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Chris French
Mike Roberts

It all began with the crawler

“C’mon, it’s raining, who wants to pick nightcrawlers?”

This would be asked of us kids — my three brothers Pete, Dave and Paul along with your old outdoor writer — by our Dad, Mike. As kids, we would jump at the chance, going barefoot, dressed in swim shorts and a t-shirt and carrying a two-battery flashlight and a coffee can.

We had many hot spots for our nightcrawler picking, but the athletic field and surrounding lawns at Choate School in Wallingford was one of our favorite places to pick a coffee can full of wiggling, squirmy nightcrawlers on a summer rainy night.

Many times, some of the students at Choate would even join us in our nightcrawler gathering. I really don’t know if that would be allowed today because it might be considered trespassing.

Just thinking about it fills me with so many memories back in the late 40s. Who needed I-pads, TV, computer games and all of the other electronic gizmos that fill the lives of today’s kids? We piled into the Roberts’ family “limo” (a 1930 Model-A Ford and, yes, it was an original) and headed out for an evening of picking nightcrawlers.

Oh, did I mention that we sold nightcrawlers at the Roberts “Farm” on Hanover Road? Yep,we were also in the business of selling nightcrawlers to any local anglers who needed some for a fishing foray. We sold them for 25 cents a dozen! Today they sell for better than that apiece! Hey, it’s a sign of the times, and I don’t think I know of anyone that picks their own nightcrawlers today, although I just know I will hear from a couple of you that do.

I called our place the Roberts Farm only because we did raise our own turkeys, pigs, chickens, rabbits, pheasants and, every once in awhile, a beef calf that we would butcher in the fall of the year. We did our own butchering as well as selling eggs from our chickens and some fresh turkeys to those that needed one for the holidays.

On top of that, we also grew a vegetable garden that was almost an acre in size. Mom would have a small roadside vegetable stand when the garden began to produce.

For our nightcrawler business, we had a couple of boxes buried in the ground that we would use to keep the nightcrawlers fresh for the anglers that needed them. We filled the boxes with wet composted leaves and coffee grounds and an occasional hit of cornmeal.

We did not have to advertise the crawlers. Word of mouth brought customers came to Roberts Farm on a steady basis and, more often than not, they would also depart with some fresh vegetables or eggs purchased from the Roberts family farm or some nightcrawlers for a fishing trip.

Of course, this all took place back in the late 40s and early 50s. The encroachment of a much more “civilized” society that took over the reins of many governments on a city, state and nationwide basis began to dictate what folks like us could and could not do on the land that we paid taxes on.

Try raising turkeys, chickens, pigs and pheasants in your yard today and see how long it takes before the authorities knock on your door to tell you to cease and desist from whatever you are doing.

Oh, sorry about that. I became so enthralled with my early memories of growing up in the village of South Meriden I almost forgot what I wanted to talk to you about: nightcrawlers!

Like I said, back in the late 40s after the war, the Roberts family had a nightcrawler business that kept many fishermen supplied with this favorite bait of many species of fish.

Back then, it was not at all uncommon to use a nightcrawlers for bait in the saltwater when we were fishing for flounder (flatfish). Nowadays, the preferred flounder bait is sand worms. I don’t know if anyone uses nightcrawlers for flounder anymore. Of course, with the two -ish flounder limit and the seasons and size limits, I do not believe there are too many anglers that even fish for flounder anymore. It’s a heck of a lot cheaper to buy them in a fish market.

Even today, a container of nightcrawlers is often the “go-to” bait preferred by many anglers, including myself. Over the years, I have found that a nightcrawler on a floating jighead can be an awesome bait if you are fishing for walleyes. The best way to use them is from a drifting boat or a very slow moving boat and I do mean sl-o-o-o-w moving. I and a lot of other fishermen have used them very successfully for walleyes, especially at Lake Saltonstall.

This year, I have found a new spot to try my nightcrawler fishing, and the best part is that I do not have to put a lot of miles on my vehicle to have some fishing fun. I’m talking about Mirror Lake, that fishing jewel that sits in the middle of Hubbard Park.

