One of the best baits for plaice is the humble ragworm, which has proved deadly from both boat and shore. It is easy to buy, easy to collect and effective for a wide variety of species. On its own it can tempt some real whoppers, but worked cocktail fashion it can sometimes transform a blank day into a wonderful trip.
If you want to collect your own, you should head for a harbour or estuary where it is legal to dig and where the bottom is composed of either mud or a mud, sand or gravel mixture. Here the worms will be able to travel swiftly through the ground, where they can predate upon the smaller creatures that are their natural prey. Keep a sharp watch for small round holes that will be visible upon the surface of the mud. These indicate the position of the worm and can also give a pretty good indication as to how big the worm actually is.
Take your fork – they are a lot more suited to the task than a spade – and start digging a little bit forward of the hole, working back towards it quite quickly and keeping an eye out for the worm in the process. When it appears you will need to take a lot of care not to stretch it with the fork, for it will break very easily. Lower the ground a little and see if you can extract the worm by hand. If you can’t then reposition the fork and try again.
Assuming that you are successful then have a good look at the worm as soon as you have winkled it out from the mud. If it appears full of a milky green fluid then let it go straight away. It is getting close to spawning and will spoil the other worms if you keep it. It will also be a waste of time for fish won’t touch a ragworm in this particular condition.The size of the worm is also important. Small harbour ragworm are not particularly useful for plaice or dabs, but they will take grey mullet and flounders in the upper reaches of estuaries. The larger worms are better for plaice.
If you are fishing from shore, then there are several ways in which you can improve your catch rate. The first is to thread the worm onto the hook in a headfirst manner, so that the pincers are away from the point of the hook. This will encourage more positive bites. You can also tip your bait with another, turning it into a cocktail. Useful ones are two or three ragworms tipped with the claws of a peeler crab and three of its legs, or several worms threaded on the hook and then tipped with a thin strip of squid.
A useful bait for over sandbanks like the Skerries is several ragworms tipped with a long strip of fresh launce (greater sandeel). This can be deadly for bigger plaice and is not the type of bait where you skimp on how much you put on the hook. Personally I put on a lot of bait, ending up with a bunch of ragworm nearly a foot long on the trace and ending up with a thin strip of launce some ten inches long. This sounds excessive, but it is effective and has the added bonus of catching the occasional turbot!
Ragworms can be a wonderful bait for flatfish, especially if they are tipped with another attractor such as peeler crab legs and claws, squid or launce.
A lot of anglers put on a single worm with squid strip, as in the illustration. This is fine for smaller fish but I would recommend bigger baits if you want to target the specimens!
Some people fish ragworms with a trailing tail. Quite often though the fish just nip them off!