If this In-Depth series, from the new and exciting French magazine InfoPêche, has an aim, then it's to make us THINK a bit more about the finer points of how we fish. These small, but significant details, can have a great impact on our results come match day, yet they are often overlooked.

Therefore what better way to begin the series, than with an article on hooking bloodworm and joker. It's something many of us have done thousands of times during our angling lives. We tend to do it without thinking. It's a reflex action repeated week in, week out, especially if you live in Europe. Nevertheless, it's rarely covered extensively in any angling publication, as it's assumed everyone knows how to... or do they? This new series of In-Depth will hope to redress this balance.

 As always, you can learn so much from following closely what the top anglers do. To guide us through hooking 'worm and joker, we've asked one of Frances' top internationals and canal experts Alain Dewimille, to help us. However, if you question other world-class anglers on this and other subjects, you'll usually get a different, yet very logical response. So to help describe just how these differences are approached, we've assembled panels of some of the world's finest and most respected internationals to cover our In-Depth features. Just one look at the names we've gathered for this months feature gives you an idea of the level of debate we can look forward to. There's two of Frances' most respected and experienced internationals, the reigning double French champion and England's most successful team angler in the history of World Championship angling…
Diego Da Silva (France), Gilles Caudin (France), Didier Delannoy (France), Steve Gardener (England)

If these guys have nothing interesting to say, then we might as well all give up fishing!

I've asked the panel their views on many aspects covering the hooking of bloodworm and joker. As expected, what you'll find is that some of them will have different opinions, which I will show throughout the feature.

What is a bloodworm?
Bloodworm are the larvae of the Chironomidae family of non-biting midges. They are very like mosquitoes, except their wings and mouth parts are smaller. Bloodworm feed on rotting organic matter, in silt and mud at the bottom of lakes, canals and slow moving rivers. Jokers are similar, but smaller, and adapted to flowing water. These insects are very common... there are over 5,000 species of Chironomids identified by scientists and probably many thousands more of unidentified sub-species! Apparently the poor Chironomids lack a certain biological charm and consequently are not widely researched. The problem is that bloodworm do not conform to a uniform product! We can all tell the difference between the larger Russian and Polish bloodworm and our own native one. These are obviously larvae from different sub-species of the Chironomidae family, but the position is much more complex than it seems. With many sub-species of midge in Europe, even the same lake or canal may be shared by over 10 different species!

So how would you actually identify different species of bloodworm? Even top biologists struggle with this, but let’s start by looking at the make up of a classic bloodworm. I have based this on the 1973 work of William T Mason, an American biologist who describes all bloodworm as having these key features:

  • A head section with sensory antenna and feeding mouth parts
  • The next three sections become swollen before the larvae pupates and contain the thorax of the emerging midge. The first section below the head contains a pair of 'prolegs' the embryonic front legs of the adult larvae.
  • The remaining body segments are covered in small hairs.
  • The tail segments, 10, 11 and 12, contain the gills which let the larvae breath and the second pair of prolegs.

Yet within this standard body design, the sub-species of Chironomids are actually quite different. Some differences between two bloodworm species are obvious. Size (take a Russian bloodworm and a French canal bloodworm and see the Russian is much much larger), general pigmentation (some are brighter red than others, some have more pronounced black banding in their body) or the general activity of the worm (active or passive). Some types of bloodworm tend to roll up in balls whilst others never seem to. Some have skins so soft they burst at the slightest touch, others have tough skins which can stand a bit of knocking about. In short what at first glance looks the same, is anything but. Bloodworm is, in reality, a most varied product!

