The lowly mealworm isn’t really a worm at all, it is most commonly the larvae of the darkling beetle. This beetle, also known as the Tenebrio Molitor is a common larva in North America.
Its distinctive yellow color, articulated exoskeleton, and a size ranging from one-half inch to one inch in length is a familiar sight at bait shops across the lower 48 states. Mealworms are excellent fish bait, and second only to crickets as food for reptiles, birds, shrews, and some fish kept as pets.
Why Mealworms Are Good for Fishing?
Mealworms are a universal bait, meaning they’re great for fishing in the summer, and maybe even better through the ice in winter. Mealworms are natural bait that occurs in a multitude of different waterways.
Mealworms eat organic material in the darkling beetles’ larval stage. They remain as larvae for a long time, from 90 to 120 days, before entering the pupa stage and then emerging as adult beetles.
I use mealworms as bait for my two granddaughters, age two and four on local fishing ponds in Western Pennsylvania. They are inexpensive, hold to a small #6 to #10 hook well, and drive bluegill, pumpkin seed, perch, and even small largemouth bass wild.
As an ice fishermen on the frozen, sub-zero lakes of Wyoming, I’ve found that mealworms are excellent December and January bait for perch, walleye, and ling through the ice.
They’re not what trout or bigger largemouth bass are looking for in feed, but they’ll catch a variety of fish, they’re easy to use, last a long time on the hook and most importantly, they work.
What Type of Fish Eat Mealworms?
Commercial aquariums feed their display fish mealworms regularly. They are a bait that almost any fish will eat.
They would be excellent catfish bait if they ever made it to the bottom of a lake or large river, the problem is fish living in the upper levels of the water clean up on mealworms the second they smell them.
Anglers use just the darkling variety that is available commercially, but worldwide there are over 20,000 different beetle species that live in a very similar state to the darkling mealworm.
If you gather your own bait, you’ve most likely placed a lot of these other mealworm species in a jar as you’ve broken open a decayed log, or moved some old, smoldering leaves and discovered a rich horde of mealworms.
How Do You Use Mealworms for Fishing?
The two best methods for mealworm fishing on open water during the summer months are with a bobber, small hook, and sinker, or just a hook and light sinker that allows the mealworm to drift on the bottom of a lake or slow-moving river.
Fish smell a mealworm long before they spot one, so fishing in murky waters lends itself to mealworms as bait.
A mealworm will wiggle a bit on a hook but doesn’t produce near the action a nightcrawler or red wiggler does. The scent of a mealworm is much more powerful in the water than traditional worms or crawlers.
On the ice, the mealworm is king. Many anglers use nightcrawlers, red wigglers, or minnows, but perch fishermen swear by mealworms as the best bait for cold winter nights.
Hardcore anglers keep mealworms in their lower lip to keep them warm when the temperature drops to 20 or 30 below zero on the lakes of Minnesota and Wisconsin. The idea of keeping the mealworms in your lip is to prevent them from freezing.
The water below the ice will be at least slightly above 32 degrees, and the mealworms will remain viable in the cold water, but they won’t survive being frozen when the surface temperature drops a long way below the freezing point of water.
How Do You Hook a Mealworm for Fishing?
There are a couple of techniques that experienced anglers use to hood mealworms, but no matter the technique, the hook size is the key factor.
You’ll need a smaller hook when fishing with mealworms.
Minnows and nightcrawlers can be hooked on #2 size hooks or even slightly larger rigging up to #00 in size, but mealworms require a smaller hook.
A #6 is about as big as you want to go with mealworms as bait, and a #10 or #12 is often a better choice.
A smaller hook doesn’t mean a smaller fish, it just means a more natural presentation of the bait and a bait that lives longer in the water, attracting more fish.
The method I prefer is to hook the mealworm lengthwise on a #8 hook. Slide the mealworm down the hook until the worm is hook-shaped. A larger mealworm can be hooked partially with some of the body wiggling beyond the end of the hook.
Another method that ice fishermen often use is to just hook the mealworm in the middle at a right angle. The visual effect of the baited hook is mostly for our benefit, most fish don’t take notice if the hook is completely hidden or not, they just smell the bait, close in to see it, and then strike.
In the darkness of ice fishing, particularly, night ice fishing that can often be the best fishing of the day, the light won’t reach the bait and the perch, walleye, ling, or occasional patrolling lake trout will close in and strike on scent only.
Can You Use Dried Mealworms for Fishing?
Live, vibrant mealworms are the best bait, but yes, dried mealworms will work as well. The secret with a dried mealworm is that once it hits the water it will rehydrate and resemble a live mealworm.
It won’t wiggle, but the scent is the most important part of fishing with mealworms, and that scent will remain whether it’s a fresh mealworm or one that’s been stored in a dry container for a few years on a shelf.
Once it’s rehydrated, it is game on for fish, even with dry, desiccated mealworms.
How Do Mealworms Compare to Nightcrawlers in Pan Fishing?
It might surprise you, but experienced anglers often keep a little plastic container of mealworms in their tackle box just in case nightcrawlers aren’t attracting bluegill, pumpkinseed, and sunfish.
Sometimes, especially in murky water, nightcrawlers just don’t generate much action.
A mealworm can often bring in the fish in cloudy water.
They can’t see the flash of a lure due to the sediment in the water, and the wiggling action of a nightcrawler is viewable from just a couple of feet, but the aroma of a fresh mealworm, just placed on the hook will often produce results when nothing else will.
Mealworms are one of the oldest baits used by anglers. They’re effective 12 months of the year and equally good at bringing in fish during the 100+ degree days of July and August as they are on those frozen, subzero overnight fishing expeditions on the ice in the middle of winter.
Mealworms are always a good thing to carry with you to the lake, stream, or river.