Gross, yes but they catch fish
There are over 650 species of largely freshwater, carnivorous leeches (actually a type of worm) that comprise the class Hirudinea in the phylum Annelida. They tend to live their lives in streams and ponds, cool-freshwater shallow lakes, and in the backwaters of rivers and creeks of temperate North America and Europe.
If you have ever had cause to trek through water, you know that one of the best reasons to keep your shoes on and to keep your pants tucked into your boots is leeches! Most of us can't repress a shudder when we're faced with these slimy little guys, but the truth is, lots of people consider them the perfect bait. They're found in just about every freshwater situation, and typically, if you can catch it using a night crawler, you can catch it using a leech!
Of all the bait that you can use, these bloodsuckers have a reputation of being pretty ugly, but the things that you can catch with them sure aren't. Their bodies are typically made up of 34 segments, and they all have an oral sucker that is formed from the first 6 segments. This sucker is used to connect to their host when they feed, and as you probably already know, these parasites (or non-parasites as the case may be)will swim until they can latch on to something big and warm. Many people don't even notice these creatures until they see them, and this is because the leech will release a numbing agent that can make you ignore it until it is full and falls of.
Many people, if they don't notice them right away, (hanging like a limb off a tree -- the tree would be you) will notice the fact that they are bleeding very suddenly and very quickly. Don't worry, as alarming as this looks, this trickle of blood won't kill you or even make you light-headed. The chemicals that are carried in their mouths will also serve to keep your blood from clotting right away. This anti-clotting enzyme works to make sure that the blood will keep on flowing as long as they are on you and even a little bit afterwards as well.
It is interesting to note that these animals have often been considered a tool for the medical profession. Centuries ago, it was believed that a great deal of illness and disease could be prevented through the use of blood letting, and who better to do that than a our hero? Most doctors had a jar of filled with them that they kept on hand for just that purpose. Today, there are several medical conditions that can be treated with blood letting, but fortunately, we use slightly more sophisticated measures now!
When you are looking to use one as bait, use rubber gloves to pull them out of the container, or, if you don't have any handy, rub some dirt and sand to make sure that you have good traction. Look for the younger ones, as they will be livelier and more firm, and when you get a good grip, hook them through the sucker. You'll also find that the using a lighter hook can improve your chances, though a heavier one can help bring your bait and your line to the bottom of the water.
Of course, a fly fisher will only use an artificial variety because for the fly fisher the entertainment comes from the hunt and sport associated with fooling the fish into taking his perfectly presented fly.
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