Enhance your vocabulary

It truly is going to get warmer between now and the opening of trout season. Just when you need them, worms will be lurking under all the leaves you didn’t get raked up last fall. If you have proper containers already made – like do it now – you can easily pick up enough worms to last you all season.

The fly-fishing zealots among us have already created their dandruff-sized works of art from feathers and fur and stored them in perfectly compartmentalized plastic boxes and tucked them into their Orvis vests with the scores of little pockets. They are ready for trout season.

Walt Young told me he tied enough flies during this past horrid winter to last him several years. Since he fishes nearly every day, that has to be a powerful pile of feathered seducers. Wonder where he keeps them?

But the rest of us – the bait casters and spinning rod users – we have to gather live bait when it is available and that time is now. So it becomes a family affair to gather worms, nightcrawlers, and whatever else we can find lurking under rocks or tree bark. Yes, we can buy it all at bait shops but gathering and preserving it yourself adds to the flavor of the season and the pleasure of reeling that fish in.

Right now, when everything is moist and worms are working their way to the surface and finding shelter under wet, matted leaves and under rocks and pieces of wood is the easiest time to get it. Later, when the earth is dry, trying to dig worms becomes a major project. Just now, gently lifting up the leaves will produce a trove of garden worms, wriggling and healthy.

You can keep worms alive in most any container if the soil in it is kept moist, not sopping wet. I do concede to buying the worm bedding available in about any retail store right now. Earth mixed with coffee grounds or garden mulch is also excellent. If you put your worms in a can, remember to always cover the top with screening or a piece of metal punctured with small holes. If you don’t cover, the worms will crawl out during the night and disappear back into the earth. I learned that the hard way.

Those who like to fish with night crawlers will find them lurking in the lawn or garden just after a rain. To properly retrieve a night crawler, remember that most of the time, the tail of the worm will be in its hole. If you just grab and pull you will break the worm and it will die. So the technique is to grab the potion you see and hold on with just a slight upward pressure. You’ll feel the worm relinquish its hold and then you can pull it on out.

If you see a neighbor patrolling his backyard with a flashlight after dark, he’s looking for nightcrawlers. Red cellophane over the lens seems to work better than just the regular beam. The red light does not alert the worms as quickly as the yellow beam.

Actually, I like to catch fish on about any insect, worm or bug I can find, even if I don’t know what it is. Whatever I find under a rock, log or a crevice in a tree trunk I throw in the container and then I impale it on small (No. 4’s, No. 6’s at the largest for stream fishing) hooks. Grubs are favored bait, the white worms can be easily found in rotting logs. That’s why black bears tear the logs apart, mainly for the juicy grubs.

A couple years ago I wrote about a practice of worm gathering favored in the south – worm fiddling. A stake is driven a couple feet into the ground and then a flat piece of wood is rubbed across the top of the stake to produce vibrations. The vibrations incite worms and night crawlers to come to the surface. It works. It is a technique so popular in the south that worm-fiddling contests are crowd-drawing events.

Worm-fiddling does not work so well in the very early spring, save this technique for late summer when the squiggly buggers are hard to find.

The bait-gathering goes on all season but is best accomplished right now, while ground is soft, leaves are matted and everything is emerging from its winter hideaway. Later we’ll be looking for grasshoppers and they are in any grassy field. The best time to get them is on a cool early morning because they are a cold-blooded creature and so are lethargic until the sun warms them. They cling to plant stalks and grass and are much easier to catch at that stage. Chasing grasshoppers around on a hot summer afternoon can be quite an adventure.

For early spring stream trout fishing on water that is running fairly strong I prefer a spinning rod with about 6-pound monofilament. I use gang hooks for worms, which is a rig of two # 4 or 6 hooks tied to a piece of leader with a swivel on the end. I then attach the gang hook rig to the end of the line with my favorite knot, one hook impaling the head of the worm, the second hook impaling the back end. That way, the worm floats fairly straight in the current. I use only enough split-shot on it to get the whole affair to float in the current along the bottom. If I use snelled hooks, as I sometimes do, I attach the hook to the head of the worm and cast it out.

As the summer wears on, I go to lighter gear for lower water conditions using live bait. But that’s another story. But now is the time to make bait-gathering a project for every one in your family who is going to go fishing.