When streams and rivers are low in summer, the small army of anglers
who ply their trade on such waters think of natural baits.
The parade of natural baits is endless--and as diverse as Heinz soups
and sparrows. The land is literally crawling with natural baits at this
time of year, and most of the “crawlers” (not to mention the “hoppers”
and “fliers”) will take fish. Fish--most species of fish, it seems--will
hit anything that moves, and some things that don’t move. Take, for example,
a couple of fishing success stories I heard in the past.
One youngster nailed a huge northern pike on a chunk of hotdog he did
not wolf down at a family picnic, and I once heard of carp sucking up ripe
mulberries from a tree that sprangled over a small lake.
But the natural bait most sought by anglers in these early weeks of
summer are hellgrammites,
larval stage of the dobsonfly, and
catalpa worms, larval stage of the Catalpa Sphinx, a cousin at least of
the moth family.
Both hellgrammites and catalpa
worms are very good bait through the warm months of the year, but they
are as different as day and night. The former is an aquatic dweller, while
the life cycle of the latter develops on the underside of the leaves of
some catalpa trees.
I say some catalpa trees because many trees of the species are never
infested by the worms that can denude a tree of its foliage.
The chemistry of a tree must be just right to be targeted by the adult
insect which deposits its eggs on the underside of leaves where it spends
most of its larval days, feeding on the leaves almost always from the underside.
Catalpa worms bury themselves in the earth and pupate, to return as
adults the following year--or a year thereafter--nature’s way of perpetuating
Collecting catalpa worms for bait is easy if the limbs of an infected
tree are low. They simply are picked off the bottom side of the leaves
and stored in a container with a top (I like a two-pound coffee can with
plastic top). A culture of green catalpa leaves keep the worms happy.
Store the can in a cool place, even a frig . . . but don’t freeze them.
If leaves are out of reach, a light, long pole (a cane fishing pole
is ideal) will dislodge the worms. And if worse comes to worse, I
spread a bed sheet or tarp on the ground below the tree and shake the
tree vigorously. (Note: If you
use a bed sheet and your wife finds out about it, I will deny ever suggesting
such a distasteful thing.) But it will work and the worms
do not mess up a sheet badly.
Catalpa worms can be fished in many ways, but I find them most attractive
to the sunfish set by simply hooking them just behind the head (they are
pretty durable) and allow them to trail from the hook as I fish them slowly
(at varying depths) like a slow-moving artificial lure. For catfish, white
perch (freshwater drum), I gob them on the hook (hook them several times
to form a gob), and fish them on the bottom.
Hellgrammites usually will be found on the underside of rocks on riffles
of streams. But they also will bury themselves in loose gravel or sand
bars that are inundated by fast, shallow water.
A lone angler can catch hellgrammites by standing at the downstream
side of a rock and gently tilting the rock backward. This tends to use
the current to hold the mites against the rock and they can be grasped
by thumb and index finger just behind the head. The pincers (pinchers)
on a hellgrammite’s head is not a menace, but I have seen them draw blood.
If there are three or more members of a bait-catching party, two of
the party can anchor the ends of a minnow seine across fast water while
the other members of the party do a “hellgrammite dance” above the seine
to dislodge mites wit their feet) and allow the current to wash them into
the seine. A “D” net on a long pole (legal in most states, including Indiana)
will work well for a lone angler.
The coffee can, with nail holes in the bottom to allow water to escape,
also is a good container for hellgrammites and other aquatic larva the
angler may want to try. I use wet decaying leaves for a culture.
With their tough, leather-like skin, hellgrammites are very durable
when hooked lightly under the hard, collar just behind the head. By starting
the hook point under the front side of the collar on the back and bringing
it out at the back side of the collar, the hellgrammite will trail the
hook and do all kinds of gyrations to attract many species of fish--notably
rock bass and smallmouth.
I like to fish them around natural obstructions on fast water, but they
ill take fish any place you put them.
One time many years ago while wade-fishing a riffle of the southern
Blue River with natives Dick Lambert and Joel Ponder, the latter broke
out in laughter and told me to come and see something interesting.
He was holding a nice goggle-eye. The fish was not hooked, but the hellgrammite
bait had "hooked" it with its pinchers.
thumbnail image to see enlarged view.
come in many sizes . . . two to three incher seem to be best for bait.
blanket spread beneath an infested tree will catch catalpa worms dislodged
with a long pole or shaken from the tree.
big catalpa is feasting on a catalpa leaf . . . worms are often more than
three inches long and more than a quarter of an inch in diameter . . .
all sizes take fish.