The autumn has arrived, with its consistent prevailing westerly winds, the seas are frothy white and the shorelines are all changing shape as the bigger tides sweep the Anglesey bays and take the sand offshore again. The autumn equinox, latin for “equal night” is approaching and the big tides of the season are once again here. With tides as large as 34ft in their rise and fall, matched with strong winds and storms signals that we are entering a very dynamic part of our island seasonal cycle. Its a time of year for harvest and gathering, so head down the beach with us for an autumnal wonder.
Our excursion today was off the west coast of Anglesey, and I was joined by a good friend Digby (and his loyal companion dog- Dinky) who is a good local angler who is quite passionate about all things nautical. Low water was occurring at 8pm over sunset and this combination works quite well for foraging, fishing and bait gathering. With the setting sun to the west and not in our eyes, we are able to see good reflections of where the razor clams had already surfaced.
Many species of marine bird and fish will now be looking to begin their migratory route home to over winter in their respective locations. I find this fascinating and intriguing from a movement perspective. It often occurs me that humans seem the only ones who stay in the same place through every season, so out of touch with the cycles and rhythms of nature itself. But with mortgages to pay and jobs to work its no wonder that vast civilisations now have become static.
Moving back on topic, autumn is my favourite season of the year by far, everything in the UK just has a touch of change about it, which is good. Change fosters new in many ways in nature and as one system or species moves out, one also moves in, like the inward and outward pattern of our breath. It’s also the most bountiful month for harvest, when all the main vegetables and fruits are the most vital and vibrant. Apples are ready to be picked, Tomatoes are tasty and mushrooms are in the fields, plus the hedgerows are alive with edibles. here is so much abundance for all and its free.
With the oceanographic autumnal changes come more westerly and south western swell. Surfers, kite surfers and windsurfers are here on Anglesey in style and the strong winds fuel their fantastic free sports. Rhosneigr is a great place to come do any of these sports if your keen, the large sweeping bay offers a great safe place to learn to kite and surf.
The next two weeks on the island of Anglesey are for me some of the busiest of the year, not in terms of the blog or work, but with the tides for bait collection and foraging on the foreshore. On the next four large tides I will be on most beaches collecting and preparing most of my winter fishing baits while the tides are the largest.
There are so many beaches to choose from to collect our bait or foraged food, however for todays mission we where targeting Razor fish and Black lugworm. You can only collect these in very select places along the Anglesey coast, they are very well hidden and it is a great skill to foster to collect them.
If you don’t know what razor fish are, they are part of the clam world and they live under the sand in tubular burrows, resurfacing as the tide rises to filter feed in the surrounding waters for nutrients that are in solution. There are up to 10 inches long and have a very strong muscle called its foot, that anchor it into its sandy burrow. They are a very clever species and are quite canny to catch, but here are ways to outsmart them!
For Razor fish you need to find a northerly facing beach whether this is on Anglesey or anywhere else in the country, it matters not. Razor fish prefer to live in bays that do not face the prevailing wind direction. So in north Wales our dominant wind direction is the west. On the west coast the currents, tides, swell and waves wash up many species and this makes them very vulnerable to predators like fish and humans. The Razor fish have evolved to nest itself on northerly facing shores on our island that offer it more protection in calmer bays where the wind blows offshore, granting it more flat calm seas and more solitude.
Black lugworm are the same, the prefer these more calm embayments where conditions are more calm and secluded. Black lugworm are a fantastic winter bait, intact one of the best out there. There are quite difficult to collect and it requires a fair bit of trial and error and primitive to get it right. They are only accessible on the biggest tides of the year and can’t be dug, like conventional fishing baits, they must be pumped out.
Its an Australian method which has landed on our shores some decades ago, and its very successful. The worms are enormous, I joke you not. They can range from 20cm upto 40 cm- which in worm terms is vast. More snake like in fact. We either use these fresh for fishing or like me I freeze them down for winter months to use for cod fishing.
You may only get a few per session if your new to it, but once you get good and find better spots you can get over a hundred per session which is more than enough for the winter bait stocks. I wrap them in packs of ten in newspaper and roll them up and place In a dedicated bait freezer in the garage. I will do a more dedicated article on bait for fishermen in the coming weeks.
For those of you who are not fishermen and who are interested in the razor fish harvesting process skip this section below!
For pumping black lugworm you will need to purchase an alley bait pump, fairy liquid, yellow or pink (what ever your preference! ) marigold gloves, and a bucket. First walk down to the water edge and find some fresh casts, they will look like the image below.
Place the pump in the sand 4 inches away from the cast on a 45 degree angle and push into the sand to a depth of 15cm and then dow back sucking up the sand, empty the contents and repeat 3 times, each time pushing the pump in a little deeper to get greater depth.
These worms live deep and if its been cold, you won’t get many as they move so fast down in their chambers and live so deep not even them pump will get them. After the 3 pumps if there is no worm, move onto the next cast, repeat.
Some tips. After 20 casts I will clean out the chamber of the bait pump in the water and put some fairy liquid in the chamber to lubricate it up, this makes life a lot easier for you. Repeat this process every 20 or so. Black casts maybe very fresh and the work could be higher up in its lair so focus your time on those fresh casts as they may provide more success than a pervious tides cast.
When you have enough for you fishing or session leave the beach as you found it and try not to be greedy. It’s all to easy to just try to get another dozen and another dozen, but we have a finite resource and we must look after it.
Right back to the Razorfish..
Tools for this exercise- One plastic bottle of salt, one empty Lucozade squirty bottle filled with seawater and some of the salt.
To find them you have to wait for them to squirt a jet of water up in the air, this basically is them retreating into their burrow. My best tip is to walk backwards facing the sun and you will see them jet water up in the air (upwards of 3 feet sometimes) as you walk back. When you see one, walk towards it slowly, they react to the pressure you are making on the sand, be still and be quiet.
I Pour a table spoon of salt down onto the hole from which the water jet came from, and then squirt it down with the Lucozade bottle sea water, not to harsh, try to be slow and gentle, you are trying to mimic the incoming tide flowing down its burrow.
You will see some stirring and them some upward movement, do not move or talk, juts sit and wait. After 2-3 minutes, if your still the razor will come up, wait until its 3 inch out of its burrow and then grab it. Hey presto.
If it doesn’t come up after 2-3 minutes, then move onto the next, and later come back to the ones that where no shows, you will often find that they come up eventually when the coast clears for a nosey.
So with razor fish there are multitude of things you can do with them depending on what you would like to do with them, for the purposes of this blog ill keep this fishing related as we have had a host of questions on that. I personally freeze them down and use them over the winter, thats it that simple. I literally just put them into the freezer.
Don’t take to many, 20 is enough for a winter seasons bait, you will use no more than that generally. If you need more then go back another tide. We try to be as sustainable in our approach to foraging and collecting on the foreshore as you can be.
If you want us to write any more blogs on topics marine related or you want to know more, let us know in the comments below. We do run some 1-1 coaching on fishing and bait collection so feel free to contact us if you would like to know more about that. Mail us on our Facebook page to know more.
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Bit about the blogger : My names Nick Fraser and I’m a local Marine Geologist and Oceanographer. I have moved back to the island of Anglesey for the past four years having grown up here and moved away. I am a passionate outdoor lover with a penchant for all things natural. When I’m not blogging in ofter found climbing or out in the wild in and around north Wales.