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When the Worm Turns

Tue, 06/18/2019 - 17:38
The Chinese lugworm has crawled its way into local tackle shops.
Jon M. Diat

There certainly have been a lot of headlines about tension between the United States and China of late. Trade and tariff warfare have captured most of the attention, and it appears that this ongoing squabble is not about to end anytime soon.

Last month, the U.S. hiked tariffs on Chinese goods worth $200 billion from 10 percent to 25 percent, putting in jeopardy a trade deal currently being negotiated by the two countries. As such, the Chinese have vowed to take “necessary countermeasures,” a rather broad yet vague counterthreat.

A number of large industries have been affected by this ongoing dispute, including automobiles, technology, and agriculture, in particular those who grow soybeans, as China is the largest importer of this U.S. commodity — over $3 billion worth last year, to be precise. That’s a large hill of beans.

While many have been affected, there is at least one Chinese product that has not been embroiled in discussions or dispute at the negotiating table. It remains underground, so to speak. What is that? 

I’m talking lugworms. Yes, a relative of the common earthworm found locally in abundance, here and just about everywhere, the Chinese-cultivated worm has recently found a firm foothold in many tackle stores in our area. The “made in China” label has now been affixed to the live bait market. 

Eerily similar in appearance to the popular and expensive sandworm, which is usually harvested in the wild from the mud flats of coastal Maine, the imported worm has begun to gain traction, not only for its appearance but because it actually catches fish. Many are convinced.

“I’ve sold nearly 50 boxes this season,” said Harvey Bennett at the Tackle Shop in Amagansett. “Porgies love them, but so do other fish like striped bass, weakfish, fluke, and blowfish. They look exactly like a sandworm and they are very effective.”

A plastic container of a dozen of the imported specimens retails for around $9, a few dollars less than the domestic sandworm. But there is one dramatic difference between the two creatures, besides the distances they traveled to get to our local tackle shops. 

“The lugworms can last several weeks, even months, in the refrigerator,” said Bennett. “A regular sandworm can only live for up to a week. It’s a huge difference.”

“I only got my first delivery of them a few weeks ago,” said Ken Morse, the owner of Tight Lines Tackle in Sag Harbor. “But the early reports, especially from those who fish for porgy, have been encouraging. Nobody is complaining about them.”

Morse also acknowledged the longevity of the lugworm. “They are unbelievably hardy. Many times, I have to eat the cost of sandworms I don’t sell, as their shelf life is so short. But these guys seemingly can last forever.”

No word if our commander in chief is aware of the influx of the lugworm on our soil and whether new tariffs will be levied upon this creature. However, it may be wise of you to warn your family or house guests of what lurks inside your refrigerator before they reach inside for a glass of milk.

Back on the fishing scene, despite gusty conditions, the June strawberry full moon on Sunday continued to usher in an influx of large migratory striped bass to the deeper rips off Montauk.

“The full moon brought in bigger bass,” observed Capt. Art Cortes of the charter boat Halfback. “We had a really good bass bite on Saturday with fish up to 25 pounds. It was lock and load fishing.” Diamond jigs have been the hot lure of late.

Those focused on porgies continue to do well in Cherry Harbor and near the Montauk Lighthouse, while fluke fishing has had its ups and down, depending on the wind. On Monday, a jumbo 13-pound flatfish was captured aboard the Montauk Star, the largest of the season for the full-day party boat; the second largest — 11 pounds — was caught aboard the Star on Saturday.

“It’s almost summertime and the fishing has been easy,” proclaimed Bennett on Monday morning. “Porgies have been out of control off of Gardiner’s and at Cedar Point, while blues and fluke were off Accabonac and Hither Hills. There was some weakfish in the surf at Amagansett and the fishing for blowfish has been great in Three Mile Harbor and other bays.”

Bennett was still enthused over the freshwater fishing, but noted that the warming waters have increased the proliferation of weeds, making catching a fish a bit more challenging. “It’s best now to use bait like lugworms or earthworms, or a yellow hula popper,” he added. 

“Fishing has been really good when the wind allows,” said Sebastian Gorgone at Mrs. Sam’s Bait and Tackle in East Hampton. “I’ve never seen so many sand eels in Three Mile Harbor and there are fluke, striped bass, blowfish, and porgies being taken inside. And the action along the ocean beaches perked up over the past few days, which was nice to see.”

Gorgone added that many are looking forward to the opening of black sea bass season on Sunday. “Many are being 

caught and released, so it should be a great start,” he said. 

For those who enjoy the shallow water challenge of pursuing striped bass and bluefish on light tackle or via a fly rod, the spring season has been a bit of a grind at times, according to many.

“In general, it has not been a great striper season so far,” said Capt. David Blinken of North Flats Guiding in East Hampton. “We had a good trip on Saturday, but when you look back at what we used to catch 10 to 20 years ago, it does not compare. There are just fewer resident fish these days.” 

The veteran fisherman is curious as to what regulatory changes could be decided, as early as later this year, to help protect and rebuild striped bass stocks. “It seems like the minimum size limit will go up to 34 inches from 28, but we shall see,” he said. 

“Reports have been a bit scarce because of the wind,” said Morse from his perch behind the counter of his shop on Monday. “But there are good amounts of porgies around along with some weakfish. Fluke can be had from the Sag Harbor breakwater all the way to Cedar Point.”

Offshore reports have been scarce of late due to a heavy ground swell bolstered by high winds. As such, the 33rd annual Star Island Yacht Club shark tournament was canceled last weekend. 

Across Montauk Harbor, the Montauk Marine Basin, we hope, will hold its 49th shark tag tournament on Friday and Saturday. Limited to 150 boats, $50,000 in prize money will be up for grabs. 

While I highly doubt anglers will bring along any lugworms to set up in their chum slick while looking for “Jaws,” I’m sure the toothy fish would still find them quite appetizing as a snack.

We welcome your fishing tips, observations, and photographs at [email protected]. You can find the “On the Water” column on Twitter at @ehstarfishing.

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