If you are unsure whether your all your bloodworm is the same, or from different species, then the best way to distinguish it is to look at the head sections very closely. What you are looking for is differences in the structure of the mouth parts and their associated mandibles (jaws) and antennae’s. Two of the sketches below, again based on Masons work, give you some idea of how different each head may be. If you are still unsure, just bear in mind that even a batch of bloodworm scraped from the same pond may have larvae from different species mixed in, which could explain the variations in size and softness in the same hooker pack. If you buy worm from different suppliers over different weeks, then it is even more unlikely that you will get exactly the same product every time. In fact, as we will discover, many top anglers deliberately buy 'hookers' from different suppliers to guarantee that they get a size-variety of hook-baits!
What makes the perfect bloodworm hooker?
I first got the idea for this article when fishing with Alain Dewimille on the River Sambre in France last year. I had noticed that Alain had arrived with two different types of hooker bloodworm. One was larger and fatter, with a dark top 2 or 3 segments, while the other was smaller, thinner and much tougher. I photographed both side-by-side and to me there was no doubt that these were two completely separate species of bloodworm. Alain explained that he frequently travelled with two different sizes of hooker worm to cover every situation, plus, some larger joker for hooking, more of which we'll discuss later. He also said that he obtained his hookbaits from two separate local scrapers. One would regularly turn up with larger hookers while the other supplied the smaller, tougher worms. I asked him which he preferred, but before I tell you his reply, just think about how YOU might react to the two types Alain used. Both were French... one was big and plump, the other small and tough! What would your instinct tell you was the best hookbait?

Alain's response was, it depends... of course!!!
 Alain's hookers, left hand big, right hand small.Alain's hookers, left hand big, right hand small.
The large hookers are fine when fishing for wilder fish on big river networks where angling pressure is not great. Here, fish will respond to a large moving bait without too much hesitation. BUT, when the fishing gets hard, or the venues and fish become too pressured, the more you need to use the smaller hookers especially if you want to select the wiser, older and bigger fish. If it came to choosing just one, then the smaller tougher hookers would always be Alain's first choice.

I remember, many years ago, opening packets of bloodworm and getting genuinely excited when I saw big fat bloodworm... and then equally being disappointed when the worm was small! How times have changed. I recently returned from France with some hookbait and the first reaction of my team was “it’s a bit on the big size!” What seems to have changed is our understanding of what you need to put on the hook, when trying to select bigger fish.

When fishing bloodworm over a bed of joker, it's not surprising that the wiser and bigger fish will feed on the joker and resolutely ignore a much larger hooked bloodworm. The big bait might 'mug' a couple of younger fish, but the bigger fish will have seen it all before. For precisely this reason, many matches in England are won with nets of quality fish using either single or double joker hook-baits. Fish under heavy angling pressure, quickly learn to avoid any of the larger bloodworm and feed exclusively on joker. So it makes sense if you want to catch better fish, using joker on the hook is the answer… but again more of this later.

The Panels Opinion:
Environment vs. Genetics (Breeding)
All the members of our panel agree that a small tough bloodworm is the ideal hookbait for most fishing situations. They also are united in their dislike of the larger East-European bloodworm, which look too large and are much too soft, to be easily hooked. The only way to get decent hookers, with these softer bloodworms, is to 'swim' them for at least a week to toughen them up, the longer the better really. Diego scrapes all his own bloodworm looking for small yet tough-skinned worms, that are strong enough for the hook and closer in size to his joker feed.

Gilles has an interesting way of looking at hooker worms. He believes that the environment has as much to do with the size and hardness of hookers, as their country of origin, or any genetic variation in the species. Therefore, if bloodworm grow in nutrient rich shallow basins, such as decontamination tanks or pollution rich shallow ponds, they will quickly grow big and soft. However, worms which develop in slightly tougher environments, like deeper canals, tend to grow much slower into leaner and tougher hookers. For this reason he prefers the canal scraped hookers as a general rule.

Gilles' argument touches on that age-old debate in science, of environment versus breeding. It seems logical that a bloodworm raised in an environment of nutrient rich tanks will grow much quicker and fatter than those growing in tougher, wilder environments. However, a question we rarely ask is, are these the SAME bloodworms or actually cousins... that is different sub-species of the same larger family? The problem we have is that despite the fact that Chironomids are one of the few insect larvae with any economic importance (for both the angling and pet trades), very little is actually known about recognising different species and where they come from.

Personally, I'm on the side of genetics. I think it is much more likely that differences in size and toughness of bloodworm are caused by them being the larvae of different midge species, rather than being all the same species of midge larvae growing in different ways. Take a closer look at Alain’s different baits (right) to see what I mean. Notice the black pigmentation differences and the shape of the heads.

