Operation Snatchin’: Never pay a penny for worms

THURSDAY, MAY 29, 2014

The arrival of Eastern Washington’s fishing season inspired my children, all whom love to fish, to jump into action Easter weekend.

Rods were gathered and strung, tackle sorted and organized. The girls selected outdoor ensembles to match the color of salmon eggs, while the boys sharpened every pocketknife.

As these perfunctory duties neared completion, my youngest chimed in: “Now all we need is to buy some worms.”

I cringed at the obscene suggestion of spending money needlessly, a gesture my kids know well.

“We’re not buying anything we don’t have to,” I said. “Not bottled tap water, not foo-foo coffee, not microwave popcorn. And we will most certainly not buy worms.”

“If we’re not going to buy worms, what are we going to use?” my daughter asked, rolling her eyes.

“Oh, we’re going to use worms,” I said, reassuringly. “We just aren’t going to buy them. No ma’am. Tonight, we are going snatchin’.”

Several terms have been used to describe the various techniques for catching Lumbricus terrestris – nightcrawling, fiddling, worm grunting to name just a few – but I prefer my late stepmother’s expression. Snatchin’ is an easy, enjoyable activity that can be done nearly anywhere, anywhere there is a moist patch of soil or lawn. With just a few steps, some simple tools, and the ability to stay up late enough to miss “The Tonight Show,” a short night’s work snatchin’ can satisfy your bait needs and provide a fun event for the family.

Establish your territory

Any soil-based real estate works. Water thoroughly, preferably 4-6 hours prior to hunting. Worms rely on moisture to loosen the soil for mobility and it helps them breathe through mucus covered skins. If hunting in city parks, determine the sprinkler schedule, review any local restrictions and plan accordingly. This may require late-night ventures.

Prepare for battle

Worms are nocturnal, so daylight hours won’t work for snatchin’ (between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. is ideal). While waiting for the snatchin’ hour to arrive, assemble a basic tool kit to include the following: a suitably sized holding container with worm bedding or dirt (small pack coolers, for example); a small flashlight or headlamp; red tissue paper or a filter to eliminate excessive glare and help maintain night vision; and a bag of sawdust (optional) can be used to improve grip on slimy worms.

Launch the troops

If hunting with a group, it’s best to walk in a line abreast of each other, with each member maintaining an assigned path. If working solo, or with one or two partners, work side-to-side in a crabbing motion, sweeping your light slowly back and forth.

Some folks prefer a low crawling approach on hands and knees to get closer to their targets; others use an upright, crouching stance. Nightcrawlers should be partially – if not completely – out of their burrows, stretched out across the ground, reflecting shiny, reddish-brown skins.

Approach slowly, minimize vibrations and avoid spotlighting.

Attack and snatch

Worms are fast. Once you’ve found a worm, quickly analyze its color and positioning. The lighter end of the worm is typically that nearest the burrow. This should be your intended target snatch area. Move slowly and, using your fingers like forceps, snatch the worm near the base and maintain a firm grip.

If still partially submerged in the ground, the worm will fight to escape. Tiny claw-like bristles, or setae, seated along its segmented length will dig into the earth and attempt to pull it back underground.

Grip and gently pull, as if applying pressure to a fishing line. Pull too hard and you’ll end up with half a worm. Contrary to popular belief, a torn butt end of a worm will likely die, so be patient and wait for the worm to release on its own. It will eventually completely relax and slide free of its burrow into your hand.

My two girls never made it out on the Easter weekend snatch – shopping tends to wear them out – but my son and stepson did. After an hour spent in the watered yard, we had three-dozen nightcrawlers before midnight.

When I asked what they thought over a shared mixing bowl of early-morning ice cream, they both replied, “It was the best ever!”

I smiled and sent them to bed. It wasn’t until later that I wondered if their comment was directed toward the snatchin’ or the ice cream. I’m pretty sure I know the answer.

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