When I was a kid and wanted to go fishing, I’d get out a pitchfork and start digging in our vegetable garden for worms because at the time, there were no bait shops around the Whitehall Township area where we lived.
As savvy anglers know, garden worms can catch a lot of different freshwater fish be it trout, suckers, catfish, bass, sunnies even an occasional hungry crappie.
The Arkansas Fish & Wildlife recently refreshed my childhood memory on “worming” in a press release they released on worm fiddling, worm charming or worm grunting. All of these refer to a method practiced by anglers of old to get earth worms to come to the surface and show themselves on the ground or in the grass so they can be grabbed for fishing
I now recall my one grandfather telling me how he did it and his method sounded familiar to what the folks at Arkansas F&G have described.
It goes like this: Simply take a stick that has notches cut along its length and push it into the ground. Then rub another stick along its length to create vibrations. The vibrations will bring worms to the surface (it’s said they’re attempting to avoid predators) where you can grab them fast before they slip back into the ground.
The famed geneticist Charles Darwin theorized, “If the ground is beaten or otherwise made to tremble, worms will believe that they are pursued by a mole and leave their burrows.”
A study conducted by Vanderbilt University University biological sciences professor Ken Catania in 2008, confirmed Darwin’s theory. The study was held in northern Florida where the practice of worm grunting was extremely popular. He recorded the sounds of real moles digging versus worm grunters and compared their effects on the earthworms’ habit of springing from their burrows when in danger.
The town of Sopchoppy in northern Florida adopted the practice as its calling card by hosting an annual Worm Gruntin’ Festival where young earthworm harvesters compete to see who can coax the most earthworms from the ground with various techniques.
The folks at Arkansas F&G say it doesn’t have to be two sticks making the vibrations. An old broom handle driven into the ground rubbed with a hand saw can produce the low vibrations needed to draw the worms to the surface. Or, two lengths of rebar also can be used to charm up some night crawlers for bait.
When doing this, be sure to keep an eye on the ground for several feet around the fiddling tools and be ready to grab the worms before they retreat.
This process won’t work if the ground it extremely hard or the soil is sandy. It’s recommended to try under trees in areas where the ground is fertile with lots of deteriorating vegetation.
After a heavy rain, worms can often be seen laying on pavements and driveways where they can be picked up. And I remember an uncle, who was a die-hard angler, who used to check farm fields as they were being plowed for worms. A buddy of his would call him and tell him if he spotted a farmer plowing so he’d hurry on over there.
Worm Gruntin’ can also be a fun way for kids to gather worms for fishing, perhaps making it a contest to see who could gather the most.
Without a doubt, worming is an old but inexpensive way to get bait for the opening day of trout fishing. There’s bedding material sold to keep them alive or just cut-up some wet newspaper and put it in a container to keep them alive or just keep them in some ground from where you harvested them.
During the current Covid-19 outbreak, many businesses were forced to close because they are considered “non-life-sustaining.” Up until yesterday, Governor Tom Wolf considered gun stores, and by extension the Second Amendment, “non-life-sustaining” as well. With customers lined up out the doors attempting to exercise their Second Amendment rights, gun stores were forced to close.
Following a dissenting opinion from Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice David Wecht and two other Justices, Governor Tom Wolf quietly removed gun shops from that list yesterday. The opinion made it clear that Governor Wolf’s shuttering of gun shops amounted to “an absolute and indefinite prohibition upon the acquisition of firearms by the citizens of this commonwealth - a result in clear tension with the Second Amendment.”
Gun stores are now able to reopen and sell their wares on a limited basis. All transactions must be done by individual appointment during limited hours according to a press release from NRA/ILA.
CLEANING CORK HANDLED FISHING RODS
If your cork handled fishing rod handle is starting to look quite funky, there is a way to clean them according to the folks at Fishing Retailer.
There is a simple and inexpensive way to clean cork handled fishing rods and you may even have the necessary cleaning materials.
It’s suggested using baby wipes, wet towelettes or moist bath tissues that work well for removing stains on the cork handles. Many of these stains are probably from mud, fish slime, bait and sweat.
