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Fishing the "Cinder Worm Hatch"

Fishing the
"Cinder Worm Hatch"

By Peter Schroeder

In early May through July, a phenomenon occurs in the marine estuary environment. The Cinder Worms "hatch," What are"Cinder Worms"? I have spent many hours researching this subject and have not found one reference to this species in the scientific literature. Not by scientific name or common name. Yet there are numerous articles on Cinder Worms in the fishing text.
My research has lead me to conclude that the term "Cinder Worms" refers to a group of worms called the Polychaetes, or worms of many bristles. With over 8000 species worldwide, they live in all climates and bottom types. Of these, the most common worms to the east coast are the Clamworm, Bloodworm, Sandworm, Lugworms and even the Tapeworm. They are by nature, burrowing worms. Included in their scientific phylum of Annelida, are earthworms and leaches.
A fun way to find out what worms are in your area is to dig them up for yourself. Not to mention it can be a fun time with your kids. Start by visiting a tackle shop local to the area you intend to fish. Ask where the most likely place to dig worms might be. If they are unable to tell you where, begin by selecting an area with a mud or sand bottom. Using a shovel and rake, begin digging as the tide drops. Scoop out a clump and lay it on the dry land. I recommend using the rake to break it up. If you choose to do this by hand, be careful of glass or other objects that could be hidden.
When you do find a worm, rinse it off and place it on a wet towel, or in a bucket with seaweed. You do not need to put any water in the bucket, moist towels or seaweed work best. Take a picture of it when it is fresh. This will help you with tackle selection later. Then take your catch home for identification.
Place your catch somewhere cool when you get home and fire up the computer for identification purposes. Start by looking on any of the search engines using the words "polychaetes," "Annelida," and "worms," This will take you to the more scientific and educational sites. You could use the words "Sandworm," Bloodworm," or "Clam-worm" to find the more fishing oriented sites. While you are on the computer, don't forget to download your pictures before you head to the tackle store so you can more easily match your selections to the pictures.
Fishing the Point Pleasant New Jersey area for many years, I have encountered quite a few Cinder Worm hatches starting in May when the water hits 60 degrees, until July when the water warms to 70 degrees. Most "hatches" occur just prior to the full moon or the new moon when the tides are the highest. They occur from Maine to Florida and everywhere in between. The common denominator seems to be brackish water or salt ponds without a lot of current.
Cinder Worms are photophillic, or light loving. When they swarm, they tend to ball up under lights of docks and streetlights. However, if there are no lights, the moon will do just fine for them. It's just more fun to fish near an artificial light source. When there is a good "hatch," you can watch the stripers feed on the worms with wide mouths just cruising slowly.
Fishing the "hatch" starts by finding the worms. Most often this is done unintentionally. Unprepared anglers can find the experience frustrating, as they'll be fish popping all around but none willing to take an offering. However, you can plan your spring and early summer trips around the moon and tides to find the hatches. Plan on being in a likely spot one hour before the slack tide. The best places to look include areas with sandy or muddy bottoms and some structure like a dock or a bridge. Most often this area will be relatively shallow, meaning no more than four to five feet deep at low tide. This allows the sun to penetrate the water and warm the mud or sand. If there is a channel or deep-water area nearby, that's even better. My favorite spot is the end of a dock with a fixed light. Marinas and bridge abutments work fine, also.

One of the important factors here is the abundance of constant light, lights that go on and off spook more fish than they attract. The light should come on at dusk and stay on until dawn. What you will be looking for at first is the worms themselves. You will see them spiraling under the lights. As they emerge and look for mates, you may start to hear fish feeding on them, especially stripers. Weakfish tend to be a little quieter when they feed. With both stripers and weakfish, you will probably see wakes on the surface or flashes under the surface. If conditions seem right to you, and there are no visual or auditory clues, make a few casts. Sometimes you have to wait for the tide. Or you can move elsewhere.
If the tide is going out, try moving downstream first. This will bring you closer to the lowest water where it is easiest to see the fish. You may also want to try the backside of a bridge downstream of where you are expecting to find the worms. If no bridges are nearby, try the channel edges or points in the area. These can serve as both feeding areas and staging areas. These fish may not be feeding on the worms that are coming to the surface, but rather the ones sucked downstream by the current, so you probably will not see them on the surface. Remember not to stay in one place for too long, after all, they may not be hatching that night. If that is the case, return to that area in a day or two. A hatch usually lasts three to seven days.
Catching fish during a worm hatch is not hard if you give them what they want! As the fly anglers say, "You gotta match the hatch." Most of my fishing is done with 4-inch plastic ringworms in red, shad rigged with a single hook with or without split shot, or 8-inch red shad culprit worms on lead jig heads.
I have also caught fish on small swimmers and flies. If all else fails, put a sandworm or bloodworm on a hook and float with a conventional reel and free spool it with the current. Trust me, this trick works. If you paint the top of the float with glow in the dark paint, you can see it a lot better.
Whether from the boat or beach, it's important to find the "pinch points" or "attack" positions of the feeding fish, although sometimes these fish are just cruising the flats.
This mostly occurs during the climax of the "hatch." Stripers and weakfish love to feast on these easy targets. I like to fish the edges of the channels, the lights on the docks, and the backside of bridges. If I am targeting bigger fish, there is no better place than an inlet downstream of the hatch area. Big bass and weakfish do not waste a lot of energy chasing bait, and will lay downstream waiting for the current to bring dinner to them. This is where the jig head with a red plastic worm bounced right on the bottom works well.
Presentation is key. The bait has to look like a Cinder Worm to catch fish. You will need a light rod with 10- to 14-pound-test clear monofilament line for casting small lightly weighted plastic worms and small plugs, and a medium heavy rod with 20- to 30-pound test braided line for bouncing jigs.
One final trick is to put a dropper worm on the back of a small popper. I like a white Rebel Wind Cheater because I can pop it very slow.
Tie a 24-inch piece of 30-pound test mono to the rear eye, and an octopus 2/0 hook to the other end of the line. Some people remove the hook or replace it with a single hook and tie to the hook bend. Hook a small ring worm right through the head in a fashion not to make the worm spin. Cast it out with a lobbing motion to avoid tangling, and slowly pop it. You will know it when a fish hits.
Remember, even under the right conditions, Cinder Worms don't always show, so be prepared to switch your game plan. Most importantly, be prepared this season when the worms do come out to play.


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