What I've struggled to find, in all my research on Chironomids, is a comprehensive guide to the many sub-species and their different characteristics. If anyone knows of a real bloodworm expert who can look at these larvae and say definitively “That’s a Goeldichironomus carus” then that would be very impressive (and highly unlikely, as they come from Florida), but you understand what I mean!

How to store bloodworm
For Alain, the best way to keep bloodworm healthy is to let it swim in water, making sure that water is constantly kept cool and changed regularly. For this Alain follows a simple rule of thumb. From April to late October he stores his hookers on the bottom shelf of the fridge, changing the water and riddling it through a bloodworm riddle twice a day. This is because if one or two die, they will quickly rot and likely to sour the water. During winter, Alain moves them from the fridge onto the floor of his garage and changes the water once a day, always using plain tap water. The garage has a heating circuit to prevent the inside from actually freezing up. Bloodworm are easier to keep in winter because their natural genetic life-cycle is for them to lie dormant without hatching, or even attempt to hatch during this period.

There is no short-cut for toughening bloodworm, except 'swimming' it in water, but the longer you swim bloodworm, the thinner and stronger the bait becomes. An ideal solution is to try and get hookers that has been freshly scraped on a Thursday, or Friday, before a match then let it swim until the Sunday. If you keep them back for a midweek session, ensure you keep changing the water and be ready for a progressive drop in size. Alain does not rate large Russian hookers for general canal fishing, but if they are all you can get, make sure they swim for at least a week to toughen them up, exactly as described above. These larger baits, once toughened a bit, will be fine for perhaps bream fishing on big rivers. If you do not toughen them up then you risk your hookers bursting open, like jam sachets, when you try to kook them. They will also not last long on the hook, especially in a flow!

What is the perfect bloodworm hook?
Alain's key to good bloodworm hooks is simple. You need to use as finer wire as possible, given the size of fish you hope to catch. It sounds logical but it's extremely important when bloodworm fishing. If you use too heavy a hook, the bait will inevitably become damaged when hooked. Finding a light fine wire hook suitable for general bloodworm fishing is not that difficult. What is much harder to find is a hook fine enough to limit bait damage, yet strong enough not to bend on potential big fish like bream, hybrids, crucians or tench, all of which are now 'fair-game' target fish on bloodworm!

Alain uses two patterns for nearly all of his bloodworm fishing. The first is the Sensas 3530 which is a classic bloodworm shape with a tight crystal bend and a long shank. It's made out of very fine wire and perfect for general canal-type roach fishing. The long shank helps both with hooking bait and unhooking fish and the tight bend seems to just stick in the mouths of roach, reducing greatly the number of bumped fish. For bigger fish, Alain settles for a Sensas 3405. This black hook has a shorter shank, but a rounder bend, which allows multiple or cocktail baits to be used easily. Whilst it is slightly thicker in wire than the 3530, it's still a fine-to-medium gauge. The big advantage of these hooks is that they stay sharp longer and do not open easily.

The Panels Opinion:
Diego favours the VMC hooks and even uses one of the red models when he wants to match with the bait!Diego favours the VMC hooks and even uses one of the red models when he wants to match with the bait!
Diego fishes with VMC hooks and uses the 7030 as a good all round pattern. This is a round bend hook with a relatively short shank, but fine wire, which will take single or double bloodworm baits AND also accommodate other baits such as maggot and pinkie. This suits many of the venues that he fishes where red maggot, or red and bronze pinkie, will often sort out some of the better quality fish. Being an attacking angler, Diego is often looking to try and select better stamp fish. He will normally be loose feeding pinkies over joker and groundbait, then swapping over to bloodworm, pinkie, maggot and cocktail baits throughout a session. VMC also produce classic long shank bloodworm patterns like the 7001 and 7002, which fulfil a similar role to Alain’s Sensas 3530

Didier splits his hook choice into micro-barbed and barbless hooks. This is because of the time he now spends fishing in England, where barbless hooks, even for bloodworm fishing, are normally required. With the micro-barb, Didier uses the Preston PR31, a hook with similar characteristics to the Sensas 3530... a tight crystal bend and long shank. For more general use, he goes for a Mustad Wide Gape Power and seed hooks. The barbless hooks Didier uses are the popular Green and Black Gamakatsu's These have achieved legendary status in the UK for all bloodworm and joker applications. The black is the same hook shape as the green, but 25% heavier in the wire.

