“Sopchoppy” might be a mish-mash of Creek Indian words sokhe and chapke, meaning “twisted” and “long”, to describe the river that flows past this town. Or, they might have been describing something else—worms. Worms have put the Panhandle town of Sopchoppy on the map. The variety that breeds in this area’s soil is particularly fat and long—a fisherman’s dream. The method used to bring them to the surface is called “gruntin.” The worm grunter’s tools are a wooden stake and a flattened iron paddle. Something amazing happens when a grunter drives a stake into the ground and grinds the iron paddle against it: worms come wriggling out of the ground by the hundreds. The grunting noise that the grinding makes sends a vibration through the ground that makes the little slimy guys crazy.
On the second weekend in April, Sopchoppy holds its annual Worm Gruntin Festival and Worm Grunter’s Ball. There’s lots of good food and live entertainment and they choose a Worm Queen. The highlight however, is the Worm Gruntin Contest—to see who can grunt up the most worms in fifteen minutes. In 1972, Charles Kuralt brought worm gruntin to the attention of the outside world, much to the chagrin of locals. Following that publicity, the U. S. Forest Service began requiring a permit and charging fees for gruntin.
Visitors to Sopchoppy will find a mom-and-pop grocery store, a hardware store, and a bait-and-tackle shop. There is also a terrific pizza restaurant that doubles as a canoe and kayak outfitters shop called Backwoods Pizza & Bistro, located in a restored 1912 pharmacy building. More festival info: www.wormgruntinfestival.com