"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Catalpa Worms Make Excellent Bait
Copyright © 2005 by Bill Scifres

It is never easy to convince squeamish anglers that catalpa worms are good bait and that they are even better when squooshy, but those with constitutions of iron take a lot of fish on this summertime bait.

When summer arrives and fish start getting a bit persnickety about the baits (natural or artificial) that strike their fancy, the catalpa worm, larval stage of the Catalpa Sphinx (moth) become a good fish bait for a great variety of fish species found in Hoosier waters.

The catalpa worm, larval stage of the Catalpa Sphinx (Ceratomia catalpae) is found on the underside of the leaves of catalpa trees, widely distributed in Hoosierland.

Aside from the catalpa worm’s value as fish bait, the life cycle of this beautiful moth (sphinx) is a story in itself. The adult of the species varies greatly in coloration and markings and may be as long as three inches or slightly longer. The adult winters as pupa in the earth as a firm brown case (somewhat similar to a thin celluloid). It emerges about this time of year as an adult.

Adults deposits a mound of hundreds--perhaps even thousands--of small, white eggs on the underside of catalpa tree leaves. The eggs hatch in a few days and eat catalpa leaves to reach maturity (they may be three inches long and more than a quarter of an inch in diameter. There are two, perhaps three, coloration phases (strains) of catalpa worms. One is considerably darker (more black, more green and yellow). The dark phase has a broad, black stripe down the back. All strains have a black spike-like appendage protruding upward from the tail.

Unfortunately, at least for anglers who seek catalpa worms for bait, not all catalpa trees are infested by catalpa worms. This baffles the scientific community, but explanations I have heard or read lean toward the “facts” that the chemistry of some catalpa trees simply is not suitable for the worms, or that trees of highlands and poor soil have immunity.

However that may be, catalpa trees are slow to leaf out in the spring and they do not bloom until late May or early June. Worm infestation occurs after the blooms are gone.

Infestations of catalpa worms may completely defoliate a tree. If that occurs, trees most often refoliate, and may be infested again.

The best way to collect catalpa worms for fish bait is to pluck them from the leaves of low-hanging branches while standing on the ground. However, I have on many occasions spread tarps or blankets beneath an infested tree and shook them down.

A two-pound coffee can (cover ventilated) is a good container for storing catalpa worms. I like a loose culture of green catalpa leaves for storing worms. I keep them cool (like in the refrigerator), but do not freeze them, although I have heard from others who freeze worms and find them good bait.

Catalpa worms of varying sizes are excellent bait for bluegills, channel catfish and white perch (freshwater drum). It is commonly thought that a catalpa worm with head pinched off and turned inside out on a long-shanked (sunfish) hook is irresistible to bluegills. I would not pooh-pooh that thinking, but the same worm is just as good for the 'gills, and not half as nauseating, when merely baited a la earthworm style.

Although most anglers believe large catalpa worms are better bait than small worms, I like worms about an inch long--or slightly larger--for fishing with fly rod or spinning tackle with casting bobber. I use a light wire hook and hook them just behind the head, allowing the worm to trail the hook. When fishing catalpas on a fly rod, the angler must flip the line cautiously to avoid losing the bait. But this is a good way to fish catalpas when you are close to the fish. Once the bait is in the water, slow is the way to go. I use little weight, preferring to allow the bait to drift as it sinks slowly.

For white perch (freshwater drum) and catfish larger worms are undoubtedly better, and they are fished on--or close to-- the bottom. For this kind of fishing, I gob the worms on the hook (hook the worm several places) much as I would hook garden worms or night crawlers.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

Catalpa worms live and feed on the underside of catalpa leaves. 


All columns, essays, and photos are copyrighted by Bill Scifres and may not be reproduced in any form without prior permission from the author.  For reproduction permission and media usage fees, contact: Bill Scifres, 6420 East 116th Street, Fishers, IN 46038, E-mail: billscifres@aol.com

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