A guide to worming for trout: Part I

I’ve never really been interested in writing ‘instructional’ pieces. I’m far more concerned with how things feel than the nitty gritty of tackle, tactics and the like, and find that in the hands of most writers the subject matter can be rather turgid. Besides, my angling largely involves bumbling ineptitude interspersed with fleeting strokes of good luck (see my previous post for proof!), so my ability to provide anyone with any useful insight is probably quite limited. Unless of course you’re particularly keen to learn how to put down every rising fish in a pool. Or fall in. A lot. That said, worming for trout is something I’ve done an awful lot of over the years, since long before I picked up a fly rod, and through a long process of trial and error become fairly proficient at. That is to say, when I set out on a day’s worming I can safely do so with an air of confidence that I will pick up a fish or two. With that in mind, I thought I may be able to cobble a few words together on the subject which could be of use to anyone who may wish to give the technique a try.

A brace of River Wharfe trout taken on a day when fly fishing would have been nigh on impossible.

Before we proceed, though, I feel I should address the elephant in the room. I’m sure there are a few diehard fly fishers reading this post with raised eyebrows. Yes, I am a predominantly catch and release fly angler actively advocating the use of a method demonised, or at least looked down upon by a large section of the game angling community. Maybe using bait to catch trout is not for the purist, but a purist I am not. If the rivers are up and out of condition, and it’s a toss up between digging up some worms and getting out on the water or sitting at home grinding my teeth, frankly it’s a no brainer, especially when you consider the frustrating summers of endless rain we’re often subjected to these days. It’s often perceived by the uninitiated as a clumsy ‘chuck it and chance’ it technique, but, while I suppose it could be in the hands of the lazy, when it’s done properly it certainly isn’t. It’s a mobile, perceptive, and thoroughly satisfying way of fishing which is not as easy to master as it may appear. As for the claims that it’s not a viable catch and release method, frankly that’s bullshit, but I will address that in greater detail later.

So, with that cleared up, we can begin…


Right time

Traditionally, the worm was fished upstream on modified fly tackle during tricky periods of low water (if you can get hold of a copy of Sidney Spencer’s 1935 book ‘clear water trout fishing with worm’, it’s very enlightening on the subject). I have dabbled in this myself from time to time, and while it does catch fish, I would personally prefer to persevere with the fly in these conditions, or perhaps a very small spinner.

For me, when the worm really comes into its own is in periods of high or coloured water when battling on with the fly is not possible, or at least not worth the effort in my humble opinion. I have always been a pragmatist, more concerned with giving the fish what they want than catching them how I want. In all but the very worst conditions, with the worm you still stand a good chance of catching trout. In the early weeks of the season, too, when low water temperatures and unpredictable, infrequent hatches conspire to make life hard for the fly angler, the less noble method can also be a useful tool to increase one’s chances of breaking the deadlock.

Right place

Presumably on a medium to large river, if you are fishing the worm, your normal fish-holding riffles and runs are blown out, so you must seek out the areas that harried trout gravitate to when the going gets tough. More often than not these hotspots will be close to the bank, out of the main flow; creases in the current, back eddies and bends where the river slows (particularly if there are overhanging trees and vegetation), or anywhere where an obstruction such as a fallen log creates a pocket of calm water. If you frequent more urban rivers like myself, outfalls from water treatment works (those that run constantly, not storm drains) are always worthy of attention – just try to ignore the interesting debris you’ll occasionally pick up!

Good worming water on a Yorkshire beck.

A worming pool should ideally not be too fast, as the bait will be washed through too quickly. Likewise very slow or static water should be avoided, though twitching a bait ‘sink and draw’ style through this sort of water can occasionally prove fruitful. What the angler is really looking for is water of a steady to moderate pace, allowing the worm to slowly roll and bump its way through the swim.

Smaller streams and becks should not be overlooked. When they are carrying an extra foot or two, approaching the normally easily spooked trout becomes a great deal simpler, and a well placed worm will often pick off a fish far bigger than the run of the mill 6 to 8″ sprats one comes to expect from diminutive waterways.

A plump small stream brownie that fell to the worm.


Part 2 will focus on the tackle needed for worming, and the application of the method itself.


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