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Scouring your Worms! - An Introduction.

by Les Albjerg
(Caldwell, ID)

Clean moss for scouring

Clean moss for scouring

If you participate on this forum, you need to be prepared to learn more than you might bargain for. Chris asked me if I had ever scoured my worms. To be honest, I hadn't really heard much about scouring. So, thanks to the internet, I began doing research. Almost everything I found was written before 1900. I have learned a lot more about worms than I thought I would.

So what is scouring? It is a process of caring for your worms that makes them (1) tougher; (2) more lively; and (3) more colorful. I will share the process that I have tried and the results. In my research, I have found several methods used by the old masters. The good news is according to several of the authors Red Wigglers called "Brandlings" in England don't require scouring. I will quote one of the masters:

According to "A Handbook of Angling; Teaching Fly-Fishing, Trolling, Bottom Fishing, and Salmon Fishing; with the Natural History of River Fish and the best Modes" by Edward Fitzgibbon, 1847, at the end of his discussion on "Brandlings" he says, "They are an admirable bait, and may be used without any preparation or scouring."

That said, his lengthy description of scouring, and the affect it has on the worms made me want to give it a try. To quote him again he says, "Nor does the circumstance of keeping them in moss create any change except that of rendering them beautifully transparent and if anything more lively."

So how do you scour your worms? Here is a compilation of what I learned from several sources. You need three things: 1. A clean container. 2. Clean water. 3. Clean Moss. So, to make life simple I used two one quart used yogurt containers. One top with holes in it. Getting clean moss was way easier for me than the old masters. I didn't gather it from trees, pick out the sticks and debris, and wash it. I went to the pet store and bought a package of terrarium moss bedding. It has been cleaned and is sterile.

Step one: Moisten the moss. Get it wet, squeeze the water out, and fluff it up into the container. You don't want it too wet. Part of the toughening process is to dehydrate the worms a little.

Step two: Separate out the number of worms you want to scour from your worm ranch. In my experiment this week, I used two dozen. It was hard to get the dirt off, so I gave them a bath. I put the adult worms in another small container and ran a little water over them. I drained the water and had nice clean Wigglers.

Step three: I gently dumped them on top of the moss. Put the cover on top. You're done for the day.

According to several authors you should wash the moss every three days. Scouring should take from 3-5 days to complete. For my experiment, I checked the worms daily. According to W.C. Stewart in THE PRACTICAL ANGLER, Red Wigglers take 3 days to scour.

So here is what is happening to the worms. The clean moss is cleaning the outside of the worms as they crawl around in it. The lack of food is cleaning out their digestive system. The lower moisture content is toughening them up. The following is my experience.

Day one: The Red Wigglers tails became much pinker. The clitellum became more pronounced. The head was a nice red color. Moving the moss to the second container as well as the worms and doing an inspection, I could see that worms had vented a lot of dark material. Once transferred and my detective worm done, I left them alone.

Day two: The Red Wigglers were a little livelier, there was a lot less dark material. The tails began developing some beautiful rings. The head was a little lighter red.

Day three: The Red Wigglers were even more lively. The rings on the tail are an orange yellow. Very stunning. I tried to take pictures, but it just didn't capture it like I wanted. The Wigglers are tougher.

I wasn't able to go fishing as planned today. However, I did sacrifice four worms to test Scouring. I filled a five gallon bucket with water. While hooking the scoured worms you could feel the skin was tougher. I also hooked two unscoured worms The unscoured worms remained lively in the water for 6 minutes for one and 8 minutes for the other. The scoured worms remained lively for almost twice as long, 14 and 16 minutes. I am sure both scoured and unscoured worms will catch fish.

To scour or to not scour? That is the question! According to Fitzgibbon it is optional with Red Wigglers. I caught hundreds of fish last year without scouring. Personally, I am going to be scouring my Red Wigglers from now on. I see three advantages. 1. The Red Wigglers are tougher and the hook holds better. 2. The Red Wigglers are lively longer in the water. 3. Clean moss in bait box makes it easier to get the worms out and is less messy than taking some bedding out of the Ranch.

