Slippery, slithery, and sinuous, crawlers are talented escape artists. They sneak through the cracks of marginal storage systems, wriggling behind consoles, between narrow seams of boat storage bins, throughout coolers, and even into sandwiches. Out in the open, fugitives roast in the sun, becoming the texture of jerky.
Eliminate the pain in the bait with crawlers and leeches -- ever pulverize leeches in a bilge pump? -- by storing them smartly on and off the boat. With a little foresight and an emphasis on cool, clean storage, live critters will last longer and catch more fish.
BEDDED AND BOXED
Crawler care begins at home. Easiest is when you buy crawlers shipped in foam boxes with bedding that can go straight into the refrigerator and be periodically checked. Optimum temperatures are between 38F and 45F. Any warmer and the crawlers eat too much and foul the bedding. Inspect them every few days and turn the box upside down. (Duct tape will keep the contents from spilling all over the refrigerator.)
"Remove sick crawlers," says Greg Fisher, proprietor of Vados Bait & Tackle (866-584-3474, www.vadosbait.com in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota. "Flip them every three to four days. Crawlers can be kept for a year this way, depending on how often you fish."
But when crawlers come in dirt, be ready to work. To keep them longest without soiling your boat, remove the crawlers, rinse them, and put them in paper-based bedding in a foam cooler. (You can't transport crawlers packed in earth across the border into Canada, but paper-based bedding is allowed). Among choices are trouble-free Fat & Sassy premixed bedding or Green Choice bedding from recycled newspaper, though you have to mix the shreds with water and squeeze out the excess.
To store a few dozen crawlers for a day's fishing, try a Crawler Hauler with bedding or a Tupperware container with bedding and knife slits in the lid. Since escapees are uncommon, it's possible to store the containers in a cooler atop other supplies. Don't return unused crawlers to a storage flat; too often they taint the rest.
"The easiest way to keep crawlers healthy is to keep a big cooler full of blocks of ice and put your crawler boxes on top," says In-Fisherman Professional Walleye Trail pro Daryl Christensen, Montello, Wisconsin. "Don't use ice cubes because the crawlers escape into the water."
Another novel, effective storage idea comes from PWT pro Scott Fairbairn, Hager City, Wisconsin. After rinsing his crawlers, Fairbairn puts a few dozen in a JNB Originals Leech Tamer, a resealable mesh bag with Velcro at the top. Then he puts the Tamer in a six-pack cooler atop ice cubes, draining excess water from time to time. The cool environs and touch of water not only keep the crawlers jamming but also pump them up for a larger profile in the water.
With a similar desire for Chernobyl crawlers, PWT pro Tommy Skarlis, Walker, Minnesota, places enough crawlers for a day's fishing in water within zipper-type plastic bags. The bags go into a Coleman cooler with Brite Ice, the frozen blue packs that do away with the water hazards of melted ice. "I keep six to seven bags on the boat at a time with a dozen in each bag," Skarlis says. "That way you know how many crawlers you need to replenish at the end of the day. The water fluffs them up and makes them easy to handle without messing up your boat."
To many folks, crawlers stored in the fridge next to the cottage cheese is a bit disturbing. But when leeches are important to you, you're left with little choice. Okay, maybe an opaque container is preferable to the see-through type for the squeamish.
At home, the best way to care for leeches is with lake water refrigerated in a milk jug. This way, when you change their water -- a necessary step every couple days -- it's the same temperature the leeches are accustomed to. Snacking is not allowed. "The worst thing you can do is to try to feed leeches, because you add acidity that will make them sick or will foul the water," Fisher says. If lake water is impractical, use well water or treat tap water with a dechlorinator (available from pet stores) and keep it cool in the fridge until needed.
On the boat, one storage method is to keep leeches in Tupperware with holes (small ones, of course) sliced in the top, and to place the container atop ice, adding cubes if necessary to cool them. Depending on the water temperature, leeches sometimes have trouble adjusting when you put them on a hook and throw them in the drink.
Enter the Leech Tamer, a polyester mesh bag that contains the critters, lets them breathe fresh water in your baitwell and scrub themselves of crud that would otherwise smother them. Now they almost jump out of your hand when you put them on a hook. Plus, your little bait buddies acclimate to the surrounding water temperature while in the well and won't ball up on a hook when placed in the lake. Believe it or not, it's possible to toss a Tamer with leeches in a livewell, forget about it for weeks, and still have lively captives next time you look.