Though I was probably only seven or eight years old the first time I went on a “fishing trip,” I still have many vivid memories of that experience.
My grandparents loaded me in the backseat of their car and off we went to the north woods of Wisconsin. Our destination was a lonely lake, magical in every way to a kid who had never fished on a anything bigger than a farm pond.
One of the surprises, however, wasn’t the bait we used, it was how we obtained the bait. I knew from my limited experience as a fisher-kid that fish would reliably bite worms. I’d seen artificial baits and they certainly drew my attention, but I’d never used one and I’d certainly never been in a bait shop which sold minnows. I was aware big fish eat little fish, but the fish I’d caught previously were all caught on hooks baited with worms.
There weren’t any bait shops in Brook, where I grew up. I’m not sure there was any in Newton, Jasper or Iroquois County. If we wanted to go fishing, we used worms.
So it wasn’t surprising when my grandparents and I used worms to fish for those north woods fish. That seemed normal. What was intriguing was how we got the worms. Grandpa bought them!
I had no idea anyone would sell worms and, equally puzzling, why would anyone buy them? When my buddies and I went fishing, we just grabbed a shovel, headed for the garden and went to work. Sometimes it was hard work, other times it was easy depending on the tilth and moisture in the soil, but persistence always paid off. By the time we’d run out of worms, we’d have caught plenty of fish.
The coronavirus has provided an excellent excuse to “shelter in place” in a places near home close to where some fish live. You can bet an earthworm will be as good a bait as any to put on the hook and, not to put any extra hurt on businesses which sell “Walt’s Crawlers” or any other types of earthworms, why not just start the trip with a worm-digging session?
If you have a garden, chances are it’s a great place to dig for worms. Though worms are terrific to have in garden soil, the green beans or tomatoes won’t miss a few removed for fish bait. The reason I say gardens are good, is because gardeners make an effort to keep the soil there fertile and the gardens are usually located in good worm areas. Gardens are poor in dry sandy soil and so is worm digging. Gardens don’t grow well in areas which are overly wet or poorly drained areas either — neither do worms. If you can reliably grow a good garden, I bet there are plenty of worms to be had, as well.
If you are really lucky, your whole yard is a worm garden and contains both regular, garden worms as well as nightcrawlers. Fish like both kinds and both kinds can be shoveled up quite easily. But if you want an extra adventure, try hunting nightcrawlers — at night.
They emerge from their subterranean world to feed and find mates on humid moist nights, the kind with heavy dew or after a late afternoon rain shower. It’s up to you to locate them, grab one securely then play tug-of-war with it to pull it free of it’s burrow. Pulling too hard will pull it in in two and it will quickly die or injure it and probably kill it later rather than sooner. It’s not as easy as one would imagine.
If you want an additional challenge, try to “charm” the worms out of their burrows in the daytime. Also called worm fiddling or worm grunting, some people have mastered the technique and can fill their bait buckets in a few minutes.
The tools are simple. A three foot long stake is required. Grooves or notches notches are cut along half of the stake’s length and a pointed end cut on the other end to make it easy to push or pound into the “worming” area. Another stick is then used to rub up and down the notched length of the stake protruding from the soil. When it’s being done correctly the worms up to three or four feet of the the stake will come crawling to the surface where they can be grabbed and put in the worm container.
No one knows exactly why a worm reacts this way. I’m not sure a worm even has a brain to figure it out, but the working theory is they mistake the vibrations for the digging and feeding sounds made by moles which love to feed on worms. Moles seldom come to the surface to feed so it’s a sound escape plan, unless the vibrations are being made by worm-seeking fishermen.
It doesn’t have to be two sticks making the vibrations. An old broom handle driven into the ground rubbed with a hand saw can produce the low vibrations needed. Some worm callers use two lengths of rebar to charm up some nightcrawlers for bait.
One worm charmer suggested the perfect location is where a pile of leaves have covered the soil long enough to act as a mulch. The mulch keeps the soil moist, provides a food source for the worms and when the leaves are raked away, the worms are easy pickings when they pop to the surface.
Tired of sheltering in place? Head for a place the worms are sheltering and charm few to the surface. Then head for the nearest fishing hole.