Woods, Waters and Wildlife: The Cricket Run

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By John Jefferson

Fishing worms cost a dime a can when I was ten. When spending summers at my grandmother’s home on the Guadalupe River between Seguin and New Braunfels, dimes came few and far between. And bait didn’t last long with hungry perch and catfish in the river slough behind her house.
I learned to gently swat grasshoppers with my baseball cap to just stun them in the big Johnson grass field near the slough. That way I could capture them easier and plop them into grandmother’s vintage, galvanized Fraybill minnow bucket. It worked well.
One day, my little boy’s curiosity made me open the well house door to see what a well looked like; maybe dip up a bucket full and take a drink. To my disappointment, there was no bucket attached to a rope hung from a pulley above, nor a rock wall around the well like I’d seen in a movie. Instead, there was just a tank – like a hot water heater- and some wires and pipe. But then I saw them.
All around the tank were hundreds of gray cave crickets. My life changed that day. I shut the well house door and ran to get my minnow bucket. I had struck little boy’s bait-bonanza!
I caught every one of them over the next several days. Fish devoured them. I’d shiny down the steep bank of the slough to my very own private fishing hole. It was kinda scary. Sliding down on my rear, I’d grab a long grape vine just before going into the water. Two cypress knees right at the water’s edge served as my emergency brakes. It was shady and no one else fished there. People told me it was too snaky a place. Over the four or five years that I fished there, I only saw two water snakes. And we ate a lot of fish.
Years later, a friend and I drove downtown one September evening and, as we turned a corner under a street light, we began hearing what sounded like popcorn popping. We stopped to see what we had run over.
To our amazement, we had crushed hundreds of black crickets, popping them under our tires. He asked me, “Are crickets any good as fish bait?” I answered, “You won’t believe!” We came back with a burlap feed sack and, dodging traffic, captured a sack full. Every fall thereafter, when the first cool front hit, we’d gather crickets and head to the water.
It’s far safer to collect bait in strip centers at night instead of in the street. Anywhere there are bright lights during the first few cool September evenings, the crickets come out of hiding, seeking mates. Kids love catching them, and then using them for fish bait. My bamboo cane pole has now been replaced by a light- weight fly rod, but I still look forward to the “cricket run” each September.
And when the cricks run, cooler weather and better bass fishing aren’t far behind.