Bait — Pile Worms and Clam Worms

Ken Jones

Administrator
Staff member
#1
Pile Worms. Most of my early pier fishing days were spent in Newport Beach or the San Diego area. Most of the bait I used was the typical: anchovies, mussel, ghost shrimp, market shrimp, sand crabs, clams, squid and, at times, bloodworms. Then I moved to the Bay Area where I was introduced to two new baits—grass shrimp and pile worms. As for bloodworms, they were not even an option since they were not found in Bay Area bait shops. It was clear that while bloodworms were the predominate sea worm in SoCal; they had been replaced in CenCal by pile worms.

Most of the pile worms found in the bait shops were (and still are) the non-native species, Nereis virens, a greenish-colored worm imported from the northeastern states. They are members of the Polychaete family of worms, a family containing thousands of different species; they are segmented, centipede-looking worms, and they are primarily nocturnal creatures that have many names. One name is simply hairy worm, an appropriate name given that the Latin polychaete means many hairs. Another common name is bristleworm. They use their black tooth-like hooks to capture small creatures like beachhoppers or other worms while the bristles along the sides of the body aid in breathing. Most sold by bait shops are six to eight inches long.

Unfortunately, the New England states can sometimes see bitterly cold weather during the winter months. When that happens the worm diggers sit their waders by the mudroom and move inside by their cozy fireplaces. West coast anglers shake their heads and wonder what bait they should use next.

Of course the late winter, early spring months are often the best time for several species of Bay Area surfperch. Pile worms are one of the best baits on the bottom for rubberlip perch and blackperch, and are pretty close to that for white seaperch, pileperch, striped seaperch and rainbow seaperch. In addition, they are very good for kingfish (white croaker) and Pacific tomcod and excellent for sanddab, starry flounder, sand sole, and other small flatfish. No surprise on the flatfish, a long shanked hook baited with worms has been a standard rigging on the east coast for years. In the top-water section, worms are one of the favorites of jacksmelt. And, striped bass and sturgeon gobble them up. Do handle with a modicum of care; the pincer-like jaws can provide a painful bite to careless anglers.

Today, the problem with winter weather and the uncertainty it can cause hasn’t changed but additional factors have also entered into the live bait scene—higher shipping costs, additional regulations, and closures in some areas.

The bottom line is that when pile worms are usually available they are also expensive. They are sold by the dozen, and luckily a dozen, or even a half dozen, should last all day. Given that prices today are often upwards of $10 a dozen, buy only what you will use in one day. As with most live bait, a small cooler will keep them in good shape all day. At almost $1 a worm it makes no sense to leave them out to warm up and dry.

How to use? For perch, simply string the worm on your hook, generally sizes #8 to #4 depending upon the perch. Run the hook through the body of the worm with the tip of the hook and barb exiting the worm. Do much the same with the larger fish; simply use a larger hook and a larger piece of worm or a whole worm. High/low leaders fished near the bottom are the most common rigging for bottom species but Carolina-like rigs are also popular. For jacksmelt, small pieces of worm are put on smelt leader under a float (of some type). Typically the float is at the top, the first hook about four feet down, another hook a foot below that, a third hook a foot underneath that, and the sinker down another foot.

If the prices seem high, and you don’t mind digging your own worms, there are several other close relatives that can be found on the mud flats, under rocks, or in mussel beds. The most common California pile worms are Nereis vexillosa, an iridescent green worm known as the clam worm, sand worm, or mussel worm, Nereis succinea, and Nereis mediator. (See Clam Worm)

Pile.woms.1.jpg

Pile Worms


Clam Worm. These worms are basically the West Coast equivalent to the commercial pile worms. They are not sold in bait shops but are the main sea worms dug up by anglers along the Pacific Coast. The worm has a plethora of names, which can be confusing when your talking to anglers in different areas, but it is what it is. Clam worm, sand worm, mussel worm, mud worm, pile worm, rag worm and my favorite, sea-nymph, all are names used for this singular species. However, given that its range is from San Diego north to Alaska and coastal Siberia (Russia) it’s not surprising it has so many names. It is the most abundant marine worm in the Pacific Northwest.

What is not debated is the scientific name Nereis vexillosa. They are annelid worms meaning they are segmented, centipede-looking worms. In their case they have over a hundred body segments. They are also members of the polychaete family of worms known as bristleworms, a family containing thousands of different species. They typically have a green, gray-green, or greenish-brown body but often have a bluish tone and may appear iridescent in direct sun. In size, they typically range from 2 to 12 inches in length.

