Bloodworms. These worms were, until recently, the most common live bait worms found in southern California bait shops. And, though less popular than pile worms in the north (and generally more expensive), they recently have been carried in some Bay Area bait shops.
Today they are harder to find and when found are rather expensive (as much as $12-15 a dozen). They are expensive because most are flown in from the northeastern states such as Maine where they are hand harvested from local bays and estuaries. Bait shops face increased shipping costs and the cost of unsold bait that dies. Meanwhile, bait companies have a twofold problem. They are faced with more and more state regulations (and sometimes moratoriums) on the worms and they have a harder time finding people willing to dig the worms. The result: higher wholesale and retail prices. Today, at least in SoCal, bloodworms have been replaced in most bait shops by lugworms, inferior bait in my opinion, but one that is less expensive and more readily available.
Whatever the cost, bloodworms are excellent bait for many, many fish including croaker, surfperch, bass, and jacksmelt and they are probably the best bait for several flatfish such as turbot and sole. They are even excellent bait for sheephead. Whether taste or color is the main attraction, many fish will readily grab a worm encrusted hook. Luckily, the bloodworms themselves have a somewhat strong casing that allows them to remain on the hook longer than softer bait.
As for the cost, anglers do have an option; they can dig their own local worms. More than 700 species of worms are found along California’s coast—bloodworms, pile worms, mussel worms, tube worms, slim worms, sand worms and many, many more, and most, depending upon size, make excellent bait. Most are found in estuarine habitats—the various bays, estuaries and mud flats but some are also found along the ocean shoreline. Digging in mud flats, in eelgrass beds, and under rocks, is a time-honored tradition for many. But, it does take time and effort so depending upon one’s job (opportunity cost) it may or make not make sense. For retirees working on their own time clock it can make perfect sense.
Bloodworms are found in genus glycera (annelid) meaning they are segmented worms, and all are members of the polychaete family of worms (bristleworms), a family containing thousands of different species. They are typically found on the bottom in shallow marine waters and are creamy pink in color with a pale skin that allows the hemoglobin to show through, hence the name bloodworms.
They are carnivorous and can extend a large proboscis (nose) that bears four hollow jaws connected to glands that contain venom used to kill their prey. Although it will not do any long-term damage, those same jaws can cause a painful bite to careless anglers. The worms can also squirt their red blood quite a distance so when cutting them for bait, or simply stringing them on a hook, it’s best to hold them out away from your clothing. I place them on cloth and try to block any blood from squirting on my clothes.
Because of the cost, and the fact that most bloodworms are sold in plastic bags (the worst thing to do since they quickly warm up in the sun), it is best to bring a small bait cooler with you when using this bait. If you are going to pay a top price for bait, keep it in top condition. When using the worms cut pieces (starting at the tail end) just a little longer than the hook. String the worm on the hook, make sure the barb is outside the worm, and leave a small segment just past the hook.
Considering their numbers, it’s a little surprising more anglers do not dig the worms themselves. In Between Pacific Tides, Joel W. Hedgpeth makes the following, somewhat startling, comment regarding Euzonus mucronata, a bloodworm found from Vancouver Island to Punta Banda in damp sand, and studied at a La Jolla beach. “The abundance of bloodworms on some beaches indicates the rich supply of nutrient material in sand that seems barren to us. McConnaughey and Fox estimated that a worm bed a mile long might contain 158 million worms, or 7 tons of them.”
An idea courtesy of Snookie: “if you have bloodworms left over at the end of the day put them in a bag with rock salt and freeze them. They will remain in amazingly good condition.”