How bad is the Great American Worm Shortage?
So bad that North American worms are being replaced by Euro worms. So bad that the price of worms threatens to almost double.
Serious enough that the Wall Street Journal called America's biggest worm supplier, located in Waterford to ask what would happen if the Canadian worm fields didn't get some rain soon.
"It's bad," said Fred Fry, a partner in Waterford's DMF Bait Co., which sold 108 million night crawlers last year. "Remember the 40 days and 40 nights of rain? Well, we've had 40 days and 40 nights without rain, and just about everybody is out of worms.
"We are the only company I know that still has a few worms in the coolers, and we're scraping the bottom of the barrel."
Dan Chimelak, who owns Lakeside Fishing Shops with Veronica Pinto in St. Clair Shores and Farmington, Mich., said their customers are complaining because they raised the price of night crawlers by 20 cents to $1.70 a dozen.
"It's been at $1.50 for about five years," Chimelak said. "The customers are going absolutely nuts, but I ask them, 'Where have you been for the last month? Living in a basement? Have you been outside recently?' But I tell you, if we don't get some rain soon you'll see the price go to $2, $2.50 a dozen."
Because Michigan has 1.4 million licensed anglers, an increase in the price of worms becomes a hot topic in the bait shops, on the water and in the bars.
But they're still buying the worms, Chimelak said. "When you figure the cost of the gasoline, tackle and beer they buy for a day's fishing, worms don't come to much."
The bulk of North America's fishing worms comes from the incredibly rich soil of an ancient lake bed that lies along the northern shore of Lake Erie between Windsor and Toronto.
The area is now some of the most productive farmland in the world, but it also produces bumper crops of worms for wholesalers, who contract with farmers to send teams of worm pickers onto their land.
The pickers go out at night with coffee cans strapped to each leg and fill them with fat night crawlers that come to the surface for moisture.
"It's common for a crew of pickers to collect 200,000, 300,000 worms a night, but now they're lucky to get 20,000," Fry said. "We just had a truck come in with 1 million Euro worms. We've been bringing them in from Europe, smaller worms that are popular for panfish. But I think everyone may be using them."
Fry has been keeping an eye on the weather Web sites, looking for signs of relief for the Canadian worm fields, but the long-term prognosis is not good.
"We need rain two or three days a week for the next month, not just one day or so," Fry said. "This is the worst we've seen it since 1988," when a drought parched the country and dropped water levels so low that shipping on the Mississippi River came to a stop.