Scoured worms should last up to two weeks. If you aren't going fishing, put them back in with your other worms. Pull another two or three dozen and start again! This is basic scouring.

Is there more to come? Yes! I am testing some advanced techniques that I came across in my research. If the techniques pan out, I will let you know. The good news is that if the one works you can keep scoured worms for at least two months! I'm having fun! Thanks Chris. If I don't have scoured worms, I'll still go Red Wiggler fishing.

Comments for Scouring your Worms! - An Introduction.

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Feb 08, 2018
Scouring worms
by: Kelly Peterson northern Wisconsin

Hi Les, was wondering how your worm scouring is going and if you have any more new stuff to add?

Thanks, I sure do enjoy all of your writings and look forward for the snow and ice to go away so I can fish again, ultralight worm fishing style.

Thanks, Kelly

Feb 08, 2018
The Learning continues
by: Les Albjerg

Thanks Chris for posting some pictures. The pictures don't really show the translucency of the scoured worms or the enhanced segmentation.

Kelly - I will continue to post as I get results from my mad science experiments! When I lived in Wisconsin, I usually headed south down by Viroqua to fish the West Fork of the Kickapoo River. I have fished the upper St. Croix. I liked to fish some of the creeks around Birchwood. They flowed into Lake Chetac. Sucker Creek, Thritythree Creek, and Knuteson Creek come to mind. I tended to stay away from the more famous streams. My one day on the Bois Brule was O.K., but way too crowded for the average fish I caught. Where do you like to fish? You don't need to share your secret spots!

I always thought I might retire in Viroqua, but then I discovered Idaho! Not that retirement is coming anytime soon.

Feb 08, 2018
Scouring worms
by: Kelly Peterson

Les, used to live in Idaho for 14 years, Twin Falls-Rupert area. Loved every minute of it and truly wished we’d still be there. But alas family(grandkids and great grandkids) live here in the Midwest so we retired here(I’m a native cheesehead having grown up in Wausau).

I have fished the limestone streams of southwest WI, mainly the Bad Axe river and tributaries. Wonderful trout fishing down that way but this time of the year it is catch and release only and many streams don’t allow use of bait.

Where I now live is 3+ hours north and like another planet. We have almost two foot of snow on the ground and every bit of water is solid ice. Was minus 16, been below zero almost every night, and even many days for the past two months.

So I’m left with reading everything on red wiggles and ultralight worm fishing, plus working, organizing and playing with my equipment.

Have been using bait and ultralight equipment for almost 60 years for trout and panfish. Majority of my fishing is done on the thin blue lines and the very small lakes with no boat landings.

Enough about me for now. All the old timers here used green moss for bedding(came from the green swamp floor, not trees)of their worms/crawlers so am not surprised with its use in "scouring" worms/crawlers to toughen em up. I’ve used water ti swell up crawlers for walleye fishing but noticed all the juice coming out of them when hooked and they were soft, didn’t live long on the hook.

Feb 09, 2018
Scouring 1.1
by: Les Albjerg

I fished scoured worms today. I tried one of W.C. Stewart's hooking methods today, as well as the two hooking methods I presented in the article I wrote on Red Wigglers. (See tab on left). The worms were much easier to thread on the hook. You could feel that they are tougher. I can't say they caught fish better or worse than unscoured worms. Since I lost all 6 worms on the fish that I did catch, one could speculate that the fish hammered them harder. I didn't toss any worms off the hook today either!

So, here is my method. If all goes according to plan, I will be out of scoured worms sometime tomorrow afternoon. Tonight, I am going to begin scouring 3 dozen worms. When I am down to a dozen or two weeks go by, I am going to start another round of scouring. If I have a big fishing outing in the works, I will estimate how many scoured worms I may need and plan accordingly.

W.C. Stewart said it takes 3 days to scour Red Wigglers. I noticed a significant difference after one day. Fitzgibbon says it is optional. So, I am not going to sweat over it. I do think it is a worthwhile step. My next experiment is to fish some "one day" scoured worms.

