Best Tips for Catching Nightcrawlers

I have lost count of how many times I spent the best early hours of fishing driving from numerous gas station shops to 24 hour shopping centers trying to find worms that I forgot to buy the day before.

I decided there must be a better way to have a supply of nightcrawlers on hand for the entire fishing season.  After doing a little research and practicing what I learned, I have found the best ways to catch worms and, more importantly, how to care for them so they last.  

Catching your own bait is a fun and simple way to save money.  It is hard to beat the satisfaction of pulling a big juicy worm out of the ground and adding it to your bait stash. Read on for the best tips to catch handfuls of giant nightcrawlers.

Look for nightcrawlers in your own yard

  • Worms are found in most soil types, but the largest and healthiest worms are found in good draining, healthy lawns. Your own yard may indeed be the best place to start looking.  Lawns that are mowed short are easiest to find worms in.  
  • Look for worms in the loose soil around your home.  Gardens and flower beds produce good numbers of large nightcrawlers.
  • Look under wood piles, landscape pavers or other items that have been sitting on top of soil for a long time.  Worms tend to concentrate in the gaps between the soil and these items if left undisturbed.
  • If your yard does not provide good worm hunting grounds, that’s okay.  My favorite way to find worms is to walk my neighborhood where the sidewalks have groomed edges.  Worms are easily caught in the gap between the sidewalk and edged lawn.  Often times, the worms are just laying on the sidewalk.  Avoid trespassing on your neighbors lawn and ask permission if necessary.
  • Neighborhood parks that allow access after dusk are good bets.  Be sure to check the park rules to avoid getting in trouble. 

Look for them at the right time

  • As their name implies, they are most frequently seen at night.  Nightcrawlers are extremely sensitive to white light and unless forced from the ground, will not come to the surface until after dark.  
  • Give it about 2 hours after sunset to start looking.  This gives the worms a chance to come to the surface and look for mates.  You can find worms all through the night if you can manage to stay awake.
  • I have found that trying to find worms in the morning just before sunrise is more challenging.  It is quite difficult to beat early rising birds to the worms.
  • Check the temperature.  When nighttime temperatures stay between 55°F and 65°F, worms will be more active on the surface of the ground. In the northern latitudes of America, these temperatures occur frequently in the spring and early summer.  If the ground is wet, worms can be found outside these temperatures during the summer and fall.  
  • A spring rain can produce some of the best conditions for finding nightcrawlers above ground. Worms don’t like to dry out so surface moisture is essential to catching them. If you have not had recent rains, try watering your lawn just before dark.  This will draw worms to the surface after the sun sets. 

Get worms to come to you during the day time

  • Vibrations not only send worms back into their holes, it can also lure them out of the ground during the day if done correctly. Worm grunting, as it is called, involves pounding a stake into the ground and rubbing a flat piece of metal or wood along the top to create rhythmic vibrations.  Patience is key, but the successful grunter with see worms wiggling out of the ground like magic. 
  • Send worms to the surface with electricity.  Who hasn’t heard about or wanted to try this method?  Conversations of worm hunting don’t go long without someone mentioning the use of a car battery and metal stakes to drive worms out of the ground.  The basic setup involves pounding metal stakes into damp ground about a foot apart. Then, use jumper cables to connect the stakes to a car battery.  In an attempt to escape the electrical currents, worms will quickly come to the surface.
  • Applying dish soap to your lawn is another simple trick to bring worms to the surface.  Environmentally friendly soap is best.  Simply squirt the soap around your lawn and spay with a hose to create suds. Once it soaks into the ground, the worms will surface.  You must wash the worms in clean, soap free water before placing them in your bait box.  Spot test this method in a hidden spot of your lawn first to make sure it does not harm the grass. 
  • Dig for them.  Anytime I am doing a yard project or tending to the garden, I get my bait box ready. Be sure to dig gently to avoid cutting the worms in pieces.

Have the right tools

  • Your most important tool will be a red light source.  Not as easily detected as a white light from a conventional flashlight, red light will give you a chance to see the worms before they zip back into the ground.  I find a headlamp extremely useful for keeping both hands free for grabbing worms.  
  • If all you have is a standard flashlight, try putting colored cellophane or tissue paper over the lens.  This should sufficiently dim the light.
  • When you do get hold of a nightcrawler, they are very slippery.  Wearing latex or nitrile medical exam gloves can make gripping them easier.  Bringing along sawdust to rub your hands in can also provide extra grip.  Grab for the base of the worm, closest to the hole, to have the best chance of catching them before they zip back into the ground.  Once you get a hold of one, a firm steady pull is best.  Tugging quickly and too hard will snap them in half.  If a worm is too far down the hole, just let it go and catch it another day.
  • Have a simple container ready to place your freshly caught worms in.  Sour cream or cottage cheese containers with soil, coffee grounds or other bedding material inside works great.  Poke a small hole in the lid for air circulation.
  • Worms dry out fast. Be sure the bedding material for the worms is damp but not soggy. Your small collecting container should not be used to store worms for more than a couple days (see the “Store worms right” section below for more information).
  • After a night of worm hunting, keep your collection cool by placing them in a refrigerator or cooler with ice. As worms warm up they get lethargic and eventually die.  Lively looking worms on a hook attract fish better than dead ones.
  • Quiet shoes are a must.  Worms are incredibly sensitive to vibrations in the ground.  If you step too hard, the worms in your immediate area will slide right back into the ground. Step softly and move slowly. 

Store worms right to make them last

  • Get a breathable bait box to store worms for longer.  There are many great bait boxes available.  Check your local fishing supply store or go online.  Personally, I have had great success keeping worms alive all season with the Frabill Habitat II bait box sold on Amazon. However, you don’t need anything special. A medium or small sized container with dark sides will store worms for quite awhile. 
  • Use good quality bedding for storing worms in the bait box.  Homemade bedding is easy and inexpensive.  Shredded newspaper and coffee grounds mixed with a little soil works well.  For an easier, and less stinky solution, Magic Worm Bedding is great and gives your worms the closest thing to real soil.
  • Keep your bait box cool.  Worms are sensitive to over heating.  For the most active worms, place them in a refrigerator or cool location away from direct sunlight.
  • Inspect the bedding often for moisture content. To test for the right level of dampness, squeeze a handful of bedding.  Ideally, a few drops should drip from your hand.  If no water squeezes out, add more.  If you get a stream of water after squeezing it, add dry bedding to the box and mix.  Worms will drown if there is too much pooled water in the bottom of the box.  For easy watering, use a spray bottle and mist the bedding weekly.
  • Worms need to eat too. To keep worms alive for a long time, food is essential.  Compostable material such as lawn clippings, dead leaves or coffee grounds will work.  The amount of food needed depends on the number of worms you have.  Add food as needed.  To avoid attracting rodents to your bait box, you can use commercial worm food that does not have human food scraps.  Magic Worm Food is our favorite brand and our worms love it!
  • When it is time to go fishing, take only as many worms as you need for the day in a separate container with bedding.  Avoid taking your entire stash of worms out fishing at one time. You likely won’t use them all and you run the risk of over heating them.  Especially if you spend the whole day out in the sun without a cooler.

Involve the family and have fun

As much fun as you have fishing with family and friends, it is equally entertaining to catch nightcrawlers together.  Kids will especially enjoy this activity and it will get them excited about fishing.  However, their attention spans during late night hours may be short, and having a reliable spot for a quick find will keep them motivated.  

Regardless of the methods and tools you use to catch worms, just remember that having fun is the first goal.  Spend time scouting areas in your yard and neighborhood and you are sure to find loads of worms.