2015-02-18 / Opinion

BACKROADS AND BOBTAILS

FISHBAIT THEN AND NOW
by Bob Kornegay

Man, how easy it is today. Park your truck, go inside, make your selection, pay the bait guy (or girl), and drive to the fishing hole. Earthworms, crickets, minnows; they’re all there in one spot, pre-caught and pre-packaged. Simple, clean, efficient. Heck, there are even frozen-bait vending machines now. Who’d a thunk it?

I guess it’s all about disposable income. We’re more affluent and buying our fishbait is the easiest route to take. That wasn’t the case when I was a kid.

That’s not to say I didn’t have disposable income as a child. I received a weekly 50-cent allowance that was further supplemented by a weekly 50- cent lawn-mowing wage. That’s what translated into childhood disposable income in the mid-1960s. As a rule, it was quite sufficient for the time. However, this disposable income of mine got itself disposed of very quickly. And fishbait was not at the top of my list of “budget” items.

Thus, I dug my own worms. Redworms were plentiful in the wet earth beneath an old piece of tin in the backyard. Big fat wigglers and black soldier fly larvae abounded in the steadily fermenting “leavings” pile behind the feed mill in Ashford, Ala. I once tried the old, classic grubbing technique for nightcrawlers (pond worms) in the creek swamp behind my house, but found that endeavor too much like work.

Digging one’s own worms was often an adventure. Fat toads and slimy slugs shared the redworms’ habitat and feedmill rats nested where the big fat wigglers lived. The memory conjures up that old adage: “They won’t hurt you, but they’ll make you hurt yourself.”

I also caught my own crickets, black field crickets and house crickets that lived beneath the pine straw and leaf much in my mother’s flower beds. Fire ants often lived there as well and the occasional garter snake would sometimes provide a harmless but no less startling surprise. Word to the wise: Grabbing a garter snake whose presence was previously unknown is best done with an empty bladder.

Catching minnows and crawdads was a bit more detailed and involved. Minnow safaris required two barefoot boys and a “borrowed” seine that someone’s father or grandfather was bound to discover missing mere minutes after its disappearance. It also involved breaking the law. I mean, what barefoot boy could resist keeping a hefty chain pickerel or largemouth bass “accidentally” caught in a trash-fish-only net?

Crawdads make wonderful fishbait. Big crawdads also pinch grubby little fingers. Painfully. At the very least, my youthful crawdad excursions provided ample opportunity to practice the proper pronunciation of recently learned cuss words one first heard when being chided for “borrowing” a grownup’s minnow seine.

I don’t recall who first told me that wasp larvae makes great fishbait. I do, however, remember entertaining what were probably the first homicidal thoughts I ever had as a result. Even now, all these years later, if I knew who it was or where to find him I’d hunt him down and kill him. Plain and simple. Take it from me; mama and daddy wasps do not give up their fat, squirming babies without a fight. And they always win.

Nowadays I buy my bait like everyone else, though I still occasionally go out and procure a crawdad or two the old fashioned way. Alas, I guess I’m just not the adventurous youth I once was. Funny what getting older does to a fella. Fishbait adventure today is little more than searching for a soap that will successfully remove the slime of store-bought worms from my fingers.

Still, nostalgia notwithstanding, I’m all for modern day bait acquisition. I figure it’s a great boost to a sluggish national economy. Especially the job market created by those frozen-bait vending machines. There’s bound to be plenty of demand for technicians willing to work on those contraptions when they break down on a hot day and all those dead critters inside thaw out.

Kinda gives stinkbait a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?

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