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Best baits for Bristol Channel

Any small creature which lives where fish feed can be put on a hook, cast into the water, and catch fish! Some baits attract fish better than others. The best baits for bites vary from one species of fish to another and from one area to another. Hopefully, the following will give accurate advice and a supply of fresh, fish catching bait.

The most popular bait for fishing in Swansea Bay and the Bristol channel is a worm and squid cocktail, big lug or king rag baits, squid works well both as a tipping bait, or whole for the bigger Cod and Bass. 

Ragworm tends to be the most available and most used, this bait will take a good range of species, nearly always tipped with other baits to make up a cocktail.   Lug worm: the blow lug (brown) and black lug (bigger, darker in colour).  Black lug is preferred for the Winter Cod.  Usually tipped with abother bait to make it more appealing.

Squid is used as a tipping bait for Rag and Lug worm and is used whole on a pennel rig for Cod and Bass in particular.

Sandeels are good bait for Bass and deadly for most Ray species.  Peeler crab are used for Bass and Smoothound.  Edible and shore peeler crab is better for Bass and Smoothound over rough ground.

Mackerel is a good all round bait and can be presented in many different ways.

Due to the silty waters, which ever bait is used requires as much scent as possible coming from the bait, the fast flowing tides wash out the bait of all its appeal quite quickly, especially in Winter.

The most productive baits are:

  • Lugworm, ragworm and squid for the Cod.
  • Mackerel strip for the Conger, Spurdog, Smoothound and Tope.
  • Sandeel for Bass.
  • Feathers will take Pollock, Mackerel, and many other species when fishing in clear water.
In the winter bait supply can be improved by going to the fishmonger for herrings, mackerel and sprats as these are often overlooked as a hookbait but hey can be as effective as squid for topping off a worm.
Rigs or Traces: There is no particular rig to use for these baits, albeit most utilise a legering design.
Fish Species: Since the baits are typically found on the shoreline, they are used primarily for fish species caught from the shore.  Flatfish, bass, dogs, even whiting, pouting, coalies, pollock, codling and wrasse have been known to succumb to these scented baits.
Fish baits are good for the rays and conger, but they also take whole small fish when down-tiding.  Over the inshore reefs, any bass will take large worm baits or peeler crab, but over the sand banks the killer bait is live sandeels or whole live pouting.  Late in September a whole squid can pick out a 10 pounder.

