How to Catch and Properly Care for Nightcrawlers

Gary Roach uses full-bodied, healthy nightcrawlers for fishing.
Gary Roach uses full-bodied, healthy nightcrawlers for fishing. 2010 Northland Fishing Tackle, licensed to About.com

"They come up to eat, breed, and poop," said Frabill's Jeff Kolodzinski in a frank but descriptive sort of way. (Bear in mind that he's a modern day diaper changer and the word "poop" gets thrown around his house loosely.) But in this context, as it relates to fishing and the gathering of live bait, Kolodzinski uses the term to sum up the three calling cards that bring nightcrawlers to the surface: food, mating, and defecating.

"And the best picking happens right after a thunderstorm, particularly after dark, and then again at daybreak after an overnight rainstorm," continued Kolodzinski, unofficially the world's leading proponent of live bait. "You don't need any special red lights to sneak up on them or lightning fast reflexes, either. They're right there in front of you. Just grab them."

(TIP: Press lightly on the center of the nightcrawler's body with a plastic fork. The crawler will loosely wrap itself in the tines, saving you from futile attempts to peel its slippery body off a wet surface, and saving the crawler death by squishing.)

Where You Live

To the north, peak gathering season comes shortly after the ground thaws. And the peak of the peak is after spring's first hard rain and clapping thunderstorm. South of the Ice Belt, crawler time is anytime you can walk the neighborhood following a rain event. Spring, however, tends to produce the largest volume of crawlers no matter where you live.

According to Kolodzinski, you don't need to operate next to a garden center where the soil is fortified with Canadian sphagnum and alpaca manure, either. With a decently soft and fertile loam, preferably associated with sod or a forest edge, about all you need are a bucket, decent flashlight, and good set of peepers.

(TIP: Typically, the best gathering spots occur on the first flat surface below a gradually sloping hill. Nightcrawlers will congregate in those areas.)

Where To Find Them

"Streets, sidewalks, paths - it really doesn't matter. When nightcrawlers come up, they aren't very particular about what the ground feels like," Kolodzinski said. Oh, and while on the topic of manmade impermeable surfaces, he felt compelled to debunk an urban legend. "Somehow, someway, some people have it in their minds that crawlers picked up off asphalt or concrete don't live long, that their body is skinned and scathed. That's a myth. Take good care of them and they can last for months."

Taking Care of Your Catch

Care is crucial. You can spend an entertaining evening plucking bait with the kids and all's for naught if they turn into a rotting ball of compost overnight. A hot night in the garage is all it takes. Ever whiffed molten crawlers? If not, save yourself the retching experience.

As passionate as Kolodzinski is about harvesting and using nightcrawlers, he's equally as attentive to properly maintaining the critters. "On a good night," he says, "you can collect hundreds of nightcrawlers. Based on street value, that translates into a lot of savings for an angler.

Think about bait like an investment and you'll have the right mindset for being a crawler caretaker."

Long-term caretaking of crawlers has four core elements: food, bedding, temperature, and aeration. To no surprise, Frabill, the leader in bait care management, offers a full assortment of products to satisfy those requirements. And for long-term care, the Habitat V is what the Dirt Doctor ordered. Kolodzinski described the product: "The Habitat V is the perfect environment for keeping a volume of crawlers, blood worms, clam worms, or sand worms. It's constructed of insulating foam to manage temperature. Plastic vents keep the bedding properly aerated, too." Kolodzinski adds that 50-degrees Fahrenheit is the optimum temperature for storing crawlers.

The Habitat V comes with Super-Gro Bedding and holds ten to twelve dozen nightcrawler.

The bedding is 100% biodegradable and specially blended for long term stays - easily thirty days with full occupancy before needing a change. Kolodzinski claims that nightcrawlers can actually live "indefinitely" in a well-managed environment. He also uses the company's Fat & Sassy Worm Food to complete the circle, providing the nutrients to keep crawlers in perpetual fish-catching condition.

Bait collection and care can be as fun and fundamental as wetting a line, and complete what might be termed the "total fishing experience." Next time you take a kid fishing, take him or her collecting nightcrawlers first. Bring it on, fish…

This article was edited and revised by our Freshwater Fishing expert, Ken Schultz.