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Cod Baits

Cod Baits article by John Staten

Amongst the better cod baits are some of the following:
Lugworm, Ragworm, Peeler Crab, Mussel, Razor Fish, Squid, Mackerel and Herring.  On their day they will all do well in attracting cod.


Lugworm is one of the better cod baits to use when fishing for cod in winter.  Lugworm comes in different guises:
Black Lug - Yellow Tails / Runnydown - Blow / Common Lug

Blow lug is probably the most common worm found around our shores.

It can normally be found down near the low water mark and the lower the tide, (spring tides) the more wormcasts you will find.

The cast consists of a blow hole and sand cast.  The blow hole is the head of the worm and the cast is the tail end of the worm where it expels the sand after it has travelled through its body.

The distance between the two can be a good indicator to the size of the worm underneath.  It can be very hard to decide which way the worm is lying when you have numerous casts in a worm bed.  If that is the case, a lot of diggers 'trench dig', which is exactly that, digging a trench across the worm bed and back filling as you go.

It can lead to more cut and damaged worms but you will probably uncover more worms using this method, rather than trying to dig each individual cast.

Blow lug can be plentiful, the same as most worms in the summer but harder to find in the winter as they will go well out below the low water mark due to the more severe weather and rough seas we get. They will also probably be deeper in the winter, I usually only dig down one spade depth for my worms but in the winter you will more than likely need to dig down at least two spade depths.  I did mention there about a 'spade depth' and that is the instrument that I prefer to use but a lot of guys use a fork for blow lug, as always, it's a personal choice.

Black Lug / Welsh Lug / Dungie Lug

Black lug is a most sort after bait especially in the winter, accounting for many a cod caught around our shores, plus other species as well.  Most anglers class big black lug as one of their main baits for winter cod fishing.  Black lug are nearly always 'pumped' and not dug from the beach.  For most black lug you need a good 'low' tide to be able to access the worm beds.  A 'pump' can be bought in most tackle shops and also off Ebay.
If you do buy a pump, watch a few of the video's on ''You Tube'' about how to pump worm.  There are some good video's on You Tube to watch and get you up and running without having to go sessions without being able to 'pump' properly.  Pumping worm looks easy, and is ONCE you know what you are doing.

Rag Worm

Rag worm also comes in different guises:
King Rag - Harbour Rag / Maddies - White Rag

The King Ragworm is the largest of the ragworm family, growing to well over over 18 inches in length and as thick as your thumb.  I have actually had one where I held it's head between my finger and thumb at my waist and it's tail was still in the sand!  I am 6ft tall!

King Ragworm are often tipped with another bait such as squid or mackerel to make them even more irresistible to fish.  Ragworm is normally a red or green colour with a blue tinge to them.
These worms should be kept in a container either lined with newspaper in peat or vermiculite.  If you keep them cool in a fridge they will last for a week or so but if you keep them in a tank with an airator they will last much longer.  Which ever method you use, you need to check them every day and take out any that are dead so they won't contaminate the rest.

They can be very lively when put on a hook and a warning here, just be careful when you are putting them on your hook, they can give you a nasty nip!  Many a time I have gotten a nip as I threaded them onto a hook and obviously the 'head' has slid up towards my fingers holding the hook.

Harbour Rag / Maddies
The main uses for these are for dabs, flounders, rockling etc. A lot of match fishermen like them for 'scratching' as they call it.  'Scratching' is a term used for trying to catch virtually anything when the better specimens aren't playing ball.

White Rag
These are highly rated among competition anglers, and I know a few lads who would sell their souls to get their hands on these, especially in the cod season!

Their growth rate is slow and probably accounts for their scarcity and there hasn't been any luck in trying to farm these.  Large whites are seldom found in great numbers but can be up to about 10 inches in length and as thick as your thumb in some instances.  The larger ones are normally dug by chance rather than being targeted.  They are used as a 'tipping' bait in most circumstances but they can be fished in a bunch for dabs, flounders etc.

Back in the North East where I originate from, a big lug or a ragworm tipped off with a nice bit of white rag can prove a deadly cod bait in the winter.
A peeler and white rag cocktail can produce fish where other baits won't.

Peeler Crab

a picture of peeler crab (image)

This is a bait that will be top of most anglers lists of priorities at the start of the cod season also when the spring run of cod starts.  Most anglers living near the coast will collect enough for their own needs when the crabs peel at different stages of the year.  I know lads who collect 100's and either freeze them down or keep them in a fridge if they are to use them fairly quickly.  This is a top cod bait, especially along the east coast for Cod, Bass, and Rays.

The one thing to remember with peeler crab is not to obscure the hook point in any way, make sure you use elasticated cotton to tie it on to your hook, you can then ensure that the hook point is clear.

If you buy or get your own and you're unsure how to present a peeler crab then have a look at this link, absolutely fabulous and you won't go wrong following the advise on here - a video on You Tube by Alan Yates giving step by step instructions on ....Peeler Crab Preparation.


Mussel is a very under-rated bait and a lot of anglers are missing out by not using it. In many parts of the country it is the main-stay for many over the cod season.  On sandy beaches or in estuaries, it is a good bait for flat fish of all kinds, but the main use seems to be for cod.

It's a very smelly bait and that is where it's attraction lies, personally I think and I know a lot of anglers agree, that the smellier the mussel the better.  It can be frozen down time and time again, if you don't use all you take on a fishing trip.

