Use fresh nightcrawlers as bait

Imagine being a trout on a chilly spring morning with a fat, healthy wiggling worm approaching. How could you resist having that tasty morsel for breakfast? You couldn’t, and that’s why using fresh nightcrawlers as bait in early spring will help you land many fish. Finding and gathering your own nightcrawlers can be a rewarding and challenging adventure.

Many people assume that nightcrawlers live in dirt, but that is not entirely true. While they spend a great deal of time underground, they live not in dirt but in tunnels they build from dirt. The tunnels allow them to reside in an atmosphere where they can survive. Nightcrawlers need constant moisture and a temperature range between 40 and 60 degrees. The earth between five feet and 12 feet deep provides this environment year-round and the tunnels allow nightcrawlers to travel to desired locations and to the surface for food, mating and fresh air.

Nightcrawlers do not share tunnels. Each builds their own tunnel to fit their own particular size. Nightcrawlers have no eyes or sense of smell, so once they leave their tunnels, which never happens voluntarily, they cannot return. Heavy rains most often drive nightcrawlers from their tunnels. Once on the surface where they crawl across driveways and sidewalks, most die from exposure, are eaten by birds or run over by cars and trucks. Nightcrawlers do not crawl under normal circumstances. It is only during these last few hours of life that they crawl at all. This periodic flooding is Mother Nature’s way of controlling the nightcrawler population.

Not every yard is suitable for nightcrawlers. A lawn that is heavily fertilized or sprayed with chemicals will probably not have many worms at all. Since they prefer to eat rotting leaves and grass, a vacant lot, playground or cemetery may hold a jackpot of nightcrawlers. Because of heavy foot traffic and muddy puddles or bare spots, a playground is an excellent location to find nightcrawlers. The heavily compacted soil provides stable building material for the nightcrawlers’ tunnels.

When collecting nightcrawlers, professionals recommend having the proper equipment on hand. First, you’ll need a container to hold them. The best thing to use is a one-gallon milk jug with the top half cut off. Prepare the container by puncturing holes into the sides and bottom, so that moisture and worm slime can escape. Make sure you puncture the holes from the inside out so that there will be no sharp edges inside the jug to injure the worms.

Nightcrawlers are very delicate creatures. They have soft bodies and no means of protection. An injured worm can kill the whole bunch. Have you ever bought a container of worms on the way to your favorite fishing hole only to discover them dead within an hour or two? There are two reasons this may happen—extreme heat and gas poisoning. On a fishing trip, nightcrawlers are usually relegated to the trunk of the car, where the temperature rises to levels they cannot tolerate. As a nightcrawler dies, it releases a poisonous gas that kills all the other worms nearby.

If you look for nightcrawlers after dark, you will need a flashlight. Here’s a trick for using a flashlight without startling the worms back into their tunnels. Place several sheets of toilet paper over the bright light and fasten with tape or a rubberband. This will dim the light enough, so it doesn’t shock the worms but still allow enough light for you to work. You should also wear soft-soled shoes, like moccasins or slippers, as hard-soled shoes are too noisy.

Collecting worms is easy right after or during a heavy rain. They are literally scattered all over driveways, sidewalks, streets and lawns. All you have to do is pick them up. You can collect hundreds in less than an hour. Don’t be too greedy, though. Collecting them is the easy part; keeping them alive is another matter.

If you plan to collect more nightcrawlers than you can use for bait in one day, you’ll need to provide for their needs. Your first task is to make them a suitable home. Dirt is not a suitable home. Remember, they live in tunnels not in dirt. They are also solitary creatures by nature, so you can’t just throw them all into a box. For the best quality bait, the home you provide should separate the worms from each other and provide them with constant moisture, even temperature and proper food. You’ll need space in a refrigerator that will provide a 40–50 degree environment. Purchase commercial bedding made of shredded paper and place three inches of it into a box no more than four inches tall. Do not put a lid on the box, as you’ll want the air to flow freely in and out of the box. Place the nightcrawlers gently in the box within 30 minutes after collecting. Let them do their own tunneling into the bedding. Those left on the surface will be injured or dead and should be removed immediately.

Check the box every day for the first week for dying nightcrawlers. Gently lift the bedding and remove the unhealthy ones. Remember, if left in the box, the poisonous gases produced by dying nightcrawlers will kill all your worms. Nightcrawlers breathe through their skin, so it is important to constantly keep them moist. As you check the bedding, look to see if the nightcrawlers are all bunched up in the corner. This signals that the bedding is too moist. Gently mix in some dry bedding. Healthy crawlers eat ravenously. Feed them moist organic matter twice a day. The worms will eat the bedding along with the organic matter you add, so keep a fresh supply of bedding on hand.

Nightcrawlers don’t travel well. To get them to the fish alive, place them (with bedding) in a brown paper bag and roll up the bag from bottom to top. Keep them in a cooler on ice for the journey. By following these steps, you can have big, healthy nightcrawlers to use as bait anytime you go fishing, day or night.

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