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Back when fishing was a messy business

Fishing sure has changed over the years.

Today’s angler looks like someone who just walked out of a Ralph Lauren advertisement. Back when I was a kid, catching a fish was a messy job - the kind of pastime people with weak stomachs and trimmed fingernails avoided.

Those were the days when the most important piece of fishing equipment was an old tomato can. It held the messy ball of squirmy nightcrawlers you had pulled out of the ground the night before.

The trick to keeping the worms fresh was to use rich, black Iowa top soil, mixed with yesterday’s coffee grounds – a mushy mess at best (but it worked).

Back in the 1950s, people didn’t sell worms in small town Iowa. There weren’t any bait shops or coin-operated bait machines. To be truthful, nightcrawlers were hard to find. Few were the lawns in town that contained night crawlers and those that did were always “spoken for.”

I can remember walking many a sidewalk, right after a rain, in search of new worm territory. The established “hot spots” were – like everything else – off limits to us younger kids. Naturally, anything with this much demand aroused Slick’s and my business senses. The fact that people would actually stake out claims to protect their prime worm diggings meant others were willing to pay for the slimy creatures.

Even though we were not quite in our teens, we had been partners in many past businesses. Some had been profitable: like our Kool-aid stand; others had proven to be losers: such as our mouse trapping, skinning and fur-selling operation.

Fortunately, Slick had some relatives near Polk City who had a front lawn literally crawling with nightcrawlers. Not only didn’t they care if we caught them, they were “only too happy to get rid of ‘em!”

We waited until the next big rain before proceeding with our worm hunt. For those of you who have never so indulged, the basic tools needed are a flashlight, a bucket and some quick reflexes.

At night they can be found crawling on the ground (probably where they got their name). All one has to do is to grab them before they duck back into their little holes.

Slick and I weren’t accustomed to finding so many worms in one lawn and started behaving like a hungry dog in a meat market. We soon realized that holding on to the flashlight with one hand cut our production in half.

We decided the best way was to stick the flashlights in our mouths, thus freeing both hands for grabbing. (I can’t remember if we bothered to wipe off the flashlights.)

Our hunting was so successful that we filled a big wash tub in just one evening. With this inventory, Slick and I were ready to kick off the nightcrawler business in Slater.

We stashed the tub in Slick’s back yard under some large bushes. We used the accepted mixture of soil and coffee grounds and covered it with a layer of freshly mowed grass.

Unfortunately, our entire worm inventory disappeared when someone dumped the tub so that it could be used for something else.

Not only did that catastrophe wipe out our nightcrawler business that year, it destroyed it for the future. Seems there was no longer a shortage of lawns with nightcrawlers in town.

Ed Rood is former publisher of the Tri-County Times. He and his wife, Sharon, live near Cambridge.

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