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Sea Worms

Warm water and high tides. Just the right combination for a worm "hatch" in the Nor'east. A heavy rain followed by some warm sunshine can send the water temperatures in those myriad, small Connecticut creeks soaring. One creek joins the other and before you know it, the water rushing out of estuaries is in the high 60-degree range. That's warm enough to give marine worms a nudge.

When the water temperatures around Long Island push into the mid and high 60s, and we have moon tides, the worm "hatch" season is upon us.
Worm "hatch" is really a misnomer. These wigglers aren't morphing the way insects do. In fact, the event isn't a "hatch" at all, but a spawn when sexually active sea worms do, indeed, change shape and coloration.

When Nature comes a knockin' on the worm hole door, spring tides are like Bolero for the worms, but spawning swarms need not be confined to those days just before, during and after a full or new moon. It can happen at almost any time, so Nor'east Saltwater fly rodders should make it a point to carry at least a few cinderworm patterns from now on and on can last as long as through September.

In general, the worms are red with one light-colored end, but colors can shift from location to location.

For example, the Nissequogue River swarm on the North Shore of Long Island is usually composed of reddish colored worms with one off-white or tan colored end as depicted by Capt. Bob Robl's Nissequogue River Worm. Note that Bob uses either a dark Zonker strip or marabou to complete the profile of the worms he usually encounters.

Meanwhile, a worm swarm out of Cold Spring Harbor (just a little way down the coast from the Nissequogue) is usually comprised of smaller specimens with bright red bodies and light white "heads." Go out to the North Fork and you'll hear about ruddy red bodies and orange heads. Go south across Peconic Bay to Paul Dixon's territory and you'll find Dixon's Devil Worm with it's short, stout bright red Lite-Brite body and all-black "head."

I'm not a biologist, so I'm not even going to try to identify all of these varieties, but in his book, A Fly-Fisher's Guide to Saltwater Naturals and their Imitations,George V. Roberts, Jr. classifies them as the genus Nereis. He says the species include all of our names for marine worms: cinderworms, mussel worms, pileworms, sandworms and bloodworms. Whether or not cinderworm is an actual species or simply a nickname still escapes me. If anyone has a definitive answer, please let me know.

For most fly rodders, it's enough to know that the worms are there and when they are, striped bass usually aren't far away.

A worm swarm to a school of stripers is like a Free Lunch sign to a high school football team. Stripers gather at the mouth of an estuary or any outflow where worms are active and start to binge.

The worms are fairly easy pickin's as they are swept along by the outgoing tide, but they are not at the total mercy of the current. Part of the spawning transformation is the growth of paddle-like appendages, again along the rear of the worm. It helps to help propel them toward the surface, so they're actually coming at us tail first in an effort to create more worms. This is why we mistakenly refer to the "tail" as the "head," if, indeed, the distinction has any significance, except to another worm. Though the worms may appear to be trapped in a current, they are actually wiggling their way up and your presentation should try to duplicate this movement.

True. The stripers are feeding on the surface. That much is evident from all the slurping that goes on during a swarm, but you need not rely solely on a floating line. Actually, an Intermediate line is probably the better choice, mostly because of its significantly smaller diameter which is less likely to be effected by the current. Clear fly lines may also be a plus, but what seems to work best is a slightly longer leader than what Nor'east Saltwater fly rodders might normally use, a twitching presentation and a little bit of luck. Don't overburden the presentation with a heavy pound-test tippet, either. Keep it at 16 and under.

The swarm intensifies dramatically as the current increases and many fly rodders have found it almost impossible to connect with a striper during peak current periods because their patterns get lost in the crowd. The preferred times are at high and low outgoing when fewer worms are in the water and the current is still present, but more subdued than during the height of the swarm. Check the current tables in Nor'east Saltwater to find the best times for your favorite locations. Of course, this will depend upon where you find your worm "hatch."

A small saltwater pond may produce only enough worms to get the stripers going, but not so many as to obscure your offering. On the other hand, the miles of worm-rich wetlands along a place such as the Nissequogue can send thousands and thousands of worms heading down river on the ebb.

Bear in mind, too, that these worms don't have the power to propel themselves home again. After the worms spawn, they die and the incoming water gently delivers next year's worm swarm home, so fly fishing on the outgoing beach side of an outflow can often be productive, too.

It is not uncommon to find a worm swarm in the somewhat gentler currents of a harbor, particularly one that has rich wetlands at its head. In this case, plan on working the shoreline all the way to the mouth of the harbor, keeping in mind that it will take a little longer for the worms to be swept to your location. Such situations may also send somewhat of a warm swarm along an adjacent, open-water beach front.

Just where should you fish? Almost anywhere during a swarm, but it is a fact that the transformed worms are physically attracted to light.

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