The Green Gama... a trusted and reliable barbless hook for Steve and many UK anglers during the winter periods when fishing turns toward a blood/joker approach.The Green Gama... a trusted and reliable barbless hook for Steve and many UK anglers during the winter periods when fishing turns toward a blood/joker approach.
Stevie Gardener also splits his hooks into micro-barbed and barbless patterns. He uses barbless hooks almost exclusively in the UK, even when micro-barbs are allowed! His favourite hooks for bloodworm are the Green and Black Gamma's. If he uses a barbless on deeper continental venues it's usually pick either the Suehiro R305 for a more delicate approach, or the Sensas 3405, similar to Alain.

The great barbless debate
I can remember several years ago testing barbless hooks against micro-barbs with Jan Van Schendel on the Seine. We could see that barbless hooks caused less damage to the bait as you hooked it, but what effect did this have on the bait once hooked? Jan tested bloodworm after bloodworm by hooking them with either a micro-barb or a barbless. What he proved conclusively, was that the barbless hook kept the bait alive much longer. This is because the ultra-sharp and clean barbless tends to self-seal the initial hook puncture to the bloodworm itself, whereas a micro-barb will always be likely to tear the delicate bait where the the barb comes off the inside of the point.

When you examine our panels' opinion more closely, you'll notice that both Didier and Stevie are the only two anglers who regularly use barbless hooks. Not surprising when you accept that both have an 'Anglo-phile' approach to the topic because Steve is English and Didier spends a lot of time fishing with Alan Scotthorne and the Barnsley Blacks in Yorkshire! So you may be wondering why barbless hooks have not taken off properly in France for bloodworm fishing? Alain Dewimille summed this up quite clearly... “it's all about having faith in your hooks”.

British anglers were forced to switch to barbless hooks during the late 90’s by the commercial fishery revolution. Prior to that, almost all UK anglers fished with micro-barbs! Once they had adapted to barbless and experimented with various patterns, confidence and experience was quickly developed. This in turn allowed them to use barbless almost anywhere.

Didier's has learnt about barbless hooks from his many trips into the UK. Having fished with, and against, some of England's finest anglers, he has now developed that confidence in barbless, like many of his English contemporaries. But Alain is not against them, he can see the advantages, in terms of bait damage and ease of unhooking. Alain also pointed out that there is really not a wide choice of barbless hooks on the French market at the moment. If you move away from big fish hooks, you struggle to find any decent fine wire barbless for bloodworm fishing, from any of the major French suppliers. Anglers need confidence in the hooks they are using and some of these tackle manufacturers needs to offer more well thought out barbless patterns, inspired by the likes of the Green and Black Gamakatsu's, in order to tempt anglers to experiment and develop more confidence in them.

Keeping bloodworm whilst fishing
Alain has two ways of keeping bloodworm on the bank. Which option he uses depends on how important it is to select a bait prior to hooking... let me explain. For most fishing situations Alain will take a pinch of hookbait in his fingers and pick one out as he lifts his fingers up to the hook. This is perfect when fishing rhythmically and when most of your hook-baits are the same size. The other alternative is where Alain wants to look for a specific hookbait first. A good example of this would be trying to pick out bigger joker for the hook, or when trying to select the smallest hooker bloodworm. In this situation simply taking a random blob of hookbait and hoping to find what you want will simply not do. You need to be able to spread the bait out, see and select the one you want, then pick it up and hook it. Both these options require a different way of storing on the bank.

A simple solution to keep your hookers fresh and clean. A simple solution to keep your hookers fresh and clean.

  • For hooking bloodworm fast you need to keep your bait in an open topped plastic container with water. Alain uses either a bait box with a fine Sensas bloodworm riddle in the bottom, to let the smaller worms swim out, or a clear plastic box. Either way, the box needs to be big enough to let you easily put two or three fingers in and scoop up a few bloodworms. This is the fastest way to hook bloodworm, nothing fancy or complicated. A large 3 pint bait box, or even better, an ice cream type plastic tub will do just as well.
  • Easy to see and pick-up!Easy to see and pick-up!
    For selecting a specific bait Alain uses a ribbed kitchen sponge cloth. This lets him spread a little bait out on the sponge so he can look at it and pick out the one he wants then hook it. He uses one of the firm surface cleaning type sponges, so there are no large pores for the bait to sit in. Wet the sponge thoroughly and place some of the bait across it. The bait will then sit on the sponge safely where it can be picked up as necessary. Alain also advises that you rinse out any new sponge several times before fishing, as they are often impregnated with chemical cleaners. Again it's very simple.

