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Bait and twitch: The joy of night crawlers

Earthworms and night crawlers are as basic as dirt.

They’re also a much-depended-on bait for fishing in America and a hole down into memories.

When I posed the question from one of Chicago’s best fishermen about whether anyone uses the old Fishing Facts’ ‘‘Nightcrawler Secrets’’ techniques, responses took me to places
I didn’t expect.

One of them was to Patrick F. McManus, the outdoors humorist flowing out of the American tradition of Mark Twain and Will Rogers, and his bittersweet tale ‘‘The Miracle of the Fish Plate’’ in ‘‘A Fine and Pleasant Misery.’’

One reader paraphrased this from ‘‘The Miracle of the Fish Plate’’: ‘‘I shall select only the finest worms, showing superior qualities of strength, intellect and willingness to sacrifice themselves for a noble cause.’’

McManus is my dad’s favorite author. I remember my dad laughing so hard that he had to wipe his eyes. (As I age, I appreciate McManus more. When I was young, I thought he was as subtle as a gaff in a catfish. Then again, Twain and Rogers aren’t known for their subtlety, either.)

The ‘‘finest worms’’ is the reason for growing Bill Binkelman’s ‘‘super crawlers.’’

Joe McElligott messaged: ‘‘Yes, I do still condition crawlers by putting them in wet, shredded newspaper in a container in the refrigerator. It makes them absorb the water, and they plump up and want to jump out of your hand! Also, as you use them, keeping them in ice water helps.’’

The history of crawlers for fishing evolves. One reason Binkelman’s ‘‘super crawlers’’ fade into memory is that the quality of crawlers and the materials they are packed in for sale at bait houses have improved significantly.

When I was kid, we followed Amish farmers when they plowed in spring and pulled worms from freshly turned black loam. Some worms, we sold; others, we packed in our magic mix of leaves and soil in metal coffee cans stored in our cool, damp basement. Or we filled Mason jars with crawlers picked off the warm blacktop of country roads on a spring day after rain.

There is a reason for this.

As McElligott noted: ‘‘A long rod, 4-pound test, a
No. 6 hook and a split shot. .   Then just watch the line go sideways.’’

Hunting

Harvest by bowhunters continues to lag behind even last year. Illinois bowhunters had harvested 51,530 deer through Sunday, compared with 52,888 at the same time last year. Either the herd remains low or bowhunters are self-regulating. Or both.

Fishing

Assistant fisheries chief Dan Stephenson emailed that the hope is for an early catch-and-release fly-fishing season for spring trout. It would begin March 21, two weeks before the main opener April 4.

Stray cast

Dreaming of Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija locked in a scoreless duel — top of the ninth inning, seventh game of the World Series at Wrigley Field — until Jose Abreu lofts a fly into the basket makes me think of dragging a Steiger Ice Erie Darter down the point by the Shedd Aquarium and hooking a 61/2-pound smallmouth bass.