Besides, it was nice have clean worms to put on the hook today. Clean moss in the bait box was a treat!

So, anyone out there want to share their favorite rod or rods to fish worms with?

Feb 09, 2018
Scouring worms
by: Kelly Peterson (northern Wisconsin)

Used to use fly rods with fly line/tippet for awhile, then with spin cast reels on them just to hold the line. With our waters being so brushy one needed to just poke the rod thru a hole and drop the worm. Then when I started wading the water went to short ultralight spinning rods, which were made of fiberglass.

Was away from fishing for almost two decades because of work and other interests. Came back about 8-10 years ago and viola, there are graphite/carbon rods now. So I have some custom made spinning rods that use fly rod blanks, 8 feet long, 4 weight type. They are my go to rod when fishing really small lakes/ponds where the surrounding brush is no issue because I'm floating on the water in a kayak or 8 foot boat.

For stream fishing like the little blue lines on the map type creeks am going to smaller and smaller custom made rods. Started with 6', then 5' and now am having a 4'9" one made. Am also going to use a 3' ice fishing rod on the really brush choked creeks where the native brookies live.

Most all my reels are the 20 series Pflueger's with as thin of diameter lines I can find. Have some.003 mono and braid I've been using lately. Still not sure which I prefer. Like the braid because it doesn't get twisted from the spinning reel but the latest use of mono with red worm fishing my casts have not been very far so no problems with rats nests so far.

I want a rod that will cast a plain hooked red worm 20-30 feet so it needs to be very light, almost whippy aka Joe Robinson style, Piscatorial Absurdities author. Can't get used to his bail less casting tho. If my rods can cast and unweighted, hooked red worm, any of the tiny ice jigs I use will work just fine, too.

My main fish objectives are brook trout, big bluegill, perch and crappie, along with any of the larger that want to grab my offerings like largemouth and smallmouth bass, etc. Too bad we can't add pictures to these comments.

Feb 09, 2018
Rod for casting just the worm
by: Chris Stewart

Surprisingly, the rod I have that casts the lightest weight best is not one of the whippy ones! I have a whippy rod (Daiwa Iprimi 56XXUL-S) and one that isn't whippy (Shimano Soare CI4+ Ajing S408UL-S) that are both rated for lures down to 1/70th ounce (.4 gram). I haven't weighed a red wiggler, so I don't know what a red wiggler on a hook with no additional weight weighs.

I have not tried to cast an unweighted worm with any of my spinning rods because I like the ability of the longer rods to hold line off the water. That won't work in overgrown little blue lines, though.

Obviously, more research is needed. (Before that, warmer weather is needed, though.)

Feb 10, 2018
Weight of wigglers
by: Les Albjerg

I just weighed a scoured wiggler with an Owner Main Stream size 4 and it weighed .7 grams. I used a Gamakatsu Amago 7.5 and it was .72 grams. HMMM, I have some very effective spoons that weigh only .4 grams. There should be plenty of weight for the rod you are talking about Chris.

Feb 10, 2018
Good to know
by: Chris Stewart

Thank you for weighing them. Now for the second question. When casting a worm with a seiryu rod, tenkara rod or softer keiryu rod, a nice, smooth cast will not tear the worm off the hook. I wonder if the same nice, soft cast with a short spinning rod will give you the desired distance.

The spinning rods will certainly cast a Daiwa Vega .8g spoon further than you need to cast a worm. I'm just not sure if you can still keep the worm on the hook. I suspect if you thread it you can, but if you just hook it crosswise like I have been doing, maybe not.

Too bad our weather forecast here is for rain this afternoon and all day Sunday.

