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Bloodworms and jokers

The larva of the midge, bloodworms are small, bright red, segmented larva with dark green heads.

Bloodworm bait

There are many different species of bloodworm, but those associated with angling live in the silty bottom of most waterbodies. They are probably the most prolific source of natural food for bottom-feeding fish, such as gudgeon, bream, carp and tench. Bloodworm thrives in low oxygen conditions.

Introduction to joker

The larvae of a much smaller species of midge, jokers are primarily used as loose feed in combination with bloodworm as hook baits. It may surprise you to learn that two or three jokers, or even a single specimen, may also be used as a hook bait. You do need good eyesight to put a single joker on a size 24 or 26 fine wire hook.

Jokers are found in polluted streams, such as those below sewage outfalls where oxygen levels are depleted. In times gone by, many rivers in urban areas were full of joker, the River Douglas in the Wigan area being a prime example. It was here that a young Billy Makin first saw the men of Wigan plying their trade as joker collectors. In a recent article, Billy made the interesting and valid point that UK waters containing joker in significant numbers were way too polluted to have ever contained fish life.

Natural but controversial?

Despite bloodworm being the most natural of all fishing baits, it has attracted much controversy especially in times gone by, but still the spirited debate about the pros and cons of its use rages on. Bloodworm and joker are much more commonly used in mainland Europe. UK anglers wishing to represent their nations at international level will certainly need to hone both their bloodworm and joker fishing skills.

Bloodworm and joker are considered extremely effective, especially during the winter months when their small size and active movement makes them extremely attractive to fish such as roach, bream, perch, gudgeon and ruffe. This makes them some match anglers' favourite bait. Due to their small size, very small fine wire hooks (size 22 or smaller) and fine lines are a must for optimal bait presentation.

Collecting your own bloodworm

You can collect bloodworm by hand using a home-made scraper, which is dragged through the top few inches of the silt.

If you are contemplating doing this, we advise taking extreme care and thinking about water safety. Simon 'Motty' Mottram nearly lost his life in pursuit of bloodworm on one occasion, being saved only by the prompt actions of Chris Harvey and eventually the local fire brigade.

You must also ensure you have the permission of the owner of the waterbody before getting started. Due to the time and effort involved in finding and then collecting ones' own supply, bloodworm and joker are commonly ordered through specialist importers such as @livebloodwormandjoker and tackle shops during the winter period.

Joker bait

Collecting your own joker

Like bloodworm, jokers can be collected yourself, with the same caution applicable. To the best of our knowledge there are relatively few locations in the UK where joker can be found in large quantities today. The whereabouts of any remaining joker hotspots will be closely guarded secrets but it may still be worth seeking out employees of sewage treatment companies.

Most joker sold in the UK is imported from mainland Europe, mostly from Eastern Europe, principally Poland and Russia. In the past, large quantities of joker entered the UK from Belgium. Joker is available to order from importers and some tackle shops, mainly during the winter period, and attracts a premium price due to the effort involved in obtaining them.

History of bloodworm fishing

Francis Francis, writing of northern angling practices in 1867, says, "we northern anglers generally term our groundbaits as ‘feeds' this we speak of bloodworm feed, yellow feed (squatts) and bread feed. In my early days, the most successful ground bait was bloodworm feed. In almost all northern matches today the use of bloodworm is barred but wherever they are allowed and an expert bloodworm fisher is a competitor, you may confidently expect to see his name in the prize list."

Bloodworm fishing legends

There have been many great bloodworm anglers, such as former world champions Kevin Ashurst and Ian Heaps. Today's England team will to a man be superb exponents of the art of fishing with bloodworm and joker. Nantwich's Ian Moulton and Cannock's Simon Nickless are two other superb exponents, not forgetting Dave Berrow and Stuart Conroy.

Frank Franklin being carried by Bert Naylor (left) and Graham Joynt

In the 1960s and 1970s four anglers from Wigan, a traditional heartland of bloodworm fishing, took the match scene by storm. These four anglers, Frank Franklin, Bert Naylor, Roy Meredith and Graham Joynt, were collectively known as 'the Firm'.

Graham applied for the job of England team manager back in 1984 and unlike Ray Mumford, was interviewed by a panel led by Harry Lodge. The job was eventually awarded to Dick Clegg. In the 1992 Division Four national held on the Witham, the National Federation of Anglers banned bloodworm but not joker. The Milo Mohmar team stormed to victory with 114 points, feeding joker and using it on the hook.

Motty's tips on how to get the best from bloodworm and joker

Advice from canal angling champion Simon Mottram, who trains our Let's Fish! coaches on the best canal fishing methods.

  • Bloodworm is best stored in shallow trays of water. It will then keep up to three weeks in the fridge at around 4 degrees Celsius providing you check it regularly (every day or every other day) and remove any dead specimens.
  • Russian joker by its nature is very still. It keeps well if wrapped in damp newspaper and stored in the fridge, and should last for two weeks. An alternative is to mix in damp leam (dried clay) and keep in a bait tin. Polish and English joker is naturally much more active than that sourced from Russia.
  • The best method of keeping this more active joker is in a small fish tank with an aerator. Unfortunately, for best results the water needs changing daily and the joker putting through a riddle every couple of days to get rid of the dead specimens. It's a lot of work.
  • Bloodworm is best fished on a size 22 hook or smaller, with one or two bloodworms on the hook.
  • A bloodworm and caster combination increases your chances of picking up a better stamp of bream.
  • When feeding joker, cup it in neat or with grey leam. When you expect the fishing to be tough, use a lot more leam with less joker. This keeps species like perch and ruffe on the lookout for the joker and with a limited amount of bait in the peg, the fish can't quickly fill themselves up, which increases your chances of getting a bite from them.
  • Single or double joker is a superb bait for roach fishing. Joker on the hook works even better than bloodworm.

Find a place to fish

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Last Edited: 14 December 2020

photo of a location on the canals
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