Sunday, March 08, 2009

Those Were The Days, My Friends, ….

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My, how times have changed. Fifty-five to 60 years ago, when my twin brother George and I needed nightcrawlers for pir summer fishing, we’d head for the Clio High School football field. Once the sun went down, the nightcrawlers would come out, especially on a night of drizzling rain.

He and I would pick crawlers two or three nights each week to satisfy our bait needs. My flashlight had red cellophane across the lens, and it didn’t scare the big worms as did a bright, white beam of light.

We picked the football field until Alice Boyce, one of the Clio high school teachers, spotted red and white lights dotting the football field. Clio’s finest, our city police, arrived to catch two nefarious little kids picking crawlers. They shagged us out of there, but we’d sneak back the next night.

Come winter, and we needed corn borers for ice fishing, dawn would find us in a patch of field corn with a sharp knife. We would cut the stalks length-wise, remove the white grubs, and within an hour have enough corn borers to last two days.

If we needed wigglers, we use a length of seine, and one person would wade upstream, kick around in a muck bed, and the other would stand downstream with the net and pick out the large mayfly nymphs. Three people worked even better because we could use two kickers, and the netter would attach one end of the net to a pole, anchor it to bottom and stretch the net tight.

We soon learned that some muck beds were better than others. Some just held more and bigger wigglers.

We collected grasshoppers with a tennis racquet. We’d walk through a weed field, and when a grasshopper would jump into the air, one swipe would be taken with the racquet. We’d pick them up, and a brown fluid would come out of the ‘hopper, and we always called it tobacco juice. A can with a hinged lid, and a small piece of nylon would work well.

The hopper would get its feet tangled in the nylon material, and it made grabbing one for the hook much easier.

We caught black crickets for bluegills under piles of old boards, and found there was nothing any better for deep-water roach (bull bluegills). These fish would hit a cricket hooked through the body, and we’d either cast way out or drift with the wind while a small weight allowed the cricked to tumble along bottom in deeper water. Summer bluegills—the bigger ones—were often caught in 25 to 30 feet of water, and drifting downwind allowed us to cover more water and catch more big fish.

Fifty-five to 60 years ago is a long time in the past. Money was tight and hard to come by in those days, and if we wanted to go fishing, we went out and caught our own live bait. We even caught our own leeches, and found they produced well when hooked to a jig or live-bait rig, and trolled along bottom on a sinker, leader hook rig similar to the now-popular Lindy rig.

Dennis “Curly” Buchner owns Buc’s Bait in Interlochen. He is the largest live-bait dealer in the state, and both of us began our weblogs at the same time. He says that most of the kids of his era collected their own bait even though his father, Earl, started the live-bait business many years ago.

“The average person doesn’t have time to collect bait now,” Buchner said. “Most of our nightcrawlers now come from huge farms in Ontario, and few people can compete with the quality and size of their crawlers. Ontario pretty much has the locks on the nightcrawler business.”

He said that most of his leeches come from northern Minnesota, and his wax worms come from Indiana. Few people have worm farms now like they did 35-40 years ago. Wiggler diggers are the tough ones, he says, noting that they often dig for wigglers at various times of the year although there is a summer moratorium on digging for mayfly larvae.

Gone are the days of prowling the neighborhood yards and the football field for nightcrawlers, and much of the corn now is resistant to corn borers. Leeches and wigglers must be dug, and crawlers are imported from Canada for Michigan’s bait fishermen.

Many minnows are purchased, and even live suckers for winter tip-up fishing, now come from a wholesaler. It’s men like Buchner, who covers Michigan from Sanford Lake north to the Mackinac Bridge, and the eastern half of the Upper Peninsula, who are probably the last of their breed.

They keep the bait container filled at local tackle shops, and their hours are long and tiring, but in the end, if you hook a minnie or a nightcrawler to your hook this spring, summeror fall, chances are good that Curly Buchner stocked the live bait at a bait shop near you.

It’s a long step from catching your own bait. I know I don’t miss the sore back that always came when walking hunched over while trying to pick nightcrawlers before Alice Boyce could call the cops on us. Sometimes it was a hard run to make our escape, but it didn’t matter very much.

We were the only kids committing such crimes against our little city. Besides, at times, I think the cops thought it was fun chasing down two little twirps who didn’t have an evil thought in their head.

Posted by Dave Richey on 03/08 at 06:51 PM
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