Alain is always careful to keep the bulk of his hookers swimming in cool water and in the shade, especially during summer! Delicate hook-baits will suffer badly in hot weather, if kept in warming water or the sun for too long, so a bit of sensible bait management can avert a disaster, especially in you may be fishing two competitions in one day. This is common sense, of course but it is amazing how many anglers let their hook-baits cook in a small bowl of water!

The Panels Opinion:
Steve, as always, is precise in every application!Steve, as always, is precise in every application!
Steve Gardener uses handy plastic three-section pet feeding trays for his bait. These have a nice wide top so he can grab a pinch of bait easily and the three sections allow him to have two sizes of hooker worm and some big jokers, all in his tray at the same time. Simple, cheap and effective.

Didier's approach is like Diego's, simple! Didier's approach is like Diego's, simple!
Diego, who usually fishes with a wide circular see-through tub for his bloodworm, is very fast hooking bait and works on the grab-a-quick-pinch principle. The wide circular box is very easy to get in and out of and Diego has his bait swimming in only a couple of centimetres of water. Didier also keeps 'worms in open plastic tubs, but prefers a more oblong shape.

Gilles on the other hand goes further with a more elaborate storge offering shade as well as accessibility!Gilles on the other hand goes further with a more elaborate storge offering shade as well as accessibility!
Gilles, on the other hand, uses a more traditional bloodworm box with a white polystyrene base. He spends a little more time picking a bait out of his box than those using the wide open topped bowls. Gilles’ box has the advantage of keeping the bait more shaded, of course and is a system which has stood the test of time amongst many match anglers.

Where do you hook a bloodworm?
Alain follows a simple rule of thumb. You should avoid hooking bloodworm through the head as this will almost certainly kill the bait. The head section, the first ring on a bloodworm, carries all the vital sensory organs of the larvae. Eyes, mouth pieces, sensory antennas, etc. (see drawing of the Chironomid at the beginning). If you hook the bait straight through all of these vital organs, there is little chance of it surviving for very long! Think of it in terms of a person, how many would survive having a lance pushed through their head!

Alain is looking to hook a bloodworm cleanly through the top of the long body sections, on the 3rd ring of the worm usually (you count the head section as a ring, so we are talking about two rings behind the head as a guide). This has several advantages. First, the worm is more likely to survive for longer. Secondly, the bait will always sit with the point clean and open, so you should bump less fish. Thirdly, the bait looks more natural when hooked through the top of the back. Watch bloodworm move and they often take on the sort of 'S' shape that you get when hooked through the 3rd or 4th ring. Diego is another who believes in this method of hooking as it also helps stop the bloodworm rolling up into a ball, a common cause of many missed bites.

Double bloodworm: For double hook-baits, Alain hooks two bloodworm in the same place, through the 3rd segment.

Multiple baits: When it comes to putting 3 or 4 bloodworms on the hook, Alain uses the wider gape 3045 Sensas and hooks each worm a bit higher up the body, through the 2nd ring. Hooking just behind the head still avoids killing the bait and keeps a bunch of bloodworm better grouped on the hook. Alain prefers the bait to sit on the gape of the hook itself, so he will not hesitate to use a size 18 or 16 hook when fishing a bunched bait.

NB: Alain finds that when hooking batches of bloodworm, some of them will roll up, even when hooked through the back. He therefore advises either fishing a double hookbait, or hooking the bloodworm clean through the middle, if they keep rolling up into balls.

Speed fishing: When Alain is speed fishing for bleak he tends to hook bloodworm as quickly as possible, straight through the middle. This avoids the split second that it takes to line up the 3rd ring with the point of the hook. But he's quick to point out that it depends not on the species, but on the numbers he hopes to catch. If he is looking at 300 fish in 3 hours, then he will hook a bloodworm as fast as he can through the middle. If on the other hand he is looking for 30 fish in 3 hours, he will hook bloodworm as he would for roach, through the 3rd ring!

