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
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.
on thumbnail image for enlarged view.
worms live and feed on the underside of catalpa leaves.