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We were sitting around the break table the other day having a deep discussion.  Why do folks like scary movies?  “Haunted houses” at Halloween?  Why do they like to be terrified?  I believe it is the adrenaline rush you get from a good scaring.  And, when sitting around watching a scary movie, besides being frightened, what other emotions do you express?  I know in my family we laugh, maybe a nervous laughter, maybe laugh at each other being scared, but we laugh.  It’s fun!

So, for the weekend, for those of you afraid of what is in the water:

There are hundreds of species of leeches and most of them live in fresh waters around the world.  I am sure most have seen the documentaries or movies of explorers deep in some tropical jungle where some type of terrestrial leech attaches to their skin and starts sucking blood.  You know the kind, the ones you have to light up a cigarette and then touch the hot tip to the leech to remove them.  They always do that in those movies; apparently it is a requirement that you smoke cigarettes if you are going to explore the jungle.

We do not have those kind of leeches anywhere near Nebraska; I do not believe that we have a wet enough climate to have any species of terrestrial leeches.  Of the blood-sucking leeches many are fairly specific in the hosts they attack.  But, yes, there are some leeches in our waters that will attach to humans and start sucking blood.  I remember a trip to Dewey Lake a long, long time ago, when we had to wade over the tops of our chest waders to get to the Pike.  Yes, we got wet, absolutely soaked, but we caught fish, so it was all good!  Then, when stripping out of the wet clothes we discovered these tiny little leeches on our ankles, and yep, the little buggers were helping themselves to our blood!

I know nothing about the species of leeches in our waters, have no idea what species might attach themselves to your body to get a meal.  However, I know it ain’t many and it is not likely to happen.  If you remember the movie The Great Outdoors with John Candy, there was a scene where the guys went fishing, fell asleep in their boat and woke to find their bait leeches had crawled out of their containers and attacked them!  I love that movie, laughed hard to see everyone attacked by their bait leeches.  I tried to find that clip on YouTube to show here, could not find it, but that does not happen.  The leeches you buy as bait are not going to suck you dry.  Skunk-haired gentlemen named “Reg” do not get struck in the head by lightning 66 times either.

I do know that the leeches sold as bait are trapped from marshes and wetlands “up north”.  I suspect the video clip I have in this blog comes from one of those places and shows a migration of leeches in one of those areas.  Perhaps that was some sort of spawning migration?  They are all “necked down” to swim through those culverts.

Not all species of freshwater leeches are good fish bait.  I suspect fish may eat most of them, but I wonder if some have a foul taste?  I know that there are particular species that are captured and sold as bait, but if you think just any ole leech is going to be a fish-catcher, it may not be.

My family including both sets of grandparents took a fishing vacation through Minnesota years ago.  Drove the family roadster.  By the way, not knowing what we were doing on those waters, we came to the conclusion that we could have actually caught more fish if we had stayed on home waters in Nebraska.  But, one thing I will never forget was fishing on Leech Lake, which was appropriately named.  While drifting way off-shore occasionally we would look into the water and see these huge leeches swimming along.  Some of those leeches were close to a foot long and apparently were a species that fish did not like to eat because nothing bothered them.  Lord knows some tourists from western Nebraska did not!

I do not use a lot of live bait for any fishing I do anymore.  In most of my fishing there are other presentations that will work just as well or better and with artificial baits and lures I do not have to worry about keeping bait alive.  However, occasionally I will still put some leeches in the water.  The kids and I went through a grand total of 1 dozen leeches over the Memorial Day weekend.  In fact, if I could get small leeches in some bait shop, I would be thrilled because they are excellent bait for a variety of big panfish.

Take care of your bait and it will take care of you.  It is probably best to keep leeches in a cooler of ice water during the spring and summer.  I have seen folks roll their leeches in the sand or gravel so they could grip them to put ’em on the hook.  I have even seen leeches handled with pliers while they were being hooked.  The anglers who do that are no longer reading this blog, because they now are sitting in the corner whimpering after watching the video I posted.  Obviously, rolling ’em in sand or squeezing ’em with pliers ain’t the best way to handle your bait.

The head of our bait leeches is actually the narrow, pointy end.  Hook ’em through the blunt, fat end and they will swim a lot better. . . .

The squirm is everything!

Have a great weekend!

Leech is waving at you.  Or is it trying to find something to suck on?  I have to call it an “it” because leeches are hermaphrodites and each one possesses both male and female sex organs.  Whoops, that might freak some of you out even more!  See if you can lay that knowledge on some of your friends this weekend!  Wikipedia image.

About daryl bauer

Daryl is a lifelong resident of Nebraska (except for a couple of years spent going to graduate school in South Dakota). He has been employed as a fisheries biologist for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for 25 years, and his current tour of duty is as the fisheries outreach program manager. Daryl loves to share his educational knowledge and is an avid multi-species angler. He holds more than 120 Nebraska Master Angler Awards for 14 different species and holds more than 30 In-Fisherman Master Angler Awards for eight different species. He loves to talk fishing and answer questions about fishing in Nebraska, be sure to check out his blog at outdoornebraska.org.

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