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The earthworm could be considered the universal bait for its ability to tempt both freshwater and saltwater species alike.
By Dick Mermon
Tags: freshwater

Earthworms, commonly referred to as “nightcrawlers” because of their nocturnal habits, are basically employed as a freshwater bait for the likes of trout, largemouth bass and panfish. Few anglers give a thought to soaking these same baits in saltwater, yet they can be surprising effective, and at times even more effective, than more traditional saltwater baits for species like flounder, porgies and weakfish.

My introduction to using nightcrawlers (lumbricus terrestris) came at a young age when I began freshwater fishing. I continued my use of nightcrawlers, mainly because they were cheap to come by when I was unable to catch my own. As a teen, I expanded my fishing territory to the Sheepshead Bay area, catching flounder right from the docks from March into early May. Not always having pocket money to buy the more expensive blood or sandworms, I “resorted” to nightcrawlers and hit pay dirt with them. From there, my affliction with saltwater fishing blossomed, going from party boats to piers and then to the surf.

With my discovery of saltwater fishing, freshwater species played second fiddle to my new found love. There were more opportunities available close to home in the bay, as well as the ocean, and I became very friendly with an old time bayman named Bud Ward. Our very first trip happened to be for winter flounder and as the season approached, the idea surfaced of trying earthworms, along with bank mussels and strips of skimmer clam. Again, the “crawlers” were cheap and easy to come by. Actually, it took only a few flounder trips to prove that nightcrawlers could be a very effective bait in the salt, and worked equally as well as other marine baits.

Most often, earthworms are purchased from bait shops in a container with a specific type of soil which is kept refrigerated. The cool, moist soil maintains the worms’ freshness and active appeal. Option one is to keep the container in a refrigerator at home, or option two is to buy a bag of crushed ice and a small cooler. Place the bag of unopened ice in a cooler and cover with several sheets of dampened (not saturated) newspaper or burlap. Spread another layer of moistened, shredded paper, and then apply the worms atop this bedding along with any moist soil. To maintain earthworms for a long period of time apply a layer of used moist coffee grounds over the worm bed and again cover with the moistened paper or burlap. Finally, cover the entire area with a light layer of moist newspaper. Close the cooler and place in a cool, shaded place away from sunlight.

After many years of bypassing earthworms for more salty bait, I again found myself using them for flounder fishing. Two friends and I fished a local harbor, equipped with mussels, sandworms, and my old standby nightcrawlers. We did not do well catching fish of any size, but out of the half-dozen, legal-size flounder we did manage to hook, it was the earthworms that did the job.

When using nightcrawlers as bait, pass the hook through its band-collar then insert the point back into the body again so it will dangle when lifted off the bottom. Slowly lower and raise the rod tip so the bait will flutter, while the sinker bouncing the bottom will stir some sand or mud to attract fish to the hook. Do not cut the crawler into sections as if it were a seaworm because the full length is more effective on most species.

Nightcrawlers can be used for other species such as sea bass, school-size stripers, weakfish and fluke, as well as flounder. A nightcrawler affixed onto a bucktail jig makes for a tempting offering. If it’s fluke you’re after, skewer a worm onto a bucktail jig, then lightly dance the lure and worm slightly off bottom. Fluke will strike with a vengeance due to the motion created by the deer hair and the wiggling worm. As for striped bass and weakfish, try slow-trolling a willow-leaf spinner dressed with a nightcrawler along a channel or marsh bank, or along the edge of mud and sand bars. This approach is deadly on school bass. In the case of weakfish, trolling a spinner and worm can also be effective, but I prefer fishing them with a bottom rig and the hook set at 24 to 36 inches off the bottom. Another effective weakfish technique in shallow water is to employ a single-hook, ½- to ¾-ounce diamond jig baited with a large earthworm and drift with the current, allowing enough scope to keep the jig near the bottom.

Earthworms can certainly be an effective bait in saltwater. Experiment with it yourself and it just might save the day when more common baits let you down.