LOCAL NAMES – Often referred to in all localities as “Snakes”, “Snake whites” and “Pearls”.
Usually attains a length of between 6 and 9cm, but can grow to 18cm. It’s colour varies from beach to beach, but generally a pearly white to faint grey, but can carry a light yellowish tinge to it. The body shape is slightly flattened.
Smaller white rag are to be found living in muddy sand amongst blow lug beds and cockle beds inside estuaries. The bigger worms are found along the open shore on the spring tide low water line preferring fine to coarse sand populated by tube worms. Some of the largest white rag show a preference for the sand banks alongside water holding pools around the heads of estuaries.
A permanent resident throughout the year. Though they do swim freely to feed when the tide is in and when breeding, they show no inclination to mass migration and once at home on a beach they live out their life cycle there.
White rag appear to breed en mass all in the one tide with the eggs and sperm mixing together with the flooding tide. Natures best option of making sure there are little rag next year to carry on the life line.
The white rag beds on open beaches only uncover on the very biggest spring tides for about an hour either side of low water.
Inside estuaries, although the rag are often only up to 3″ or so long, they are diggable every tide, usually including the small neaps.
Strong winds off the sea will stop the tide retreating as far as predicted and will also push wash waves further up the sand which keeps the rag beds covered, even on the big tides denying access.
Very cold still days will see the rag burrow deeper into the sand to gain insulation from the air temperature. Days when heavy rain is falling also tends to push the worms deeper.
The only collecting method is to dig. Use a fork for this, the best ones being the flat tined potato forks with four tines. Professional bait diggers tend to remove the original wooden handle shafts and replace them with ones a good 6″ longer to save bending so far.
The quickest way to locate white rag is to walk the low water line looking for the exposed tubes of the tube worm poking from the sand. White rag live around these in the soft sand, so these are likely places to start.
White rag also sometimes leave a small blow hole about 1mm across, but this is not a reliable way to identify the existence of rag.
Aim to dig as close to the actual water line as possible. The worms tend to be nearer the surface here and on beds that get frequently dug you’ll get on average a larger worm here because this extreme low water area sees less frequent digging due to limited exposure.
Start by digging a short trench a few feet from the water and then work backwards and forwards across this towards the sea filling in the previous trench as you go. The worms are only a few inches deep, rarely more than 10″, so don’t waste effort going deeper. The knack to getting a reasonable number is the overall ground area covered.
If the sand retains a fair degree of water, then as the worms are uncovered they will burrow back down into the sand quickly, so be quick to pick them up.
Broken worms should not be exposed to whole ones. Any broken worms to be used immediately should be placed in separate containers or discarded.
Collecting white rag requires two plastic buckets. The builders type with sealable lids are best. Make some small holes in the lid to allow air access.
The water in the buckets needs collecting just before you are to start digging as it needs to be an identical temperature to that which the worms are currently living in and used to. Even small changes in water temperature can be enough to kill off all the worms. Also make sure the water is clean and not full of suspended sediment.
As you lift each worm, gently wash the clinging sediment and sand off the worm in the first bucket, then place the cleaned worm into the second bucket. When finished clip on the for safety in transit.
When you get home you’ll find that the worm have grouped together in a tight ball. Leave them to settle without moving for a few minutes and the group will start to disperse.
This is critical and white’s take more work to keep than lug and crab do, but keep alive longer.
Use 1 litre sized ice cream containers with lids that have a couple of small holes pierced in them to allow air in, or use cat litter trays. Place only 15 worms into each container which should be about three quarters full of fresh, clean sea water. Store them with the lids on in a fridge.
You need to have access to replenish your supplies of fresh seawater. This needs to be kept in the same fridge. Use this to change the water in the worm containers every two days. At this time check for any casualties, which should be minimal, and the worm will live quite happily.
Keep checking the colour of the water. If it starts to go cloudy and diffused in appearance, change it.
Transporting live whites requires a cool box. Place the worm in sealed lid containers in a loose stacking system allowing air to circulate between the containers. Make a sheet of thin board with holes in over the top of the worms and place an ice block on the top to keep the temperature down.
They’ll keep okay like this for a couple of days, but lift the lids off occasionally to allow in some fresh air.
Small sections of worm prove excellent as tippets pushed over the hook point with lug and rag which is a good combination for pout, whiting, and flatfish. This makes the fish strike at the hook point itself and not further up the bait away from the hook.
Several small whites can be nicked onto a thin wired Aberdeen hook just behind the head leaving the tails to wriggle in the tide. This takes flounders.
Larger whites can be used whole. Top anglers like to thread the worm over the hook shank tail first and pushing this up on to the trace line, then nipping off the head which is then slid over the hook point and barb. This puts the scent of the bait right by the hook point.
Many anglers assume that white rag is a sight only bait, but this wrong. Whites have a strong scent and are capable of pulling fish in from some distance even when fished in coloured seas at night.
Fish not necessarily eager to feed will snap at whites, and white rag is often the only bait to use during flat calm seas and high pressure systems when little seems to interest the fish.
White rag takes most fish, but especially appeals to flounders, plaice and dabs, whiting, spring cod, surf bass, pout, rockling and dogfish. Pollack also take it under float tackle and mullet will hit white rag slowly drifted across the seabed on fine line.
DO’S AND DON’TS
Be aware that poisonous lesser weevers could be in the coarse sand. Many diggers prefer to wear gloves when after whites for this reason.
When collecting from estuary bars some way off shore, make sure somebody knows where you are and what time you’ll be back. Check and double check the tide times including allowing for the hour on and off in spring and autumn. It’s easy to get it wrong and get cut off on the big spring tides.
Reserve sea water for replacing the old should be stored in air tight plastic bottles, preferably those containing mineral water, that have been thoroughly rinsed out to avoid any chance of contamination.
Worms with a reddish coloured swelling evident on the head are dead and need to be instantly removed.
White rag cannot be stored by wrapping them in sheets of newspaper. Done like this they survive for only a few short hours.
Cut and broken worms will live in a separate container for some time and can be used for imminent trips.