Anna's Stories: "Worm Thumping" With Tuff Smith

March 1, 2010 by Brenda Rees

Notes from Anna and Tuff’s younger sister “Billie” about the technique and methods used to catch worms for fishing. Tuff Smith of Grayton Beach and the historic “Smith House” is well known for his fishing prowess. Anna (Smith) Reardon was known for her writing, but little sister Billie also liked to share stories.

Sonny Hollingsworth was taught how to catch worms and fish by his Uncle Tuff. They fished throughout Walton County, Florida. Sonny is at Grayton Beach around 1940 in this photograph.

Sonny Hollingsworth, son of Anna Smith Hollingsworth Reardon, provided a letter to me from Billie mailed in 1978 that detailed this story along with many others about early Walton County, Ft. Walton Beach and Mary Esther. Billie also included extensive genealogy notes for their Smith and Thornber families. Sonny is married to my mother, Gloria.

Sonny Hollingsworth and his Uncle Tuff Smith went hunting and fishing in Grayton Beach as well as Cowford near Bruce.

Before I posted this I called Sonny and asked him about catching worms with Tuff. Sonny said, “We always went down to the Cowford near Bruce. Tuff and I would leave the highway and that’s where we’d get our good worms. Then we’d go down to Cowford, on the river near Bruce, and fish.”

Here is Billie Smith Master’s story about catching worms that she sent to her sister’s son, Sonny Hollingsworth. Sent in a letter dated May 22, 1978 postmarked Miami, Florida.

Mrs. M.L. Master – Apt. 3
30 Alhambra Plaza
Coral Gables, Fla.


Fiddlin’ for fish worms or as some yokels in Walton County, Fla., called it “Worm drumming.” Anyway, Tuff decided the best place to do it was in Uncle L.I.’s front yard (Wiscassett). So, we his “Squaws” (Anna and I) as Mamma called us, would be pressed into service to collect the worms as Tuff fiddled, when he needed worms to go fishing. Used them for bait. He’d drive a “stob” – a board pointed at one end, so he could drive it into the ground easily, when he whacked it with the axe head, back-side. Then, down on his knees, he’d rub another board across the top of the “stob” (this word is not in Funk and Wagnall’s dictionary). Aunt Hannah (my colored nurse) said the noise this made, caused the earth worms to think it was thunder, and going to rain, and the worms would come up for water. Who knows?
On CBS, Charles Kuralt observed this strange ritual at Sopchoppy, Fla. He said the earth vibrations from the rubbing of a car spring that they used there, brought the worms out of the ground. Us Squaws ran around picking up the worms and put them in a can of leaves.
Later on Tuff planted a Catawba tree for Catawba worms to use as bait. On a trip to South Dakota with Pappa (to see about Uncle L.I.’s ranch) they stayed at a Guest Home (Alline, Tuff and Pappa), somewhere in Tennessee. The lady of the Guest House was distressed because the worms were eating the leaves off her Catawba tree. Tuff told her he grew Catawba worms on his tree in Florida, for fish bait. Guess the lady didn’t care about fishing!
Mr. Larkin Cleveland, editor of the DeFuniak Herald, wrote an editorial about “Worm Thumping.” Larkin was a wit, and his editorials were real corny. His editorial was entitled “Fiddlin’ for Fish Worms.” “

Tuff and Alline Smith's Grayton Beach home has been lovingly restored and was featured in the recent CAA Tour of Homes. Thanks Kelly and Billy. You can rent this home during your vacation and get a sense of how Kenneth "Tuff" Smith and Alline lived during earlier Grayton Beach days. You might even want to sit out in the back yard with a stick and thump or fiddle for a few worms before you go fishing.
Before Tuff Smith built his home at Grayton Beach, as a young boy he spent many hours fishing at his Uncle L.I. Smith's resorts and beach homes at Camp Walton and Mary Esther. Tuff is shown here in 1913 at the Gulfview Hotel Resort owned by Uncle L.I. Smith. The Gulfview building can still be seen along Highway 98 in Ft. Walton Beach. L.I. Smith had hired the Gerlachs and Staffs to come to Florida and work for him. Read more about the Smith family in my Camp Walton blog. This picture and other historical pictures on this blog from the Anna Smith Hollingsworth Reardon/Sonny Hollingsworth collection. Sonny is married to my mother, Gloria.

Okaloosa County, where Ft. Walton Beach is today, was not formed until 1915, half out of Walton County and half out of Santa Rosa County.

Add comment