Shellfish bait

The beauty about all shellfish is that they come in their own air tight containers and as such storage for a day or two is easy.  To freeze them you need to boil them in water for a minute or two, remove the shells, and freeze them individually on a plate of glass, before bagging them in small packets for longer storage.  Freezing them on the glass makes them easy to remove and bag, otherwise it's a mess!
Bait presentation with any shellfish is not easy.  Razorfish have a muscular foot but soft innards.  The same holds for all of the shellfish listed here, to a greater or lesser extent, and in the case of limpets, the muscular foot on its own is a useless bait.  In all cases, you need to use the muscular foot to secure the bait to the hook(s), and use shirring elastic to whip the softer parts (with the scent trail) to the hook and foot.  Wide gape hooks tend to work best for bulkier baits, akin to crab, but some members whip razorfish in particular onto long shanked hooks.  The trick is to keep the innards on the hook, with lots of elastic!
Most shellfish are at their best when they are being washed by a storm in autumn or winter.  This particularly true of razorfish, butterfish clams and the common cockle, although the larger red footed queen cockle has a better reputation for flatfish and codling.  Many of our rock anglers consider mussels to be an excellent winter bait for fishing rocky ground, especially when cocktailed with worms and squid.  There are several species of clam, including the clay-dwelling piddock clam, which is particularly effective in winter on the shores where it is found.
Following a storm some of the shellfish are dead or dying on a beach and get buried in the sand half alive or dying. Come a lesser gale or swell and the dead or decaying shellfish are uncovered.  The fish seem to know this is happening, having a nose for this smelly food source.  This type of food source is only attractive when fish are actively search for rotten food.  In prolonged calm weather rotten bait will not entice a bite because the are looking for fresh food not decaying.
Over the inshore reefs, any bass will take large worm baits or peeler crab, but over the sand banks the killer bait is live sandeels or whole live pouting.  Late in September a whole squid can pick out a 10 pounder.
Common Crab
Shore or 'green' crabs are called peeler or soft crabs when they are about to peel or shed an outgrown shell ready to harden their skin into a new, bigger shell.  As soon as a peeler crab has peeled the old shell, it is known as a soft-back crab. After several days, the new has hardened and the crab is called a hard-back crab.  This crab sheds its skin at several stages throughout its life. A great and very popular bait which is full of fish attracting scent, and is very effective for a variety of sea fish including bass, thornback ray, Cod, eel, and several other species.  They can usually be found from May/June onwards, throughout the summer, at low tide in rock pools, shallow bays, estuaries and harbours.  Crabs have a favourite places to peel; once located you can return for a regular supply.Search for peelers and soft backs under stones, weeds, breakwater, pier or jetty supports. Possible locations are Swansea breakwater and East Pier. Mumbles Pier, Outer Head and Inner Sound Beac. Small amount of crab at Bracelet Bay, Tutt Head, Limeslade Bay, Langland-Snaple Point-Whiteshell Point, Oxwich, and Port Eynon.
A peeler crab can be identified by its old, soon-to-be-peeled shell, which looks dull and brittle. It comes away easily if tapped.  A soft-backed crab has a new-looking, soft-skinned back.  Crabs, nor wanted for immediate use, may be kept alive for a few days in a large loosely-covered plastic bucket containing damp snad and seaweed; stored in a cool shaded place.  Best not to mix peelers and soft-backs, and if they become hard-backs, take them to the shore and release.  Hard-backed crabs seldom make the best bait list.  You kill these crab by stabbing between the eyes with a sharp knife.  Remove claws; insert hook through the crab's belly from its side.  Push the hookpoint out of the crab's back, so the crab rests on the hook's bend below the barbed hook point.  Secure the bait by binding crab's side legs to the hook's long shank with a few turns of strong elastic thread, knotted tightly.  Alternatively, fasten a freshly killed crab to the hook using strong elastic thread.  Break off the claws, strip away the shell and use the claw flesh as separate bait.
A large crab can be cut in half lengthways, to provide 2 generous-size baits.  A crab can also be broken into pieces, and the shelled flesh threaded on small hooks to catch the smaller fish.
Peelers are often the only bait that will attract a bite from rough or mixed ground venues during spring and summer when crabs are active in numbers.  The biggest advantage is that a crab stays on the hook longer than a worm at a time when the fish are looking for peeler crabs.  It needs to be in the advanced peeling state when it is soft and its scent and juices are most attractive to fish, and can be the difference sucess and failure. It is particularly deadly for codling. A big advantage of peeler crab is that they can be kept in a fridge for several weeks.
A frozen peeler crab that is dead is useless.
 Hermit Crab

