be fair, those who dig them earn their money. It is really hard work so many of us use the great baits shops such as Colchester Bait and Tackle and Jordan’s King Rag in Ipswich. Sometimes, for very understandable reasons, supplies are limited so it is handy to have some frozen or preserved lug to fall back on. Also, at times when sneaking out for an ad-hoc mid-week session getting to the shop in time, without booking worms in advance isn’t practical. 

So here I am – evaluating the merits of a collection of worms. I have fresh blow lug; frozen blacks in wraps, frozen black in oil and sand, and preserved lug in oil. I like them all and have very different uses. Let’s take them in turn.

Firstly fresh blow lug. My absolute go-to bait on our coast. Great for single small hook baits, full of juice and loved by pretty much every fish going. Colchester Bait & Tackle has outstanding fresh blow lug. If we ever lose these kind of shops to online competition it will be criminal. Using fresh blow lug it on it’s own or tipped with a bit of squid or fish.. and bingo. Fresh blow does have several drawbacks however; most notably they don’t keep for long, they are predated by crabs easily and they can’t be sub-divided for wraps or cocktails.

Next let’s take the second type – oiled preserved lug. These are great as can be kept in the fridge in vacuum sealed packets for months and as they are loose in packing can be portioned out for short sessions. I love these worms for pre-prepared wraps as with low moisture content, they wrap and freeze so easily with squid and fish baits. A really unique thing about these is that you can use tiny portions of them on very small hooks such as sabiki’s. I love doing this, especially with glowing sabiki when targeting dabs. As single baits however I find them relatively unproductive as they lack the scent trail of other options and don’t present so well on the hook.

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Moving on to the next option, I have discovered these frozen blacks preserved in sand and oil. I really like these as, so long as not compressed in your freezer too much, keep separate in the packaging, making it easy to take a few out of your stores for a session as and when needed. They are soft, almost having the consistency of a fresh black and present on the hook really well. On being underwater for a time they maintain their shape and colour well. The trouble here is they are about as rare as cod. Jordan has them from time to time and when in stock I grab as much as he can spare.

Finally, the classic frozen black lug wrapped in newspaper and sold in packs of 10. Absolute monsters in size and, when preserved well, hold stacks of juice and present the perfect scent trail for larger predators. Great to keep in the freezer but, when you chose to use them you are committed to the whole wrap as they don’t, in my experience, catch anywhere near as well when re-frozen. The worms can be used in portions or whole and of course in a classic cocktail with crab, squid or fish. Once more, obtaining good quality frozen blacks isn’t so easy, obtaining poorly preserved blacks is really easy sadly, especially on-line.

So coming back to the session, I was conscious of the unknown depth the fish were feeding at so a variation in depth of baits was critical. With this in mind I was using 14ft continental rods rather than my usual shorter pier rods to keep a high angle on my line along with a combined set of baited sabikis sitting on top of three hook flapper rigs allowing me to cover around 8-feet of water from seabed. My thinking would be the sabiki might either catch fish or act as an attractant to the bigger baits below.

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To see how the worms compared in action I rotated them, giving them all a chance to be at different water depths. In addition, I used the sprats singularly and as wraps with the preserved lug. I also used squid and lug wraps as well as tipping worm baits with squid to really see how things would turn out

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So how did it go. Well, small sprat fillet and frozen black lug combo wraps won the day overall. Fresh lug was the winner with the smaller whiting and in terms of fish numbers, with bigger whiting most certainly going for the sprats. Whiting over a pound in weight were exclusively taking the fish or fish/lug wraps and when gutted for the table were absolutely full of sprats.

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Pin whiting totally ignored the sprats and stuck to worm. The bigger dabs seemed to prefer blow lug tipped with squid or sprat. Smaller dabs found the saki irresistable, even at 6-7 feet above seabed. Two thornbacks were caught on whole sprat and black lug wraps, including one in excess of 7 lb taken on a hook sitting about 3 feet from the seabed.

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To conclude; for me I’ll always try to get fresh good quality blow lug if I can. If not, the frozen worms worked well, especially in combinations. And as for the sprats – amazing bait that is ridiculously cheap when in season and is an absolute game changer at this time of year. Fill your boots folks and use them at various depths to find those illusive fish.

I’ll be writing more about this over the coming weeks, especially using sprats on slides for flounder, bass and dogfish. Who knows, I might even get lucky with a cod. I’ll be posting here at essexanglers and I am delighted to say that, from March will also be writing for Hookpoint Magazine so watch out for me there too.

Take care and happy hunting

2 replies on “Seasonal Baits That Make A Winning Session”

I enjoy your blog .Thanks for sharing…..I am ,and have been speaking up for bait digging in our Esturies for years,there’s alway a conflict of interest in our estuaries especially in the winter,,understandably the scare area for feeding waders is when diggers are after rag in the winter months….it is essential those waders feed,it could mean the fuel stop which is essential for their welfare ,will leave them exhausted before they reach their destination.
,you are dead right about diggers earning their money,I am not a professional but have collected bait for …must be 50 years now.I like to think I have given insight to all involved in protecting the health of our Essex Suffolk estuaries,all I can see be sensible about bait collection don’t ever waste it,and don’t think it’s going to be there for ever…..Mark Sessios…..Colchester sea angling club…

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