Collecting Crawlers…outdoors

In our outdoors… PayDirt

By Nick Simonson

In the era of three-dollar gasoline, fishing trips can get expensive.
The price of everything seems to go up while the quality goes down.
Jumbo leeches begin to look more like mediums and a dozen redtails
require a second mortgage. If you’re looking for an inexpensive and
entertaining way to get bait at this time of the year, save your
pennies and your efforts for a rainy day.
Though recent
downpours have hindered a few fishing trips, they have been helpful in
bringing nightcrawlers to the surface each evening. A popular bait
with fishermen of all experience levels and disciplines, crawlers are
as effective on walleye as they are on bluegill. Best of all,
collection of these worms, running up to 12 inches in length, is as
enjoyable for adults as it is for young anglers.
After Dark

Unless there has been heavy precipitation, nightcrawlers won’t appear
on the lawn or the sidewalk edges until evening has given way to
night. Possessing light-detecting cells, crawlers are sensitive to
the slightest illumination, and that’s where the fun – and sometimes
frustration – of nightcrawler collection is found. Wait until it is
nearly pitch dark after a day of good rain to begin the hunt. This may
be as late as 11:00 p.m. in the middle of summer.
With a
bucket, a flashlight, and senses ready, head out into the backyard,
garden, or other area of known nightcrawler habitat. If your light has
adjustable settings, put it on the lowest output or cover the lens with
a red filter, such as tinted plastic wrap. This way, the amount of
light is reduced to the point where you can still see, but the crawlers
are not spooked back into their burrows. Using the edge of the light
to detect the worms on the surface is most effective.

Hot Spots

A key area to search for nightcrawlers is where grass and bare dirt
meet. Here crawlers will rise up in search of air, pushed out of the
ground by over-saturation that makes it hard for them to breathe
through their skin. Many of these areas are under shrubs and trees
which may be drier than the lawn or areas open to rain. Focus first on
the edges of these high-percentage spots, then move in toward the
trunk. Many times, crawlers will come up on the grass edge and sprawl
over the drier dirt.
When grabbing a nightcrawler, try to aim
for any part of the main body that is exposed. Avoid grabbing the
orange “heart” area or the deep brown head of the worm. The body will
be a light gray or brown with some iridescence. With thumb, fore and
middle finger snatch the worm up with a grasp firm enough to hold the
worm. Don’t squeeze too hard, as your grip may injure the worm and
lead to an early death. If the crawler resists your efforts (which it
most certainly will) apply gentle pressure and wiggle it in a circular
motion so that its grip on the tunnel entrance loosens. Try not to
break the worm, as that will diminish its health and value as bait.

Collect crawlers in a small bucket during the hunt and transfer them
to a larger container filled with worm bedding or soil back indoors.
Lightly-soaked shredded newspaper makes a great bedding in place of
commercial products and is not as messy as soil. Add in a few leaves
or blades of cut grass for the worms to feed on and check the bedding
quality at least every week. Store the main container in a cool, dry
place and transfer crawlers into a small reusable plastic container for
each fishing trip.
Nightcrawlers make excellent bait when fish
target insects, leeches and other non-fish prey. Though few fish see a
nightcrawler in the wild on a regular basis, they have a tough time
turning them down behind a spinner or under a bobber. Having a supply
ready after a good night of hunting is a great way to beat sticker
shock and stick it to whatever species you are chasing…in our
outdoors.