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Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
Worms are low down and dirty. After all, they spend their lives crawling around in dirt or worse…manure! However worms do have a positive side, namely their value as top notch fishing bait. Bass, trout, panfish, catfish and even bright fresh from the sea steelhead have a soft spot for fat juicy worms.
Traditionally speaking, when it comes to using worms for bait, worms and trout fishing go together like fried chicken and potato salad on the 4th of July! Yet it seems like every year I encounter fewer and fewer trout anglers employing worms. The vast majority of trout targeting boaters I meet troll with lures and plugs exclusively, while most shore anglers I come across spend nearly all of their time soaking floating dough baits.
Has the current generation of trout anglers come to conclusion that their modern sexy offerings outdistance the effectiveness of their grandfathers’ night crawlers or have the advertising campaigns of tackle and trout bait companies simply overshadowed the effectiveness of the low crawling worm? I tend to believe that most of the trout anglers entering the sport these days simply overlook worms, because they don’t truly grasp how effective they can be. Let’s face it you’ll never meet a night crawler being represented by an advertising agency!
For the uninitiated anglers out there, I’m going to share a dirty little secret with you. Not only are worms one of the most effective trout baits available, but are also among the simplest to employ effectively whether you are firmly seated on the bank or trolling from the stern of a high tech aluminum trout sled.
Let’s kick things off by exploring the art of trout worming from the bank of a lake or reservoir, before looking at how trollers can employ worms.
For the still water bank angler there are really two ways to present a worm, either off the bottom or suspending beneath the water’s surface. Most of the time, trout can be found feeding and holding near the bottom, so that’s were you should present your bait most of the time.
The key here is presenting your bait NEAR the bottom, not ON the bottom. This is why Power Bait and other trout dough concoctions float. When teamed with a sliding sinker rig and a 1 to 3 foot leader these baits float up off the bottom right into the cruising zone of the trout.
Taking a cue from your dough soaking brothers, you’ll want to float your worm off the bottom too. This can be accomplished by teaming your worm with a marshmallow or injecting your worm with air using a worm blower or hypodermic needle. In most cases I prefer to float my worms with an injection of air, because this makes for a more natural looking offering.
I firmly believe that a worm gives me two distinct advantages over dough baits. First of all, experience has demonstrated that worms provide me with the best shot at hooking holdovers and wild trout such as the elusive brown trout that call many of our lakes and reservoirs home simply because worms represent a “natural” bait. A worm is “real” meat and the trout know it.
Secondly unlike dough baits, worms appeal to all of a trout senses. Dough baits put out lots of scent, but their visual attractiveness is limited to an array of bright colors. Worms take things a step farther. Like dough baits worms put off scent, but they also offer eye-catching movement as they wriggle and undulate. These subtle movements can be the difference between a hookup and a rejection, especially when the trout concerned in an experienced holdover or wild fish.
In situations when I have reason to believe that the trout in a given lake are suspended, I clip off my sliding sinker rigs and replace them with a slip bobber rigs. A slip bobber allows me to cast my worm a good distance offshore and fish it at a set depth anywhere from 5 to 30 or more feet deep. In this situation, I don’t inject my worm with air, since I don’t want it floating up. I just want it to hang wiggling in the water column.
If trout hit a bank angler’s worm because it looks natural, I can’t explain why a trout would hit a trolled worm, because a worm presented in such a way looks anything but natural. Yet many times trout will grab a trolled worm with vigor while ignoring all other offerings.
Now, while boaters can certainly anchor and fish worms using the same techniques that bank anglers practice, we’ll restrict our discussion of boats and worms to trolling, since this is the tactic that most boaters prefer to use.
When the Styrofoam worm container comes out during a trout trolling adventure on my boat, it’s because the fishing is tough and artificials are not producing well. In that situation, I like to run a straight “naked” crawler without adding a dodger or string of flashers.
Trolling naked worms is the picture of simplicity. I take my main line and attach it to a high quality trolling swivel. To the other end of the swivel I connect a 24 to 36 inch 6 lb. fluorocarbon leader tipped with a No. 6 Owner Mosquito hook. Using a worm threader, I slide a whole night crawler up over the hook and onto the leader. I thread the worm on the threader such that about a 1/2 inch of worm dangles behind the hook. Rigged this way the worm will rotate when trolled through the water.
If the trout are near the surface, I add a couple slit shot above the swivel and topline the worm from 200 to 250 feet behind the boat while keeping the speed from .5 to 1 mph. If the trout are suspended I run the same rig minus the split shot 100 to 150 feet behind a downrigger weight.
My stealthily trolled worm has produced a lot of trout for me over the years, but other anglers do equally as well when they run a threaded worm behind dodgers or flashers. These guys are typically the old timers that grew up pulling worms behind blades. With blade set ups the areas for experimentation are whether you employ a whole crawler or only a portion of the crawler and how far you put the threaded bait behind the blades. Sometimes the trout will prefer a worm crowded tight to the rear of the blades. At other times they want a worm trailing as far as 6 feet behind the blades.
A Ford Fender teamed with a night crawler was the favorite trolling combination of our grandfathers because it produced trout and it will still produce trout today. Today’s trout angler may have gone high tech, but the trout haven’t changed.
This being the case, remember that when your high tech lures and laboratory created dough baits fail, you can look to the lowly worm to save the day.
Worms….Trout anglers should never leave home without them!
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