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He had the vaguely tattered look of an expert trout fisherman, yet he cast neither spinners nor flies. Intrigued, I stayed to watch as he carefully worked his way upstream. He used a soft underhand cast to deftly flip his bait into the head of each promising pocket and pool, and with his rod held high he slowly reeled in slack line as the current carried the bait back downstream. Several times he briefly lowered his rod tip before sweeping it back up, which more often than not was greeted with the throbbing pulse of a hooked trout. Where I had failed to raise a single fish, he caught half a dozen.

That he was worm fishing was clear, but his approach and tackle were unlike any I had seen before. His wispy spinning rod was almost as long and limber as my fly rod, and his small reel was spooled with gossamer monofilament line. His terminal tackle was equally light, consisting only of a small hook, tiny split shot, and half a nightcrawler. Watching him fish was a revelation.

** Natural Presentations**
I was just 17 then, the starch not yet out of my driver’s license, but I had already succumbed to several trout-fishing prejudices. Worming was only for beginners, I thought, and cold, roily water. I associated it with forked sticks, clumsy snelled hooks, and gobs of bait weighted down with heavy sinkers. There was no finesse to it, or so I imagined, and as a budding trout fisherman I had naturally gravitated to artificial lures.

But that encounter changed my mind. With the right gear in the right hands, worm fishing is not only highly effective, it is an art form. And as my own experience with light-tackle worming steadily grew, I discovered that it also presents many of the same challenges as flyfishing.

Foremost is the need for a drag-free drift. The key to worm fishing in moving water — be it brook, stream, or river — is to present a bait that tumbles naturally along the bottom, where trout spend most of their time. Too much weight, and the worm sits unnaturally on the bottom; too little, and it is swept above the fish. And as with dry flies, a worm skidded across the current on a tight line is more likely to alarm trout than elicit strikes.

The easiest way to achieve a natural presentation is to cast quartering upstream, using just enough weight so that you can barely feel the sinker ticking bottom as it slowly drifts back downstream. Slack line is recovered at the same pace that the bait tumbles back toward you, and the rod tip is held high to minimize the effect of other currents on the drift of the bait and to help detect bites. When a bite is detected — either through the telltale tap-tap of a taking trout or by seeing the line move upstream — the fish should be promptly fed slack line so it can mouth the entire bait, including the hook. You should either drop the rod tip and reach toward the fish or immediately flip open the bail on your spinning reel. Either way, after a pause of one to three seconds, the slack line should be recovered and the hook set with a snap of the wrist. The larger the bait, the longer the pause.

When Less Is More
Worm fishing also resembles flyfishing in that worm fishermen must tailor their offerings to the conditions at hand. The most common mistake is to use too much bait. As a rule, the amount of bait used should steadily decrease as the season progresses and the size of the stream decreases.

Early in the season, especially on large rivers that hold trout measured in pounds, an entire 4- to 6-inch nightcrawler might be called for, although far better are “dillies,” plump, 3- to 4-inch crawlers that are weeded out by many commercial bait dealers and sold separately to trout anglers. On smaller streams, or as river levels drop, half a crawler or a 2- to 4-inch garden worm is a better choice. On low, clear waters and tiny brooks, half a garden worm is called for, while larger baits are needed whenever a hard rain raises water levels.

Whole worms should be hooked in the middle so that the ends hang free — never ball up worms on a hook. Worm pieces should be threaded onto the hook starting at the broken end. In all cases, use as small a hook as is practical, ranging from size 8 for big nightcrawlers down to size 12 for garden worms and smaller pieces. Weights should be small and easily removed, with eared, size BB split shot the best all-around choice. The addition or removal of a single split shot can spell the difference between success and failure, and expert worm fishermen constantly adjust the amount of weight on their line to match the depth and current of the water being fished. Low-memory, low-diameter monofilament line, either 2- or 4-pound test, also helps achieve a natural drift by offering less resistance to moving water.

ut measured in pounds, an entire 4- to 6-inch nightcrawler might be called for, although far better are “dillies,” plump, 3- to 4-inch crawlers that are weeded out by many commercial bait dealers and sold separately to trout anglers. On smaller streams, or as river levels drop, half a crawler or a 2- to 4-inch garden worm is a better choice. On low, clear waters and tiny brooks, half a garden worm is called for, while larger baits are needed whenever a hard rain raises water levels.

Whole worms should be hooked in the middle so that the ends hang free — never ball up worms on a hook. Worm pieces should be threaded onto the hook starting at the broken end. In all cases, use as small a hook as is practical, ranging from size 8 for big nightcrawlers down to size 12 for garden worms and smaller pieces. Weights should be small and easily removed, with eared, size BB split shot the best all-around choice. The addition or removal of a single split shot can spell the difference between success and failure, and expert worm fishermen constantly adjust the amount of weight on their line to match the depth and current of the water being fished. Low-memory, low-diameter monofilament line, either 2- or 4-pound test, also helps achieve a natural drift by offering less resistance to moving water.

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