Illinois hunting and fishing

Warm spring rains = nightcrawlers

April 15, 2010 at 11:57 AM

For many years I have looked forward to a very special spring night. I wait eagerly each year, like a child waiting for Santa Claus, for the first warm spring rain.

Once the rain begins to fall, I snap into action. I get my flashlight filled with fresh batteries and pick out a nice clean pail. Shortly after nightfall, I creep into my backyard and begin my hunt. The hunt for the mighty night crawler.

I am a huge fan of the night crawler. I use them for every kind of fish imaginable, from walleye to steelhead and bass to carp. I have even caught Northern pike on night crawlers, and I doubt that there is any better bait in the world than a fresh night crawler gobbed onto a sharp hook.

The secret to keeping night crawlers fresh is in the bedding. Most good fishermen have their own tried and true secret bedding, and I am no different. I prefer a mix of shredded newspaper mixed with a combination of oak and maple leaves. To this mixture I add a trace of black dirt and sprinkle in some coffee grounds for forage. Moisten this with a dribble of fresh water and dump the crawlers in.

I check the bed daily and remove any dead crawlers that I find. Kept in a cool shady place, these will last me the entire season. I do, of coarse, replenish the supply of night crawlers after every soft rain.

As a child, I sold night crawlers to a fellow fisherman. I remember spending long nights crouched over a flashlight in the rain hoping to finance a new fishing rod or an overnight camping trip. I think, looking back, that this fisherman just wanted to help a few of us local kids make a little pocket money. He was always looking out for us.

I had pleasant thoughts of those childhood nights as I picked up the slimy treasures and dropped them into my bucket.

I cannot even dare to imagine the problems I have solved while picking up night crawlers. The mind wanders through different scenarios as the hands reach out and grab a night crawler. It is almost hypnotic, and I think it is very therapeutic and calming. The silence of the night interrupted only by the sound of the falling rain washes away the day’s problems. The occasional clap of thunder gives a slight jolt to unsuspecting ears. It is truly a total-body experience as the rain runs down your back and makes its way toward your feet.

There are many different methods of picking up a night crawler. While some folks like to grab the crawler with their entire hand, I prefer to grab it with just my index finger and thumb. I aim for the spot just behind the collar or band. The trick here is to not pinch the crawler too tightly. A soft touch must be developed in order to maintain a healthy batch of bait.

Once the crawler is in your grasp, it takes a gently applied pressure to remove it from its location in the wet ground. If you pull too hard or too quickly, you could pull the crawler in half.

I have used a red filter on my flashlight lens with much success. The red light does not appear to frighten the crawlers as much as a clear light. The softer red light also allows me to see the night crawlers much better by maintaining my night vision.

Another crucial key in successful crawler hunting is to not overload your bucket. I try to never put too many crawlers in my bucket before dumping them into my bedding tank. I think that the weight of a full bucket injures the bottom layer of crawlers. The bucket is also prone to filling with rain and drowning the bottom layers. I poke several small drain holes in my collection bucket to allow the excess rain and night crawler slime to vacate the bucket.

There you have it. A recipe for bait collection and storage that will give you fun and excitement throughout the season. You might even be able to make a couple of dollars from your time in the rain. Keep your flashlights charged and your lawn mowed close. Night crawler season will soon be upon us.

Ionia (Mich.) Sentinel-Standard writer Jim Kilchermann is an avid outdoorsman who loves to spend rainy nights collecting his year’s supply of bait. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) and share your favorite fishing stories.