When I was in Eureka, in the 70's, we used to collect tube worms from a floating dock. Here in So Cal, most floating docks are behind locked gates, and I don't even know if tube worms grow in the warmer waters. Does anyone collect tube worms in So Cal?
Tube Worms. Unless you are in the far northern part of the state (Eureka to Crescent City), you will probably not see tube worms (Chaetopterus variopedatus) used for bait. However, in those regions they are one of the best baits for fishing in the surf or in bays. Tube worms come frozen in two or four-ounce containers and seem expensive, but you only need to use a small piece at a time. Each worm is long, extremely slimy and very, very smelly; and it wouldn't hurt to bring along something to clean your hands. Use them much as you would pile worms. They are one of the better baits for perch, flatfish and rock-frequenting species. To make them easier to use, and to decrease the odor, keep them cool, or even semi-frozen. (I can't over emphasize how bad these critters smell. It's akin to something plumbers sometimes have to work in, if you get the drift.)
Citizen's Dock —Crescent City.Every pier has its story and one of the most interesting here took place during a visit in 1997. I had arrived late in the afternoon, checked into the motel, and headed straight over to the dock for some fishing. But, I wasn't having much luck (in fact no luck) until I struck up a conversation with a couple of the local youth who were waiting for their father to finish unloading his commercial fishing boat. Did they fish off the wharf? “Sure,” they replied. Where did they catch most of their fish? “Inshore near the rocks.” In response, I moved to the specific piling that they said was “the spot.” And sure enough, I started to catch fish. First fish to greet Mr. Jones was a kelp greenling (sea trout) followed by a small black rockfish and then a copper rockfish.
About then the two boys asked what I was using for bait and I replied that I had some frozen tube worms that I had bought in Eureka. How much had I paid for them? “About three dollars for a one-ounce cup” was my reply. Would I like a couple of batches of the worms? “Sure,” I said, “but where do you get them?” Turns out the tires that line the pilings to protect the boats are chock full of tube worm colonies. In fact, basically every tire had a mass of the interesting worms and their tube-shaped homes. The helpful duo brought me two of the strange looking masses and then showed me how to squeeze out the tube worms (it's sort of like squeezing tooth paste out of a tube). Figure out where the dark head is located and squeeze from that point. Soon the 4-12 inch worms pop out from the other end of the tube. Truly interesting and later, when I had time to squeeze out all the worms, I came out with what I guess was at least $20-$30 worth of the worms. I always say learn from the regulars (the locals) and this fortuitous meeting proved the maxim true once again.
The Fish and Game booklet, "Marine Baits of California," says Chaetopterus variopedatus "are known from Vancouver, B.C., to Baja California where they usually build their parchment-tube homes in mud of quiet bays. However, they are also found on floats and pier pilings which have not been cleaned in several months."
I have never seen them in southern California. Nor in fact south of Eureka and while once you could buy them at places like Bucksport in Eureka, I haven't seen them there in several years.