I still remember the first time I saw a bunch of tiny critters swimming erratically on the surface of a creek. I had no idea what they were. As far as I could see were thousands of worms swimming around. What I was witnessing was a cinder worm hatch, but can you catch fish during these hatches?
Cinder worm hatches are beneficial in some regions when targeting certain species. For example, hatches that occur in the Northeast will increase opportunities when fishing for Striped Bass. Conversely, when a cinder worm hatch occurs in the Southeast, fishing for Redfish becomes extremely difficult.
Therefore, it’s critical to understand the cinder worm, when hatches occur, and how to adjust your strategy or targeted species during hatches. Failure to understand environmental factors like this is often the reason for poor results on the water. After reading this article you’ll know exactly how to approach fishing during a hatch.
What is a cinder worm?
The scientific name for a cinder worm is Nereis Limbata. The size of these worms can range between a ½” up to 2 ½”. Their body has the appearance of a centipede, with many small legs that look like bristles. The majority of the time they are red in color with a dull olive head. Occasionally they will vary in color, appearing more tan or even pink.
Where do cinder worms live?
Cinder worms reside the majority of their life in the mud. Therefore areas with saltwater marshes and oysters will likely be home to the cinder worm. In the United States, cinder worms can be found from Florida all the way up the eastern seaboard to Maine.
Generally, these worms burrow in the mud and are not visible until a hatch occurs. In fact, what we see as a cinder worm on the surface, is not how they look the majority of the time.
While the cinder worm is residing in the mud, they do not have the large paddle tail that we see when they are swimming around. They actually grow this tail before they release from the mud and head for the surface.
Do cinder worms hatch or spawn?
Most people refer to the cinder worm phenomena as a “hatch” when in reality it is a spawn. As mentioned above, cinder worms will grow a paddle tail that allows them to swim and then release from their mud burrows to spawn at the surface.
Once at the surface, the worms will dart around erratically while releasing eggs and sperm. Typically a group of males will swim around a female to better fertilize the eggs.
The worms will tend to remain inshore in creeks and inside inlet passes, and will congregate in areas that have the most water flow. Occasionally you will see cinder worms swimming in the surf along the beaches. Once the mating is complete, the worms will then die, leaving behind only their offspring.
When do cinder worm hatches occur?
The exact timing of a hatch is still not fully understood, however, some common variables exist during each hatch. The majority of hatches occur during the spring months.
Typically, hatches occur in the southeast region earlier than the northeast. In my home state of Florida, our hatches occur between late February and early April. In areas such as the Chesapeake Bay, hatches can occur in May and June.
Cinder worms need significant water flow to better the chances of fertilized eggs’ survival. Therefore, hatches occur on or near full and new moon cycles, where tides are at their biggest. During these conditions, a spawn can last anywhere from 3 days to a week.
The last variable that can trigger a hatch is a sharp rise in water temperatures. While this is not proven, it has been observed that a significant number of hatches occurred when there was a spike in water temps.
Is fishing good during a cinder worm hatch?
For some, cinder worm hatches create an incredible opportunity. For others, it makes fishing extremely challenging. Anglers in the Northeast, especially fly-fishermen, benefit greatly and look forward to these hatches. So why is this?
During the hatches, Striped Bass will be found sipping the worms off of the surface. Think of it as an all-you-can-eat buffet for fish. Since these fish are congregated in the areas of the worms, and visible to the eye, this can make for some extraordinary fishing.
The best way to fish a cinder worm hatch is to mimic what the fish are feeding on. Since a cinder worm is a tiny creature, this can be difficult for traditional fishermen to copy. Therefore, the fly fishermen have a clear advantage when fishing the hatch.
A fly rod uses the inertia of the fly-line to propel the fly forward. This makes it extremely effective when throwing small or weightless baits. A fly tied to look like a cinder worm, and stripped with short erratic movements, will mimic the worms accurately and increase your chances of hooking up.
For traditional fishermen where throwing small baits is challenging, you may choose to throw something large that stands out. The contrasting bait will stand out and could very easily trigger an instinctive bite from a predator fish. After all, we know the predators are present in the area. For more information on fishing saltwater worms, check out Can you use worms for Saltwater Fishing?
The exact opposite is true for fishermen in the Southeast. They absolutely dread their arrival.
In the Southeast, where stripers are not present, the common predator fish is the redfish. During a cinder worm hatch, the redfish will gorge themselves on the worms. The only problem is that redfish don’t typically feed on the surface and therefore spotting them is more difficult.
This makes it extremely difficult to catch redfish during the worm hatch. Most fishermen will choose to target different species, such as trout, that won’t feed exclusively on the worms. Additionally, I have found that if an area can be located where the worms are not present, the redfish will be more likely to eat different baits.
During a worm hatch, if you happen to catch and filet a redfish, take a look in their stomach. If you notice their stomach is full of green algae, then you know the fish has been feeding on the worms.
Depending on where you live, a cinder worm hatch can make for great fishing or completely shut down the bite.
If you are looking to target a cinder worm hatch in the Northeast for Striped Bass, then your best chances are in the spring around full and new moon cycles. This can be an exciting time to fish.
If you happen to experience a hatch in the southern region, look to get away from the worms for your best chances at catching redfish.