- David Caruthers
Learn to "Fiddle" your Own Worms
I made a post other day trying to describe to a few BOC members how my dad taught me to gather worms for fishing. I did some research and was so glad to actually find out that "Fiddling" for worms is not only effective...it is an ancient method passed down through generations and it is still practiced among many people today. I had a PM sent to me requiring more information so I wanted to post some Web sites that I found along with two of the best descriptive articles I could find. It's a long post/article, but if your interested in the topic then it is worth the read. This should be enough ammo to educate yourselves so go "Fiddle" your own worms.
ALABAMA FOLKWAYS: WORM FIDDLING IN THE WIREGRASS
By Steve Grauberger
Alabamians who fish often patronize local bait shops and pay more than 10 cents each for the locally famous Blountstown Worm. A more self-reliant sportsman or sportswoman, however, will seek out his own bait in a more traditional way, by "fiddling," "snoring," or "doodling" up the slimy creatures from their deep and dark hiding place. The terms mentioned above relate to a possibly ancient procedure which induces earthworms to mysteriously appear above ground as if by magic.
In North Carolina, it is reported, one goes about "calling" worms by twanging the handle of a pitchfork after its prong end is driven into the soil. This rhythmic action sends out vibrations into the ground that causes the worms to surface. A general term used in Alabama for similar practices is "worm fiddling."
The expression, "worm fiddling," may be derived from a variant technique accomplished by cutting down a sapling approximately 2-3 feet from the ground and then sawing down through the diameter of the tree. This operation, similar to pulling a bow across a fiddle string, sends vibrations into the ground bringing up mesmerized volunteers for one to pick up at will. In Southeast Alabama, another method of worm fiddling exists and is demonstrated at a yearly contest in the Wiregrass.
In Geneva, a worm-fiddling contest is part of the annual Geneva River Festival, a popular event held at Robert Fowler Memorial Park located at the juncture of the Pea and Choctawhatchee Rivers. The River Festival's Contest is in its 19th year and is now organized by Pat Williams, an avid fisherman. Thousands of people each year attend Geneva's River Festival and the worm-fiddling contest is one attraction in which both young and old participate.
There was, however, a forerunner to the Geneva River Festival Worm Fiddling Contest. This was held 15 miles away in the nearby town of Caryville, Florida located near the Pea River across the Alabama-Florida border. The first Caryville contest started in 1974 as part of a land sales campaign for the private Caryville Campsites. Afterward, it was sustained through the hard work of Jack and Joanne Palmer when the town of Caryville adopted the event as part of Florida's U.S. bicentennial celebration in 1976. Unfortunately, in 1994 and 1995 the town could not hold its annual Labor Day weekend contest because of circumstances following the devastating flood of the Pea River in 1994.
Pat Williams and Jack Palmer are both originally from Geneva, Alabama and have collected worms for fishing since they were young boys-Pat in Geneva and Jack in Caryville, Florida. When questioned in separate interviews, both men told me that the name they always knew for their particular method of fiddling was "worm snoring." To "snore up" a worm, a person drives a short (approximately 1-2 ft.) stake or "stob" into the ground and then rubs a "pusher" such as a brick, old piece of iron, the head of an ax, a piece of wood, or almost anything suitable across the stake. The snoring sound made by rubbing the "pusher" over the stob gives the term its name. This is the way it has been done in both of the towns' contests.
As a boy, Jack Palmer and his friends would sell the worms they "snored up" to older fishermen in the Caryville area. "We'd get us a gallon syrup bucket and we would grab us a brick and a stob. We would go out in these woods, we'd drive it down (the stob) and snore them earthworms up. We'd get 'em and count 'em and put 'em in this bucket." In Troy, the word "doodling" is the common term used for the same method of worm gathering.
Only the type of worms known as earthworms react to the trick of terrestrial vibration. Other worm types, such as those called "wigglers," do not dance to the same earthly music. Alabama Fish and Game Officer William Maddox of Abbeville, who has personal experience in the sawed sapling method of "worm fiddling," said that the largest earthworms are eight inches or more in a contracted state, and if held up in the air can stretch from waist-high to the ground.
Pat Williams of Geneva explains that some of the largest worms are now collected in the forests of Calhoun County, Florida for the retail market and are sold under the brand name of Blountstown Worms. These are caught by the same means of "snoring," only a longer stob is used and gallons of the creatures are taken off the ground. These can be bought in many bait shops in the Wiregrass region.
Large earthworms are not generally caught at the two worm fiddling contests now due to environmental and industrial changes in the areas where the contest are held. Jack Palmer explains, "When I was a little boy they were huge, don't know what happened. of course, in those days there weren't no armadillos. I just don't know what happened to them, they just aren't there no more (the large earthworms). I call them little sand worms now (the ones snored up now)."
During my worm fiddling research, I have learned several techniques that may help me win 1st prize when I enter one or both of the Wiregrass contests next year. Moreover, I will attempt a more modern approach; that is, to take the movable chain off of a chain saw, start up the machine, and stick the rounded tip into the ground. I can then relax during the contest's 15 minute time limit only having to pick up the little critters and collect my prize.
FIDDLING FOR FISH BAIT
JOHN E. PHILLIPS
Now that's a lot of bait! You can rouse this many fiddle worms in only a few minutes . . . and sell them just as fast. Alabama "fiddler" Bubba Childers saws on a sapling's stump.
The McCullough technique -using a power saw held against the ground-is hard work!
