Way back when, my dad and one of his fishing partners, Tom Guthrie, didn’t share much in common. What they did share was the love of fishing, dad’s 12-foot aluminum boat and Mr. Tom’s catalpa tree. All my memories here are not favorable. I used to hate to “pick” catalpa worms. But I loved to fish with them. In fact, if you have any extras, just give me a call. I’ll come visiting!
Here’s the thing about catalpa worms. One person’s trashy green spitting horned worm is another man’s fish bait treasure. Sure, they strike fear into the pie-pan sized heart-shaped catalpa tree leaf. They don’t last long under a chomping herd of catalpa worms coming out of the ground and eating them in a matter of days. On the other hand, if you don’t mind green slime on your fingers, a catalpa worm is just about the best fishing bait a man can come by for bream, catfish and even sometimes, white perch.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to meet a fellow Union Parish resident who has several such trees and, like me, he puts the worm in the “treasure” category. These were good trees, planted and nurtured by my friend’s late father. We had quite a good time checking out the worms last week and making plans for an upcoming fishing trip.
Catalpa worms do come with a price. Even when you just pick them up, they spit a little fluorescent green ooze on your fingers that matches the chemical formula used in those SHARPIE pens! In addition, the little buggers are tough. You don’t need a whole one to catch a fish, so you can cut them in sections. That adds another type of dark brown ooze and scent to your fishing fingers. But the price is right, because that toughness usually means you can catch more than one fish on a piece of bait. And the ooze — well, fish just love it. It’s nature’s own version of Berkley’s GULP.
Since I have some really advanced readers (genius intelligentus) on this blog, I must point out that the scientific name for these worms is Ceratomia catalpae. From oviposition of eggs to pupation, about four weeks pass until eclose. Where multiple broods occur, pupae will eclose in two weeks, or when conditions are suitable. WHAT?
In other words, it takes these little critters about four weeks to go from an egg to a little cocoon and then escape from that “wrapping” as a little catalpa worm. Any questions? If I didn’t get that exactly right, don’t call me.
If you don’t keep a close eye on your catalpa trees, you could miss the worms’ migration from the ground, to the leaves and then back to the earth. Sometimes it only takes a matter of days for the worms to emerge, eat the leaves off a tree and disappear!
Fresh catalpa worms can’t be beat for fishing. You can keep them for days in a refrigerator in corn meal and some say you can even freeze them in cornmeal. You can also freeze them in salt water. They aren’t the same thawed out, a bit mushier than fresh ones, but they still catch fish.
And they are famous, too! They even have an annual Catalpa Worm Festival out in Scroggins, Texas, every year. I’d love to go, but I am a little apprehensive about what the food booths might serve. If you eat watermelon at the watermelon festival…well??? And I sure don’t want to enter the catalpa worm eating contest. I’ll leave that to the fishes. Sorry, Scroggins.
One more thing. Catalpa worms have a lot of natural predators: wasps, honey bees, lizards, mockingbirds, fishermen. Maybe that’s why they don’t hang around long. Especially when you put them at the end of a hook!