The method is to take a wipe and begin rubbing it gently over the cork handle. It’s not necessary to rub aggressively. Let the wipe work its magic and use different parts of the wipe or towelette to remove grime until the handle looks as good as new.
You can also use the wipe over the entire rod blank to remove residue and to restore its condition.
As a final step use a clean rag to dry the cork, reel seat and rod blank.
Deer harvest numbers for the 2019-20 season are officially in with some surprises.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission reports that the buck harvest was up 10 percent and the overall harvest was the highest in 15 years.
During the 2019-20 seasons that ended in January, hunters took a total of 389,431 deer. This topped the previous years harvest of 374,690 by four percent, says the PGC.
The statewide buck harvest jumped 10 percent with 163,240 taken. Of that total, about 66 percent were at least 2.5 years old while the remainder were 1.5 years old, which, reports the PGC, is a two-to-one margin. During the 2018-19 seasons, a total of 147,750 bucks were taken.
According to Chris Rosenberry, PGC Deer and Elk Section Supervisor, “In recent years about 17-18 percent of all hunters harvested an antlered deer and we see this trend to continue.”
As for the antlerless harvest, it resulted in 226,191 were harvested and that includes 10,461 that had chronic wasting disease (CWD) for hunters holding Deer Management Assistance Program permits.
For comparison purposes and during the 2018-19 seasons, there were 226,940 antlerless deer harvested, slightly more than this past season. And about 69 percent of antlerless taken were adults females while button bucks comprised 16 percent and doe fawns made up 15 percent. In 2018-19 the percentage was 66 percent.
In regards to antlerless deer, Rosenberry says “Keeping harvest pressure on antlerless deer is critical in our ongoing efforts to address the risk of CWD, particularly in Disease Management Areas.
Interestingly, and across 23 Wildlife Management Units (WMU), the antlerless deer harvest decreased in almost half of them. The largest decline, says the PGC, occurred in WMU 2H, 39 percent; WMU 3A, 23 percent; WMU 1B, 20 percent; WMU 4D, 21 percent; and WMU 4B, 20 percent.
For antlered deer, the buck harvest dropped in WMU’s 2C, 2H and 5D. The largest increases in bucks taken were in WMU 2G, 29 percent; WMU 3C, 22 percent; WMU 4C, 21 percent; and WMU 3A, 19 percent.
Bowhunter success was affected somewhat by unseasonably warm and rainy weather but still managed to take 145, 908 deer of which 74,190 were bucks and 71,718 were antlerless deer. That accounts for about a third of Pennsylvania’s 2018-19 total harvest but pales somewhat to the 2018-19 seasons when they took a total of 165,069 deer.
For local deer harvests, the following are the closest WMUs to the Lehigh Valley with antlered deer represented by “A” and for antlerless, “AL.” In parenthesis are the harvest numbers for the 2018-19 seasons.
*WMU 3D: 6,000-A (5,200); 4,900-AL (5,700).
*4C: 7,000-A (5,800); 8,300-AL (7,200).
*5C: 7,600-A (7,600); 14,427-AL (16,415).
*5D: 2,500-A (2,600); 6,700-AL (6,000).
For the archery and muzzleloader seasons, the totals are as follows.
*3D: archery, 2,250-A (1,660); 1,470-AL (1,410); muzzleloader, 50-A (40); 830-AL (590).
*4C: archery, 3,550-A (2,350); 2,960-AL (1,900); muzzleloader, 50-A (50); 1,240-AL (800).
*5C: archery, 5,330 (4,690); 7,075-AL (7,238); muzzleloader, 70-A (110); 1,042-AL (1,272).
5D: archery, 2,180-A (2,080); 4,460-AL (3,790); muzzleloader, 20-A (20); 240-AL (210).
The PGC also lists unknown WMU harvests at: archery, 140-A (40); 164-AL (0); muzzleloader, 10-A (0); 94-AL (0).
With the 2020 trout opener consolidated to April 18, local tackle shops are bracing for last minute customers.
Willie from Willie’s Bait & Tackle in Cementon, bemoaned the fact that the single opener will now have early season customers come in later when they should come in now when he’s not as busy to have reels wound with new line, to buy fishing licenses, buy bait and fix existing gear. But, he surmised, they’ll probably all wait to the last minute and deluge him with all of the above.
