I slowly shone the flashlight all around me then quietly took one step forward, gingerly placing my foot on the ground before panning around me once more with the light. There had been a nice evening shower so the wet grass glistened in the flashlight beam, making it doubly hard to spot my quarry. Suddenly there it was; the object of my search, stretched out beneath the damp grass. I quickly pointed the light away so as not to spook it, cautiously lowered myself to one knee and prepared to do battle. The lightning reflexes of my youth long since gone, I thrust my hand downward as quickly as nature now allowed and felt the slippery wriggling beast in my grasp. Now came the trick; to tug the creature from its den without tearing it into pieces. With firm, constant, upward pressure I pulled my catch from its earthen domain. Success! Another fat night crawler for the bait can!
April showers do more than grow May flowers. They also bring the world’s favorite fishing bait, night crawlers, to the surface. There have probably been more fish caught on night crawlers than on any other bait combined. Where I grew up in central Ohio, every square foot of earth harbored night crawlers, but not so here in Kansas. I can’t seem to find a definitive answer as to why not, so I can only surmise the reason has something to do with our soil. Growing up, there were few bait shops near us and there was certainly no Walmart, so any night crawlers required for fishing had to be caught. On warm rainy spring nights they could be found stretched out on top of the ground anywhere there was earth. Usually we could catch all we needed on either side of the walk so we never even had to step into the yard.
Here in Kansas the first step, and possibly the toughest, at least where I live, is to find a place where night crawlers inhabit. City parks, grassy pastures compost piles and around old farm buildings are good spots to try. (You can ask avid fishermen, but as scarce as night crawlers are, don’t hold your breath for a truthful response!) Wait until its good and dark, say after 9:30 or 10:00PM, and the wetter the night the better, even if it’s raining lightly. Dress appropriately in old jeans and sneakers that you don’t mind getting dirty. The only other requirements are a good flashlight with fresh batteries and some kind of container. Walk slowly and quietly, taking “soft” steps so as not to vibrate the ground any more than necessary, and pan the light all around you as you walk. You will find the crawlers’ stretched out on the ground beneath the grass. Some will barely be peeking from their burrow while others will be extended nearly full length, but don’t be fooled: their tail end will always be anchored in the hole ready to snatch them backwards in the blink of an eye. When you spot the slippery form of your quarry, squat or lower yourself to one knee and reach out as fast as possible, grasping the crawler firmly. If you can tell which end is still in the hole, grab it as near the hole as possible; if you can’t tell one end from the other, grab for the middle and you’ll soon know which end you have! You’ll likely have to “coax” the crawler from the hole, so pull upward firmly, but not hard enough to tear it apart, This will take some practice so don’t be alarmed when you pull a few in half (those are still good bait; just use them first). Soon the worm will release its grasp and you can add it to the can. Sometimes you will find 2 crawlers attached and mating, and if you’re quick enough, both can be bagged at once.
Most night crawlers purchased at bait shops are shipped down from Canada where one author suggested as many as a billion are harvested each year. It’s such a serious business there that fields are leased for harvesting much as deer hunting or fishing rights are leased around here. That author put the going rate at over $40.00 per thousand and claims that on a good night more than $800.00 can be made for those willing to spend the time. That’s a lot of worms!
Night crawlers are classified as “deep burrowers” and are very efficient at incorporating organic matter into the soil. Their waste is very beneficial, and their burrows, as deep as 5 or 6 feet, help incorporate moisture and break up the soil.
When I moved to Kansas I saw it as a lifeless land with few outdoor opportunities. However, each day since has shown me outdoor adventures I was missing. That new perspective has not yet turned Kansas into a land abounding with free night crawlers for the taking, and I don’t see a “worm lease” anywhere in my future, so short of growing them in my own lawn, I guess I’m resigned to helping a few of my northern neighbors earn their living whenever I need night crawlers for fishing……Continue to Explore Kansas Outdoors!
Steve can be contacted by email at [email protected]