We’d spent most of the afternoon gathering catalpa worms, using long cane poles to tickle them free one at a time from their clinging spots on the bottoms of high leaves. They were our bait for the fishing trip the Old Men had planned for the next day, but we were already worn out.
Technically caterpillars, the worms, as everyone under the sun called them, were undoubtedly, hook to hook, the most effective trotline bait for channel and blue catfish, but collecting them was a major trial. Always ready to innovate, the lead fisherman among the Old Men was forever open to trying something else, and the search led to some unusual corners of the catfishing world.
A trotline bait has to attract catfish and stay on the hook for an extended time, a pair of requirements that eliminate more options than you might imagine. The quest is to find a tough, durable bait that is attractive to catfish.
The Old Men heard of someone who’d found success baiting with small cubes cut from bars of Ivory soap. This tip proved to be 99.44 percent ineffective, at least in their limited trial run. When spray-on attractants for use on bass baits were introduced, the Old Men found a quantity of furniture foam and sliced it into small cubes. These cubes were soaked with the contents from a bottle of the stuff and tried in their turn. They did as poorly as the soap.
Next, they drilled holes in individual kernels of dried corn, a process nearly as tedious as catalpa gathering, and threaded these onto hooks. Around a hundred hooks baited with dried corn landed four grass carp, none smaller than 15 pounds. In every case, the carp did their best to wreck the trotlines that had collected them. This result was worse than the soap and foam, each of which had simply struck out looking. The corn option struck out swinging, started a fight with the catcher and bit the umpire on the leg.
“Who knew carp liked dried corn?” I asked one of the Old Men soon afterwards.
“Well I didn’t,” he said as we bent to pick up the worms I’d knocked out of the tree. “Give that limb another shake.”
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.