Digging bait was always fun, mainly because it was preparation for a fishing trip. We used all kind of bait in local ponds to catch bream, catfish, a few bass and a good many turtles, and red wigglers were one of our favorite baits.
On our farm we had seven chicken houses with a total of 11,000 laying hens. The four old houses were long wooden sheds with chicken wire walls. The birds ran free inside on the wood shaving floor. Their roosts were wooden frames set down the length of the house on either side of the center.
The support posts inside divided the width into thirds. On the downhill side, a galvanized trough three inches wide and five inches deep ran the length of the houses at a slight slant. At one end was a faucet that dripped constantly. At the other end a nipple in the drain stuck up about four inches and acted as an overflow pipe much like the one in a pond, keeping water up to four inches deep the length of the trough. Water slowly ran over the top and out a pipe to the outside.
The water was very fertile since chickens are not real careful where they leave their droppings, and every morning one of my jobs was to remove the nipple, turn the water on at the other end and walk the length of the trough with an old broom, cleaning out the mess. It flowed out the drain pipe.
The ground behind the house near the drain was always wet from the constant flow of water and extremely rich from all the droppings washed out every day. Red wigglers found it an ideal habitat and we could dig a can full in a few minutes with just one or two scoops of dirt with a shovel. There would be dozens of worms in every shovel full and picking them up from the ooze was easy.
Every critter that lives in water loves red wigglers. We even caught crawfish on them when fishing for catfish on the bottom. They were our staple bait when fishing but we did have many others.
The chickens themselves provided great catfish bait. With that many birds on the farm, a few died every day and I would cut them open and take out the heart, liver and gizzard. Those innards put in a jar and set in the sun to ripen made an irresistible bait for catfish of kinds. The livers were soft and hard to keep on the hook but gizzards and hearts were tough enough to last through several fish, if we could get past the smell when putting them on the hook.
One of mom’s favorite baits were meal worms. We didn’t buy them, we grew our own. Mom would fill a coffee can half full of corn meal and flour siftings and let it sit open for a few days, then put a cover of cheese cloth or old curtain sheer over it.
The eggs the flies laid in the corn meal while the top was open soon hatched into grubs, also called maggots, and grew from tiny white worms barely visible to light brown bait about an inch long. If left too long they turned black and tough and fish did not like them much. After that stage they soon emerged as young flies.
Although maggots stunk when taken from dead critters, taking on the smell of rotten meat, they were clean and odorless when grown in corn meal.
Anything we could catch was tried as bait. Grasshoppers, wild crickets, caterpillars, crawfish, big white grub worms and wasp eggs were all good and most harmless. But wasp eggs were a special problem.
First, just getting the nest with the larvae growing in it was dangerous. We did not want to spray the nest with poison to kill the adults guarding the nest since it tainted or killed the larvae. What I would usually do after locating a good nest during the day was go back in the dark, knock it to the ground with a long pole and run off.
Wasps do not fly in the dark so after a few minutes I could go back and pick up the nest, being careful to step on any adult wasps that had stayed with the nest. You could not wait too long to go back for it since ants would quickly find the source of food and be all over the nest.
The nest was then put in the refrigerator in a paper sack to slow down the growth of the larvae. You had to be very careful when taking the sack out for a fishing trip since some larvae would come out as an adult even in the cold. Since they were cold they were sluggish but you had to open the sack carefully and kill any adults that were barely able to move around and sting you.
I found out the hard way that a sack with a nest in it, left in the sun while fishing, would make any larvae close to changing make the transition to adult quickly. More than once, in the excitement of catching fish, I would reach into the bag to get a new bait and get stung by a newly changed adult wasp.
A friend once told me how he would take tiny pieces of meat and stick a little strip of cigarette paper on it. Left outside, a yellowjacket would often pick up the piece of meat to take to their underground nest. He could follow them to the nest by tracking the tiny white dot of paper.
Yellowjackets build big underground nest with paper cells that look like wasps nest. My friend said he could sell a big nest to fishermen too timid to try to get them on their own for several dollars.
I did not know about yellowjacket nests as a kid or I am sure I would have tried his trick to get my own bait!