Nightcrawlers For Sale
December 27, 2008 1:27 PM   Subscribe

Do kids still collect and sell earthworms for fish bait?

When I was a child in the late 1960's and early 1970's, I would commonly see homemade signs that proclaimed "Nightcrawlers for sale", usually coupled with a price.

Recently I realized that I hadn't seen such a homemade sign like that in many years. This has led me to wonder:

1. Is this because I live in a major city, Seattle, and that such a thing is more of a rural, or small town kid's business?

2. Nightcrawlers or earthworms are sold so cheaply at conventional stores that it's not profitable to collect by hand.

3. The process was too labor intensive, and kids figured out better ways of making money, like mowing lawns.

4. More effective fish bait has been discovered, including devilishly clever simulated insects, with fanciful names like "Royal Coachman".

Yes, you can see my level of ignorance, as I've fished only about 3 times in my life. But there must be a reason I don't see these handmade signs anymore. What could it be?
posted by Tube to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Don't know the reason, as it isn't a phenomenon I've observed, but "Royal Coachman" is the name of a particular artificial fly used in fly fishing, which is practically a different sport entirely from bait fishing with worms. The Royal Coachman design has also been around for a long time, too -- it isn't newfangled technology.
posted by jon1270 at 1:48 PM on December 27, 2008

They still do it here in small-town Kansas. The yards in my neighborhood are full of nightcrawlers in the spring and summer, and there are two houses in my vicinity who have hand-made "nightcrawlers for sale" signs in their front yards (the going rate here is a dollar a dozen). I don't know if the kids are selling them or the adults, or both.

We occasionally collect a few from our own yard (the ones that are on top of the ground after a rain) to feed to the goldfish that live in our backyard pond.
posted by amyms at 1:52 PM on December 27, 2008

Anecdotal, but growing up in South Carolina during the 80s I saw homemade bait "4 sale" signs (some which mentioned night crawlers) frequently. I never thought these were the rural equivalent of the suburban child's lemonade stand. Rather always seemed to be just one more mini-side business for the chronically under employed country folk ala puppy mills, turkey farms, and the like.

I will say that I sensed a disappearance in these sorts of micro-capitalist ventures in the 90s, and I haven't lived down there with any frequency since 1999, so I'm unsure of if they exist, though recent trips down accompanied by drives through "the country" would lead me to believe that for a variety of reasons people don't do this sort of thing any more.

I'll venture some guesses:

- Changes in sport fishing: The sport itself seems to have dropped off some, perhaps owing to the high cost of entry (have you check the prices on Bass Boats recently?!) but also to advances in inexpensive artificial bait. Perhaps health concerns over fish consumption has pushed some of the lower end out too - the type who would stop by a road side place to buy bait - are also interested in eating what they catch.

- Economic pressure: Time was a shade tree mechanic, with a cinder block garage could raise rabbits, hunting dogs, and bait, and actually be able to pay his meager bills.

- A change in interests: Early this year I traveled to South Carolina with a friend from the city, and as part of the trip I promised a strong dose of local color. We went to a large, established, and decades old flea market, which as I remembered in the 80s was a vibrant and noisy expanse of southerns buying and selling all manner of good. Fresh, local produce, deer stands, firearms, canned goods, hub caps and just about anything else. I was very disappointed then to find the flea market on hard times, with all it's color gone. The firearms were still there, but much of the interesting hodgepodge of people had been replaced by down and out country folks looking for tube socks and expired beef jerky. The stalls which I remembered as being clean and well built were rusty and falling apart. It seemed then that the prosperity of the 90s had bypassed these people, which would be bad enough, but the previous eight years, with its institutional cynicism toward any distribution which could be viewed as a "handout" had also done a number. In such times, people probably have a lot more to worry about than getting a good deal on earthworms...
posted by wfrgms at 1:53 PM on December 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Blame WalMart.

WalMart really does sell night crawlers, red wigglers, and frequently crickets too. When I was a kid we captured our own bait the night prior to any planned fishing trip.

A friend and I did try the night crawler business one summer. I think we made just enough to pay his mom back the $20 we borrowed for start up capital. (peat moss, lumber to build a worm farm, etc).
posted by COD at 1:54 PM on December 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

My nephews made some good money doing this same thing in a small town in Minnesota this past summer. It helped that they were living a couple houses down from the lake's public access point.
posted by hootch at 2:35 PM on December 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

In rural Maine, adults do it too. One guy's sign says "WORMS - DOUG DAILY".

I couldn't tell if it was his name or a spelling mistake.
posted by dunkadunc at 3:37 PM on December 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

I live near a river and there are a few bait vending machines right near the water.
posted by sugarfish at 6:38 PM on December 27, 2008

There are still a few signs near Asheville. I don't know, though, if they're just old signs or still stands.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:42 PM on December 27, 2008

I have seen these signs in a heavily populated section of NJ, although outside of town. You can buy fresh eggs here too (more useful in my book as you can just dig for the worms yourself in a few minutes, but who has laying hens in suburbia, and here I must digress, as just last week on a side street a mere 100 feet from a major shopping highway, in a suburban nearly urban town, there on the front lawn of a small house were at least a half dozen chickens running around; you could practically see Macy's from that spot; weird, but then NJ is full of weirdness.) As for the Royal Coachman, this is an age old fly pattern, but remains very effective. Even in heavily fished water it is uncanny how sometimes when you can not figure out what the trout are rising to, they will still often hit your Royal Coach. When there is a hatch on and the trout are feeding on it you had better match that hatch well, but when there is no serious hatch occurring yet there is some surface feeding the trout often just love this fly.
posted by caddis at 10:58 PM on December 27, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, I put the terms "discovered" and "Royal Coachman" together in a poor way. I was thinking more of "miracle fish attractant sprays" or silicone worms, or some such. I actually tied a Royal Coachman (with supervision, of course) when I was about 14. I thought fly-tying was pretty cool. I've heard some really exotic materials are sometimes used, like yak hair.

So far the input is very interesting, I appreciate the multitude of perspectives.

A quick Google image search of "Bait Vending Machines" turns up a whole bunch of images that are kind of blowing my mind right now...
posted by Tube at 1:13 AM on December 28, 2008

When my brothers and I were in the nightcrawler business (late 70's early 80's), we sold all of our worms to the bait shop. There was no way we were going to sit around and wait for buyers to come to us.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:19 AM on December 28, 2008

Response by poster: So I guess the answer to my question is "yes" though Walmart and even vending machines have made a dent in this business.
posted by Tube at 6:02 AM on January 27, 2009

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