The hermit crab is so called because it lives in borrowed empty shells - graduating from small periwinkle shells to large welk shells as the crab grows in size.  Small hermit crabs can be found in rock pools at low tide.  Large ones live in deeper offshore water. You can crack open the shell or use the flame of a lighter to gently warm the underneath of the shell to remove the hermit in tact, it is not really possible to pull the hermit out directly by its claws this would cause damage to the crab flesh. Large hermit crabs can be, used whole, placed on the hook tail first, sliding them up the shank and bringing the point out through the mouth.  Or, use either the tail only, or the the whole freshly killed crab, threaded onto the hook through its soft underneath.  Break off the the legs and claws to help bleed scent into the water and make crab appealing to inquisitive fish.
Hermit cab is a great bait for catching plaice and flounder.  It is also used for smoothhound and unfortunately, dogfish love it.
Clams live burrowed in the sand and sand/mud, about 300mm beneath the surface.  Prise open the shell with a strong blade and remove the soft clam.  Thread on hook so the clam's tough foot is held firm on the hook's bend below the barbed point.
Live burrowed in sand, sand/mud, or mud about 25mm beneath the surface.  Prise open the shell with a strong blade and remove the cockle.  Thread the hook through the cockle so the flesh is held firm on the bend of the hook below the barb.
Limpets (common)
Collect from rocks at low tide, common limpets attract some rock=feeding fish (wrasse, black bream etc.), but are mainly added to bait cocktails or crushed for ground-bait.  When used as hook bait, carefully scoop the limpet out of the shell with a strong blade and thread on to the hook so the tough foot is held firm on the hook's bend below the barb.
Limpets (Slipper)
These live clusted together in shallow-water colonies; male on top, females underneath.  Heavy seas wash slipper limpets ashore in fair numbers. If they are exposed to the air, dribble some water over them and this will make them relax, fooling them by mimicking an incoming tide. Pries the shell apart with a strong blade, carefully scoop out the limpet and thread on the hook so that the tough foot is held firm on the hook's bend below the barb.
Mussels grow in large rafts or beds, tacked onto the rocks by incredibly strong stringy threads.  Most tidal rock pools will have some mussels but the largest are closest to the sea.  They are difficult to collect and small relative to the size of the shells, but on occasions they will work where all else has failed. 
Razor fish - live in a burrow in the sand which can be up to 3 foot deep in depth, a common way of collecting them is to walk backwards over the sand, and as you get near a Razorfish hole, you will see a spout of water shoot out of the burrow, locate the key shaped hole and with a plastic bottle "washing up liquid bottle will do" filled with strong salty water. Then squirting some down the key shaped hole this will make the Razorfish clean its burrow in dislike to the concentration of salt, and it is at that point you can carefully pull the Razorfish out, being careful not to pull it away from the shell. 
Squid & Cuttlefish
 There are many types of squid, but for most sea anglers the medium size, imported Calamari squid, which is available frozen, is the most economical and year-round bait for big fish.  The larger English squid and cuttlefish are occasionaly caught on feathers and can be bought fresh from a fishmonger. They can be frozen down for use as bait for winter cod and whiting. Tipping other baits with a sliver of squid adds visibility and movement to a scented bait.  Whole medium cuttlefish with the cuttle shell/bone removed are deadlywhen boat fishing for big cod, when dogfish and whiting are a nuisance.
Unwashed squid, dirty squid, may have a bit more flavour than washed squid but hungry fish may not be fussy when it comes to food.

Worm baits

Some local anglers fish only with black lugworm baits.  This could be true if the lugworm has not be gutted so they still have all their juice when added to the hook and put lots of scent in the water.  If you only have gutted black lugworm, then buy some fresh blow lugworm and add a couple to the bottom of a black lugworm bait. This adds enough juice to an already bulky bait to bring the cod homing in.

Worm baits also take whiting, dabs, dogfish and a host of other species including summer plaice. 
Ragworm- There are several varieties of this worm, the largest and most widely use as bait being the King ragworm. The largest of this variety would normally be used for large sea fish species like bass. The smaller worm is very good for most small fish and flatfish. Ragworm is generally a great all round sea bait. Beware of the pincers on the larger worm they can give quite a nip.
In general ragworms are best for summer fishing in clear water.  The big advantage over lugworm is that ragworm add movement because of their wriggling tails, which gives them the edge for fishing many species, especially some of the midwater-dwellers like pollack, scad, mackerel, and mullet, as well as the inquisitive flatfishes.
Rags also occasionally migrate by swimming from venue to venue and at this time they can be particularly deadly. This explains why the various types of ragworm can fish se well at different times and venues.
Spawning or green ragworm are not considered as good for bait.
Lugworms - Considered the best all year round hookbait and are the most used.  They are found all around the UK, so they are well known to the fish as a source of food.  Being a soft, bloody and juicy, a lugworm goes on the hook quite easily, making it a highly practical hookbait for sea fishing from shore or boat at any time of the year.
It is generally accepted that the tougher and juicier, yellowtail or black lugworms are the best winter bait for the larger species like cod, especially in coloured water.
Not all lugworms are the same and, aprt from the obvious two species and the size difference, some have a higher sand or mud content.
There is a school of thought that believe worms from different regions fish better than others.  But, knowing the length of time since the worms were dug is very important. Worms decay over time and finding out what 'decaying age' fishes best for what species on a particular venue is probably more important to a real edge. Dabs seem to have a taste for old and sticky lugworms.
The black lugworm is large which can be great for cod fishing or used out on a boat for larger species.  The softer common lugworm is an all round sea bait for most smeller species, flatfish, sole pout, etc.
Nothing beats freshly dug yellowtails or blacks for general fishing, with a cocktail of squid or fish a must for most venues.  Lugworms lose their magic once a day old and it is essential to replace baits every cast and to use the best bait possible.
Store lugworms wrapped in newspaper inside a sealed plastic bag in the fridge to prevent moisture getting at the worms.
 Fish Bait
Mackerel: is a summer and autumn bait. You can use it whole alive, as a flapper, head only in fillets or slivers and it catches just about every species that swim.  Joeys are the small-sized mackerel and jumbos the giant ones.  Both are available fresh in the summer.
Fresh is best, with frozen not so effective, although in slivers it catches small species in winter.

