Calling All Earthworms

Curt-lineby Curt Kovener

(This is an encore column from the Curt Comments archives.)

Why should I bother to write an article about calling earthworms? Better yet, why should you bother to read an article on such a subject? Because the bluegill are biting.

The only printed material that I’ve actually seen concerning the practice of “worm grunting” (as the art of earthworm calling is nicknamed in Florida) is a copy of a U.S. Forestry Service record of the number of worm calling permits sold for use in the Apalachicola National Forest, in Florida’s panhandle. About 700 annual permits are sold each year, mostly to professional bait dealers.

Almost every primitive society around the globe, whose food gathering techniques include any form of fish collecting efforts, either presently employ worm calling techniques or formerly included them. So widespread are worm calling tactics that they have even been noted in the animal kingdom! Several species of birds, including plovers, sea gulls, and kiwibirds, as well as certain varieties of turtles, have all been observed in the act of “calling” earthworms.

The whole concept is really simple. For some reason, vibrations just seem to drive earthworms out of the ground. There are several theories on this: one theory holds that vibrations created in worm grunting may simulate those of falling rain, and the worms may be surfacing instinctively to avoid drowning. A second theory maintains that the vibrations closely mimic those created by tunneling moles or shrews (both of which are voracious worm hunters) and the earthworms are coming to the surface to avoid being eaten. Still another theory claims that the vibrations may somewhat resemble those preceding seismic disturbances, again causing the worms to surface instinctively.

Actually, any method of sending vibrations through the ground seems effective in bringing worms to the surface; it’s just that some methods seem to work a little better than others. Probably the simplest (and certainly one of the easiest) methods utilizes nothing more than one smooth stick or board and one notched stick or board.

The smooth piece of wood is driven into the ground, then the notched piece is drawn back and forth across it with a saw-like motion. It can take anywhere from a minute or two up to half an hour or so until the worms start to surface.

Practice and experimentation on the part of the caller will definitely increase the effectiveness of this technique as there are a wide range of soil types, wood varieties, etc. to be encountered. But, once you’ve mastered the technique, you’ll have a pretty reliable method of obtaining fresh fish bait (or chicken feed or whatever for those of us forced to occasionally return to a semi-civilized life-style!).

While this simple, two-stick method is effective, there are many other variations. One small-town minister related to me how, as a small boy, his father had taught him to call earthworms by just continually patting the back of a shovel blade on the ground until the quarry surfaced.

A concrete contractor friend showed me a method that wouldn’t at all relate to wilderness use; however, it’s interesting enough to mention here. He calls it “the Mother of all Worm Grunters”, and, after seeing his contrivance, I have to agree with him! He had driven a length of 4″ galvanized pipe about five or six feet into the ground, leaving only about 8″ protruding. Whenever he feels like making a weekend fishing excursion or giving his chickens a little extra protein to boost their egg production, he’ll go out and drop the working end of a concrete vibrator down the pipe and turn it on for half an hour or so.

You can also have a lot of fun sometimes while developing this worm grunting skill whether to feed the fish, feed the chickens or to amaze your friends with your oddball skill of nature.