Feb 10, 2018
Scoured Worms
by: Tony Schollmeier

Thanks for the great research Les, I'm going to have to set up a scouring bin next to the worm high rise to give it a try come March/April. Might but just the thing to make those rogue Blue Worms stay on the hook. If not, it might save me a few casts with Reds that would otherwise get pecked to nothing by Emeralds and Spotfins (small overly aggressive shiners)

Feb 10, 2018
Effective Spinning
by: Les Albjerg

A Dinsmores #10 weighs .04 gram I effectively fished the Boise River two weeks ago with the Tenryu Rayz Spectra using Varivas Bait Finesse Nylon 2.5 pound test line, a Cultiva Micro Snap Swivel, (.09 gram) two Dinsmores #10,a Gamakatsu Amago 7.5, and a red wiggler. The total weight is right at .9 grams. I was casting without losing the worm 15 to 20 feet. I caught two small browns that day. I didn't feel like I needed to cast any further. I didn't feel like was maxing out the casts either. I feel that there was more distance if I would have needed it. My guess is that Shimano rod would be awesome. One could drop down to 1 pound test line too. That said, the more I fish the Tenryu Spectra, the more I am amazed! And no, I didn't cast any worms off the hook that day.

Feb 10, 2018
Yes, the Spectra is very, very nice
by: Chris Stewart

Les, I finally got a chance to fish the Spectra, but only briefly (too many rods, not enough time) and as is not unusual for a cold day in January, I got skunked. I didn't fish any of the .4g or .8g spoons, or a red wiggler, but my first cast lost a Crusader spoon in the bushes on the far bank. That think casts like a bullet.

Feb 10, 2018
by: Les Albjerg

Chris - That makes me feel better about the two that I cast across the river into the bushes! I warned you! The Tenryu Rayz Spectra has a "second gear" of power that is amazing. It not only manifests itself when casting, but translates as backbone when fighting the fish. A rod that light and responsive shouldn't have that much power! But it does. One of the browns two weeks ago headed for a snag and I had no problem turning it. The other headed into the riffles and current, and he just tired himself out faster! I'm surprised you haven't sold out of them. I can't wait for you to catch a fish on a Tenryu Rayz Spectra. You will be as spoiled and I am! I am definitely "under the spell."

My only complaint about this rod is the lousy rod bag that it comes with. Tenryu should have equipped it with a nice rod sock and aluminum tube.

Feb 10, 2018
Rod Case
by: Chris Stewart

That would have been nice, but I don't think any of their rods come with a hard case (other than the new, limited edition Furaibo TF39 Betchou). If it is any consolation, the Spectra (as well as the Rayz RZ53UL, RZ56L, and Alter RZA61L-T) fits in the Long Rod Case (back in stock as of today). The Rayz RZ39LL, RZI50UL-4 and RZI50L-4 fit in the Medium Rod Case (also back in stock). The cases do not do the rods justice, but they do protect them and they are much easier to handle.

Feb 15, 2018
Scouring Update
by: Les Albjerg

I still have 6 worms left from the original 2 dozen that I began with. Today is 10 days from the beginning of this process. The worms are still looking good and are lively. I have a second batch scouring that I will use for fishing this weekend. The only real difference I see is the ones that are older have more pronounced rings on the tail. The other factor is that I am keeping them in my shop corner where the temperature is between 50 and 55 degrees. I speculate that the cooler temperature is helping maintain their vitality. When one of the six dies, I will end the experiment, and return the other 5 to the Ranch. So 10 days out they are looking great!

Feb 15, 2018
Speaking of rods.
by: Kelly Peterson (northern Wisconsin)

Just received a Tenryu Rayz RZ39LL from Chris yesterday. Couldn't wait to get it assembled and work it/snap it like I do in the streams I fish. Since it is still froze up outside and will be for at least a month or so and our trout season doesn't start until the first Saturday in May, I'll have to wait for open water on our local flowage(7 acres) and river for some perch/sunfish/smallmouth bass action (season open on panfish year around) to actually test it on the water.

But that is not what I bought this rod for-it was those brush choked and alder covered small blue lines where only a snap cast works(movement of the rod tip to cast your lure/bait etc. 15-25 feet. Sure if there was no overhead cover a longer rod (6 feet or more) will suffice just fine but where I fish for brookies very seldom do I have enough room to make a large action arm cast. Heck, most places that same 6 foot rod can't be moved anymore than 1-2 feet if in a open pool situation.

