Everyday Epiphany, humor, Outdoors

Are Nightcrawlers And Leeches Like Apples And Oranges?

With a fishing rod in one hand, I scrutinized the leech container and pep talked myself.

“I can do this,” I encouraged.

“I’ve got this,” I continued.

“Just go for it,” I added.


My confidence dwindled and . . .

I didn’t do it.

I didn’t get it.

And I didn’t go for it.

. . . at least not immediately.


The Backstory:

My son is brave. He picks up leeches with his bare hands.

His fiancé, who is one of the bravest women I know, won’t. When she was a seven-year -old and wading in a local lake, a leech attached itself to her big toe. She ran to Dad who tugged it off.

My son’s leech handling ability must be one of his many charms that she admires.

I witnessed his bait bravado a few weekends ago when we fished from our pontoon boat in Crystal Lake. My son wrangled a squirming leech and hooked it on his sweetheart’s tackle with ease. Consequently, with equal ease, she hauled out impressive bass after bass.

I, on the other hand and on the other side of the boat, unsuccessfully drowned worms. With a limited leech supply, I restrained from asking my son to hook a leech for me (sort of like not taking the last dinner roll when guests share your meal).

The Research:

Later that week, hoping to recreate this successful bass fishing experience, I purchased a dozen leeches and nightcrawlers at Dave’s Bait, Tackle, and Taxidermy.

I also conducted primary research by interviewing the expert behind the counter who happened to be a sixteen-year-old boy. (The age is important because sixteen-year-olds know everything.) The conversation went something like this:

Me: So do these leeches suck blood.

16-Year-Old Boy: No, they’re a different kind. I pick them up with my hands when I put them in the containers.

Me: (Thinking this 16YOB is brave, too.) I thought they sucked blood like a tick.

16 YOB: They’ll attach to you. That’s one way of getting them out of the container, but you can pull them off.

Me: (Thinking I’m not sure I’d get to this point, but thought I’d ask.) So how do you put it on the hook?

16 YOB: Through the “nose”.

Me: (Looking confused.)

16 YOB: The wide part that has the sucker.

Me: I was hoping to stay away from that part.

The Hesitation:

This is what brought me to the end of the pier at the beginning of dawn screwing up the courage to pick up a leech.

I popped off the lid to the container. This movement or the light triggered a leech writhing so massive miniature waves threatened a tiny tsunami. If this were a defense mechanism, it was working.

Hoping a jolt of caffeine would see me through the task, I perched on the bench and drank my coffee. I had no problem with using lower life forms to catch dinner. If leeches or earthworms were 5’4″ tall and at the top of the food chain, I’d currently be dangling below a bobber. Impaling nightcrawlers on my hook into delicious bass appealing loops, I accomplished without hesitation. Why were the leeches so off-putting?  I popped the lid on both the leech and nightcrawler containers. Then I compared and contrasted them to sort out the cause for my leech aversion.

Reason One: Movement

Leeches writhe. Nightcrawlers crawl.

Leeches move in a quick and unpredictable manner. The end that I thought should be blazing the trail wasn’t

It’s easier to catch the slow, predictable nightcrawler.

Reason Two: Visual

Leeches are housed in water. I can SEE them roiling when I pop off the lid.

Soil covers nightcrawlers.

Reason Three: Attachment

Leeches cling onto anything with sucker mouths.

Nightcrawlers don’t.

Reason Four: “The African Queen”

As a child, after school I’d watch classic films on “The Early Show” series. This black and white movie, “The African Queen”, made an impression. In it a sailor (Humphrey Bogart) drags a boat, which carries a missionary (Katharine Hepburn) through swampy waters in search of the ocean. At one point Humphrey climbs out of the water and back into the boat. He’s covered in leeches. Katherine pulls them off. (Maybe that’s why they marry at the end of the story. It’s one of Katherine’s charms that Humphrey admires.) Had he been covered in nightcrawlers, I may have had the same problem with them as I do with leeches.

The Plan:

Having immersed myself in leech-nightcrawler logic I devised a plan.

I snapped the lid back onto the nightcrawler container (a collective sigh of relief emanated through the air holes) and turned my attention to the leeches.



As anticipated the leeches writhed when I dipped my finger into the water. I ditched that approach and searched my tackle box for an alternative. Pliers presented an option.


Wielding them like tongs, I separated one from the herd. I placed it in the wagon that carried my fishing gear. Without peer support and out of its element the little critter calmed.




Using the pliers to gently hold it in place, I finagled the hook to spear it. This of course produced more writhing which caused me to miss the “nose” part and impale it in a manner not inline with the sixteen-year-old-boy expert’s advise.


I went with it.

It was a start.

Sipping my coffee I settled on the bench and watched my bobber.

I caught sight of the sparrows that nested above the pontoons of our boat.

I caught the tune of the purple finches warbling on shore.

I caught a gentle breeze as the morning progressed.

What wasn’t caught was a bass

Maybe I should have used the nightcrawlers.



4 thoughts on “Are Nightcrawlers And Leeches Like Apples And Oranges?”

  1. Ewwww! I don’t fish and this is partly why! As a nurse I’ve seen leeches used medicinally. They are wonderful at debriding wounds. The most impressive case I ever saw was a person who had them used to clean up a tongue wound. They had to sedate her the whole time, but it worked beautifully. I’d have to be put to sleep.


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