By John M. DeLisle Sr.
Just recently, my wife, Judy, and I set out for a day of boating and fishing on the Hudson River. While my wife read her novel, I fished using a number of artificial lures that ranged from medium depth to deep-running minnow replicas and spoons. Unfortunately, I never got a hit. Still, Judy and I had a great day on the water immersed in beautiful scenery and bright sunshine within the Adirondack Mountains.
On our way home, I was going over in my mind what I could have done differently while on the water to catch fish. That is when the thought of live bait hit me. Now why didn’t I think of that earlier?
I’d bet a half dozen Rapalas, that if I had taken along a container of fat, juicy nightcrawlers with a few squirmy earth worms mixed in, that I would have caught fish. Maybe they would not have been the deep-running walleyes I was after, but nevertheless, fish that would have ended up on the grill.
Rather than be an old stick in the mud using strictly artificials, I made myself a promise while driving over the mountain to dig up some earthworms and crawlers before our next fishing outing.
As a young fisherman, one of my favorite memories are of donning a raincoat, then heading out to the back yard to gather a can full of nightcrawlers or worms on a wet, misty night with a few of my fishing buddies.
With a flashlight in one hand and a coffee can in the other, my pals and I would spend an hour or two training our flashlights across the lawn looking for that telltale shine that told us a crawler was lying low out of its burrow.
Slowly, with carefully placed footsteps, we would move in with the light off to one side of our target, making sure not to shine the bright light directly onto the crawler, which would spook it back into its underground lair. Once we got close enough, we would then slowly reach out toward the slimy critter and in one quick, smooth motion, grab it; not too tight but enough to hold it, while maintaining a steady pull, until it finally gave up its hold allowing us to pull it free from its tiny hide. It was then dropped it into the worm can with the other crawlers.
Gathering one’s own nightcrawlers to use for fish bait is a fun activity and one that seems to have lost its popularity among today’s fishermen. It seems the older an angler gets, they tend to move away from those slimy critters, opting to use only artificial lures. Though I have a good supply of artificials of various sorts. Being the father of three boys and three girls has kept me fishing with crawlers and worms all these years. After all, young anglers and worms go together.
So, where is a good place you and your young anglers can go for gathering your own crawlers and worms? I suggest you start right with your own lawn. Most lawns that are thick and green are places worms find to their liking. Lawns that are made up of a good mix of topsoil and dirt or have a slight clay loam mix draw worms. If for some reason your lawn is not good worm habitat, try gathering worms at your local community park or recreational soccer, lacrosse or baseball fields.
Though dark, rainy nights are best for gathering crawlers and worms, you do not necessarily have to wait for wet nights. Some of the best daytime places for finding these slimy critters, especially if the weather has been hot and dry for a while, are gardens, compost piles or damp, shady, leaf piles.
If your yard is lacking such wormy havens, not to worry. You can simply create your own earthworm habitat. Creating your own earthworm habitat is a great family activity that you and the younger anglers in your family will enjoy, not to mention the anticipation and excitement you feel for luring those squirmy, slimy critters to your own special wormy place.
Here is how you go about it. In an out-of-the-way shady part of your yard, place a few sections of old cardboard or burlap or a layered mix of mowed grass and mulched leaves on the ground in an area about four-foot by four-foot, or whatever size you may prefer.
Next, saturate the material you have placed down with lots of water, then leave it for 10 to 14 days. You’ll be amazed when you finally head out later to check your new, miniature worm farm and how many earth worms and crawlers that find the damp, dark place to their liking.
For collecting your own home-grown live bait, you’ll need some sort of compost fork, garden cultivator/rake or trowel and a container for keeping your catch. Once you have collected enough live bait, store them in a cool shady place. They can also be kept in a refrigerator for a while.
If you plan on collecting as many worms and crawlers as possible, it’s best to keep them in a deep Styrofoam box of some sort that is partially filled with a mix of damp earth and mulched leaves. Such a container and earthy mix will keep your catch alive and well throughout the entire summer, and then some.
Make it a point to cover it with a screen to keep them from escaping. A good sprinkling of coffee grounds every now and then will keep them well fed and healthy. The container should then be placed in a cool, dark shaded area for safe keeping until ready to use.
Next time you and your young anglers are out on the water, try hooking a juicy earth worm or crawler on to your artificial lure or simply free-line the live bait by itself, or perhaps with a bobber. I’ll bet that half-dozen Rapalas I mentioned earlier, that you will probably hook a fish or two.