Fishing With the Boys

Nature and outdoor life never fail to amaze me; always, both always teach me new scientific knowledge. This was true a few weekends ago when my husband promised to take one of our great-nephews fishing (and his sister, but she was unable to go due to a scheduling conflict). The weather was still glorious despite the fact we had experienced a few autumn frosts.


While we were trying to get permission for both the great-niece and great-nephew to go with us, one of my husband’s younger cousins, Owen, expressed an interest in going with us. These kids who live on the farms get so little truly-fun recreation with the adults because those grown-ups who are still physically able to work the farms are always busy being responsible for their crops, pastures, animals, vehicles, buildings, and the family farming enterprise.


Unfortunate circumstances have forced the grandparents of all three kids to act as co-parents, thus helping their fathers with raising them. So, the children don’t have the lighthearted, fun-loving, reassuring relationships with their grandparents that my husband and I knew. Their grandparents are ultimately the most responsible “adults in the room” who have to act as disciplinarians, chore enforcers, morality role models, homework supervisors, extracurricular shuttle drivers, providers, protectors, clothiers, etc., for the kids. So, somebody has to be the one who spoils them and does special, exciting, adventurous outings with them (and we are more than happy to fill the role!).


Having grown up on the Southwest coast of Florida, my expertise was more in salt-water fishing than fresh-water fishing (but the only salt water around here is produced by the oil wells as they pump). Owen, however, had been taught by his father to be a good fresh-water fisher and it seemed best that he come along and help us figure out why we’re not very successful catching fish. Owen frankly asked me, “What do you catch when you fish?”


Having the reputation of being a completely straight-shooter with kids, I knew I had to be totally honest with Owen. “You want to know the truth?”, I asked as Owen nodded affirmatively. “We catch absolutely nothing in Oklahoma. The last time I caught a large number of fish, I was with my dad in Florida. He really knows how to fish, but it’s different in a salty, ocean environment than here.” Then I explained that this was a reason why I wanted Owen to come along – he learned the right fresh-water fishing techniques so Owen could help us make it a more fun and interesting outing. I told him whatever advice he had, to speak it out without hesitation because he probably knew more than we did about the subject!


And Owen was the only one of us who caught anything that warm, beautiful day. He caught a turtle, which broke the reel on the fishing pole. And he caught a little frog by hand, which our great-nephew instantly commandeered as “bait” to try to catch something fish-like. We learned two things from Owen that day – green worms are the best bait worms with which to fish in Oklahoma, and toads make better live bait than frogs. Both of these things I never heard of before so I went to the Internet to learn more about the subjects, especially to see if there was a scientific basis to prove that what Owen said was accurate.


Kosher Considerations When Fishing


While searching online, I learned that there is a dearth of Jewish/Kosher fishing sites, provoking self-wonderment over if it is because so many live baits are not Kosher and people don’t want to handle them. Or maybe they think the non-Kosher baits will contaminate their hard-earned catch-of-the-day. The only dietary rules I could find on the subject was that it was not Kosher to eat a worm in a fish’s gut that the fish swallowed, but it was all right to eat a worm that might be found in the cooked flesh. (I don’t know about anybody else, but I certainly wouldn’t want to eat any cooked worms found in any cooked fish meat!) Like so many things, if the fish are cleaned very well and devoid of worms in their digestive tracts, then they are Kosher to cook and eat (if they are a Kosher species). Owen’s frogs and toads are not Kosher foods and there wasn’t any Rabbinic teaching information on using or handling these; my best guess is – since frogs were one of the Egyptian plagues preceding the Exodus, forget about Owen’s toads and frogs! All I could find were rules concerning worms and even one one humorous post from a camp counselor at a Jewish Girls’ Summer Camp saying she gets a charge out of watching young women wearing fake fingernails putting worms on hooks. So if worms are okay to use at a Jewish Summer Camp, then they must be okay as a live bait (as long as nobody but the fish eat them!).


I was thrilled to discover that most fishing baits which are Kosher-safe are artificial lures! I found a great website by a Rabbi who loves to “fly fish”, for example. (As “Weird Al” Yankovic would muse, this guy is “pretty ‘fly’ for a Rabbi!”) Most fly fishers buy or make their own lures – it is really an art-form to watch them create their unique, attention-grabbing “flies”! But, mostly trout are attracted to artificial flies; for catching other game fish, a discussion on the pros and cons of using artificial worms is covered below.


However, it was very encouraging to find a number of websites advertising “Kosher Fishing Trips” in Israel. Maybe the best idea is to go out with these one of these crews and learn their fishing techniques firsthand. They may have access to some of the best Rabbinical minds in the country to learn about Kosher rules pertaining to bait!


