Every April, the good people of Sopchoppy, Florida, honor their local practice of worm grunting. This form of bait harvest involves driving a wooden stake into the ground and rubbing a bar across it to create vibrations that force worms to the surface. ON April 10th, the fourth annual Sopchoppy Worm Gruntin’ Festival will draw an estimated 5,000 attendees for a day that will include the Worm Grunting Competition, worm Grunter’s 5k Race, and end with the star-lit Worm Grunter’s Ball. But the true jewel of the day’s events is the crowning of the Worm Gruntin’ Queen.
For the festival’s first year, the organizing committee didn’t know how to go about picking a queen, so when a pretty, young festival volunteer arrived, they looked at each other and said, “She’ll do.” The second year, things got slightly more competitive, and the crown went to five-year-old Emma Thompson, who sold the most raffle tickets by getting every member of her family to buy one. Not only did Emma get the title, her family walked away with all the raffle prizes. But last year’s monarch, 76-year-old Lossie Mae Rosier, put in more than 50 years to earn her throne.
“They gave me a shiny crown,” says Rosier, “and a staff just like that pole Moses walked around with.” Rosier started worm grunting in 1950 and raised 11 children on the money that the bait brought in. When she was notified of her impending coronation, she was stunned.
“They said they wanted me to be this bait queen, and I said, Â¿Â¿Â¿What are you talking about?'”
But Rosier didn’t take long to warm to the spotlight.
“With all those photographers snapping my picture,” she says, “there wasn’t enough of my face to go around!” Known as the “Worm Gruntin’ Capitol of the World,” Sopchoppy has done its part to keep this traditional form of worm harvest alive. The commercial worm grunting industry in which Rosier participated picked up in the 1950s, and allowed locals to supplement their incomes with the money they made from selling harvested worms to bait houses. A successful few could rely on worm grunting as their sole source of income. Some locals feel that a televised visit from Charles Kuralt in the mid-eighties-and the attention from the National Forest Service and the IRS that resulted from the TV coverage-is to be blamed for the decline in commercial worm grunting. Some simply blame the rising water tables. Whatever the reason, when locals need live bait today, they still reach for their worm grunting tools. It’s not uncommon to be driving down a Wakulla county road and see anglers along the side bent over a stake in the ground.
Rosier will crown the 2004 Worm Monarchs (king and queen this time) in a few weeks. “But I’ll keep my crown in a special place,” she says-near her old worm grunting tools.