One Worm, One Friend

One Worm One Friend

The author's friend and mentor, Nancy Gabbert, with a worm-caught bass in Illinois

A tribute to a fishing friend.

I lost a lifelong friend recently. We grew up together in a small town in central Illinois. It’s one of those places that you can’t wait to leave when you’re old enough, but continually find yourself gravitating toward over the course of a lifetime.

Being a few years older, my friend (and self-imposed guru) had the time and wherewithal to teach me about important stuff like sports, dancing, cars (another story for another time), and most profoundly, fishing. We refer to it as fishin’. Specifically I was taught the craft and consequently the cool fun of farm-pond fishin’. Bluegills, sunfish, crappie (we pronounce it “crop-ee”), bass, and catfish were the fish of choice. You get the idea; we’re talking a Midwest aquarium here.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I can sling Woolly Buggers, Royal Wulffs, and Dave’s Hoppers as well as just about any other less-than-average Montana fly fisher. I also have the ability to morph into my fly-fishing persona when necessary. However, my strong suit, thanks once again to my buddy, has always been angling with the often shy, mostly nonconfrontational, ubiquitous nightcrawler. Nothing comes close to the almighty ‘crawler. Especially when fishin’ is superslow and you really would like to see the smiling face of a feisty pisces up close and personal.

My friend, being of the frugal persuasion, was the king (we’re not talking Elvis) of the Annelids. The one drawback to worm fishin’, as far as my pal was concerned, was that you had to buy them 12 at a time instead of individually. Heck, when we couldn’t find our own during those lengthy summer dry spells and had to fork over the 50 cents for a dozen, my friend seriously thought it might be time to put away the tackle and take up a less costly endeavor. In order not to lose my fishin’ buddy to economics, I took it upon myself to pay for eleven-twelfths of the dozen and my friend scraped up enough to cover the rest. Accordingly, that’s how we split up the squirmy little critters. I got eleven, my friend one.

My theory has always been, the bigger the worm, the bigger the bite. So, I always hang a whole crawler on my #6 barbless hook. My friend’s theory, on the other hand, was to catch as many fish on one worm as is biologically possible using segments smaller than a #20 Trico. Our favorite pond had a dock with a nice wooden bench that my friend would never move from while I constantly cruised the shoreline. Over a couple of hours I had caught and released 11 or 12 fish, some small, some smaller, and a couple of nice ones. I also watched my friend land fish with astounding regularity. Once in awhile I would yell, “How about another worm?” My friend would just smile and say, “I’ve still got plenty.”

Inevitably the time came when my last dew worm was snatched by a voracious largemouth bass, and after a valiant battle both my worm and the bass had vanished. It was time to pack it in. As I meandered over to the dock where my friend had taken up residence, I let it be known that I was bait-less and we should hit the bricks. Having caught a similar number and variety of fish my friend looked at me straight-faced and said, “What do you want me to do with the other half of my nightcrawler?”

You know, a very lucky half of a worm somewhere can be thankful, because my friend, my sister, won’t be fishin’ today.