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Goldenrod... the overlooked ice fishing bait

By Tom Goeritz of St. James  

Like many ice fishermen, I started preparation for the hard water season several weeks ago.  I checked out the portable fish house, but no mice had been at work.  My auger started and the other accessories, rods and reels were in order.  While tying on some panfish jigs I began to think about bait.  Like many anglers I have tried plastics successfully and they work great in some situations.

The gall (round ball on the stem) of the goldenrod has a larva inside that can be harvested with a knife and used as bait. Photo by Tom Goeritz

However, I still lean toward live bait.  That live crappie minnow is hard to beat.  Of course, wax worms, Mousie’s and euro larva are great live baits as well.  Then it occurred to me I never hear of goldenrod larva being used.  Growing up, that was our go to winter bait.

In talking to some fellow anglers, “young guy’s” in the 50 -55 age range I told them about the goldenrod “gall” (round ball on the stem) and the larva inside.  As a young man pheasant hunting with my father, we would often come across a patch of goldenrod while hunting in soil bank or around a slough.  Mentally we would mark the spot so we could come back later and harvest our bait.  

Now, these guys and others I talked to really thought I was pulling their leg.  “Sure, there is a worm in that round ball, I have swamp land in Florida to sell you too”.  Well, that made me determined to find some golden rod and prove it to them.  After all, sitting at the kitchen table with my dad and brother opening those galls was an annual tradition.  We each had a jackknife and would cut halfway through the gall and then twist the knife to open it up and collect the small white larva.  It does take patience, especially when you open a hundred bulbs or more.  I can still see dad with his can of Hamm’s beer and smoking a Lucky Strike, working with his boy’s while talking about the sunfish we were going to catch.  We used a Copenhagen box with some corn meal in it to keep our bait fresh.  I will say the larva are rather small and soft, it takes two or three per hook and often after catching a fish or two you will need more bait.

Goldenrod plant in full bloom. Wikipedia photo

Goldenrod is a plant, not a weed.  It can grow to three or four feet tall and has a bright yellow flower that blooms in late summer and fall and gives the landscape a burst of color.  My research found some interesting facts about goldenrod.  There are over 100 varieties of goldenrod plant.  The plant is used for diuretic and urological conditions.  Dried flowers are used for tea.  Bees are great pollinators and honey can be made from goldenrod as well.  Essential oils are another product from the plant. What amazed me was in looking at dozens of articles about goldenrod, I did not find any mention of using the larva as fishing bait!

Back to the bait, how are these round balls formed on the plant?  In late spring, the gall fly lay eggs on the stem, within ten days the larva hatch and bores a hole in the stem.  This induces the plant to form a round hump/gall around the larva.  This round ball will provide shelter and food for the larva until it hatches in the following spring.  Except in the case where fishermen may harvest some bait.

Some bait stores may have goldenrod larva available.  You never know, it might be perfect bait when nothing else is working.  I can promise you the opportunity to start an annual tradition with friends and family will be something they will never forget.  Although goldenrod is plentiful in some areas, I was having trouble locating some.   I worked with the Jacob Dearborn, biologist with Pheasants Forever and Maggie Maire from Meadowlark Outdoor Lab in St. James, we were able to find a few plants.  My thinking is that with the many herbicides, the goldenrod is not as plentiful as it used to be.  I decided to try a walking path in my area and found what I wanted for this story.  While collecting the goldenrod gall may not be at the top of your list, this article might make you take notice of this interesting plant and its history and practical use.

Larva inside a goldenrod gall. Wikipedia photo

In the picture accompanying this story you see the “Clipper” heated minnow bucket.  Developed in the 1940’s by the Walstedt Co. of Minneapolis, it was creative and functional.  A small glass container that held a wick was filled with kerosene and provided the heat so minnows would not freeze.  Very inventive for over 75 years ago.  Like the old green box from Lowrance and the jiggle stick our gear continues to improve. 

I do believe the love of the outdoors, the thrill of hunting and fishing and the many tales told have not changed much from those who came before us and enjoyed these great natural resources we have.

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