"Bayou Bill" Scifres
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Where Are The Catalpa Worms?
Copyright © 2007 by Bill Scifres

A reader from Illinois wonders about all kinds of things involving catalpa worms and the host catalpa sphinx, so although my web page is stuffed with such information, we will try to get current in the terrible spring and the early part of the summer.

Dan, the reader, says he and his son have been scouring the hills of central Illinois without success as they search for catalpa worms for fish bait. He wonders why he canít find them. The old ďriver ratsĒ of his area swear by catalpa worms for bait.

To put the answer to that question simply, he canít find the catalpa worms, larval stage of the catalpa sphinx (Ceratomi caltapae), a pretty but not showy moth, because it has not yet developed there.

Here, in my central Indiana bailiwick, the catalpa trees are in full bloom now. Translate that to regions of Southern Indiana (say south of Mooresville, or certainly Columbus) and the flowering stage is over. Northward (say from Kokomo north) the flowering is just getting started. And even the areas north of Kokomo and south of Mooresville can be further divided in weather strips. This is because Indiana is roughly 300 miles long and situated smack dab between colder climes to the north and warmer ones to the south.

Suffice it to say that I start looking for catalpa worms in the neighborhood of July fourth here (Central Indiana,) but southward I would look a bit earlier and northward a bit later. Itís a silly game, but that is a reasonable facsimile explanation of the way weather works. Of course, I have found that the emergence of catalpa worms is more than somewhat dependent on the development of spring and summer.

A couple of years ago, I found catalpa worms in August in my front yard jungle, and that convinced me that all things in nature can be full of the ability to act uncharacteristically to meet weather demands.

Past experiences with catalpa worms have persuaded me that they will be present two to four weeks after the flowering has stopped. Incidentally, clusters of flowers from catalpa trees are beautiful in their many colors and rather like an orchid in shape.                  

My unscientific experience tells me the best way to obtain catalpa worms (if the branches can be reached) is to pick them off the bottom sides of the leaves where they feed. But if branches are out of reach, spread a white sheet on the earth under the tree and shake the tree vigorously. Climbing the tree should be a last resort and done carefully. One reader says he has a friend who goes to an infested tree at night and simply picks them off the ground. This makes sense because, in their cycle, catalpas are said to burrow into the earth, pupate, and then emerge the following year as adult moths that deposit their eggs on the under side of catalpa tree leaves. 

Size of the worm seems to make a lot of difference to those who use them for bait. Lots of anglers seem to prefer big worms (three-inchers) that are larger in diameter than a pencil. That is fine for big fish. 

But for bluegills, or other panfish, I prefer a worm less than two inches--even one-inchers work well--when hooked lightly with a small wire hook and kept moving. Big worms tend to hide the hook point too well, especially if gobbed on the hook (hooked several times).

I use a two-pound coffee can with plastic top for storage, placing green catalpa leaves in the can, and keeping them cool (refrigerated, not frozen), I have never done real well with frozen worms, but several readers have.

Some advocates of catalpas as fish bait, suggest big worms gobbed on the hook, then stepped on lightly to bring out the juices. Some others suggest cutting off the head of a big worm and turning it inside out on the hook, starting at the point of a long-shank hook.

If you find that some trees never are infested with worms when others arenít, this is true, it is said, because trees have different chemistry. This makes sense because the chemistry of a tree would certainly be found in its leaves, where catalpa worms feed.    

GUN ORDINANCE--That ordinance that would make it unlawful to fire weapons in Marion County is scheduled to be voted upon at 7 p.m. June 11 on the second floor of Marion County Building in downtown Indianapolis.  If you want to protect your guns (including BB guns) you will be on hand to do it. It is Ordinance 174.


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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