Ladyfisher
Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

September 22nd, 1997

Worms For Sale



Have you ever picked worms? Or seen a little kid next to the road with a misspelled "Worms for Sale" sign? I didn't sell worms, but I knew kids who did. Some even crept onto the big private golf course at night, (after rain was best,) and filled coffee cans with huge, fat, juicy worms.

Gramps taught me how to pick worms. Summer rains after a hot spell encourage worms to come to the surface. Maybe all their worm-runs fill with water and they come to the top to keep from drowning. Don't really know why they behave that way, but I do know you can catch trout (and bass) with a fat worm properly threaded on a bare hook.

Then there was the minnow seine - an all-day job for two kids. A length of a window screen stapled to a couple of sticks, held over the side of the dock and swished through a school of tiny minnows hiding in the shadows.

Or if that didn't work, a square box made of the same window screen with a little screen tunnel opening on one side so the minnows can swim inside. There was a wire hinge on the top so the minnows could be removed to impale on a hook. Don't forget the piece of white bread inside the trap, or the minnows won't go in.

Back in Michigan some friends and I scrounged around a cattail marsh most of one summer, hunting leeches to use as catfish bait. I much prefer worms or minnows over leeches!

So you think I am a fly fisher? You're right. But I wasn't born with a fly rod in my hand . . . although someone actually wrote that. I came to fly fishing the same way you did. By just fishing - a natural progression.

In the Beginning - Zebco

Most kids start with a bait-rig of some sort; (usually it's intended to be like the hush puppies folks in the south flip to their hunting dogs to quiet them down at supper time.) Someone hands us a rod, tells us what to do, and hopes we'll be quiet and let them fish.

If you happened to actually catch a fish - wow! The nuts were off the buggy wheels. No one could go fishing without that kid tagging along. Heck, I even bugged the neighbors. My old casting rod was very well used.

I don't quite remember my first spinning rod. I do recall the reel 'tho. It was mine; all mine, and it was a Zebco. Boy, was I proud.

Gramps relented and taught me fly casting when I was eleven or twelve. I wanted to do that, because he did that! He was especially neat because he allowed me to tag along on all sorts of his doings. Part of his living was made as a timber cruiser. That's a person who looks over a stand of trees and tells the owner how many board feet of lumber it will produce. We spent lots of time in the woods. Trout streams tend to be in the woods. We fished.

So How Do Kids Learn?

Unless you have been aboard charter boats that carry live bait, you may never have seen live bait. Much less for sale. Or worms. These days bait is caught, packaged up and frozen. In selected colors.

Plastic worms and goop in a zillion flavors have replaced the roadside kid with his worm sign. Maybe the grass is greener without worm pickers, but a slice of life has been lost. I wonder how kids get involved in fishing now. Or how a single parent who missed that same slice gets kids away from video games.

Each little town had a bait place. Maybe just a tiny corner of the hardware store. On lakes there always was a bait shop at the gas station or boat dock. They sold leeches, minnows, worms, hooks, leaders, and bobbers. Some of the more entrepreneurial ones had casting rods, cane poles, reels and lines.

No one went into one of these bait shops just for the bait. You went to visit! It was an event. You asked about the family, the weather, and the dog. Only after the proper polite conversation you would ask, "How's the fishing?" And where. What time of day? And what are the fish hitting on?

Kids like me learned all about such proper "sporting behavior" from our elders. By the way, you always bought something even if you didn't need anything. The guy at the bait shop couldn't be expected to stay in business by just giving away free information. Sort of like buying something at the gas station if you just had to stop and use the restroom. Yes, that was considered proper too.

Technology - Full Speed Ahead

Fishermen today are smarter, and more sophisticated. Technology allows us to look at a screen and make the decision whether to fish or not. A fish finder screen, a depth finder screen, a computer monitor screen, or a television screen has all the information you could ever want. Or do they?

Megga malls, discount stores, cheaper-than-wholesale catalogues all offer to supply gear to anyone interested. Never fish for anything? "Hey, lookie here!" They promise to make instant experts out of anyone - including you.

But they won't show you how to tie your hook on the line. Or which fish are which. Much less when or where. They don't teach, encourage, tuttle, or mentor. And they won't have any answers when you don't catch anything. Or hold your hand when you finally do get a fish on and lose it - because no one ever mentioned how to play a fish.

It's a Journey

You might call the passage from "just" fishing to fly fishing "coming up through the ranks." The accumulated knowledge from that trip is what makes successful fly fishers. It's a journey, not a destination.

It is also the same trip that entitles the fly fisher to have an opinion or three on the state of the resources. To have a deep appreciation for the out-of-doors. To be involved. Stewardship?

I don't see many bait shops anymore. Maybe they all folded their tents as fish numbers dwindled. For that matter I don't see many fly shops either. Competition from cut-rate megga stores cut into their businesses too deeply.

Most of the old-type fly shops where the owner either tied all the flies or made the rods are nearly gone. Replaced by flies produced off shore, and mass produced everything. The end of tradition and heritage in process.

The quality and personal service that enriched my life (as well as fishing success) are indeed rare. If you find it, consider it a treasure. ~ The LadyFisher

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