In the first part of this attempt at a little instructional guide to worming, I reflected on why I believe this often controversial technique has a place in modern game fishing, before touching upon when and where the method is best employed. In this second post, we’ll have a look at the gear required and how to actually fish the worm effectively.
One of the liberating things about worming for trout is that, much like in fly fishing, you can travel with only the bare essentials; rod, net, and a small bag of bait and terminal tackle is all that is required. In fact, to carry anything else works only to hamper your mobility.
For an average day on an average-sized river (I’m basing this on my local Wharfe and Aire), I would recommend a 10-11′ avon rod, coupled with a fixed spool reel loaded with 5 or 6lb line. End tackle is simple; a strong hook (I’ve come to favour a Kamasan B983 recently) between size 10 and 6 depending on the size of bait you are using, usually with some sort of weight around 12-18″ above. Normally, this weight is a single swan shot, perhaps two in a particularly fast flow or deep water, or a rolling bullet ledger for keeping the bait moving in slow water or getting down fast in a big flood.
A big lobworm or a bunch of 2 or 3 dendrobaenas is the standard bait. There are many anglers who prefer one over the other, but personally I am yet to reach a definitive conclusion. ‘Dendras’ perhaps have an edge in terms of versatility, allowing you to present a large or small bait by increasing or decreasing the quantity you put on the hook, while the bigger, juicier lobworms undoubtedly throw out a far bigger scent trail, so are probably the bait of choice for heavily coloured water.
There’s rarely any need to deviate from this basic set up, but on a very swollen river, or where one might reasonably expect to bump into major league tackle busters like salmon or barbel, it would be prudent to step up to 8lb line. Conversely, on a small beck I will often scale back to hooks from size 12-16, no.1 or BB shot and 2-3lb line delivered on a light spinning or fly rod.
Much as with, say, blind casting a pair of nymphs or a team of wet flies, when worming one attempts to comb all the likely holding spots as thoroughly as possible to hunt down the fish.
Once you have selected your weight (enough to bump slowly along the bottom, not hold position or be washed straight through – this may take some experimentation), you should start by casting square or very slightly upstream. In snaggy swims and pacey water, the rod should then be held high to keep as much line off the water as possible, whilst in steadier areas the rod tip should be kept low to aid the drift through the swim. In very slow water, a downstream mend can also be employed to keep the bait moving. At this point it’s very important that you stay in close contact with your end tackle, holding the line with your free hand, and feel your way through the swim. You should be able to feel your bait moving along the bottom, and after a time you will begin to build a picture of the riverbed in front of you – p
lick-plick-plick over gravel, a slower, heavier knocking through larger stones, a gentle pulsing roll over clean sand. Occasionally the drift will stop unexpectedly. Normally this is due to the bait or weight getting lodged behind an obstruction, and you should lift the rod sharply to free it up and set it rolling again. However, don’t be surprised if you lift the rod to find that snag is actually a fish!
Bites when worming are generally very confident. Trout, with the best will in the world, are rather dim witted fish (if a big wild carp is a Mensa member, the humble brownie is that bloke in the corner shop who still reads the Beano), and while they may treat artificial flies with total disdain, the eagerness with which they will sometimes attack a natural bait is ridiculous. It can be easy at first to mistake the tapping of the end tackle over stones for bites. It’s hard to describe the difference until you feel it, but a proper take will be sharper, more sudden. Once you tune into it, interpreting the sensations you’re feeling on the line rapidly becomes second nature. Expect anything from a series of jabs to a brazen attempt to pull the rod from your hand.
In a time where most of us, I hope, release the majority of the trout we catch, I cannot stress this point enough. Strike. Early.
There is a misconception in the fly fishing community that worming is a ‘fishmonger’s method’ and often damages fish to the point that they can’t be returned. Indeed, if you dilly-dally and give a trout time, it’ll happily wolf your bait right down, with potentially messy results (it was par for the course in times past to do this, but then there was rarely any intention of returning anything of takeable size). Keep in contact with your end tackle and strike at the first sign of a bite, and nine times out of ten I have found that the fish is hooked either just inside the mouth or neatly in the scissors. There’s certainly little if any difference in my experience in deep hooking rates compared to when fishing streamers, or even dry flies when they’re really ‘having it’. You just need to concentrate and strike early! Also, be sure to carry a good pair of forceps. Now and then, as with any method, you will hook a fish deeper than you would like, but with forceps and a bit of care you should be able to extract the hook with minimal damage.
Don’t skimp on the spares
You’re going to lose gear. It’s an occupational hazard which obviously can’t be avoided when you’re trying to pilot lead across a rock-strewn river bed. On a bad day you can be snagging up almost every other cast. This is usually when the water is lower than ideal and the bait has time to settle. In heavier flows, casualties tend to be far lighter. Nevertheless, it pays to be prepared, so you should always carry a plentiful supply of spare hooks, shot, weights and bait. If fishing somewhere where you know you’ll hit regular snags, you can save yourself a great deal of frustration by substituting your regular lead weights for plasticine, as this will strike off the line when it becomes stuck.
So, that concludes my foray into instructional writing. Maybe there’ll be more in the future, maybe not. Hopefully someone finds it useful! If anyone has any questions they’d like to ask that they feel weren’t covered in the two posts, please do feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try answer if I can.