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Enter The Catalpa Worm Zone

by: Ron and Toni Smith
The name catalpa (pronounced ketal'pe) comes from the name given to a tree by the Native American tribe, the Catawba (keto'be) of South Carolina. It is said that the Indians smoked the bean pods for a hallucinogenic effect, so the tree became known as the "Indian Cigar Tree", the Indian bean, and smoking bean.

In the late 1700s, this tree was planted all over the Eastern United States with southwest Georgia, south Alabama, and south-central and southeast Mississippi being the original native ranges. The largest trees found measured 70 feet tall by 70 feet wide in Texas, and 75 feet by 75 feet in Mississippi, with a relatively short life span of 70 years. It is said the tree could grow as tall as 100 feet.
There is the Northern Catalpa, which is a short-lived, coarse-textured tree that tolerates a wide range of growing conditions. Growth is rapid at first but slows down with age. The main ornamental feature is panicles of flowers produced in early summer. These are white with yellow and purple markings. The fruit is a long pod that can be a litter problem.

The Southern catalpa is smaller than the Northern catalpa and reaches about 30 to 40 feet tall.
The heartwood of the Southern catalpa is extremely heat resistant and is used for fence posts and rails. Its soft straight-grained and low shrinkage is valuable also and occasionally furniture parts are fashioned from catalpa. The wood is faintly aromatic.

The catalpa trees are the only host for the catalpa sphinx moth. This moth larva - known as the catalpa worm -- devours the leaves of the tree and often completely defoliates the tree, as shown here. Defoliated catalpas produce new leaves readily and trees usually refoliate promptly. Adult moths first appear in March to April and deposit eggs ranging from 100 to 1,000 on the underside of the leaves. Eggs hatch in 5-7 days and young larvae feed together as leaf skeletonizers until they are about three inches long. They then drop to the ground.
Southern trees produce fruit that are long, slender, thin-walled, pod-like capsules that dangle from the ends of twigs. They look like cylindrical pencils or cigars about 1/3 inch in diameter and 6-16 inches long. The fruit dries to a brownish color and eventually splits along two lengthwise seams. The fruits mature by October and are held on the tree until spring.

Trees begin to flower by age seven and are producing good seed crops by age 10. Seeds are naturally shed in late winter as the drying fruits split. Collection should occur after the fruit has dried and turned brown. If 10 pounds of air-dried fruit are collected, expect 2-3 pounds of seeds, which are about 40,000 individual seeds. Seeds can be stored under cold, dry conditions for up to two years. Sow seeds in spring under 1/8 inch soil and light mulch. Once sowed, seeds germinate within two weeks with 90% germination potential.
The catalpa worm, a green caterpillar that lives on the catalpa tree, is well known as a tree pest, but is better known to some for its attractiveness to catfish. References to their collection as bait reportedly date back to the 1870s. Tough in texture, they sport a black head and tail with a neon strip down either side of its back. When put on a hook, which according to some should be a circle hook with heavy sinkers to make sure the bait is on the bottom, a bright fluorescent green fluid oozes from its body that smells sweet, which is its attractiveness. It is also reported to "wiggle forever on a hook." This sweet aroma and liveliness of this worm make it very appealing to fish.

Harvesting the worm is best from April through November, with the largest hatches produced in late spring and again in late summer. A single tree may hold 200 worms. To gather the worms, place a tarp or piece of plastic under the tree and shake it until the worms fall off.
The worm can be preserved alive by placing it in cornmeal or sawdust and packing it in a glass jar and frozen indefinitely. When thawed, they become as lively as the day they were froze. This is because their metabolism slows down while eating and, therefore, freezes in its natural state. Some fishermen report that it is better to freeze them in water in lots of 25. Thawed out, they turn black and soggy, but do not seem to lose their appeal to catfish.

There are several ways to use this worm as bait. It can be cut in half, turned inside out and threaded on the hook. Another way is to cut them in pieces just like an earthworm. But the most common way seems to be cut (or bite-YUK!!!) its head off, use the end of a match and turn its body inside out. The common thread here is to release its aromatic scent and green fluorescent juices.
Finding these worms? Find the Catalpa Tree and in most cases you find the worm. The trees grow naturally along rivers and margins of swamps. Northern catalpa occurs naturally as an occasional tree in some central and south-central states such as Indiana, Illinois and south Arkansas to Tennessee.

You could plant your own trees by ordering the seeds online or gathering seeds from trees proven to support moth larvae over many years. Seeds can be planted in a garden area and grown until they are 1-2 years old. Sow the seeds at a wide spacing and thin seedlings to greater than a six-inch spacing between stems. Once the seedlings are larger than 18 inches tall and the field is prepared, transplant them during the winter and cover the seed with coarse, organic mulch 1-2 inches thick. A slow release of nitrogen and phosphorous containing fertilizer can be added in small amounts over the top of the mulch in late spring each year. The addition of calcium and magnesium through applications of dolomite limestone can also be beneficial in highly acid soils; soil pH should be adjusted to 6.4.
The soil should be moist and well drained with loam to sandy loam textures. Spots 10 feet in diameter should be cleared with no plant shaded for most of the day. Wood weed control is essential and each seedling must be completely free to grow without competition. Wind protection is valuable as long as the catalpas are not shaded.

You could order the frozen worm online or you could make your own as shown below. Whatever you choose, if you choose to use the Catalpa Worm to catch catfish, they have been tried and tested to be very favorable bait.
You have now entered the Catalpa Worm Zone!!!

75+ Catalpa Tree-Indian Bean Tree Seeds -- $2.49
e-Bay item #2323793621

Catalpa Worms, frozen - 1 dozen - product id D5/catalpa worms -- $3.95 (they probably sell plastic ones too)

Tying Your Own Catalpa, Obtained from American Angler, Mar/Apr 1992

Hook - Mustad #79580, #4-8
Thread - black, #6/0
Tail - Goose biot segments, black
Body - Cream or pale yellow lamb's wool
Over body - Black Chenille
Hackle - Black, stripped on one side, clipped closely on finished fly
Head - Black, #6/0

Tying Instructions:
1. Wrap thread around the hook shank and stop at the bend of the hook
2. Tie in two goose baits to form a V-shaped tail
3. Remove the fibers from one side of a black hackle.
4. Attach hackle to hook above the tail with a couple of thread wraps
5. Attach chenille the length of the shank
6. Select a segment of wool with the fibers longer than the hook shank. Attach the tips of the fibers to the hook with a couple of wraps and move thread to the eye of the hook. The butts of the fibers will extend well beyond the back of the hook. Use enough wool to form the body's thickness. Bending the wool backward toward the hook's eye will shape the body. Position the wool so that it encircles the entire hook. Secure the wool to the hook at least one eye diameter behind the eye of the hook.
7. Pull the chenille over the top of the body; hold firm and secure with thread.
8. Rib the fly with black hackle.
9. Form the head with black thread.
10. Clip the hackle fibers close to the body of the fly. Place a slight bend in the shank of the hook.

Added: Thu Apr 10 2008
Last Modified: Fri May 15 2009

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