"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
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Natural Fish Bait
Copyright © 2006 by Bill Scifres

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 streams.

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.

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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