One summer when we were children, my buddy, Ralph, was able to catch fish when nobody else could.

His secret? Ralph ate so many green apples earlier in the spring that he got worms. He was a walking bait shop.

At least that was our theory.

I thought about wormy ole Ralph a while back when I stopped at a bait store to pick up some nightcrawlers for a catfishing trip. When I saw the price, I was afraid I might max out my credit card.

The bait shop owner admitted the nightcrawlers were expensive. He said there was a stickup the other night, and the robber demanded his worms or his life.

Fishing with worms has always been popular. Izaak Walton, in his 1653 “Compleat Angler,” wrote about how “a well-scowered lob-worm will make the fish bite boldly.”

Like most outdoor writers, Izaak wasn’t much of a speller.

Worms remain popular. In this high-tech age of sonar, radar and other fancy fishing gear, the lowly worm continues to hold its own.

The reason is simple. They catch fish. Everything from bluegills and bullheads to bass, trout and walleyes find worms tasty and tempting.

The most enduring bass lure through the decades was the artificial worm. In 1949, Nick Crème produced the first plastic fishing worm at his home in Akron, Ohio. Everything since then – thousands of variations – are spinoffs of the Creme Worm.

At February’s Lebanon outdoor show, booths were crawling with artificial worms. They came in all shapes and sizes and in every hue of the rainbow. One was bright blue with psychedelic pink and yellow spots. It was a Woodstock Worm.

Some fishermen dip their worms in solutions that impart scents like over-ripe sardines and in dyes that make the worms glow. By the end of a trip, the fishermen are equally smelly and glowing.

As a child, I owned a plastic worm. I could afford only one.

It was the shape, size and color of a real nightcrawler, but had red beads and a little silver propeller on the snelled hook. The worms I dug in grandma’s garden didn’t have beads and propellers, and I wondered if the fish would notice.

Apparently not – bass ate it up.

I caught so many bass, my worm eventually became shredded. I picked blackberries to finance another one.

As I can attest after getting my recent Visa bill from the bait shop, there’s big money in worms. From giant Canadian nightcrawlers to frisky little Red Wigglers, they are grown commercially on worm ranches. I always wondered what it was like at branding time.

Worms have complex internal systems, as we learned by dissecting them in biology class. It’s hard to make heads or tails of a worm.

The most important thing to remember when fishing with worms is to never leave a box of them in the trunk of your vehicle during a sweltering summer weekend. It’ll affect your trade-in.

Longtime outdoors columnist Larry Woody is a three-time winner of the Tennessee Sports Writer of the Year award and is the author of several books, including “Along for The Ride.” Woody covered NASCAR from the early 1960s until late 2007 in addition to SEC sports, minor league baseball, the Tennessee Titans and the Vanderbilt Commodores.