Home Tackle and Baits for the Sea Angler

    Tackle and Baits for the Sea Angler


    Recommended tackle


    Reel and Line


    Target Species

    2 – 3 metre graphite or kevlar spinning rod.
    Freshwater type fixed spool reel loaded with 2 – 4.5kg monofilament line
    Float fishing, spinning or plug fishing from piers, harbour walls, rocks or in estuarine channels.
    Sea-trout, bass, mullet, mackerel, coalfish, pollack and garfish
    2.5 – 2.8 metre graphite fly rod rated 8 to 10 weight
    Saltwater fly reel loaded with fly line suitable for saltwater use.
    Fly fishing from rocks, piers and in estuaries
    Sea-trout, bass, garfish, mackerel and pollack
    3.3 – 3.7 metre graphite bass rod with a casting weight of 80 – 112 grams
    Small multiplying reel or medium fixed spool reel loaded with 5.5 – 8kg monofilament line.
    Bait fishing on surf beaches, in estuaries or from rocks.
    Bass, sea-trout, flounder, dab, wrasse, pollack
    3.7 – 4 metre graphite beach rod with a casting weight of 140 – 170 grm.
    Small to medium multiplying reel or medium to large fixed spool reel loaded with 7.8-12 kg monofilament line and having a shockleader of 18 – 25 kg mono.
    Rock, pier, estuary or beach fishing where distance casting is necessary.
    Ray, dogfish, huss, cod and tope.
    1.80 – 2.20 meter graphite boat rod of line class 2.7 kg – 4.5 kg
    Small multiplying reel loaded with 2.5 – 4.5 kg monofilament or braided line
    Boat fishing in shallow to moderately deep water
    Plaice, dabs, gurnard, wrasse, rockling, whiting.
    1.80 – 2.20 meter graphite boat rod of line class 4.5 kg – 6.8 kg
    Small to medium multiplying reel loaded with 4.5 – 6.5 kg mono-filament or braided line
    Boat fishing over offshore reefs, sand banks and wrecks.
    Pollack, coalfish, cod, haddock, ray, turbot and ling
    1.80 – 2.20 meter graphite boat rod of line class 9.0 kg – 13.6 kg
    Medium to large (up to 4/0 size)  multiplying reel loaded with 9 -13 kg monofilament or braidedline.
    Boat fishing in deeper water and over deep wrecks and reefs.
    Blue and porbeagle shark, skate, tope, conger and ling.
    2.20-2.80 meter graphite uptide boat rod to cast 80 – 225 grams
    Medium multiplying reel loaded with 6.8 – 8 kg monofilament line and having a shock leader of 18 – 25 Kg
    Boat fishing in shallow water, where casting  baits away from the boat yields best results.
    Ray, tope, huss, bass, dogfish.


    Natural baits for sea angling



    The presence of lugworm (Arenicola marina) is recognised by the spaghetti- like spiral of sand which they leave on the foreshore at low tide. They are abundant in estuaries and on many sheltered beaches throughout the country and trench digging for an hour or so with a garden fork will usually produce enough worms for a day’s fishing. In Ireland lugworm have traditionally been a shore angler’s bait, normally associated with fishing for flounder, wrasse, and dabs but they are also very effective in attracting codling and whiting while inshore boat fishing. Lugworm can be kept alive for a few days, wrapped in newspaper and placed in a cool box.


    Red and king ragworm (Nereis pelagica and Nereis virens) are found in parts of the east and south coasts and are a proven fish catcher and excellent bait for flatfish, whiting, pouting, codling and dogfish. Ragworm will stay alive for over a week if kept in a cool-box, on a tray of coral sand, and moistened regularly with fresh sea water.

    Harbour ragworm or “maddies” (Nereis diversicolour)are very common in muddy reaches of most estuaries. These small ragworm are a good standby bait, when used in bunches, for float-fishing for mullet and wrasse or when legering for flatfish. Harbour ragworm are difficult to keep alive for more than a few days.

    White ragworm or “herringbone rag” (Nephthys hombergi)are also fairly common, frequenting many lugworm beds and being particularly effective when used in conjunction with other baits such as lugworm or mackerel strip. White ragworm will stay alive for up to a week if kept in similar conditions to red ragworm. It should be noted, however, that white ragworm will not survive if put into the same tray as the more aggressive reds.

