Voices from the river

Voices from the River: Fishing with worms

By Chris Hunt

I’m an unabashed fly guy, so much so that I’m probably part of that snooty long-rod culture that inadvertently looks down their noses at bait fishers. But I have nephews and a niece who have yet to really get into fishing, so I’m coming to grips with my tweedy issues and making a concerted effort to teach them all about fishing, and that means starting with the basics.

I made a mistake with my own kids. I never really taught them how to bait fish. I hand-built a 2-weight fly rod for my daughter when she was 4. It was a sweet little stick, and we fished a lot with it together, mostly for little brookies in small, eastern Idaho streams. I’d usually hook the fish, and she’d reel it in. Then, on a summer evening along Moose Creek, she left the little rod lying in the grass, and our old dog stepped on the tip. She cried all the way home. I never could replicate that perfect little switch, and today, she fishes mostly with a Tenkara rod (and fishes quite well, I might add).

My son likes to fish, too, but not like his sister. He, too, prefers the Tenkara—it’s an easy way to get kids into fly fishing. He has never—ever—fished with bait.

Yes, yes. I know. I’m a horrible father.

But I’m going to be a better uncle.

In the dark recesses of my memory, I can remember my grandfather teaching me how to bait a hook with all kinds of wiggly critters, from live-caught grasshoppers for eastern Colorado spring creeks to crickets for East Texas bream to mealworms for hard-water perch fishing. My grandfather was a fly fisher, but he understood that, for his grandson to really gravitate to the craft, I needed to be hooked, too, much like the bait we used on our earliest outings together.

I remember watching him bait a hook with a fat nightcrawler pulled from beneath Grandma’s garden. He’d stick the business end of the hook through one end of the worm and slide the worm up the hook. Then he’d hook the worm again, and slide it up the hook again. He’d repeat this about three times, using snelled size 12 Eagle Claw hooks that came attached to a small “leader” about 8 inches long. Using a loop-to-loop connection from the fishing line to the leader, he’d have me and my brothers and cousins ready to fish in mere minutes. Each of us would walk to the water with a worm dangling from our hooks. After a time, we all figured out how to do it ourselves. That was the real beginning of the journey.

But it has literally been decades since I baited a hook with a worm. On my next visit to Colorado, I intend to take my nephews (my niece is still in diapers) fishing, and I’m going to start out right. So I’ve done some research on how to fish with worms—call it a refresher course. Thanks to the folks at Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm, here’s how to bait a hook with worms:

There are several schools of thought when it comes down to it, but in general, here are the guidelines most fishermen use while bait fishing. Following these tips will help you catch more fish, making your comfortable fishing outings that much more enjoyable.

  1. Keep your worms cool. Leaving your worms out in the heat will turn your worms to mush. They’re only good if you keep them cool. The cooler they are, the less they’ll wiggle while baiting your hook.

  2. Get your hands dirty. This accomplishes a couple things. First, it keeps your human scent off the worm. Fish have very good noses and may not hit your worm if they smell something fishy, or humany, going on. Second, a little dirt on your fingers will help you control the worm as you spear it and push it up the hook.

  3. Cut the worm. Worms can sometimes wiggle violently in the water and depending on what kind of fish you are going after, you might present a meal that is somewhat intimidating. Trout especially like manageable portions, so consider cutting your worm in half if using an earthworm. Better than the earthworm, use common red worms for trout. They love ’em!

  4. Spear one of the worm on to the hook and slide it up the hook until it reaches your line. Think of how you put your sock on in the morning. Do it in a similar fashion, except leave a portion of the worm dangling to preserve its worm-like presence in the water.

  5. If using small worms such as manure worms, hook several of these little worms to hide the hook.

  6. Every 15 minutes or so, reel in your line to make sure your worm is still attached. You don’t want to waste time with nothing on your hook. Generally, the better your hook your worm, the less of a problem this will be, so take your time. You’re fishing, after all, time is on your side!

I’ll be putting this great advice to good use this spring and summer with my nephews, in hopes of convincing them that the answers to all of life’s great questions lie at the other end of a fishing line. At the very least, we’ll spend some good time together, catching some trout and talking about the world around us. Hopefully, they’ll learn about trout, the places they live and why it’s so important to protect them.

And we’ll fish with worms.

Chris Hunt is the national editorial director for Trout Media. He lives and works in Idaho Falls, Idaho.

By Chris Hunt.