Under the normal early southeastern opener that was scheduled for April 11, the COVID-19 virus made the PF&BC cancel that date and move it to a single statewide opener on April 18. Far too many anglers will now figure they have time to get gear in shape and do their angling shopping, much to the displeasure of shop owners.
Of all the fishing tackle on the market, there are some new tackle items anglers may be interested in, and one of them is Ugly Stik’s new Carbon rods.
According to Cole Hunter, Ugly Stik media manager, the new Carbon rods offered in casting and spinning models, are the lightest Ugly Stik ever made. He goes on to say that using new carbon technology, the carbon rods are crafted of 100 percent 24-ton graphite which allows the new rods to be lightweight and 37 percent stronger, on average, than other similar action rods make without the Ugly Stik process. But they still use the famous Ugly Stik durable tip.
Although the rods’ press release said it’s 24-ton graphite, the major composition is comprised of carbon fiber like that used in the automotive market, crossbows and other gear.
Pure Fishing, the parent company of Ugly Stik, says the Carbon series of rods marks a major improvement in rod handling and sensitivity and the series also encompasses other performance qualities that raise the bar for the brand in terms of features and benefits. The Carbon rods feature Ugly Tuff stainless steel guides and popular WINN split grips for added control and comfort.
Ugly Stik Vice President Jon Schlosser says, “Anglers are shocked that a rod can have this much power and yet be so sensitive at the same time. And does so while remaining in line with the affordability of other Ugly Stik models, making it one of the best values in all of fishing.”
For you bass and saltwater anglers, Soft Steel, the line company from reel maker Okuma, has debuted their stretchable fluorocarbon line.
The company says it’s Sift Steel is 100 percent fluorocarbon line with stretchable properties of monofilament line. This means, they claim, you’ll get a tighter cinch on your knot standard fluro lines and it’s available in breaking strengths of 10-150 pounds and is offered in 25 yard spools as well as 5-yard single shot lengths. It retails from $6.99 to $89.99.
UNUSUAL FISH HATCHERY THEFT
We recently learned that a thief visited the restroom at Allentown’s Lil-Le-Hi Fish Hatchery and broke the toilet paper container to steal two rolls of toilet paper and hand wipes from the room. Unreal what some crazed people will do.
Lehigh Valley trout anglers will have to wait a bit longer for the southeastern trout fishing opener. The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) has announced that they’re consolidating opening days to one amidst concern for the COVID-19 virus.
The separate early opening in 18 southeastern counties that was set for April 4 was cancelled and has been re-set for April 18 when the remainder of the counties had their usual and statewide opener.
This also affects Mentored Youth Trout Day that will now take place on Saturday, April 11.
Another change will be that trout stocking volunteers will not be permitted as all stocking will be handled by PFBC personnel.
The PFBC in their press release says that in some cases pre-season and inseason allocations of trout will be combined into single stocking events to increase the efficiency of stocking trips. Stockings, says the agency, will be prioritized to deliver trout to regions of the state that are predicted to be affected most severely by COVID-19 that could result in restrictions on travel.
In addition, trout stockings will be announced upon the completion, rather than in advance on the FishBoatPA mobile app and PFBC’s website (www.fishandboat.com). As such, it’s also very likely that the published stocking dates on the PFBC’s website will change through this consolidation. Added to this, stocking will occur seven days a week until further notice.
According to Rick Kauffman, PFBC District 6 Commissioner, “We’re trying to get as many fish in the water as possible as quickly as possible while we still have the best access to waterways and available staff.”
If you haven’t purchased your fishing license, boat launch permit or boat registration and don’t want to visit a tackle shop to do so, the PFBC suggests purchasing both online through the PFBC’s Outdoor Shop’s website (www.pa.wildlifelicense.com). You can then take a smartphone photo of it and use it for identification if a fish warden asks to see it as a pdf file containing an image of your license is provided via email. As for boat launch permits and registration, customers will eventually receive validation decals and registration cards in the mail from the PFBC.
