An Irish Anglers World

Lugworm, a Versatile Bait.

Lugworm, Arenicola marina, of the phylum Annelida, is a marine worm commonly found living within the intertidal zone of sheltered beaches, bays, and harbours. Plentiful around the coastlines of Great Britain and Ireland the species is found along the western shores of Europe, north to Greenland, and down the eastern seaboard of Canada and America. Reddish brown or black in colour, characterised by a thick fleshy body and a sand filled tail, lugworm can grow to at least 45cms in length, with the average size in the region of 20cms. The body is segmented with bristles and bushy gills noticeable along its length. A lover of muddy sand the presence of lugworm is betrayed by the squiggly cast that it produces when digging its burrow.


The burrow of a lugworm is cylindrical in cross section and U shaped. At one end is a vent hole with the cast at the other end. Depth can vary from 30cms below the sand surface to 45-50cms for larger worms. In winter time the latter is a standard depth for the species whatever size. Lugworm lie with their head towards the vent hole, feeding on organic matter from the sediment, and also by drawing water into the burrow and filtering particles from the current. With a life span of about 6 years, lugworm reach sexual maturity at about 2 years of age and spawn once a year in late autumn or winter. Males release sperm which is drawn into the female’s burrow where the eggs are fertilized. Their progeny eventually drift in seawater for a while before finding a suitable sheltered area, burrowing into the sediment, so continuing their lifecycle.

Lugworm are a popular food item for a number of wading birds such as oystercatchers. Flatfish will nip at their tails when they are exposed while depositing the cast, and of course as a sea angling bait lugworm are second to none. Synonymous with cod fishing, lugworm will readily attract a wide range of species to include bass, plaice, dab, sole, flounder, coalfish, pollack, whiting, gurnard, wrasse, and smooth hound.

Lugworm casts

Digging and Storing Lugworm

There are two main methods of digging lugworm, trench style, and individually. In areas where there are large numbers of lugworm very close together, their casts creating a dimpled almost pebble dash effect on the beach; trench style digging is the most efficient way of collecting a suitable amount for fishing. Sandymount strand in the region of the Poolbeg power station is a good example of a lugworm bed where trench digging works well. Where there are reasonable numbers of lug but the casts are more scattered, and individual casts can be linked up with specific vents, it is better to target one worm at a time. Seapoint strand at the back of the West Pier Dunlaoghaire is home to very big lugworm, thinner on the ground they are best dug individually.

In terms of implements for the job include a narrow bladed, short handled spade, ideally a flat pronged potato fork, and two buckets (one for whole worms and the other for cut or damaged worms). Never place damaged lugworm in the same container as undamaged. The released internal juices and blood has a detrimental effect on whole worms shortening the shelf life considerably.

Digging for black lug in southern Ireland.

At the end of a dig, immediately or as soon as possible, place the worms in newspaper. If standard size lugworm, loosely pack them in ten’s or twenties, the paper will remove a certain amount of moisture from their skin surface so toughening them up. For large worms, over 40cms in length, separate and roll individually in newspaper. Big lug seem to deteriorate far more quickly then standard, especially if stored together in the same container. The paper roll serves to support the body of the worm giving protection from internal damage while also removing moisture.

Large black lug due to their tough thick skin are perfect for salting, freezing, or making wraps. If the plan is to produce any of the above, nip the head of the worm open and squeeze out all guts and internal juices. Wash in sea water then wrap in newspaper before further processing. Fresh lugworm should be transferred to and stored in a cool place as soon as possible after digging. Handled and packaged correctly ungutted lugworm will stay in good shape for up to three days.

Trench Style Digging

Trench digging for lugworm, Burrow shore, Rosslare Strand, Co. Wexford, Ireland

Densely populated lugworm beds are best approached by trench digging, ie, marking out an area and digging back through the worms using a fork. Large numbers of lug can be excavated in a relatively short space of time, this being the approach most often used by professional diggers. Having found a section containing a lot of casts/vent holes close together, mark a line in the sand to the left, right, and along the length of the grouping, a workable width being no more than two meters or less than one. Proceed to dig a face between the two lines about 30-40cms deep, then work backwards along the length of the lines. Lug will appear either in the spits dug out or partially exposed in the face where they can be carefully dug or lifted out by hand. Never pull a lugworm out of the sand by its tail as it will break off leaving the body intact possibly to escape.

Digging Lugworm Individually

Digging for lugworm individually on Sandymount Strand, Dublin, Ireland

Where lugworm are more scattered digging individually is the way to go. This method usually results in more whole and invariably larger worms. It is possible to get a strike rate of at least 60 lugworms an hour digging in this manner and surprisingly it is easier on the back. The lug, because of their size go further and are arguably far superior bait.

Match up a lug cast with a vent hole, a rule of thumb being that cast and vent hole are usually about 30cms apart, however depending on the size of worm distance between may be up to 50cms. Large black lug will certainly fall into the latter category. Lugworm lie in their U shaped burrow with their head facing the vent. Using a narrow bladed spade work from the vent towards the cast, with the first dig bisecting the vent and taking small thin spits gradually work backwards and down to the required depth. The burrow will be exposed cylindrical in cross section, highlighted by shell grit and a yellowish coloured ring, the result of a secretion common to lugworm. Follow carefully along and marginally above the burrow eventually exposing the worm. For those new to this method initially a lot of worms will be cut, that said, once mastered digging lugworm in this way is very effective and provides sea anglers with quality bait suitable for many species and uses.

Large black lugworm

Lugworm as Bait

Freshly dug lugworm is a superb sea fishing bait, versatile and attractive to many species of fish. Bunched or individual small lug will tempt the likes of flatfish and small codling, while large bass and winter cod are happy to snaffle juicy black lugworm, dabs on the other hand rave for slightly smelly lug which is on the turn. Whichever form of lugworm is used one fact is certain, shop bought lug is not a patch on that which is freely collected. Many professional lugworm diggers today appear to be working juvenile beds where there are larger populations of small worms. They dig for quantity not quality. These “blow lug” are inferior, small in size, watery, and lacking in juices, the main reason for lugworm being effective as a fish attractor. Conservation and sustainability also being a factor, wherever possible collecting ones own bait should always be the preferred option. Techniques are not difficult to master, and once proficient the sea angler will head out armed with the confidence of knowing that they are using top quality bait.