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Jim Gronaw: It’s comforting to know worms still work | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

When I was a kid ( huh, like that’s changed at all) I would grab a shovel or whatever and dig up the most moist areas of our home and garden and seek out the squirmiest and fattest garden worms I could find. Then, with passion and purpose, I would place them in an old coffee can and head to the nearest pond for some splendid panfish action.

Yes, I’d thread these wiggly worms on a thin, wire hook and put one of those classic red and white bobbers about 3 feet above the hook. If I was lucky, or blessed, I’d catch a bunch of decent-sized bluegills and take them home and carve ‘em up for a family meal. My mom was so proud of me, and she always made me feel like I was the “provider” for the family. Great times!

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But, as I have eluded to ... things haven’t changed all that much. Oh, yes, we use better tackle, rods, reels and lines now-a-years. Floats and bobbers are more sensitive, sophisticated and if I’m up to it I’ll throw a 3-weight fly rod for big bluegills from time to time. But one thing’s for sure ― it is seldom I have used any kind of live worm without success. The truth is: worms still work.

As I continue to navigate through this pandemic world of masks, vaccines and social distancing, I find myself drawn more and more to things of the past. For sure, fishing with common garden worms is considered a “thing of the past” by most of today’s up-tempo, well-equipped anglers. Bass pros would laugh at me (I don’t care) and prissy trout folk might have their nostrils so high in the air that they just might get a whiff of that “good country air” we country people have been smelling all our lives.

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Yeah, times have changed.

But what hasn’t changed is the undisputed success of worms and the multitude of fish species that will readily engulf them when properly presented. Other than shad and herring, I cannot recall any other species of fish that I haven’t caught on a worm at some time or another during my fishing lifetime.

Let’s face it, all panfish species, even crappies and white perch, are worm crazy. Both large and smallmouth bass will take a worm in a heartbeat and even trout will feed up on an abundance of “garden hackle” when available. They are the mainstay of many Midwest walleye gurus and are one of the best catfish baits when cut baitfish are not an option. As a tipping, enticement-style bait it’s just hard to beat a small piece of worm.

Recently, I have gone back to a variety of “old school” tactics that included the use of small, live earthworms for both panfish and bass at a number of my favorite lakes and streams.

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This monster pumpkinseed sunfish couldn't resist a writhing, lively earthworm. Many other species of fish are vulnerable to the lowly worm as well.
This monster pumpkinseed sunfish couldn't resist a writhing, lively earthworm. Many other species of fish are vulnerable to the lowly worm as well. (Jim Gronaw Photo)

It’s been wet and stormy for the past month and a lot of worms have made their way into our local waters, triggering fish to feed on this abundant food option. Just makes sense, giving them what they want.

Along with the classic red and white, round plastic bobber and a #8 Aberdeen hook, I both dug and bought worms the past few weeks and put them out there for all the bluegills, bass, pumpkinseeds, and hybrids to glare at. Few fish have resisted them.

Before the recent chilly spell, I had found a number of nesting pumpkinseed sunfish that just wouldn’t pay attention to any small lure option I could toss their way. Having encountered this before, I knew that a live, active garden worm could be the best option for coaxing these skittish guardians as they ran everything off their enormous spawning beds. Same gig for shallow, spawning red ear sunfish as well. They actually just pick up the worm and expel it from the nest most of the time rather than commit to an actual feeding response.

Using tiny hooks and a whole worm, I managed to finally fool some of those beautiful “punkins,” several of which exceeded 10 inches in length, world-class for these powerhouse panfish.

Likewise, another pond gig with my good friend Jud Larrimore had us facing cold-front conditions that made us wonder if we should have even gotten up that morning. Luckily, we hung in there and enjoyed just insane action on giant bluegills and hybrid sunfish by tipping our 1/64-ounce jigs with just a portion of the worms. You folks might remember that crazy, windy day where sustained winds were 30 mph and gusts ran to 60.

Yes, that’s right, we were fishing, but catching fish like it was no tomorrow thanks to the lowly worm. Without a portion of them on our jigs, we would not get a single bite.

Big bass like worms, too and I have caught a number of 5-pound class fish during my lifetime while questing spawning panfish. Wiley old brown trout will fall for a properly drifted nightcrawler or large garden worm as well and I know of several 20- to 24-inch fish that have been taken by skillful anglers diligently working small meadow streams throughout the Mason-Dixon region.

Indeed, most of today’s accomplished, well-equipped and knowledgeable anglers would scoff at the amateurish efforts by mere “bait fishermen.” However, I am sure that some of the greatest anglers who have ever fished are sitting in a boat in some southern swamp and threading worms on a hook, suspending them below a “cork” and enjoying variety and abundance that few of us “polished” anglers will ever see.

Yes, worms still work.

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