The Panels Opinion:

Gilles adopts a different hooking policy to his countrymen!Gilles adopts a different hooking policy to his countrymen!
 There is general agreement amongst the three French members of our panel that bloodworm should not be hooked through the head with both Diego and Didier following almost exactly what Alain has described. Diego is also fond of using pinkie/bloodworm or maggot/bloodworm combination baits and he always hooks a couple of bloodworm FIRST, through the 3rd ring then finishes off the cocktail with either a maggot or pinkie nicked through the rough skin at the top. This helps to keep the point of the hook exposed when fishing with a bigger bait. One other thing Diego does, is use the shank of the hook with multiple baits. Unlike Alain, Diego is happy to thread one or two bloodworm round onto the shank. This helps give the impression of an even bigger bait by fanning out the bloodworm a little. It also allows Diego to be more flexible with the same hook when trying out different bait combinations!

Gilles hooks even further down the bloodworms' body, usually through the 4th section as standard then straight through the middle if fishing becomes hard. Gilles believes that hooking through the centre of the bait gives you more change of getting the bait into a fishes mouth plus, it is very quick and easy to hook.

Steve's break from the continental approach. Perhaps the use of barbless makes hooking through the head much cleaner!Steve's break from the continental approach. Perhaps the use of barbless makes hooking through the head much cleaner!
Steve Gardener, is the exception to the French rule! Like many English anglers, he still basically hooks bloodworm through the back of the head. Very little has been reported in the UK angling press on the trend amongst top French anglers to hook bloodworm through the 3rd ring round the hook. The only mention made of it in the press was a single photograph in MatchFishing Magazine of a bloodworm hooked by… Didier Delannoy of course! Personally, I think the arguments for hooking bloodworm below the head in the 3rd or 4th ring are correct plus, it's actually just as easy as hooking through the head!

 The 'Mystery' of Mystic!
Mystic is a bait that has genuinely stood the test of time. There is something in the clear red jelly that imitates perfectly the haemoglobin translucidity of real bloodworm. Although not allowed in many matches, as it is classed as an artificial bait, Alain carries a tube of Mystic for pleasure sessions and reckons it works best at picking out larger fish. Here, he shows you how to hook it:
How to hook a bloodworm
I have been very lucky in preparing this article because I have sat with many top anglers and watched them in detail hooking bloodworm. What I noticed with all French anglers... Alain, Diego, Didier and Gilles included, was that they basically hook in the same way. Here I describe the normal method of hooking, where they take a pinch from a bowl and hook one of them.

Speed this up considerably and you have the classic way that many top anglers hook bloodworm. I have been experimenting with this technique and I find the hardest part in this sequence is to stop hooking the worm onto the hook, but to get the hook to hook the worm! This might seem a bit confusing, so let me explain further. I sat down and analysed my particular way of hooking bloodworm and realised that I was instinctively holding the hook still in my weaker (left) hand, then using my good right hand to roll the bloodworm round the hook. This is NOT what the top anglers do. You have to appreciate that the more you handle bloodworm and move it, the more you risk damaging it. Top anglers hold the bait still and let the hook do the moving. Which brings me back to the question... which hand do you hold the bait in and which hand the hook?

The Panels Opinion:
 The problem we have with the technicalities of hooking bait, is that you run into right-handed, left-handed and ambidextrous anglers which makes stating precisely which hand holds bait and hook very difficult! Alain is very much right-handed, to the point that he doesn't like throwing in any feed with his left hand, because he knows he is not accurate. So he has his bait bowl on his left hand tray so he can take a pinch of bloodworm with his left hand and then uses his stronger right hand to move the hook. This is the best way for a right handed person to hook bloodworm and something I have started to force myself to do, because I naturally try to move the bait, not the hook!