The single opening day, like it was some years ago, may be for the better, aside from the virus concern, in that it’s a bit warmer then and more conducive for kids to more enjoy the sport. It may also be less crowded since some anglers from upstate areas would typically travel to southeastern counties to join the local crowds to fish. This time, the crowds should (hopefully) be spread out.
As for the recent pre-season stockings, it’s surmised that since PFBC personnel are stocking trout, they won’t be placing the trout throughout the stream as the many volunteers did, but mainly put in deep holes of a stream as it’s more expedient that way. So let’s hope the fish will move around and not stay at one place.
They’re known as the harbingers of spring and I spotted four of them last week.
Yes, the American Robin has returned to the Lehigh Valley, although some do stay in the area year-round.
It’s been said robins return from their overwintering spots in Mexico and southern areas when daytime temperatures average around 37 degrees. And March is their prime migration time.
With rains, warmer temperatures and the ground softening, earth worms are closer to the surface and make it easier for robins to find them. And they are one of robins’ favorite food items although they also consume fruits, chokeberries, hawthorn, dogwood, sumac and juniper berries.
When looking for worms, they can be seen staring at the ground momentarily then cocking their heads to one side, then running a few steps to another spot on the grass and repeat the stare. It’s been long debated as to whether robins hear worms when they cock their heads or see them in the grass.
Robins customarily sing in the morning hours and in the evening, well beyond other birds. Their robust songs take on the cadence of “Cher-up, Cheer-up, cheerily.”
The “Redbreast,” as it’s sometimes called because of its reddish-orange breast on the male, arrive here to mate and have their young, although they breed only rarely in the Deep South according to the Audubon Society.
It’s been written that robin courtship often takes on the look of their wings shaking, tail fully spread and its throat inflated, the latter is a trait of other birds even gamebirds like Pennsylvania’s own ruffed grouse. And lots of singing.
Nest building begins shortly after arrival and consists of pressing dead grasses and twigs into a cup shape using one wing. Inside the nest is usually paper, string, feathers or moss. She forms the nest by turning around to shape it to her contour, then pushes her chest down to make it solid. She’ll reinforce it with soft mud and mud from worm castings to further fortify the nest. She then lines the nest with finer grass for a softer interior.
Nests are commonly made on the limbs of trees or in the crotches between the branches. But they’re also made on window ledges, on rain pipes, gutters, especially under eaves atop outdoors light fixtures, on beams beneath wooden decks and sometimes if available, and if the hole is large enough, in backyard nest boxes.
Female robins customarily lay from 3-5 eggs, have 1-3 broods with an incubation period of 12-14 days. The eggs are sky blue or blue-green in color and their empty shells can often be found on the ground beneath the nest as the robin cleans it and makes room for the hatchlings.
Enjoy them now and over the summer months as they’ll be gone en masse around before you know it around September. Much too soon for us robin lovers.
If there’s one thing I’ve been trying to do for a long time it’s capturing an image of a robin pulling a worm or nightcrawler out of the ground. While it was an expensive proposition to do so with film cameras, todays digitals make the task much easier and cheaper. All I want is one good image. And I’ll be as happy as a bird at a feeder filled with sunflower seeds or peanut hearts.
If you’re an avid paddler and itching for some whitewater boating action, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is promoting a whitewater release for your enjoyment.
The DCNR will release water from Lake Nockamixon into Tohickon Creek in Bucks County on Saturday and Sunday, March 21-22.
According to the DCNR, water releases are historically scheduled on a semi-annual basis, usually occurring on the third weekend in March and first weekend in November. The agency says the water releases from Nockamixon Lake offer suitable white-water boating conditions downstream through Ralph Stover State Park that is located near Pipersville, Bucks County. It’s anticipated from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. each day paddlers will essentially have a seven-hour window to play in the suds.
Water releases, says DCNR, begin at 4 a.m. and several hours later will create whitewater conditions at Ralph Stover State Park. Suggested hours for viewing there will be from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
The water releases are favored by skilled kayakers, canoeists, rafters, even extremely proficient (and daring) paddleboarders. And as a reminder, DCNR advises that this whitewater release creates Class 3 and 4 rapids that require experienced boating skills. Added to that, it’s necessary that boaters wear appropriate personal floatation devices and take precautions to prevent hypothermia, plus, use only craft designed for this type water.
