Worm Fiddling or Worm Charming, Grunting: Oldtimer Methods of Catching Nightcrawlers
Old timers called it ‘Worm Fiddling” or “Worm Grunting,” the traditional way to coax nightcrawlers to the surface to be picked-up for fishing bait.
It’s a dying art and takes a practiced hand to do it right. A long, flat and somewhat flexible board is pounded into the ground leaving a short stubby end exposed. This is done during the day perhaps a day or two before its intended use. This installing in advance allows the worms below the soil to become acclimated after the insertion of the stick. The pounding of this flat board into the ground will scare the worms deeper for a day or so as would any other digging or pounding activity. This flat board in worm grunting is called the “stob.”
After a rainstorm or a good soaking with a garden hose to soften the soil, the ‘fiddler’ quietly approaches the stob with the other part of the equation; the “rooping iron.” This is another board, inflexible and about three feet long. It is a rough-cut board with much surface texture. With a firm hand on each end of the rooping iron, the board is drawn across the exposed end of the stob in a rapid and repeated sawing motion much the same way a fiddler draws the bow across the strings of his violin. This sawing action creates a harmonic which is transferred through the length of the stick and causes the bottom of the stob to respond the loudest, sending vibrations concentrically outward. These vibrations emulate the digging of moles, voles and birds which induce the nightcrawlers toward the surface, generally away from the epicenter of the vibration. Here, the they are easily picked-up by the fiddler’s accomplice, called 'the catcher.'
'Elephant Walk' of Worm Charmers
There are other methods used and personal techniques can vary widely. Some worm charmers use a small wooden beam instead of a flat board as the stob, and employ a dull cross-cut saw for a rooping iron instead of a rough rooping board. It takes a skilled hand to correctly perform this folksy method of quickly acquiring nightcrawlers. I have tried it with varying success back when I lived in rural western New York state but I found the good ol’ reliable 'flashlight and elephant walk’ technique far more effective for my skill level albeit, not as productive. A cool, moonless night under foggy conditions is the most ideal condition. Shortly after a light rain shower is also a bonus. The best results that I ever achieved using a moderately dim flashlight under ideal conditions was catching 126-dozen worms over the course of several hours on a two-acre patch of well-grazed horse pasture.
As a teenager back in the 1980s, selling my nightly haul the following morning to a local bait shop represented a fair income at 30-cents per dozen. Here in Toronto, CANADA there are people whom ‘hire’ small groups of adults to do this and meeting at a central location, are driven as a group to a favorable location to harvest worms and the workers are paid at the end of the night. The buyer can resell the nightcrawlers for as much as 25-cents each! With the right connections, one could sell directly to the bait shops for this and eliminate the middleman.
Worm charming Effective on Earthworms and Nightcrawlers
There are two types of night-crawler, the European (or sometimes also called 'Belgian') and the Canadian variety. The Canadian night-crawler is the larger of the two. The Canadian night-crawler is preferred because it is the most lively on the angler's hook, and can attain a length of up to 14-inches! It is therefore no wonder that fishermen would pay a quarter apiece for these monsters. Most folks here in the city just aren’t willing to go out and get their own nightcrawlers. They’d rather just go fishing. Since there is a demand for this bait, there are people willing to supply it.
Other locales using whatever method of capture works best and it is entirely possible that they can capture as many as 20,000 nightcrawlers in a single evening. Selling their worms for prices ranging between $25.00 - $40.00 per thousand, they can earn up to $800.00 for a single night's effort. It can be a career for the truly dedicated.
Some of my fondest teenage memories involve catching nightcrawlers on starry moonless nights with my best friend, my cousin, or even just by myself. Upon request, I would do a special outing for my father so he and his fishing buddy could go to Black Lake, NY on the weekend for a dad’s day out lake trout-catching extravaganza.
Worm grunting is a sport, a contest in some parts of the U.S. and abroad. So effective are the techniques of the professional worm grunter that some localities require that the worm grunter obtain a permit to ply their trade. Also, the insertion of the stob into the soil requires knowledge of any underground hazards such as buried cables, etc. and their stob must be removed after use. Licensing the worm grunter provides regulation and enforcement of these concerns.
Also, a reason for licensing the worm grunter is to regulate the number of individuals doing this in the community on public lands and prevents over-harvesting. Nightcrawlers are healthy to the ecosystem and land management, so unregulated over-harvesting them can create conditions such as erosion and soil depletion.
Worm Charming Capitol of the World
There is an annual event in Sopchoppy , Florida where the town has a festival devoted to worm grunting and they are the self-proclaimed Worm Grunting Capitol of the World. They even have a homecoming Queen contest for the event. They take this nearly forgotten old-time sport so seriously that they have built an annual event around it. It is also fun and certainly helps their local economy to host this recreational sporting event. Most worm grunting contests return the captured worms to the very soil they came from after they have been counted, in case you were wondering. It is after all the sportsman-like thing to do; catch & release.