Diego is ambidextrous, thanks mainly to his guitar playing skills and fishes right handed. But he has his hook-baits on his RIGHT side tray and holds his hook in his left hand. Being ambidextrous helps Diego a lot with hooking as he is able to move the hook fluidly with his left hand, which means he has no need to switch hands when hooking the bait, this gives his hooking action the impression of real speed.  Infopeche's loyal cameraman Vincent, sees it all through his lens and he commented several times on the impression of speed you get when watching someone who's genuinely ambidextrous. Gilles is left-handed when he fishes, but hooks bait from a right hander’s side, so again he is ambidextrous in the way he can hold hooks and bait.

This is where you realise that it's impossible to write a set of instructions that tells you EXACTLY how to hook ANY bait. What each individual has to do is work on their own manual dexterity, to find the most comfortable solution that suits them. The key thing to remember is to have the hand that holds the hook, do most of the moving, while keeping the bait still in the other. Remember the more you move the bait around, the more likely you are to damage it!

Joker on the hook
Alain, like many anglers both in Europe and the UK, will often use joker on the hook when the fishing is expected to be hard. This does not mean that it's just for small fish or when trying to get a bite when there's a risk of blanking! In fact, Alain believes that TWO big bloodworm on a hook is a better way to get a bite when you are REALLY struggling, rather than mess about with single or double joker! By hard Alain means difficult, not necessarily impossible!

To get decent joker for the hook, it's not enough just to grab a scoop from your regular match pack and hope they will be good enough to fish with. The best hooker joker have to be selected beforehand and allowed over a period of time to have a 'drink' or 'swim' in order to build up strength and size.

Alain gets a lot of his joker from streams, which are fed by hot water outlets from sugar beet factories. Because of the hot water, midges tend to breed there almost all year round, so there is always joker of differing size and age within his feed. The best chance of getting big joker for the hook comes when you first riddle them. By using a fine joker mesh, most of the small to average size larvae will swim through without any problem. However, left behind in the riddle, along with any debris, will be some bigger joker, so do not throw them away! It is often this first run through that gives you the best chance of picking up larger joker. If you get lucky and have some really big joker in amongst the rubbish, hang on to them. To keep these joker fit, healthy and growing for several weeks, it requires careful attention by you, but they can be worth their weight in gold as a hookbait during hard times.

Building a hooker!
There are a couple of ways to do this, but the ONE thing required above all else is a constant change of water, as the joker will foul their environment very quickly. By constant I mean every day, without fail. You can either just keep changing the water regularly, or add a tiny amount of icing sugar to each change of water. This in particular will feed the joker and help them to pack on extra strength and size. Keep checking at every water change and remove any dead larvae. If you follow this procedure you should have a good supply of quality joker for the hook, but I cannot stress how important it is to change that water regularly!

Selecting and hooking a joker
For Alain the operation is similar to that of hooking bloodworm, but on a reduced scale by using 24 and 26 size hooks. He takes a pinch of joker in his left hand, hook in right, selects a joker and tries to hook it below the head, like a bloodworm. Alain uses the word 'try' because as he says “on fait pour le mieux” (ie, do the best you can). Again, you can alternate single, double and treble joker hooking them in the same way... or as near as you can get!

Looking after your match pack
 We cannot talk about joker for hooking without covering the essentials of looking after your match pack supply. If you do not scrape your own joker, but buy it direct from your local shop, then you need to get the best out of what you have. Once again, the first thing is to give the joker a drink/swim by running it first through a fine riddle into a tray of fresh water to remove all the rubbish! Most joker bought from shops, will probably have been lying in the match packs paper for at a couple of days, especially if you have been late in picking it up. This tends to compress the joker, which then starts to die if you have left it for too long! By giving the joker a 'drink' you accomplish two important procedures in the baits survival and use.
 First, you remove about 85-90% of the rubbish it comes in. Secondly, it revives them by putting fresh oxygenated water back through their bodies. It's really amazing to see the transformation this has on them, even after just a few hours in clean water! Joker can be kept for a couple of weeks by simply changing their water each day. Prolonging their life, over even greater periods, can be gained by setting up a small aeration system for just a few pound's or euro's. Note: Ordinary tap water is usually OK to use for each change
 ... and on the bank
The important thing for your joker hookers, once on the bank, is to keep them in water not newspaper. Having selected these hookers you will need to keep them fresh by adding a little extra water as the day goes on, especially during hot weather. Use a pole cup, for example, just to add a splash of fresher water after first tipping out some of the older water.

