The Ragworm’s Wedding

This is one of the most challenging flies you will ever make, but the rewards are great. When the fish are feeding on swarming clamworms and similar forms of bait, it will be the most important pattern in your fly box.

[by Barry Clarke]

IN NORTHERN EUROPE, IT IS KNOWN as the “ragworm’s wedding.” Although sea trout feed on ragworms throughout the entire year, the fish go into a feeding frenzy in the spring when the worms swarm to mate. If you are lucky enough to be at the right place, at the right time, and with the right pattern, there is no danger of not connecting with fish.

Ragworms are polychaetes (have many legs), and they are in the genus Nereis. This group also includes sand worms (Nereis vireos) and the common clamworm (Nereis succinea). Regardless of where you live and cast flies, the imitation we will tie catches fish.

rag worm

Aquatic worms are nasty looking things, but the fish love them. The author’s Ragworm is a fine imitation of this important source of prey.

Tough to Tie—Great Rewards

There are many ragworm imitations. Some flies work better than others. Some of these patterns are simple to tie, but others are difficult to make. An innovative Swedish fly tier named Robert Lai created one of the best ragworm flies.

Robert´s pattern is one of the most challenging flies many tiers will ever make, but the rewards are great. No other worm pattern swims and pulsates in the water like his, closely imitating the natural swimming worm using only feathers and steel.

The spring swarm of ragworms, often and wrongly called a hatch, is triggered by two main factors: a rise in water temperature of six to seven degrees, and the arrival of a new full moon. In Northern Europe, this so-called hatch occurs from around mid March into April, but it is much later along the eastern coast of North America. From New England to Florida, anglers plan their fishing trips around meeting local swarms of worms to catch a wide variety of feeding fish.

A female ragworm broods her eggs inside her long, flattened body. As the eggs develop, her body becomes brittle and eventually splits, releasing the eggs. The female worms also release pheromones that attract male ragworms. Both the male and female ragworms die after spawning.

Keep an Eye to the Sky

Ragworm swarming can be very local, and it’s not easy to know where it is happening. Keep an eye to the sky because greedy and hungry seagulls can show you the way. If you see flocking, screaming seagulls circling an area of water, this is a great place to start fishing. Also consider when the strong spring sun has been high in the sky all day, warming the water in the shallows, especially over dark, muddy bottoms.

Most sea trout anglers prefer sight fishing during the day, looking for swirling fish holding in small bays and inlets as the tide rises and falls. But if you are hoping to connect with larger fish that are normally more skeptical about entering shallower coastal waters during daylight hours, target these areas in the early evening when the water is still warm; this is when the larger fish venture into the shallows to feed. You should also fish at least a couple of hours into the night. This is true for Europe as well as North America.

The fly we are tying today started about 15 years ago as a copy of Robert´s original pattern, but over the years it has changed a little and is now more of a variant. But the original principal is still there and the fly works extremely well.

What You Need to Know

You must follow a few rules when tying this pattern. First, the trailing hook should be lightweight. This imitation has an extremely flexible body, and a larger and heavier trailing hook has a tendency to foul on the body when casting, resulting in a ball of fur. A heavier trailing hook also reduces the animation and swimming action of the worm by restricting the tail from lifting when the bead head sinks.

The central core of the fly is another important factor. The loop we will spin the opossum onto is also the spine holding the front shank to the trailing hook. This is the alpha and omega of successfully tying this pattern. If the spine is not securely attached to the front hook, you risk loosing not only the business end of your fly but also the fish. Tie this in as well as you can, and don’t be afraid to use superglue.

If you would like a lighter and even more mobile worm, substitute marabou for the opossum. If you can’t get opossum in your favorite colors, you can use crosscut rabbit fur for dubbing, but first remove some of the under fur; this will make it easier to spin.

The Latin name for the common ragworm is Nereis diversicolor, meaning that it varies in color, typically reddish brown and turning more green/blue during spawning season. But there are no rules with respect to color, so you can tie this fly in any hue you like. I prefer using the color shown here and bright orange. And don’t forget that ragworms are on the fishes’ menu all year, so don’t restrict yourself to using it only in spring and early summer. It’s a deadly pattern for catching any predatory fish.

Barry Clarke is a talented fly designer and photographer who lives in Norway. He is a regular contributor to our magazine. Be sure to visit his website, www.thefeatherbender.com.


Trailing hook: Mustad Shrimp C47SD, sizes 8 to 4.
Hook shank: 20-millimeter-long Fish Skull articulated shank.
Thread: Extra fine gel spun.
Central core: Thick gel spun.
Tail: Natural opossum fur and Lite Brite.
Body: Natural opossum fur and Lite Brite.
Head: Brass or tungsten bead.

Make the Tail of the Fly
Preparing the Articulated Shank
Starting the Body of the Ragworm
Completing the Fly