CRUEL END? Earthworms can spend their lives (four to eight years) wriggling about, enriching and improving our soil, only to end up unceremoniously impaled on a fishing hook.
Country Sights and Sounds
An hour after talking to James on the phone, I found him busy in his garden. “Are you not ready to go?” I asked him.
“Just need a few worms, that’s all,” he replied. “It won’t take more than a few minutes.”
Typical! I took the initiative and began turning the few rocks and pieces of wood I could find, but came up with nothing, while James looked on, rather disdainfully. “You’ll have me digging for them next,” he said.
“There’s nothing wrong with digging,” I told him. “An hour with the spade would get you all the bait you need, plus you’d have somewhere to put those seed potatoes I gave you. They’ll do no good in the back porch, you know.” His eyes hooded. He’d been hoping I’d forgotten, I knew that.
“Come away out of there,” he said, “I’ll have more worms in ten minutes than you’d find in an entire day with your spade.” He went into the house and returned with a bucket of lukewarm water. Bubbles on the surface gave the game away immediately.
“Washing up liquid? Don’t tell me you’re resorting to that old trick!” My protestations were in vain. He poured his gallon of soapy water onto the lawn. “Now all we have to do is wait a while. Time for a cup of tea, I think. Come on, kettle’s already on.”
There was nothing to do but wait, and no point in making a fuss. Why hadn’t he done this last night? Why wasn’t he ever ready to go at the appointed hour? ‘In a minute’ invariably meant some time today, and ‘Later’ can be taken to indicate some time in the indeterminate future, I should know that by now. So, ‘I might call to the river and see is there a trout to be found, if you’d like to come along’, as per my telephoned invitation, was filled with vagaries.
“Patience,” said James, “is a virtue. And you’re a virtuous man.”
A few minutes later we were back on his grassy plot, where numerous earthworms ranging in size from giant eight inch lobs to miniscule pink wrigglers were lying on the surface of the ground. I picked up one of the lobworms, which hung listlessly from my fingers and exuded a thin mucus.
“Look at the poor thing,” I said. “Can you imagine what all that soap does to them? It’s no wonder they come to the top like that.” James took the sickly looking worm and held it in the palm of his hand.
“Never really thought about it.” He pursed his lips and examined the unfortunate creature. “They’re generally alright in an hour or so.” He dropped it into his bait bucket and went on.
“Plenty of damp moss and a bit of sharp sand,” he said. “That toughens them up a good bit and helps them stay on the hook.”
“They’ll be glad of that, then.” I said sardonically.
“There’s other ways of getting them, too,” James continued, unperturbed and ignoring my caustic barb. “I once tried using the car battery. If you knock a couple of iron rods into the ground and wire them up right it’ll send every worm in the area to the top so fast they’d put themselves in the bucket.
“That’s what my uncle used to say anyway, but when I gave it a go the battery started smoking and fizzing. I thought I’d better stop before the car blew up.
“My uncle, he’d use mustard powder. If you scatter it on the ground before a rainstorm the rain washes it down the holes and the worms come right to the top and wait there. And he once saw a man stick his garden fork into the ground and shake it about. When the worms came up to see what was going on he’d just pick them up they were that confused. He was a clever man, my uncle. If he couldn’t get to the river he’d fish in a bucket and still come away with a bagful of trout.”
“It’s about time you learned to fish with the fly.” I tried to keep the reproach out of my voice. “It seems unnecessarily cruel to impale worms on a hook when fish can be caught in other ways.”
James was indignant. “It’s no more cruel to impale a worm than to hook a trout. We could say there’s other ways of catching fish, and I dare say you’d know some of them, but the law says you cannot do that. So, worms it is and worms it’ll be.”
James caught nothing, to my secret delight. Neither did I, but that’s beside the point.