Crawler Care

By Nick Simonson

Those initial warm days, and spring rains on recently unfrozen ground are to anglers what the alignment of three cherries on a Vegas gambling machine are to a die-hard slot jockey – paydirt!  This time of year as the first soakers sweep across the greening landscape, it’s easy to encounter enough nightcrawlers to fuel a month or more of fishing, whether it’s a small pinch of worm on a jig under a bobber for bluegills, half of one strung across two hooks behind a walleye spinner, or a big gob of them impaled on a large circle hook for catfish.  While the finding of a half-season’s worth of bait is easy this time of year, maintaining it through the openwater season requires some effort.  Employ these tips for the freshest nightcrawlers each time they’re needed.

Small Investments
A solid container to store the worms should be lightweight and sealable, and many companies make storage products specifically for the purposes of keeping various quantities of nightcrawlers.  Made from lightweight material and with proper aeration ports, options like Magic Bait’s Worm Farm or Frabill’s Habitat series of storage options make for good primary nightcrawler holders, and easily transfer to fishing activities. Assess fishing needs early on and make a decision on how large of a container will be necessary to store a few dozen night crawlers or larger numbers.

Additionally, invest in non-dirt worm bedding for storage and in-boat use.  Recycled newspaper, peat and other natural materials are frequently utilized in cleaner options that don’t leave mud on decks or in the carpet of a boat. Commercial beddings often have food sources and nutrients mixed in with the bedding to help maintain nightcrawler health while in storage.

Be Cool
Once in storage, nightcrawlers should be kept in a cool dark place, typically around 40 degrees in temperature.  Having a dedicated bait fridge (or at least reserving a shelf in a beer fridge) with an adjustable temperature is a great way to keep crawlers separate from food and other household members’ mistaken identity of the container being last week’s lo mein from the Chinese Palace. Be watchful of the temperature, as a fuller fridge or proximity to an adjacent freezer space can cause temperatures to drop, and without significant cover, many of the worms may freeze and die.

Handle With Care
When fishing with nightcrawlers, make it a point to take only what’s needed and don’t go overboard when separating a dozen or two out for a fishing trip.  Ideally, crawlers that have faced the stress of higher temperatures while sitting on the boat or shore shouldn’t be reintegrated with the general population.  Inspect a stash of nightcrawlers on a regular basis and remove any worms that look injured, sick, thin, droopy or outright dead to prevent the spread of disease and eliminate any decomposition and the stench that goes with it!

Along the same lines, don’t handle worms excessively and don’t stretch or pull on them, even if just to remove them from the box.  Instead, gently scoop them out of storage with a finger or two and put them into a travel container.  For those nightcrawlers that do get turned over to the hard-to-entertain young angler, it’s best to either make them a free offering to the fish or leave them on shore for a hungry robin to find.

Feed The Need
Finally, making sure that nightcrawlers have the moisture and food they need will extend their life and keep them healthy.  Use a spray bottle and mist non-chlorinated water over the bedding to keep it moist, but not soaked.  Nightcrawlers can eat most compostable vegetables and fruits along with coffee grounds.  Simply grind or cut them up into small pieces and mix them in on top of the worm bedding for the nightcrawlers to eat and digest.  Commercial food options are also available and take a bit of the work out of hiring a sous chef to prepare their meals.

Stumbling onto a few dozen worms after a heavy rain can pay off throughout spring and early summer with a supply of free bait, and proper care of those found nightcrawlers ensures healthy offerings that are more attractive to panfish and gamefish alike.

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