So I've been on the hunt for a light action rod that is short to use the Snap cast. My progression has been from 6 foot downwards in length to five foot. The five footers worked better but then the next one I had built needed more flex in tip in order to make the Snap cast(where the rod tip moves enough to propel the red worm but the wrist moves very little). The next rod is being custom made right now and will be 4 foot 6 inches and has the lightest tip action I can obtain in a two piece blank.

So now on to the 3 foot 9 inch Tenryu Rayz RZ39LL that I just rec'd. Upon initial flexing-going thru the motions of a Snap cast in my garage the rod appears to be too stiff. Won't know for sure until trout season opens. Yes, the rod is light weight and feels great in the hand with my Pflueger President XT reel, smallest one, but the jury is still out there.

The other rod I am going to try this year on those small blue line streams is a 3 foot, one piece ice fishing rod, which has a very flexible tip. Should work well with the Snap cast, yet still be plenty to land the fish.

My requirements in a rod for fishing the small blue lines are:


Flexible tip

Short grip/reel seat-no more than 8" total length. My pointer finger needs to be touching the rod in front of handle while my second and third fingers are around stem of reel. Reason for this is many bites can be detected thru the rod before seeing it in the line or rod tip.

Big enough guides so 1-3# line flows unabated on cast.

One of my biggest gripes is seeing spinning rods with 6-18" of handle beyond the reel seat. The longer they make rods the longer that section of handle seems to become. IMO all of that is wasted length. What counts is from the reel seat to tip, not the other direction. All my custom rods have really short handles and the Tenryu Rayz RZ39LL does too.

Feb 15, 2018
More explanations of my casting needs
by: Kelly Peterson

Basically when fishing the majority of my streams inhabited by Brook Trout, because of all the streamside brush/alders and overhead cover most of my casting I’d done with just a flick of the wrist. The rod moves very little by my hand and maybe a foot of two at the most by the tip. There just isn’t much room in most places,except if standing on the road fishing the downstream pool located below the culvert.

The Snap cast, or what I call it is a sideways motion, rod held parallel to water. The other is what I call a Flip cast, which is really not a cast at all. It is an underhand/under rod tip flip of the line using a swinging forward/back of maybe 1-2 feet of line at the most.

The Snap cast is used when overhead cover prohibits normal casting techniques. The Flip cast is used most when I need pin point placement of red worm 6-20 feet away, but mostly it is used for 10 foot or less. I can accomplish this with overhead cover but streamside cover makes it tougher.

Mind you I wear hip boots all the time and have so since beginning to Trout fish some 57 years ago. I cut my teeth on these thin blue lines here in Northern WI. The very first trout fishing I done was on one of those very thin blue lines that started from a spring up on the sid of a mountain called Granite Peak. It flowed thru mature hardwood forest with brushy under growth. Very little light reached the ground here and the little blue line could be stepped over virtually everywhere. It flowed thru moss covered, granite lined forest floor that transmitted your every loud steps.

The fishing here was accomplished by stealth, if the Brook Trout saw you they went under the bank so most of time we flipped the worm from a little more than rods length away. If a trout was there where your worm landed he took it immediately. If not, on to the next hiding place. I was an approaching teenager at this time and my transportation was a bike ride of 3-4 miles each way from the other side of Granite Peak. After learning the stealth needed to fish here rarely did I go home from there empty handed. One of these years am going back to that thin blue line to see what has changed in all this time.

Feb 15, 2018
You might be surprised
by: Les Albjerg

Kelly - My first impression of the Tenryu Spectra was it was too stiff. Oh, was I wrong! If your new Tenryu has the same power as my rod, you won't need a strong snap cast. My first snap cast with the Spectra put the Crusader Spoon in the tree across the creek! I didn't learn my lesson the first time and did it again about 40 minutes later about 400 yards down steam. The engineers at Tenryu know what they are doing.

