Skip to comments.Florida Town Celebrates Worm Grunters and Their Unusual Talent for Finding Fish Food
Posted on 04/13/2002 12:32:18 PM PDT by LarryLied
As professional grunters, Gary and Audrey Revell get up before sunrise and drive 25 miles over dirt roads deep into the heart of the Apalachicola National Forest to catch worms.
As the sunlight barely pokes through the pine trees, they climb out of a Ford pickup truck adorned with a bumper sticker that reads "Welcome to the South. Now go home." Audrey hauls a sack filled with empty one-gallon buckets and Gary carries a 10-pound iron rod and a wooden stake.
After hiking off the trail a short way, Gary slams the stake called a stob into the ground, gets on his knees and starts rubbing the iron across the top. He keeps a steady pace and the vibration is rhythmic, almost like a musical instrument. Within a minute, the ground is writhing with worms and Audrey quickly picks them up and tosses them in a can.
"See 'em all," Gary says. "One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight it's magic."
Indeed, it is a sight to behold, and this Panhandle town honored the work of people like the Revells on Saturday with the annual Worm Gruntin' Festival.
A couple thousand people from around the South and beyond pulled into this town of 600 about 30 miles outside of Tallahassee near the Gulf of Mexico.
"We've been traveling around the country trying to find things like this," said Dave Hodgkins of Anacortes, Wash., who was with his wife, Fran. "We've been to some strange stuff, but this ranks right up there near the top."
In a field near town, the crowd watched as 5-year-old Emma Donaldson was crowned the worm queen, with rubber worms dangling from her tiara.
Then about 50 children and adults began rubbing their stobs with irons. The ground started to shake.
Jeff Allen, who grunted professionally until about two years ago, stood back and watched with a smile.
"I love it," he said. "They're doing good. You feel that vibration? When you feel that rhythm in your feet, they come up."
He's more then qualified to assess the technique.
"Back when I was 6 years old, Mom and Dad had us out there" in the national forest, Allen said. "I've picked up a million cans."
It's not an easy way to make a living. The Revells make about $20 a can on the worms, which they sell to bait shops and fishermen. Each can holds about 500 worms. The day before the festival, it took almost two hours to fill their first two cans.
"People I bring out here say 'Man, you're crazy to go in the woods like that,'" Gary Revell said as mosquitos and flies swarmed around.
Bad weather can make it difficult to find worms and the wildlife can add to the adventure. He and his wife have run into rattlesnakes and bears while on the job.
"Rattlers and moccasins, I don't like those jokers. They will bite you and they don't like you out there in the first place," he said.
In years past, they also had to contend with a lot of competition.
"I remember being out here and there would be 25 or 30 vehicles. You'd really have to hump it," he said. "Those woods have been harvested, so if you don't find the right spot it can be tough."
The work can be tough on the body, too. Revell grips his iron so hard that a hand print has worn into the metal over time. As he rubs his stob, he grunts as if he's lifting weights.
"It takes a while to get that hand print in," he said. "The vibration on you hands, sometimes it makes them swell at night and hurt. And being down on your knees on that wet ground and the cold they ache."
While tough, it still beats raising crickets for bait. The Revells tried that, too, but found that the return on the investment wasn't too good.
Plus they require much more attention, Gary Revell said.
"They're like raising chickens. You've got to baby-sit them things."
If it is cruel for parents to give their children ridiculous names, how more so than to name a town Sopchoppy?
Sopchoppy - nice town - ain't as big as Two Egg and not as old a town as Burnt Corn but still nice - and nice folks.
Any suggestions on what to sell? What is popular in the area?
The one thing I could never understand is how different each area is. In one spot one could groan up as many as you would want and the next place would have none.
If by some chance you didn't get any worms, Florida has a surplus of insects. All you have to do is rake away a few leaves and you will find as many as you need. BTW spiders make fine fish bait.
The city founders probably misread the municipal incorporation forms...
Even if I were starving to death I'd sooner try to catch fish with my bare hands (like Cary Grant did in Father Goose) than, ugh, touch a spider... [grimaces] [shivers]
The townspeople are for the most part honest, hard-working folks whos' ancestors built a great little town in the middle of what later became the Appalachicola National forest. It is still quite rural and they like it that way. Lots of wildlife and the Revell (one of the founding families I believe) was not joking when he mentioned the rattlers, we still have the skin of the rattler that bit my youngest son.
Live about an hour from Sopchoppy. Kilt m'first rattl'r of th' season this afternoon.
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