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The Secret Life of Worms E-mail
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Monday, 02 July 2007

The Secret Life of Worms

By Elizabeth Cohen


Gannett News Service

Pickers, earthworm entrepreneurs reveal truths about these ‘lowly' critters

“It may be doubted whether there are any other animals which have played so important a part in the history of the world, as have these lowly organized creatures.” — Charles Darwin, from an essay on the earthworm, 1881.

BINGHAMTON — First of all you need rain, but preferably rain that has stopped. In the warm, steamy aftermath of a summer downpour, well, that would be prime worm-picking weather. Then, you wait.

“Night. That's when they come out,” said Binghamton's Sam Morabito, 81. “Around 11 p.m. is best for picking.”

And he ought to know — he has made a career out of finding and capturing worms, among other fishing-related pursuits, running Sam's Sports Shop on Exchange Street from the 1950s until 1988. But closing up his bait and tackle shop didn't mean leaving the worms behind. Come a damp night, post-rainstorm, he's still likely to head out to the golf courses — one of the best places for the job, say worm pickers of repute — or other picking areas he's scoped out. “They keep the grass mowed down low so you can see them easy,” he said. “And I know. I've been picking 50 years, or more.” 

Bait is business

Believe it or not, there is gold in them worms. The recreational bait industry reports bringing in more than $1 billion a year in revenues, and much of that is the bait itself, particularly worms. Morabito, whose shop was the longest running bait and tackle shop in the region, says he made a pretty good living off worms. “Sure, there is money,” he says. “I made more profit from night walkers than anything else. When I had a sports shop it was a main source of support.”

Night walkers, or night crawlers for those not “in the know” on wormy topics, are those long squiggly fat guys that you can pull up out of the ground, much bigger than the common garden worm you unearth when you are putting in tulip bulbs.

Tim McIntyre of Red Creek supports his family off worms, which he gets from Canadian pickers and sells wholesale throughout New York state and eastern Pennsylvania.

McIntyre sells night crawlers to several local bait shops for $55 per 1,000 or the smaller red worms (also known as “dug worms” or “trout worms”) for $40 per 1,000.

Worm picking 101

Amateur worm pickers might go out with just a bucket in the aftermath of a rain to see what they can find, and do pretty well. But real pickers, like Morabito, have tactics and equipment they use for the task:

* A good miner's cap or miner's headlight is essential, to free up the hands for picking while casting a little light down to locate the worms.

* A pair of good gloves (it can get slimy).

* A bucket with a handle.

Once you have these, the next dilemma is finding a good spot. Many local golf courses will allow pickers to go out on them; parks are also good. Anywhere where there is a large area of mown grass works well, Morabito said.

“After dark they start coming out and you see them with the headlight,” he said. “Sometimes when you go down to you pick them up you can get them right away, but the majority of the time they have their tails in the ground so they can scoot back in if they are disturbed in any way.”

When they see the light, Morabito says, they have a tendency to sink back underground. “You have to be fast,” he said.

A bucket, he said, holds about 500 worms. Once he has filled it, he goes back and stores them in a box filled with dirt in his car.

“I learned how to pick from Bill Yates, who used to run Yates Bait Shop on Oak Street in Binghamton,” Morabito said. “He was the most generous, wonderful man and he was my competitor, but he taught me all the trade secrets.”

During a long career in bait and tackle, Morabito sold worms to the likes of former Binghamton Mayor Al Libous, recently deceased Sen. Warren Anderson and the Three Stooges, who had come to town for their vaudeville act at the former Capitol Theater on Exchange Street.

“I was 22 when they passed through my doors,” Morabito said. “They performed every night and came to my shop every day for a week to supply them with worms and fishing equipment. Then, in the afternoons, when they went fishing off the Exchange Street bridge, a bunch of kids would follow them over.”


Kids today don't fish as much as kids a generation or so ago, observes Sam Morabito, who once ran a bait and tackle shop in the area.

"I want to encourage kids to get into fishing," the 81-year-old says. "It is a great and relaxing sport and past time."

With this in mind, Morabito is giving away free worms. Giving away free bait, he thinks, could inspire a few kids to get out on our rivers and waterways, and spend some time fishing. "I'll been giving them away on a first-come, first-serve basis," he said. "Two packages max per family."

* What: Packages of night crawlers

* Where: J.P. Mark convenience store, corner of Exchange and Susquehanna streets in Binghamton

* When: 7 to 9 a.m. Saturday


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