For more details, contact Nockamixon State Park at 215-529-7300, or Delaware Canal State Park at 610-982-5560.
SALTWATER FISHING REPORT
With higher than normal temperatures, saltwater action for striped bass has been picking up.
On the Water Magazine issued these reports from northern and southern New Jersey:
In northern New Jersey, bloodworms have been enticing Raritan Bay stripers from shore. The bass have been biting better after dark. In some rivers, casting small plugs on the outgoing tide has also been productive for linesiders. And backwaters have been full of smaller bass.
Fishermen’s Den has reports of winter flounder up to 18 inches being hooked since the recent season opener. The outgoing tide has been best with sandworms the bait of choice.
The Reel Seat reports good bass action in the bays and in Tom’s River. The Route 37, Mantoloking and Route 70 bridges are producing fish on small plastics like Fin-S fish and small plugs like Yo-Zuri Inshore Minnows and Daiwa Salt Pro Minnow 13’s. Most fish are 20-24 inches.
For smaller fish, perch action has been picking up on Tom’s River for anglers using bloodworms and grass shrimp. It’s pointed out that moving around to find schools will produce fast action. Winter flounder, however, will take more effort. Best bet is to chum heavily with clams and drop back sandworm-baited rigs.
In southern New Jersey, Fishermen’s Den says Long Beach Island is productive for stripers up to 26 inches from the west side of Barnegat Bay and south towards Mullica River. Bloodworms and sandworms will work during the afternoon ebb tides.
They suggest working local creeks, lagoons and backwater thoroughfares for bass.
If you visited the recent Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, or traveled to Atlantic City for the gigantic Atlantic City Boat Show, and spied a boat rig you’d like to have, perhaps you may need to start shopping for a loan to finance it.
The Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS), the nation’s largest advocacy, services and safety group, urges boaters to be smart when it comes to financing a new or used boat. They offer three tips to help you avoid common problems when applying for a loan.
“Boat buyers can help themselves by knowing three key things: how loan rates work, how much of a boat loan you can afford, and your credit score,” said BoatUS Boat Finance Department Manager Rache’ Llerena. “We see these same three mistakes every day. Educating yourself and being candid about the numbers make you a wise consumer and may put you in stronger position when seeking a boat loan.”
Here’s what you should find out before applying for a boat loan, says BoatUS.
*Know how boat loan rates work: Fixed-rate, fixed-term, simple-interest loans are the most common. They have the same monthly payment for the life of the loan, typically from 10 to 20 years. Down payments from 10% to 20% are the norm. Generally, interest rates are lower and loan terms are longer for newer boats and larger loan amounts. Each are dependent on a variety of factors including model year, loan amount and down payment. Be prepared for lenders to require larger down payments, charge higher rates and offer shorter terms on older boats, especially those over 20 model years. There could also be a rate difference between some consecutive model years, so talk with your lender to better understand the rate and term structure.
Know how much you an afford: Estimate your monthly payments using BoatUS’s online loan calculator. This is a good starting point in figuring what is affordable, but remember your lender will look at your debt-to-income ratio and other criteria, which may change the amount.
*Be an open book with your credit report: The closer the score to 700 or higher, the better the chances you’ll be approved. So before you apply for a loan, ensure your credit report is accurate. That goes for both applicants if two people (siblings, spouses, business partners or friends) are buying a boat together. While you can get free copies of your credit report from three national credit bureaus, go to “annualcreditreport.com,” the only site authorized by federal law for your credit score.
Additional options are to buy it from all three credit bureaus individually or through an online service. Also note that depending on the bank, a credit report ding like a past bankruptcy or foreclosure may not preclude you from getting a loan. More information is available at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
According to Willie Marx from Willie’s Bait & Tackle in Cementon, this is the worse ice fishing season he’s seen in some time. He says avid ice anglers have had to fish Pocono area waters to find safe ice while a few have traveled to New York State.
Last week, I saw but two anglers fishing the most popular stretch of the Little Lehigh for the 30-plus golden rainbow trout stocked there by Lehigh F&G. The fish were donated by Cabela’s.
Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.