After a successful foray into the forest, Bubba and his young friend head far home . . . their bucket full of bait.
The cost of live bait—which has risen along with the price of most everything else in the past few years—can really put a crimp in a family fishing expedition. However, there is an almost sure-fire way to gather your own "fish attracters" . . . using a traditional skill that has been lost in much of the United States but is still alive in parts of northern Alabama. The art is "worm fiddling", and it's practiced nowadays by residents of the mountainous region of Blount County .. . like William (Bubba) Childers, who first learned how to fiddle for worms on fishin' expeditions with his granddaddy.
In just ten minutes, says Bubba, you can gather a whole bucketful of fiddle worms . . . with no more equipment than a rusty handsaw that's missing a few teeth and an old pail. It's best to go worming in the spring, advises our master bait-catcher . . . but you can actually capture the crawlers any time of the year, as long as the ground isn't frozen.
FINDING A PLACE TO FIDDLE
A crucial factor in finding a good site to "play up" the critters is the amount of moisture in the soil. Fiddle worms like damp earth, so in dry weather they move down into the lowlands in search of water. After a rain, however, you might look for your bait on the side of a hill. (Bubba reports that he once roused 300 worms in less than 15 minutes by fiddling at a point just above an underground stream!)
When you've located an area of wet ground, look for the small, round casings that the worms discharge as they work through the soil. Such excretions are usually found among decaying leaves at the base of a young tree ... which is handy, as an available sapling is absolutely essential to the "fiddlin' " technique. (The area around a beech tree is often especially productive because, as the Alabama "musician" explains, "For some reason fiddle worms love to munch on rotting beech leaves.")
The sapling you choose should be about three inches in diameter, which—in most tree species—is large enough to have produced an extensive root system. To make your "fiddlin' stage", just saw down the tree . . . leaving about 12 to 18 inches of stump above the ground. (Needless to say, such an operation should only be performed in your own woodlot!)
HERE COME THE WORMS!
Now—using a dull saw—"fiddle" away ... by simply dragging the cutting tool back 'n' forth across the top of the stump. The vibrations travel through the tree's root network, sending tremors into the earth . . . and the worms are literally jolted to the surface! If the ground is damp, you'll start seeing wigglers in two to five minutes, but—if the soil lacks moisture it'll take a bit longer. You should fiddle in one place for at least ten minutes before giving up and changing sites . . . just keep a-sawin' and usually the crawlers will appear, sometimes as far as 25-30 feet away from the stump. Fiddle worms average between 12 and 15 inches in length, but some may reach as much as two feet long . . . so you can't miss them as they turn up in the soil.
After the worms begin to surface, collect them in a five-gallon bucket. Your pail should have a drainage hole in the bottom (so excess water won't drown the bait), and should be filled with woods dirt. Fiddle worms love the decayed leaves in forest soil, and they'll survive in their bucket home for at least a month. (You should, however, keep them watered . . . and don't forget to throw a little cornmeal or chicken feed on them every week or two.)
LET'S TRY ANOTHER WAY
If you can't find a worn-out saw, there are other methods of fiddling for bait. The "McCullough Technique"—which requires using a chain saw—demands much less effort than does "hand fiddlin' ", and usually results in full buckets. Simply crank up the engine and—with the chain removed or disengaged—hold the instrument against the ground (as shown in the photo) while it runs. The vibrations will bring up the worms, just as the "tune" of the handsaw does.
Another method (the "Cave Man Technique") also requires an 18-inch-high tree stump. But—instead of sawing on the trunk—"Neanderthal wormers" simply pound on the wood with a large rock. This technique is a simple one, but it does in volve a lot more elbow grease than the other methods. ("If I were goin' to do that much work to get fiddle worms, I believe I'd just go out and buy 'em," laughs Bubba.)
SELLING THE LEFTOVERS
Whatever system you employ, you'll probably harvest lots more worms than you need . . . and you can make a handsome profit by marketing your surplus at local fish camps and tackle shops. Fiddies—which make excellent bait for catfish, bass, bream, and trout—are especially valuable because of their length: One worm, broken apart, will easily adorn several hooks, and the pieces are tough enough to stay securely in place.
To package the bait for sale, you'll need either a number of 16-ounce styrofoam cups (put about 25 worms in each one) or—for large orders—12"-square boxes (which should hold 500 to 1,000 wigglers apiece). You can collect either kind of packaging yourself, or order it in bulk from container suppliers.
At seven cents per worm, one cup of the crawlers should sell for about $1.75. And, since you can usually gather 300-400 worms in just two or three hours' work, that's a possible income of about $10 an hour . . . which isn't bad for a "mountain fiddler"!
THE FAMILY THAT FIDDLES TOGETHER . . .
An afternoon's worming expedition can be not only profitable, but also just plain fun for the entire family . . . it's sort of like an old-fashioned Easter egg hunt, as the young'uns eagerly collect the crawlers.
But Bubba reminds us that some precautions should be taken whenever you set off in search of fiddle worms. Before you leave, clothe everybody against insect bites . . . and, of course, keep a sharp eye out for poison oak and ivy while you're in the woods.
And one more thing: Make sure that everyone on the outing is supplied with his or her own pail, because when the wiggling critters begin to pop up in all different directions around the tree stump, you don't want to be caught with only one bucket among you!
- Phillip Gaines
That was some good reading! Now if I could learn to work one of them "Dowsing" rods!
- David Caruthers