I remember about 30 years ago fishing at Gravesend and using mussel as my preferred bait because the water there is deep and very coloured, you are actually fishing in the river Thames and by my reckoning you needed a good smelly bait for any cod to find.  I caught many a cod down there over a few years and on many occasion I would get chaps asking what I was using as they could see it wasn't worm I was using and it looked red or orange in colour.  I believe I converted a few to them to the use of mussel as a good cod bait.

The best way I have found of presenting mussel on a hook is by getting a 'baiting needle', thread the mussel meats onto the needle then getting 'elasticated cotton' and wrapping it round the mussel, tucking in all the loose bits.  Wrap it from one end of the needle and then back again. Slide the mussel off the needle and cut it into 2 - 3 or 4 inch lengths, whichever you prefer and freeze down ready for your next trip.  I prefer to take a few out of the feezer a few days before I go fishing and put them into a sealed jar and let them get a bit more smelly.
You can either tie the mussel on to the hook using some more elasticated cotton or just thread the hook through the bait and away you go.  This believe me is a top cod bait.

Razor Fish

A lot of anglers fail to realise tha razor fish are a natural food source for many species of fish.  Dogfish and any of the species of flatish are quite partial to razor fish as a food.

Razor can be found around the coast after a good storm just thrown up on the beach in their shells DEPENDING where you are in the UK.  If you talk with other anglers you should soon find out if there are any in your particular area.  I prefer to get mine off one of the many online bait suppliers now.  Saves a lot of time and they are always a good price.

Razor is a good 'tipping' bait for cod in the winter, they are fairly tough but I always use a little elasticated cotton just to ensure they stay on the hook OK.

They are extremely strong in their smell, and it's no surprise to see why they make a good cod bait after a good blow when the sea is very coloured and dirty.
Razor are also a very good bait for flatties in the spring and don't worry to much if you think it is starting to go off, the smellier the better, the same as mussel.


Calamari - Loligo

I personally believe that squid are thee most under-rated cod bait out there.
Not to everybodies liking but I hate to be without it.  It can be fished by itself or as a cocktail with just about anything.  I prefer to use it with black lug or on it's own as one BIG bait to attract the cod.

The ink inside the squid is the thing that gets the fish, a bit like the effect of the coral inside a crab I suppose.  There is a bit of a debate about which type of squid fishes best but the I must admit I prefer the baby squid that normally comes over from China.  You can either use one whole one, tip off another bait with it or use a few on a hook to act as one big cod bait.

Calamari squid is a good cod bait especially one or two mounted on a large hook but I think the Loligo squid is recognised by most anglers as the squid to have.  Loligo squid (unwashed) is most affective because of the abundance of squid around our coastal waters and so the fish see it as a natural food, and of course (unwashed), it retains all it's properties without having anything destroyed.  Frozen Calamari squid can be bought at most tackle shops in 1lb or 5lb boxes.

The ink inside the squid is the thing that gets the fish, a bit like the effect of the coral inside a crab I suppose.  There is a bit of a debate about which type of squid fishes best but the I must admit I do like the baby squid that normally comes over from China.  You can either tip off with one whole squid or use a few to act as one big bait on a pennel rig.  Also with a squid bait, it does resist the crabs for a while longer than either mackerel, herring or a worm bait and it does make for a good 'tipping' bait.

You can of course use squid to 'wrap' other baits in.  I often cut and wrap a piece of squid around other baits such as mussel, unused lugworm from a previous trip etc making a nice sausage shaped bait bound with some elasticated cotton and then freeze down ready for my next fishing trip.

Most of us think of squid as a 'boat' bait or for winter fishing for the likes of cod and whiting but bass as we all probably know are becoming more and more popular as a sporting fish and one a lot of anglers drool over, trying to find them by using various methods such as popping, using jigs, lures of every colour and description, live baiting for them, using worms and just about every other method they can discover.
One very succesful method is to wrap a sand eel in a slice of squid and secure the squid with a bit of elasticated cotton, 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.  Use a small weight on the end of your line, you can get small spinning weights which prevent the dreaded line twist.  A hook snood as long as possible to comfortably use to a decent sized hook, add your squid wrapped bait, most species have larger mouths than we tend to give them credit for, use as you would a plug or a popper and away you go.

Mackerel / Herring

Both are good oily baits for use on their own or as a good 'tipping' bait

The mackerel will last longer on a hook because of it's tougher skin rather than the much softer skin of the herring.  I don't think there is much difference in the amount of oil in either, they are both good baits in their own right, but personally I do prefer herring.
I have used it since I started fishing back in the early 60's and as they say 'old habits die hard'.

Both are very effective on their own catching flatfish of all varieties, eels, coalfish, mackerel etc.  They do come into their own though when used as a tipping bait for whiting in the winter, I have often had better results using worm tipped off with either herring or mackerel in the winter.  That combination is also very good for catching flatfish in the summer or in the winter.

A great variety of other fish will readily take mackerel and herring as a bait such as dogfish, conger, ling, tope, rays, and other preditory species such as bass and pollack.  A bit less obvious perhaps is cod, particularly from the shore, which are often caught on mackerel or herring.  I have a friend who will only fish with mackerel because it is so cheap compared to worms etc.  He can normally catch enough for his winter use by spinning in the summer for them.  Now I'm not saying he out fishes anybody else but he does catch bass, cod, whiting and flatfish on it, so unless he runs out of his own stock, his winter fishing costs him nothing for bait.
How many of us would wish for that?

You can use a fish bait either in strips, in chunks or as a full side fillet for a lot of species.  The head and guts are a particular popular bait for conger fishing as is the whole fish with it's backbone removed, split stright down the centre to the back of the head and used as a 'flapper'.


Author's Resource: Sea Fishing Articles by John Staten.
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