    Large white ragworm or “silvers” (Nephthys caeca) are rare and localised in their distribution throughout the entire country. They are, however, the single most sought after bait by shore match anglers who tend to jealously guard the location of “silver” beds. Large white ragworm are often the only bait that will attract fish in bright conditions and many shore competitions have been won by the angler with a good supply of them. They are normally found in clean coarse sand in the vicinity of the low spring tide line, particularly where masonry worms (which have little use as bait) are located. Large whites can be kept for quite long periods, in trays of moist coral sand, but should never be mixed with other ragworm species.


    Green crab and one on the hook

    Crab has possibly become the single most popular shore fishing bait and has accounted for a wide range of species over the years, including many specimen and several record fish.

    The Common Shore or green crab (Carcinus maenus)moults at least once a year, usually prior to mating. This generally takes place in May or June, although moulting crabs can be found as late as October in some parts of the south and south-west coasts. Crabs can be collected along sheltered shores, particularly where there is an abundance of serrated wrack (Fucas serratus) which provides good cover for them. Not all shore crabs are suitable as baits and only “peelers” or “softies” are used.

    A “peeler crab” is one which is in the process of shedding its shell and is generally regarded as the prime crab bait. To tell a “peeler” from an ordinary hard-backed crab, one should twist the last segment off one of the legs. If the segment comes away and there is white flesh underneath, the crab is unsuitable and can be returned to its hiding place. If, however, the segment comes away easily, revealing the newly formed, soft red flesh underneath, the carapace and under shell can be peeled off for use as bait.

    Crabs which have already shed their shells but have not yet hardened (a process which takes about a week) are known as “softies”. They are rubbery to the touch and cannot nip as the claws are too soft to do any damage. In most conditions a soft crab will be almost as effective as a “peeler” although the scent may not be as strong. In order to ensure that crab baits are properly presented on the hook they should be tied on with elasticated thread.

    Crab can be used in almost any sea angling situation from the estuary and beach where they are excellent for most species through inshore boat fishing for ray, dogfish and flatfish to deep sea fishing for cod.

    Hermit Crab (Eupagurus bernhardus) can be collected in a pre baited drop net in rock pools or below pier walls. Hermit is good bait for cod, ray, and flatfish from boats, but is virtually impossible to cast from the shore due to the soft nature of the tail section. As with all crab baits, hermit crab should be tied to the hook with elastic thread.

    Other species of crab such as the velvet swimming crab (Portunus puber)also make excellent baits but they are seldom encountered in moulting condition.

    Squid and cuttlefish

    The common squid (Loligo forbesi) and common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis)are superb baits for a wide range of species. In the past they were rarely seen on fishmonger’s slabs as they were not a popular food item here, but in the new millennium there has been a considerable increase in the migrant workforce and as a result many, previously uncommon, foodstuffs, including squid, are now widely available.

    Squid will also fall occasionally to baited lures, while boat fishing and should be frozen while still fresh. They are well suited to being transported in a cool box where they will remain frozen as long as the ice blocks are renewed regularly.

    Most tackle shops now carry the smaller “calamari squid” possibly(Loligo vulgaris) which can be purchased, frozen, in handy 454g cartons of ten. These are valuable bait for various species of ray as well as dogfish, cod and conger.


    Shellfish are a very a valuable bait, when fishing for specific species, particularly fish with a soft or small mouth e.g.; haddock, sole or dab.

    Cockle (Cardium edule) live buried just under the surface of damp sand and can be gathered, on many parts of the coastline. They are very useful for shore angling and inshore boat fishing and plaice, dab, flounder, whiting and all the wrasse family will take cockle freely. Cockle is also productive when used in a “cocktail” with other baits such as lugworm or squid. Cod and whiting find this combination particularly attractive.

    The Common whelk or buckie (Buccinum undatum) is the largest of the whelk family and the thick flesh is  tough bait for cod, whiting, pouting, coalfish, wrasse and dogfish. Common whelks are a deeper water shellfish than their cousins the periwinkles, living mainly among the stones and mud of the lower shore. As with hermit crab, a pre-baited drop net hung for a few hours at high tide from the end of a pier wall will usually yield ample whelk for a days fishing.