Thanks to the foresight shown by our Parks & Recreation Department, our city councilors and the CT DEEP Inland Fisheries Division, Mirror Lake can now be enjoyed by just about all legal fishermen. From what I have seen so far, it has been a win-win situation.

The DEEP Inland Fisheries even stocked Mirror Lake with trout and channel catfish. It was the catfish that caught my attention and started me fishing Mirror Lake. Just about every day I take “the girls” (our two Bichons, Daisy and Lily) for their exercise walk in Hubbard Park, and since I am always ready to try some fishing, I often give Mirror Lake a try after their walk. I park the truck in a shady spot right next to the lake with the windows open for the girls, set up a folding chair and bait up a couple of fishing rods with — what else? — nightcrawlers.

I did catch some of the catfish and they became the main attraction in a Cajun-style fish fry and they were delicious beyond description.

The nightcrawlers served me admirably in my Mirror Lake fishing (I fished them on the bottom), but while I enjoyed the catfish, it was the trout that really surprised me. It seemed that just about every trip to Mirror Lake I would hook up with a trout or two and they were all caught on nightcrawlers. The trout were healthy looking and delicious.

Mirror Lake is the perfect spot because you can get there by bus as well as your own vehicle. This year I have either caught or witnessed being caught catfish, trout, largemouth bass, bullheads, giant carp, sunfish, yellow perch, calico bass (Crappie) and even an eel.

I should also mention that both Silver Lake and Black Pond in our area are recipients of the DEEP catfish stockings. Black Pond is also stocked with trout and many of them are being caught on nightcrawlers.

I didn’t know it until I received a copy from Wallingford resident Henry Aldrich that there was a very informative book on nightcrawlers titled “Lunkers Love Nightcrawlers.” It was printed in 1973 by Northwoods Publishing Co. Inc. I don’t know if the book is even available anymore, but I treasure it for its info on nightcrawlers.

So during these dog days of summer, when you want to try a relaxing way of fishing, get some nightcrawlers at The Fishin’ Factory in Southington or Uncle B’s in Wallingford and log in some fishing time.

And don’t forget to bring the kids. Fishing is a sport that everyone can enjoy and, here in Meriden, it seems to be getting even better.

BEARS IN THE BACKYARD

It’s all about bears, cougars, coyotes, pythons, alligators and, yes, even deer and moose in conflict with humans. I guess this would be the best way to describe author Ed Ricciuti’s new book, “Bears In The Backyard.”

Ed Ricciuti is a fellow outdoor writer whom I have known for many years now. He lives in Killingworth. I mentioned his book in last week’s column about the growing deer population in our area and thought that some of you might be interested in what Ricciuti had to say about close encounters with various species of wildlife up close and personal, especially if encountered in your own yard.

While the book covers many species on a nationwide scale, such as alligators and pythons (which, thankfully, we should not have to worry about), I did find the information in the book very interesting.

At onetime it was the raccoon that was the bad guy associated with various forms of mischief on homeowners by dumping garbage cans and spreading the garbage all over while searching for something to snack on. Now, we have the marauding black bear to contend with doing the same thing, but the bad part about this scenario is the fact that a bear can hurt you or do even worse if it got a mind to.

Some of the factual information in “Bears In The Backyard” can be quite chilling when describing animal attacks on humans and pets, but it is factual and cannot be denied.

“Bears In The Backyard” also points out the many problems those who manage our wildlife resources have to face when it comes to balancing out the interaction of wildlife and humans. This is becoming even more evident right here in Connecticut as tales of human conflicts (I really don’t know if “conflicts” is the right word) with bears, coyotes, deer and moose become even more common each year.

However, I do think that you might find “Bears In The Backyard” by Ed Ricciuti a thought-provoking read and help you to better understand some of the problems pertaining to wildlife and human conflicts. You just know they are going to be even more prevalent in the coming years.

“Bears In The Backyard” is published by Countryman Press (www.countrymanpress.com) and should be available at bookstores or Amazon on your computer. This hardcover book goes for $23.95 and would make an excellent gift for anyone interested in the ever-increasing human/wildlife run ins.

Hope you had a happy July 4th. See ya’ and God Bless America and watch over our troops wherever they may be serving.



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