In the mid 1800’s, the American south produced some of the greatest writers of all time: Mark Twain, Ernest Hemmingway, and Henry David Thoreau to name a few. What did they all have in common? Fishing. But, did little Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn use the latest neon lures and spinners? No. The rig of choice for young boys was a stick and a string, with a little hook to hold a live worm. Nowadays, you’re not very likely to find anglers using sticks, but plenty still use live worms.
Why Use Live Worms?
Why should you use live worms where there’s a plethora of different jigs, spoons, poppers, and crankbait to choose from? The simple answer is: they work. Live worms will catch just about any freshwater fish out there if you keep them lively and rig them the right way. They’re widely available at bait shops, pet stores, and garden centers. Even if you’re camping out in the middle of nowhere, chances are you can dig up a few worms in the morning before you head out to the lake.
A lot of fish prefer a worm to artificial bait. When rigged properly, they wiggle more realistically than any imitation worm. They’ve got more to offer than just visual appeal too, as their natural pheromones and odors tickle other fish senses. As long as you don’t over handle them, these natural chemicals work better than many of the sprays, sticks, and liquid scents on the market. In the end, there’s just no substitute for nature.
What Can You Catch With Live Worms?
While some saltwater fish will go after a live worm, most freshwater species love them. A juicy nightcrawler will draw largemouth and smallmouth bass, as well as walleye, catfish, trout, bullheads, crappie, bluegills, and yellow perch to name a few.
Mealworms work great, especially in places where the fish are already eating them. These smaller bait will get the attention of trout, perch, bass, and panfish. Anglers swear by mealworms for ice fishing and early spring fishing.
Another wiggly option is the California red wiggler worm. These are the worms to go for if you want something long-lasting on the hook. They give up the ghost long after nightcrawlers and earthworms begin to look gray and soggy. Panfish, perch, bluegill, crappie, and trout will chase red wigglers.
Where Do You Get Live Worms?
With all three types of worms, there are varying options when it comes to getting a hold of them. One obvious option is a bait shop, but with some creativity and patience, less expensive and even free methods will yield these tasty bait as well.
Nightcrawlers, depending on where you live, can be found in the soil. Since they can’t breathe underwater, they crawl their way to the surface after a heavy rain or a good soaking with the sprinkler. As long as it’s not flooding, these guys will literally hang out near the mouth of their tunnels. Using a pair of rubber gloves or a layer of sawdust on your hands will help you grip these slippery creatures. When you’ve got one, pulling up to bring them out of their burrow will usually result in a torn or squashed worm. That pretty much defeats the purpose of collecting them since they won’t live long in pieces. Instead of yanking upward, pull them out parallel along the ground.
Unlike nightcrawlers, which will never become anything but a larger nightcrawler, mealworms are not technically worms. Mealworms are actually the larva of a beetle, so when they’re mature, they will pupate and turn into a beetle. They like to feed on decaying plant material and you can often find them under logs or piles of dead leaves. The “meal” in mealworm comes from their habit of going after human stores of grain and grain products. Since a lot of creatures like to eat them, you can easily find them in pet stores for feeding lizards, frogs, and chickens. Dried mealworms work as bait too, they just need to be plumped up.
Red wigglers are often used in something called vermiculture. On a small scale, they’re easy to raise and they eat compost, producing “castings.” These castings are great for fertilizing houseplants, flowers, and vegetables. Because they breed so easily and quickly it’s a simple matter to raise them for your garden and have plenty of extras for fishing. People who raise wigglers usually have more than they know what to do with, so it’s easy to mail order them or find a local vermiculturist who will let you pick them up.
How to Bait a Hook With Live Worms
Depending on the type of worm, there are a few different ways to put them on the hook. Many anglers pierce the worm and then bury the hook inside it. That doesn’t leave the worm much room to do its thing, however, which is part of the reason these wiggly creatures work so well as bait.
For nightcrawlers, locate the worm’s clitellum. It’s probably the easiest part of these worms to spot as it looks like they’ve been wrapped around with a bandaid. This smooth, belt-like area is where the worm’s reproductive parts are. Instead of skewering the worm in its privates, insert the hook a centimeter or two away, on the longer half of the worm. If you pierce these guys more than once, they can get leverage to work free of the hook.
Mealworms are a bit smaller and you’ll need a smaller hook for them. Try a size 14 or 18 for these little guys. For red wigglers, barbless hooks in a small diameter work the best. Hook the wigglers the same way you would for a nightcrawler. In heavily vegetated areas, you can always bury the tip of the hook in the worm to keep it from snagging.
For more information about fishing with worms, head over to Take Me Fishing.
Those are the basics of worm fishing. If you’ve been warned to stop spending the kids’ college money on expensive lures, go back to the old standby and rig up with some natural bait. As always, be safe and have fun!