The Panels Opinion:
Diego and Gilles generally agree with Alain that joker is something you need when its hard and should be fished with finesse. Diego uses hand-made size 28 hooks made from 0.18mm piano cord wire. These home-made hooks have no barb to damage the joker and have become part of French angling folklore. Meticulous fine lines are an essential requirement with these hand made hooks!

Joker always seems to pick out the quality fish!Joker always seems to pick out the quality fish!
Once you talk about joker in the UK, things start to look very different and you end up with a totally different viewpoint. Steve Gardener looks on joker hookers as a positive method, which he and others use, to sort out big fish on pressurised venues. There are lots of bloodworm matches on commercial venues throughout the winter in England and although these venues are stocked with plenty of fish, including some quality roach, skimmer and perch, the venues are generally small by European standards. Steve has fished many matches in his area where the lake only accommodates between 25 to 40 pegs, like Willow Park, Sumners and Gold Valley. It's can be fantastic fishing were you may need anywhere between 5 to 15 kilos to win, even in winter. However, what happens is these small venues become over-pressured and the fish get 'smart' to the bloodworm very quickly.

The ultra sharp Green Gamma easily penetrates joker without unnecessary damage.The ultra sharp Green Gamma easily penetrates joker without unnecessary damage.
This caused a rethink several years ago by many English top anglers, who started to use joker on the hook as a way of 'out-smarting' the better quality fish, who would simply refuse to take a bloodworm. But in order to use this new found technique, barbless hooks were required to pierce the small and fragile joker, a micro-barb was simply not an option!

 Steve, like many of his contemporaries, uses the barbless Green Gamma's for all his main winter joker fishing. The difference between his joker hooks and say Alain’s, or Diego’s, is their size. Steve will happily use a 20, or even an 18, and hook either a single or bunch of joker to catch these larger and smarter fish. Even a single joker on a size 22 would not be out of place.

Two things make a difference for Steve. One is the time he puts into sorting out bigger joker for the hook. Steve will try and keep big joker alive all through the winter because he knows their value in selecting quality fish. Second, it’s the barbless argument again. You can put a relatively big hook through a joker and not damage it, if it has no barb. What happens is that the ultra-sharp point of the barbless effectively seals the exit wound on the bait. In fact there is much less damage done to a joker using a 20 barbless, compared to that of a 24 micro-barbed!

Steve normally hooks a single joker, with great care, through the head. But when it comes to fishing two or three on a 20, he'll hook them as best he can through the head. He takes a pinch of joker in his left hand and quickly turns the hook round into them with his right hand. What you get at first glance, is a bait which looks ridiculously small on the hook, yet apparently seems much more natural to a big fish feeding on joker! The number of large roach that succumb to a single joker on a size 20 or 18, compared to when bloodworm is only catching small fish, is uncanny in many English matches. Yet it seems common sense that when fish are feeding on joker, the most natural hookbait to give them IS joker.

A light-wire hook is essential when using delicate bait like blood and joker.A light-wire hook is essential when using delicate bait like blood and joker.
It highlights clearly that perhaps our perception of how important or relevant the hook size is to a fish, is not totally clear. The hook, naturally, has to be a light wire gauge, or the bait will feel wrong when a fish sucks it in... but does it have to be tiny? If this principal of presentation is wrong, top anglers like Steve would not be using joker this way, to specifically target the larger roach and skimmers in winter!

So there we have an In-Depth look at hooking bloodworm and joker. I would like to thank all the anglers who contributed their views to this topic. The great thing about angling is there is not always a clear set of right or wrong answers. There is only your individual interpretation of what works for YOU. I hope you get a flavour for how even top anglers can view the same thing differently. Choose which side to place and hook your bait when fishing bloodworm. Or could a barbless hook be worth trying? How would you now hook a bunch of bloodworm... up the shank of the hook, or not? Would you hook bloodworm through the head, the 3rd segment, or right through the middle? How do you get the hook to turn into the bait, not turn the bait round the hook? And what about jokers. Does Steve Gardeners view set a few light-bulbs glowing with you about sorting out bigger roach and skimmers?

Our article may not necessarily give all the right answers to these questions, but as individuals we should be thinking about them and trying to find out what works best for each of us.