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Brad Laabs: How to keep your bulk crawlers, leeches fresh

As we progress farther into the summer, leeches and night crawlers become important baits for many species of fish. It is helpful to know how to keep your bait fresh and healthy. It can be significantly less expensive to by bait in “bulk” rather than by the dozen, unless you can’t properly store your bait.

For night crawlers, you can buy them by the flat. Each flat will usually have about 400 usable crawlers and maybe a hundred that can serve as good bait for pan fish, and are more toward the angle worm size than what we typically think of as a night crawler. They will come in dirt. You will need to transfer them from the dirt into Styrofoam containers that have been prepared with worm bedding. Most foam containers that are sold for storing night crawlers can hold about ½ a flat of crawlers without overcrowding them. Make sure to keep them cool.

A “bait fridge” in the basement or garage works perfect. It doesn’t go too well for everyone else in the family if you keep them in the family fridge.

Make sure that you clear out the sick crawlers every few days or they can kill off the rest of the flat. If the bedding starts to get wet and dark, it is time to make up new bedding and transfer them into healthy bedding. Every so often adding a sprinkle or small lump in the corner of the container of cornmeal will help the night crawlers stay fat and healthy. When you take them out fishing, you can transfer what you need into a smaller foam container and keep them in a cooler. Some anglers rinse them in cold water and put them in plastic baggies to keep the boat free of crawler dirt. The cold water will also make the crawlers plump up to a larger size.

If it is too much work for you to deal with a flat, buy them by the dozen and refrigerate any you have left over to save for your next outing.

Leeches can be purchased by the pound instead of the dozen for a savings. A pound can be kept in a plastic or foam container about the size of a one pound coffee can. The water will need to be changed every other day to keep them fresh and healthy. Again, with leeches it is important to cull any sick or dead leeches out of the container to prevent them from getting the others prematurely sick.

They can be kept in the well water you have them in, in a cooler while fishing. It helps if you transfer a few into a smaller container and leave them out to warm up before using them. They become much more active when they warm up, and don’t shock and ball up as much when introduced to the lake. By always keeping them in well water in the cooler, you won’t need to throw them away after you are done fishing for the day.

Many anglers have started to go to the plastics for the ease of use. Don’t be fooled into thinking you don’t need to care for your plastic baits. For some of the plastics, returning them to their package and sealing properly keeps them “fresh.” Some plastic baits that are not sealed properly will dry out and not perform. If they are not put into packages properly, the shape can be distorted and they won’t fish with the action intended.

Some of the new baits require them to be returned to their “juice.” If they aren’t, or left on a hook/jig, they can be nearly impossible to get off.

The cost of these plastic baits has gone up, and the savings may not be as significant as they are marketed to be. Many times multiple fish can be caught on the same plastic bait, but if it tears, change it out to a new one.

They are extremely handy to use in cold weather and cold water situations. In my experience with using plastic for the last 15 years or more, they out preform live bait in water temps below 50 degrees. Early season river walleye action is dominated by the use of modern plastic baits. Summertime, I have to admit, I am a diehard live bait guy.

Best bet — learn how to take care of any bait you are going to use to improve your catch rate.

(Laabs runs Brad Laabs’ Guide Service in Detroit Lakes.)