Mackerel can be used for almost every species of fish from both boat and shore. It can be cut into strips and used to catch pollack gurnard. One full side fillet can be used on a Pennel rig to temp large Bass, Rays etc, also the Head is a great bait used to catch Conger, Bass.

Herrings and sprats: Fresh herrings are mostly available in winter and as such are a favoured tip bait.  Apiece of sprat is considered an excellent tip bait in the New Year for both flatties and whiting. Many of our boat angler members use a large fillet of herring for thornback rays in spring.
Sprats are quite good when fish are are feeding on them, such as when the large shoals damaged by heavy seas inshore can cause predators, such as cod, to become preoccupied on eating sprats. At this time cod won't look at other bait.
Sandeels: Being one of the most abundant species in the seas, sandeels are a very important food for many species of fish, birds and other marine animals, and more or less hold the marine food chain together.
Just about everything that swims in the sea will feed on these silver fish at some time during its life, and some species are entirely dependent upon them. They have been fished for commercially for many years in the North Sea and are pulped and then used for fertiliser or fish food for salmon farms, among other uses.
Live sandeel is good for bass. Whole small or medium sandeels are most effective for rays, huss, whiting, turbot, brill, dogfish, pollack, but is especially good for dogfish. They will stay alive in a bucket of cool, aerated sea water for several days.

Sandeels like highly-oxygenated water and will be present in large numbers along the surf line, in strong tidal flows, and around sandbanks, where water movement adds oxygen to the water.

Predatory fish that favour this type of ground, particularly turbot and bass, will take a sandeel bait, and the thrill of catching one on a live sandeel is a great experience.

Similarly, a rocky outcrop or reef that has a good tidal movement will have its resident bass, pollack or coalfish eagerly awaiting a passing sandeel.

Using sandeels

The effectiveness of sandeels as a bait has long been realised, but their use depends on the size and species you expect to catch.
SMALL SANDEELS: The smaller ones, say up to 5-6in long, can be used singularly or in pairs to make a slightly bigger bait. The tail of the top eel overlaps the head of the lower eel, and both are secured with elastic cotton to give the effect of a much bigger bait.

Selection of worm baits
King Ragworm
White Ragworm
Black Lugworm
Using sandeels cont...
LARGE SANDEELS: The bigger ones can be used either whole for bigger fish such as bass or rays, cut into two or three sections, or filleted into strips by running a sharp knife down the flanks. The full-length strips are cut into a bait to either freeline or troll for bass or pollack, floatfish for various species, or cut into smaller strips to tip off a worm bait to pick out the bigger whiting, pouting or flounders. Winter flounders seem to like a worm bait tipped off with
a sandeel, rather than mackerel.
SECTIONS: A small, thick body section from a bigger eel makes a cocktail bait for bass, rays, congers and various dogfish. A body section around 6in long, either whole or with the backbone removed, is threaded up a wide-gape hook exactly as if you were baiting with a big worm. It is secured with elastic cotton and finished with either squid, ragworms or a chunk of mackerel.

FLOATFISHING: Smaller eels can be used for floatfishing; a strong hook such as a size 2/0 Mustad Viking will handle a bigger pollack or bass. The eel is hooked once through the upper lip or eye socket. Fish as light as possible to give the eel a more natural movement.

FREELINING/TROLLING: Use when fishing from the shore or boat. The smaller eels can be hooked through the top lip with a single hook. Bigger ones can either be lightly lip-hooked, or held on a Pennell rig for more security and to give a greater chance of hooking a bigger fish. To do this, pass a hook through the top of the middle body and then push a Pennell hook through the upper lip. The trace line can be passed through the gill opening and out of the mouth first before the Pennell hook is used. Securing with elastic cotton makes casting them out a lot easier.

FLAPPER: Bigger eels can be used as a flapper on a long trace when boat fishing. The backbone is exposed and removed by running a sharp knife along each side. This bait has a lot more movement to it, as well as giving off a scent trail. As with shore fishing, use just enough lead to get to the bottom and overcome tidal movement. That way the bait will look more appealing.