When April splatters its way into Hoosierland,
I am often asked to name one “best” natural fish bait, and I, demurely,
point out that in pinning such a designation on one natural bait one must
consider many factors, especially the time of year.
But down deep, I know that if I had to choose
one bait for fishing an entire year it would have to be the night crawler,
or its smaller counterpart--the garden worm.
To illustrate the value of the night crawler as
an all-around fish bait-- a bait that stands a good chance of taking any
“biting” species at any time--consider a fishing experience I encountered
on Salt Creek in northwestern Jackson County in the early days of the tremendous
Monroe Reservoir fishery.
The three forks of Salt Creek upstream from Monroe
Reservoir, like most other streams and rivers, are not nearly so good today
as they were in the early ‘70s. That is another column.
When Monroe Reservoir was young, the three forks
of Salt Creek (North, Middle and Muddy) were free-flowing streams, and
as such they were an eternal draw on bass, bluegills, crappies from Monroe,
and some other species, including rock bass, permanent occupants of these
I often lost myself for a day on the Muddy Fork
downstream from the town of Kurtz. I had night crawlers and small artificial
lures with me on this day, a wading, bank-stalking adventure.
Starting with small pieces of night crawlers on
a short-shanked wire hook (about a No., 6, as I recall) behind a single
willow-leaf spinner blade on a straight wire post, I was wading when possible--scrambling
along the banks when water depth threatened to float my hat.
Soon I found my self standing ankle deep on one
side of the creek while eyeballing a sizeable collection of driftwood lodged
on the far bank, some 20 feet from my position .
I had sweetened the hook with a piece of night
crawler an inch long and flipped it to the edge of the driftwood on the
far bank. As my lure sank, I realized that the bottom of the pool dropped
considerably . . . that there probably was five or six feet of water under
the driftwood, and probably an undercut bank. It was an ideal place for
fish to lurk.
I never learned how deep the water may have been
because my bait never made it to the bottom. My first few casts produced
seven to eight-inch rock bass, and from there each cast brought in something
new, including bass, crappie and bluegills.
As the summer progressed on subsequent trips I
fished night crawlers in many ways. I fished them whole on three hook harnesses,
gobbed whole on a hook with no sinker and drifted into deep holes and below
riffles or around natural cover. But I never found a way to fish night
crawlers--or pieces thereof--that wouldn’t take fish.
Actually, I was not mightily surprised at my Salt
Creek findings. I had started learning about catching, keeping and fishing
night crawlers as a youngster at Crothersville. You will find a lot of
this material elsewhere on this website (www.bayoubill.com).
And in the mid’50s, when being indoctrinated into
the “best kept secrets” of fishing snooty little brook trout by my wife’s
Uncle Harold in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, I was shocked to learn
that small pieces of night crawler was THE bait, although most fly fishermen
found it difficult to admit.
Sure, I fish a great variety of natural baits
in various conditions and seasons. And I enjoy every bait I fish. But if
one bait is king of “naturaldom,” it is the night crawler.