Green Worms


Never before had I heard of using green worms for bait – the only green worms around here are hairless caterpillars which metamorphose into the most exquisite, colorful butterflies. This didn’t sound like a good bait to me because the green caterpillars eat plants (such as milkweed) that are toxic to other fuzzier caterpillars. The green caterpillars then metabolize the plant toxins to create as a poisonous defense against famished predators such as birds. So maybe the fish don’t want to eat these caterpillars, either!


But online, you can mail order red earthworms that have been dyed a bright, fluorescent green! Two species are used – either the larger Canadian night-crawler (Lumbricus terrestris) or the European night-crawler (Eisenia horhortensis). Supposedly, this extremely vibrant coloration stimulates the fish to bite. (At least, that’s what the guys who sell these neon day-glow worms say!)


Now, worms could be dyed externally by immersing them in dye, but this apparently doesn’t do a lasting, effective job. By feeding the worms a nutrient powder called “Worm-Glo” in the US or “BrightBait” in the UK (both available online), the worms become dyed “from the inside out”. Initially, the dye can be seen moving down the worms’ alimentary canal (i.e., their gut). Then as it is absorbed, it is excreted from the external pores on the worms’ “skin”. Believe it or not, this is how worms urinate, or eliminate waste products from food consumption and metabolism.


However, many competition-winning, Oklahoman bass anglers swear by plastic, fluorescent, green worms. It doesn’t seem to me that these would have worked well because these products smell like petrochemicals and they don’t smell like anything in wild fishes’ diets. Around here, there are plenty of things in the water supply which smell like petroleum-based products and perhaps the fish would bite something that smelled better. But, maybe the Oklahoman fishes’ olfactory senses get so acclimated to petrochemicals, they think a plastic-polymer worm is really food. Elsewhere in the world, anglers may want to use a spray product to give any plastic worms a more natural and alluring scent.


Also, the green worms (live vs. plastic) work here because most of Oklahoma’s waterways are murky with sediment and most of our lakes are fairly deep because they have been engineered from damming rivers. This was part of the US Army Corps of Engineering post-Dust Bowl strategy to ensure the state always had an adequate water supply; hence, many necessary reservoirs were created. In clearer, colder water (without brush or weeds), darker plastic fishing worms tend to be more effective because the fish see these better. It seems the best way to choose lures is based on the water quality and to try to understand what a realistic, local, fish-eyed perspective might be on what might be tasty. So talking to and/or looking up information from local anglers can be the best resource to learn what to try.


Fishing by a bank with frogs or toads


There are a lot of anglers who state that if you’re going to use live bait when fishing from a bank, find something that is living there on the bank. Bass like to eat worms, frogs, and toads which fall into the water or forage in shallow environments; other species like to eat non-Kosher crayfish which are always scrounging for their food in the water adjacent to the bank. Check with a Rabbi to see if contact from fishing with live amphibians, reptiles, insects, or crustaceans such as crayfish (also known locally as “crawdads”) doesn’t contaminate whatever you catch and render your efforts non-Kosher (because Torah is definitely not specific on this). Live grasshoppers as bait are probably acceptable since these are specifically mentioned in Torah as being Kosher for people to eat (but, check with a Rabbi, first!).


Cousin Owen’s past successes with toads likely resulted because he was used to fishing in a spot which had an abundance of toads. Frogs are more sensitive to their environment than toads, and the farming/industrial chemicals which are used locally can drastically reduce the frog population. The spot we went fishing was fairly agricultural-chemical-pristine, and apparently conducive to frog-reproduction where other places aren’t. Hence we could have used whatever showed up (and whatever Owen caught by hand) with equal success. (Since he is a devout Christian who’s never heard of Kosher foods, we didn’t have to concern ourselves over what he used as bait.)



How to avoid non-Kosher species like catfish


The scaleless fish are bottom feeding scavengers, eating all sorts of nasty things; this is probably why Torah says they are not Kosher since they eat the necrotic detritus and waste products of other organisms. These fish really are stimulated by scent, and the more exotic the scent to them, the more they are likely to take the bait. Catfish appear to be attracted by the obnoxious scents of garlic and finely-ground, spicy, red peppers (like cayenne pepper); they also like smoked meats or processed meats like hot dogs. For some reason, they like meaty baits that are coated with the sweet powder used to make red, fruity gelatin desserts. Of course, they also love baits that smell like something died or smell of blood. If the bait sounds completely repulsive to you, then it will likely attract the wrong kind of fish (i.e., the kind that you wouldn’t serve your Rabbi).


So don’t use stinky bait or even dead bait fish like minnows or shad, or you might be practicing “Kosher catch and release” whether you want to or not! Happy fishing, everybody!