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.
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