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Jim Gronaw: Fishing with earthworms still holds value | OUTDOORS COMMENTARY

Okay, I get it … the new PanOptix LiveScope sonar has been spreading like wildfire throughout the angling community across the entire nation. All tournament venues, and many ice fishing groups, are turning to the live sonar to key in on specific individual fish to up their game and catch the big ones. Several major electronic companies are now making their versions of live sonar.

I also get that the latest rage in soft plastics is coming out of Japanese markets that are both innovative and effective. The tournament guys are always looking for something new to put more “scorable bass” in the boat. Spot-lock systems, GPS, contour graphing and various apps that can document and record your success — or lack of it — is now available, as are computers capable of graphing and dictating what worked, and what didn’t, for today’s savvy, intelligent anglers.


In the grand scheme of things, and with all the latest and greatest innovations, lures and technology, is there any room at all for the simplest of the simple — the common earthworm? Has that child-like squeal and excitement, courtesy of the worm, ever gotten any credit, in any column, by any outdoor writer in the past 20, 30 or even 40 years? Anywhere?

Alvie Sickle displays a surprise largemouth bass that fell for the live worm. Many large bass are caught annually on live earthworms and nightcrawlers.

The answer is, probably not. I mean, come on, what self-respecting boat-toting, lure-chucking bass or trout angler would dare dip so low as to dig, or even purchase, an amount of garden worms or night crawlers in an amateurish attempt to tempt any species worth chasing in any of our waters? Be honest ... when is the last time you used worms for bait? Was it simply to entertain the grandkids with co-operative sunfish or was it in a vain attempt to catch a limit of hatchery trout that just came out of the truck? Or yet, to coax a huge bass off a bed?


Truth is, most of us fisherfolk have strong backgrounds that were steeply and historically connected to the common earthworm. And another truth remains, few natural live baits are as effective on so many different species of fish as are these succulent morsels that are readily available to the masses for digging or purchase. Admit it, all gamefish take advantage of the forage that is available throughout the seasons and right now the spring rains and storms put a huge amount of these critters in our waters to be consumed by not just panfish, carp and catfish, but by the high-brow species like bass, trout and walleyes.

I have often used small pieces of worms over the years as tipping components for my micro-jig applications on various panfish, especially large bluegills. The bottom eating sunfish, pumpkinseeds and red ears, are traditionally caught on live worms throughout the nation where the harvest of these fish lead to many a fish fry. Locally, skittish bull bluegills often respond to a whole garden worm on a No. 8 Aberdeen thin wire hook and gently casted to areas where the fish are seen cruising and actively spawning.

Last season, I had an exceptional kayak gig at one of our better public lakes where pre-spawn bluegills and red ears were taking worms with gusto yet ignoring all other commercially prepared options to include several of the time-honored Gulp! baits, which sometimes work better than live bait. The long shank of the Aberdeen hook allowed easy hook removal and safe release of all but a handful of fish that I kept for a meal.

This giant bluegill-red breast sunfish hybrid couldn't resist a simple garden worm enticement.

More recently, I was getting “short strikes” while casting for pre-spawn crappies with 2-inch soft plastics. Thinking I was getting nipped by bluegills with smaller mouths, I instinctively switched over to a 1/64th-ounce jig and a garden worm. To my great surprise, I actually started to catch thick, double wide crappies one right after the other. Apparently, these fish were tuned in to the worm gig after a period of rain for several days and didn’t want much to do with the standard issue plastic minnow imitations.

And the worm thing isn’t just for panfish, either. During early winter before things ice up, I used to drift whole, live night crawlers below a foam float about a foot off the bottom in local farm ponds along the face of the dams where the deepest water was likely to be. Still green weed beds often held large fish at that time, and I was able to catch multiple fish in the four to six-pound range over the years. Cheating? I don’t think so, as most nay-sayers remained at home watching football, I just preferred to catch large fish. Drifting live bait is a skill unto itself and the topic for a future column.

Walleye anglers, the elite in big water/electronic freshwater fishermen, have long recognized the extreme effectiveness of nightcrawlers as tipping or whole, live presentations. While down throughout the South, “wigglers,” along with crickets, remain the premier baits for simple yet extremely effective efforts for blackwater bluegills and crappies in hundreds of small rivers and creeks throughout the South East United States. Simple pole and line fishing has filled many a cooler with giant brim.

Way back in the early 1980s I caught a 4-pound, 15-ounce smallmouth bass on a bobber and garden worm, and it has only been exceeded by a few other smallmouths in my lifetime. Big, girthy channel catfish, behemoth carp, even chain pickerel and a couple of northern pike have all fallen to the charms of the lowly worm. Lucky catches? Maybe, but I am well-assured that worms, yes worms, still work in catching fish.