Mar 02, 2018
Scouring Update
by: Les Albjerg

My scoured worms are still looking good after being away from food for 5 weeks now. W.C. Stewart talks about scouring for 5 weeks. They are lively and a very nice pink color.

On a related note, I have been using W.C. Stewart's 3 hooking methods. They work! They work too good for me. I have trouble keeping the trout from inhaling the worm. I am going to fish with TenkaraBum 40 the next time out. I think the softer tip of the TenkaraBum Traveler 44 isn't allowing me to feel the hook quick enough to set the hook early enough to keep the worm out of their guts. The size 6 circle hooks that Chris sells worked much better than regular hooks for lip hooks. The triple hook set-up of W.C. Stewart is only good if you are "meat hunting." My experience up to this point is that at least one of the hooks finds the vitals.

Mar 02, 2018
Fish by sight rather than by feel
by: Chris Stewart

I would highly recommend fishing by sight rather than by feel. There are two possibilities: fishing with a light tenkara line or fishing with a keiryu rig. Which to choose depends mostly on water depth.

For shallow water, up to perhaps knee deep, a size 2.5 tenkara line will provide sufficient weight to cast, with either no added weight for the water up to about a foot, and one or two #10 shot for depth from one to two feet. The tenkara line will have some sag, and the slack caused by the sag allows the fish to take the worm without feeling tension on the line. You will see the line tighten or move to the side. Immediately tighten the line to set the hook.

For water over knee deep, you will probably need more weight and it is better to use a keiryu rig, with a line consisting of just tippet material, lightest for the last 8-12" to the hook, then a bit heavier for your main line, and a bit heavier yet for the top portion of the line (also called tenjo line) which could be a light hi-vis line to aid in seeing where your cast went and to aid in finding your markers.

Tie three to four yarn markers on the line so that the lowest one is above the surface when the split shot is just occasionally ticking the bottom. Watch the markers for indication of a strike or a snag.

For this rig, fishing across is better than fishing upstream. Initially, you will not be able to tell if a dip in the markers is caused by a fish or by a rock. If you then tighten the line by pulling the rod upstream, it will still hook a fish but will often dislodge the hook or split shot from a rock, whereas tightening the line by pulling the rod up and downstream can make a snag impossible to free. You can't pull the line upstream to strike if you have cast upstream.

For both rigs, but for the tenkara line rig in particular, you will see strikes long before you feel them, and before the fish have a chance to take the worm deep. With the keiryu rig, which is more vertical, you will often feel the hit at the same time you see it - but not always - if the fish takes the worm and goes to the side rather than down, you may not feel a thing until it is much too late.

The reason keiryu rods have softer tips is to allow you to see the strike before the fish feels the tension. If you are waiting to feel the strike, you are giving up that advantage.

Mar 02, 2018
Great Advice! - Always more to learn.
by: Les Albjerg

I am going to work on the sighting method! I have been using a 2.5 level line for my set-up with 24 inches of tippet. The trout have been slamming all three of W.C. Stewart's rigs. The time between seeing the line move and feeling the take has been minimal. Maybe I have been slow on the switch!

I caught three trout using a threaded scoured worm on the Gamakatsu Barbless Circle Hooks - size 6 that were lip hooked. I had 100% success with these hooks. I rigged them a little different than usual. Rather than snelling the line on the hook, I used a technique that Paul shared in the Tenkara video series. I tied a figure 8 knot into the 6.5x tippet that I was using I then tied my tippet on the top of the hook with red thread just line you would finish a head on a fly with the knot behind the thread to keep it from pulling through. This leads to a nice smooth finished hook. I sealed it with a thin layer of Loon's Knot Sense. This makes it much easier to thread a worm on the hook.

Next time out, I think I am going to try a traditional Keiryu rig. One of my goals this year is to really explore the potential of all the rods I bought last year! As much as I am totally in love with the TenkaraBum 40, I am learning to really appreciate the versatility of the TenkaraBum Traveler 44.

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