April 04, 2022
When I was a kid, my dad loved to go bass fishing in lakes scattered across eastern Arkansas and western Tennessee, my boyhood home. For a brief time, crawfish country near Baton Rouge, La. was our home, but the pattern was the same there, too.
And that pattern was that, without fail on the way out of town, we’d stop at a small tackle store to buy a box of crickets.
It was the perfect antidote to a squirmy little boy who wasn’t always blessed with patience. Fishing was a test of that impatience.
While my dad tried to hook the biggest bass of his life with a Texas-rigged plastic worm or a spinnerbait as he fished from a flat-bottom johnboat, yours truly would be quiet and still, watching a bobber as the wiggling cricket tempted a platter-sized bluegill.
Most days, it worked, as my late father Bill landed a few largemouths and I laughed and squealed with glee as a pound-plus bluegill or two put a serious bend in my lightweight rod-and-reel setup. Today, those small mom-and-pop tackle shops, such as the ones where we bought our crickets, are becoming a thing of the past in many areas. Difficulties in finding store crickets can give angling parents with young kids who like to catch bream a challenge in preparing for parent-child time on the water.
But the reality is that with a little thought and elbow grease, you don’t always need to stop at the bait shop when you can create one in your garage or backyard.
Raise Your Own Worms
The simplest thing to have backyard ready is a worm farm—you’ll need nothing more than a container, some bedding material, some non-meat meal scraps for food, and a little patience. After that, you’re quickly in the worm-farming business!
As for a container, that can be as simple or complex as you like, from an old metal or plastic drum buried in the ground out back to a few crossties marking out a bed to an old Rubbermaid container buried with a few holes drilled in the bottom for drainage.
Whichever container you choose, you’ll need some type of rich, damp, organic soil to let the worms grow. It can be as simple as tilling up your own topsoil, although you may want to add some composted soil or garden soil—about a gallon, in most cases—to make things more attractive for the worms. Moss you find in the yard can work, too.
In many areas, local worms will naturally find such places, especially if it’s moist, shady, and has some sort of organic bedding material on top. (Hint: think finely shredded newspapers, some old sawdust, garden soil, and coffee grounds).
A great way to jumpstart your worm farm is to supplement your supply of worms with a few commercially bought worms, which you can put them in your worm farm (Editor’s Note: Always make sure that local and state regulations allow you to do such things!). Or collect worms your own from the yard, especially after rainstorms by looking under rocks and other wormy-looking places. In northern areas, you can find enough nightcrawlers on moist nights with a flashlight to fill a baitbox (but you gotta be quick).
Once you’ve got a supply of earthworms going—or larger nightcralwers, if local conditions allow for the cooler climate that they like and need—you’ll need to feed them with some sort of old food and/or organic garbage.
According to the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, food is pretty easy to come by for worms: "They can be fed on plant-derived products such as potato peels, lettuce leaves, moldy bread, spaghetti, orange peels, tea or coffee grounds, and garden waste like corn shucks or pea shells. Large amounts of meat or bones can cause odors and attract dogs or rodents and should be avoided."
How do you feed the worms? Push back the bedding material, place the food in scattered fashion, and cover again with the bedding material. After that, let the worms do the rest. You’ll need to change out the bedding material about once a month and harvest worms on a similar schedule after the first couple of months have passed by.
Worms reproduce about once every month, so they can quickly get going, as evidenced by white streaks in your soil (baby worms) and the actual adult worms themselves. Do note that worms can be prolific—just a handful of redworms can become 1,000-plus in six months, according to the Texas A&M AgriLife folks, so be ready to go fishing a lot, give out worms to fishing buddies, or reduce the size of your worm farm.
All that’s required here is a little bit of initial thought, investment, and work, and the passage of time can put you in business with some worms and/or nightcrawlers. After that, it’s time for some great fishing. After all, one of the most famous bass fishing books ever written was by the late, great Buck Perry, a tome entitled Lunkers Love Nightcrawlers!
Minnows and Crickets
If worms aren’t your thing, there’s also other possibilities, including a homemade minnow tank or cricket/grasshopper farm.
For the former, a blue plastic drum that has been carefully cleaned can be the ticket. All you’ll need is some form of aeration (visit your local Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s location).
Minnows are what a lot of game fish species can’t ignore! The backyard minnow keeping concept is pretty simple here, although it’s a bit more grand and complex to pull off than simply raising some earthworms can be.
The process is relatively straightforward since you'll need a small tank (keep it securely covered to protect against a child accidentally falling in), a submersible 110-volt pump (keep it safe from anyone who might wander by) that aerates and pumps water at a rate of 500+ gallons an hour, a biofilter of some sort, a way to regulate the temperature, and if necessary the pH, a way to feed the minnows, and some stocked minnows that are legal in your area (always check local regs).
I'll readily admit here that while the process is easy enough to understand, it’s a bit more complex and on a grander scale to keep a vat full of minnows than it is a damp spot outback crawling with earthworms.
And I’ll also note that I'm certainly no expert here, so I'll gladly defer to the fine Aggie folks down at Texas A&M once again. With their fine PDF publication here on "Raising Bait Minnows in Small Tanks,” you'll quickly get a thorough minnow-raising education and be well on your way to having a garage or shop minnow tank supplied with fresh minnows, the kind of bait that keeps the freezer loaded with fresh crappie fillets!
And finally, remember how we started this story about backyard ready bait stations? Well, you can also keep crickets and/or grasshoppers handy too with your own cricket/grasshopper cage. They are simple enough to make with a little plywood, some 2X4’s, and some ¼” metal mesh screen.
The box you construct is simple enough, only about 2 feet wide, 4 feet long, and 2 feet deep with a hinged door on top that has the mesh screen on it.
After that, you’ll need a light to keep them warm (see your local feed store or farm supply retailer), keep a bowl of fresh water and/or sponges there for them to get H2O, and some chicken scratch feed scattered about on the floor. Add a few old paper towel cardboard holders, maybe an old cardboard egg crate or two, and then a supply of crickets from the bait store.
At the right time of the year, you can even find crickets and grasshoppers out back, and those can be added to your bait station (Hint: spread an old fuzzy blanket out back, walk through a weedy area, and the crickets and/or grasshoppers will jump onto the blanket and get trapped).
If you want to go all out in raising crickets for fishing bait possibilities, the folks at Texas A&M AgriLife have that process covered, too, and can guide you through the process.
Either way, simple or grand, there are few better ways to tempt a big old bluegill than with a cricket or grasshopper under a cork bobber. Put a couple of dozen in a cricket container, take some ultralight fishing tackle to your local fishing hole, and hang on for the piscatorial fun and games to come! That, and keep a cast iron skillet handy for the good eating ahead.