‘Worm Girl’ Brings Sci­ence To Bait

Soundings - - Fishing -

Some­where along the Maine coast, a man trudges through thick mud as the tide forces the river to re­treat to­ward the ocean. Slic­ing the mud with his tined, hand­held hoe, the dig­ger’s eyes scan the scene be­neath him for his squig­gling ad­ver­sary — Glyc­era di­branchi­ata, the com­mon blood­worm. Spy­ing one on the move, he plucks it from its hidey-hole and plops it into a hold­ing bucket.

Mil­lions of blood­worms are har­vested each year in Maine and Canada, then wind up at tackle shops, where they’re divvied up by the dozen and sold to ea­ger an­glers as bait. How­ever, few worms re­ceive the lov­ing care that Dee Tochter­man, of Tochter­man’s Tackle in Bal­ti­more, gives her blood­worms. Her rep­u­ta­tion for hav­ing some of the best worms on the East Coast has earned her the nick­name “Worm Girl.”

Sit­u­ated in the heart of Bal­ti­more, Tochter­man’s Tackle has been in busi­ness for 101 years. Tommy Tochter­man started sell­ing bait out of his home here in 1916, and to­day his son Tony and Tony’s wife, Dee, run the show. Bub­bly and cheer­ful, Dee started work­ing at the shop in 1993 and soon took over worm duty for Tony’s mother. She no­ticed al­most im­me­di­ately that the shop was throw­ing away hun­dreds, if not thou­sands, of worms.

“We were toss­ing out as many as half the worms we got in,” Tochter­man says. “Times were too tight to throw away all that money, so we had to fig­ure some­thing out.”

She stud­ied the worms’ nat­u­ral habi­tat to de­ter­mine what they needed to thrive. She had wa­ter sam­ples shipped in from Maine, and she queried her worm dig­gers and sup­pli­ers about wa­ter tem­per­a­tures. Bi­ol­o­gists from the Na­tional Aquar­ium in Bal­ti­more also got in­volved. After some trial and er­ror, Tochter­man even­tu­ally came up with a re­frig­er­ated brine to store the worms. “It took a while to get it just right,” she says.

When she re­ceives a ship­ment — the shop turns around as many as 20,000 to 30,000 worms a week in high sea­son — she opens the boxes and han­dles each worm be­fore putting it into a colan­der. She places dead and in­jured worms into a sep­a­rate con­tainer. “I can feel whether a worm is OK or not just by feel­ing it with fin­ger­tips,” she says.

After sort­ing a cou­ple hun­dred worms into the colan­der, she re­trieves a gal­lon jug of brine from a gro­cery-storestyle cooler and tests the salin­ity with a hy­drom­e­ter. If the wa­ter is just right, the worms in the colan­der get a cold salt­wa­ter bath be­fore be­ing placed into a shal­low plas­tic tray. The blood­worms dou­ble and triple in size after be­ing in the wa­ter for a few min­utes. “They plump right up and start squig­gling back on them­selves to get clean,” she says.

She stacks the trays of worms in a re­frig­er­a­tor case, where they are mon­i­tored un­til sold. “We keep a care­ful eye on the tem­per­a­ture

As many as 30,000 blood­worms pass through Dee Tochter­man’s hands ev­ery week.

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