"Bayou Bill" Scifres
Dedicated to the conservation and enjoyment of Indiana's natural resources
About Bayou Bill
Recent Rambles
DNR Doings
Wild Recipes



Bait Collecting: Catalpa Worms
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Scifres

In retrospect, the catalpa worm supply last year was almost nil--I didn’t find one--but that may mean we will have a better supply of fish bait this summer. We can at least hope.

As you know, catalpas come on some trees (it depends on their chemistry) at varying times after the trees bloom and the elongated bean pods appear. But, last summer, they were as scarce as hen’s teeth.

This, of course (at least for the uninitiated) begs the question: Where do I find them? When? 

To answer those questions, it would be well to explain that the catalpa worms, a bodacious-looking lot, but a rather pretty-looking green, black and light yellow, are a larval stage of the catalpa sphinx (Ceratomia catalpae), and they feed voraciously on the leaves of some--not all--catalpa trees. Such voracious feeders are they, that infested trees sometime are denuded. 

Such trees recover with a new crop of leaves after the worms are gone. They feed, of course, on the under side of leaves. So far as I have found, they do not infest the leaves of any other tree.

Catalpas gorge on the leaves, then burrow into the earth, from which they emerge as beautiful moths the following year, or years, to deposit little white eggs on the under side of leaves. These hatch as worms. One inch worms, or smaller, make great fly rod baits fished like dry flies.

Catalpas come in many sizes, but I like a two-inch worm best for bait. Just punch the hook through their “gooey” body and let them wiggle as they are loose-lined near structure with nothing but a light split shot (or wrap-on sinker) a foot above the hook. I use long-shank wire hooks because they are lighter than steel.

Without the weight they sink slowly to become good surface, or shallow water bait. One of the less attractive, but successful, methods for baiting catalpas is to cut off the head and turn the worm inside out on the hook, starting the hook at the tail end. This is a mess but made more bearable by a bucket of water to cleanse the hands. 

Collecting worms for bait is a lot of fun in itself. I go to the same trees yea after year, checking periodically after leaves are out until my visits coincide with that of the worms. If there are low limbs, I climb the trees and shake them out on a blanket or sheet on the ground. If limbs are lower, I simply pick worms like cherries or apples. I store them in a two-pound coffee can (with top) partially filled with (what else?) catalpa leaves for a culture. I keep the container cool, even refrigerated, to keep them lively. They also may be frozen for later use, but fresh live worms are better bait. 

I used a wide-mouth mayonnaise jar for many years as a container with a cord strap attached to loop around my shoulders. However, one day, while wading Salt Creek near the town of Kurtz the glass jar slipped and shattered on a rock. Finny citizens in the pool below had a “no hook” smorgasbord as my supply of “naturals” drifted into the hole.

There are many preferred ways of hooking catalpas. But the light, long-shank hook with a gap (distance between point and shank of hook) of less than one-fourth inch seems best. Such a hook will take large or small fish if pressure is regulated. They will bend off brush hookups and they can be reshaped with the fingers. However, I recall on incident when I reshaped a hook so many times that it broke.

The whole catalpa worm scenario begs the question of when to look for them. The answer is any time after host trees bloom. But I get antsy for catalpas as bait any time after July Fourth.

Click on thumbnail image for enlarged view.

catalpawormb.jpg (37695 bytes)

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

 Return to beginning of document
Return to Bayou Bill's Home Page