    The Common Gaper (Mya arenari) which is oval shaped and dark grey to black in colour is found in muddy creeks and estuaries. They can be detected at low tide, by searching for a key-hole shaped depression in the mud. The hole is created by the long siphon with which the gaper filters small food particles out of the water. Gapers can be dug up with a wide tined garden fork and when the siphon is removed, it provides a very good boat angling bait for a number of species. Used in combination with lugworm or ragworm, it is also a useful shore angler’s bait for bass and flatfish.

    Most other species of clam are found in deep water and do not come into the anglers range until a gale throws them up onto the shore.

    The Common Mussel (Mytilus edulis) can be found on most sheltered rocky shores, particularly in the vicinity of a fresh water outflow, where they can be gathered with ease. Once mussels have been removed from their shells, the soft flesh should then be tied to the hook with elasticated thread. This provides excellent bait for shore and boat fishing where codling, coalfish, plaice and dabs are expected.

    When mussels are not required for immediate use, they should be taken from their shells and within a few hours, frozen down, in “ziplok” bags containing batches of twenty or so. This allows for ease of storage and future transport in a cool box. Frozen mussel is an excellent standby for winter fishing when other baits are difficult to obtain.

    Another excellent boat and shore bait is Razorfish (Ensis siliqua) which are not uncommon on Irish coasts, but require a little more effort to collect than mussel.

    Razors are narrow shellfish which grow to about 17cms in length and live in damp sand near the low water line. They are difficult to dig because they can be up to a meter below the surface and the slightest movement on the sand in their vicinity sends them spurting to the bottom of their hole. The best method for capturing them is to take a carton of salt onto the beach, treading carefully onto the razor beds. Once a razor burrow has been located, some salt should be poured into the hole. In an effort to expel the salt, the shellfish speeds back to the surface, where dexterity and nimbleness are then called for to grab the razor and place safely in a bucket. This can be a very hit and miss exercise but an hour or so will yield twenty or thirty shellfish.  Razor is tough bait which is attractive to many summer species but is particularly effective for autumn bass and winter cod.

    Fish Baits

    All forms of oily fish are useful in virtually every sea angling situation, but are particularly effective when seeking the larger predators such as shark, tope, monkfish, skate and tuna.

    Mackerel (Scomber, scombrus) can be used for almost every species of fish from both boat and shore. It can be used in “strip” form for turbot, megrim, pollack, coalfish and gurnard. In “last” form (the tough tail section) for ray, bull huss, spurdog, and ling, while whole mackerel can be used for sharks, skates and conger. Mackerel can be bought in most fish shops, in season, or can be caught while spinning from harbour walls or rocky outcrops. A string of brightly coloured feathers or lures can also be employed while boat fishing to take mackerel in numbers. Freshly caught, mackerel, will out fish most frozen fish baits but it is always worth stashing away a few fillets in the freezer for the leaner days of winter, when fish bait is scarce. Most oily fish deteriorate quickly, particularly in warm weather, and should therefore, be frozen within a few hours of capture. Mackerel can also be frozen whole, but the innards should be removed and stomach cavity cleaned out with salt water, before doing so. Most local tackle shops now carry a supply of vacuum packed, frozen mackerel.

    Herring (Clupea harengus) are seldom caught on rod and line but are important bait for many species of fish. Herring can be bought fresh in most fishmongers and supermarkets and have the advantage that they survive freezing better than mackerel and do not deteriorate as swiftly when thawed. Herring works well in combination with other baits, particularly red ragworm.

    The Lesser sand-eel (Ammodytes tobiannus) which grows to about 15 cms and the Greater sand-eel or launce (Ammodytes lanceolatus) which can grow to over 30 cms are very important bait fish. Lesser sand-eel are common along sandy shores where they are excellent bait for bass, pollack, and dogfish. They can be collected by the Cornish method known as “vingelling” in the wet sand with a blunt bread knife or bill hook. The blade should be pulled in a sweep through the top 15cms of sand and when a sand-eel is located, it will wriggle out to the surface where speed is essential to grab it before it can escape under the sand again. The greater sand-eel is seldom seen on the shore line being a deeper water fish. They can however be taken on small Sabiki type lures while boat fishing and are prime bait for turbot, ray, tope and cod.  Sand-eel will stay alive for several hours in a large bucket of cool, aerated sea water.