Clam worms are found in mid- and low-intertidal zones in many different environments. In sheltered bays it is often found in mussel clumps, under docks, and in gravely sediment. On the open coast it tends to hide in mussel beds for protection against waves and current but also is found on pilings as well as under rocks and woody debris. As for getting your own bait, basically they are (1) either taken by hand, searching through mussels and under rocks or (2) in sandy, gravely or muddy areas, dug up with a shovel. It can be work but it’s well worth it if a person has the time (and when digging you may also find a few edible clams). Look upon it as good exercise. Do be careful today to check that the area you are searching for bait is not in one of the Marine Protected Areas.

Just like the imported East Coast pile worms, clam worms are excellent bait for many species. In SoCal they will attract perch (barred surfperch, blackperch, white seaperch, rubberlip seaperch), corbina, croaker (yellowfin, spotfin, black and white), bass (spotted bay bass, sand bass and kelp bass), jacksmelt and topsmelt, and several flatfish including diamond turbot, sole and even a few halibut. In CenCal and the Bay Area they are used for perch (barred surfperch, calico surfperch, blackperch, rubberlip seaperch, striped seaperch, rainbow seaperch, pileperch, white seaperch), kingfish (white croaker), jacksmelt and topsmelt, flatfish (sand dab, sand sole and starry flounder), brown rockfish, striped bass and sturgeon. In NorCal they care commonly used for perch (calico surfperch, redtail surfperch, blackperch, white seaperch, pileperch, striped seaperch), greenling (kelp and rock), jacksmelt and topsmelt, flatfish (sand dab, sand sole and starry flounder), and small rockfish (many).

How to use? For most fish, simply string the worm on your hook, generally sizes #8 to #4 depending upon the perch. Run the hook through the body of the worm with the tip of the hook and barb exiting the worm. Do much the same with the larger fish; simply use a larger hook and a larger piece of worm or a whole worm. High/low leaders fished near the bottom are the most common rigging for bottom species but Carolina-like rigs are also popular. For jacksmelt, small pieces of worm are put on smelt leader under a float (of some type). Typically the float is at the top, the first hook about four feet down, another hook a foot below that, a third hook a foot underneath that, and the sinker down another foot. Do handle with care; the pincer-like jaws can provide a painful bite to careless anglers.

The end of life story is interesting and explains PFIC reports where anglers have seen swarms of worms in the water. Apparently the worms only live about two years and during the summer full moon will sometimes spawn. Both males and females swim to the surface in mating swarms where they congregate. Males release sperm and females release eggs by rupturing their body wall; both die after spawning. The fertilized eggs form a sticky mass that sinks to the bottom and grows to about the size of an Easter time bluish-green chicken egg. The eggs hatch into larvae and within two weeks begin to build tubes, feed, and become territorial.
 

Red Fish

Well-known member
#2
Ken, perhaps it would be ideal to delete (and archive) the top two threads 🧵. I couldn’t even see they were locked 🔒 viewing from my phone 📱 until now. I kept thinking 🤔 I must not be logged on as I cannot reply.
Ken, perhaps migrate those to a political forum? As we will never all agree in politics. Now, I just wanted to say that do your best and try to work around the current situation with fishing access. I.E. Ben, if you can go out on the beach 🏖 with your kayak, fish 🎣 off of it until further notice.

Now.... clam worms 🐛 How do you find them and effectively dig them to get those 1/2 footers you are talking about? I always see you buy them Ken. And I have always bought them at Moby Dick Bait in Berkeley for $1 for 1/2 dozen (as a kid in the 70’s). I will NOT buy them now as most places are a $1 a worm 🐛 or more. I will use market shrimp 🍤.
 
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Ken Jones

Administrator
Staff member
#3
Robert, All you can do use your hands or dig for them. "As for getting your own bait, basically they are (1) either taken by hand, searching through mussels and under rocks or (2) in sandy, gravely or muddy areas, dug up with a shovel."

Two things though, (1) make sure you're not looking in a closed area and (2) Regulation 29.05 says "Except where prohibited within state marine reserves, state marine parks, state marine conservation areas, or other special closures only the following may be taken: red abalone, limpets, moon snails, turban snails, chiones, clams, cockles, mussels, rock scallops, native oysters, octopuses, squid, crabs, lobsters, shrimp, sand dollars, sea urchins and worms except that no worms may be taken in any mussel bed, unless taken incidental to the harvesting of mussels."