Trout eat worms.
OK, that's no great new revelation. You can probably find prehistoric pictograms conveying this information. But, as with so much of trout fishing, new twists on proven methods are always developing.
If you look at old books and magazines trout fishing with bait was quite common, mostly using dead minnows sewn along a long-shanked hook or earthworms strong along similar hooks. These baits were lobbed with fly rods with fly lines.
By the time I started fly fishing for trout in the late 1980s, the San Juan worm was a standard fly. It consists of a piece of fine chenille, called vernille, micro-chenille, etc., wrapped atop the shank of a hook, like a size 12 wet fly hook. The vernille is about 1½ to 2-inches long, with both ends singed to a taper with a match, the wraps in the middle and equal lengths protruding from each end of the hook shank. Favorite colors are red, pink, and natural earthworm
The usual method of fishing the worm is attaching a split shot about six inches above the worm, casting upstream and drifting it down, usually below and indicator. Purists sniff at this and the egg fly, since both take little skill to tie or to fish, usually employ an indicator, and are deadly effective, especially after a rain. Practical trout fishermen, including most of the big name experts I know, use the San Juan worm a lot. Personally I've taken loads of trout in different waters around the country with red or pink San Juan worms.
When I began covering the spin fishermen along the Patapsco River, I learned one of their favorite lures, beside small spinners, was the Berkley Power Bait 3-inch Trout Worm in red or pink. As above, the fishermen string the middle section along the hook shank, add a split shot above the hook, and drift it along the bottom. (I don't know where that 3-inch label comes from. The worms come in 11-inch strips with tapers along the length. Pulling a segment off at the taper yields a 2 1/4-inch worm.) These worms are effective, and I've caught trout on them in Maryland, but they tend to hang up on the bottom.
On a recent trip to the Avalon area of the Patapsco, I took several stock trout on Mepps and Panther Martin spinners. Then I tried a short section of the Trout Worm rigged as above but with a clear clip-on float above the rig. This produced no strikes. Then I put on a longer section running the hook point through the middle at a right angle to the worm, in effect rigging it Wacky style. I cast this upstream and reeled down fast enough to keep slack out of the line. This rang the dinner bell, with trout hitting every other cast. When I dropped back to a 2 1/4-inch Wacky rig, the strikes and hookups improved. I had no bottom snags, and the worm held up to a half-dozen fish or more.
Aha! Well not quite. This arrangement can be fished with spinning or fly tackle. But in Maryland, and probably other states, any scented lure is considered a bait, so the Power Bait Worm can't be used where regulations specify flies or artificial lures only. Some states further specify that materials in artificial flies must be tied to the hook.
However, I think there's a solution, provided by a man widely regarded as the premier fly fishing expert, Lefty Kreh. Last summer I attended a fisherman's luncheon and happened to end up sitting next to Lefty, where the conversation happened to drift to trout fishing. (O.K., you got me; none of this was happenstance.)
Lefty touted a product called Squirmy Wormies made by Spirit River. Later he sent me some San Juan work types he had tied up. Squirmy Wormies are made in a variety of colors including San Juan red. These come in untapered 5-inch lengths about the same diameter as the Trout Worms and are easily cut to preferred lengths. They are not scented and are so limp and flexible they must be tied on. In other words, these are not baits, so they should be usable on restricted waters. I tied up some in the standard San Juan style, along the shank, and Wacky style, at a right angle to the shank.
I can't wait to try them.
I also tied some up on small circle hooks. I noticed with the Power Worms I had to strike immediately, so the fish didn't take the worms too deeply and could be released unharmed. I further tied up some vernille San Juan worms Wacky style. With whatever material the Wacky rig has a lot more movement, natural movement, drifting in the water than the stick-like configuration of an attachment along the hook shank.
I'm also thinking these same rigs could be dynamite of all kinds of panfish and probably take bass as well. They could even be fished on dropshot rigs.
See? This opens a whole new world of worm fishing.
Bill May is a Times outdoors writer. His column appears every other Sunday. Reach him at 410-857-7896 or firstname.lastname@example.org.