- Black sea bass have dangerously sharp spines on their dorsal fin that can puncture human skin.
- The all-tackle world record for black sea bass is 9 pounds, 8 ounces.
- When hooked in deep water and brought quickly to the surface, a black sea bass will often regurgitate its stomach contents.
Ever had such a slow day of fishing you wished you could just push a button and make the fish fight for your bait? Well, the time-tested technique of chumming is as close to a magic button as you can get. Experts along the East Coast dramatically improve their catch rate by using various chumming techniques, and you can employ these same principles along any shoreline nationwide. Here’s what you need to know to increase your action.
Chumming, simply defined, means dispersing or leaching fish attractant into the water. Chum usually consists of chopped fish or crustaceans but can include everything from live baitfish to canned sardines and cat food to canned corn. Most often, chumming is done from an anchored boat, but it’s also effective while drift or pier fishing. Chum is usually spread slowly so the supply lasts longer; but perhaps more important, too much chum actually feeds the fish and makes baited hooks less desirable. Therefore, the perfect chum flow should be just enough to attract and entice.
“Many fish are attracted by smell far more than by sight,” says expert saltwater angler, Rich Haigh, of Orange, Connecticut. “Chum sends either a fish oil slick or particle stream drifting with the current. In doing so, the smell draws fish from a large area. Seeking an easy meal, predators are lured to the scent source, which, inevitably, is toward baits attached to terminal tackle and the angler’s rod. Chum is the ultimate fish turn-on.”
Derek DeSantis scatters a handful of chopped herring near a breakwater to attract reef-dwelling bottomfish.
Chumming is a must for scoring big on bottom feeders. Over the past decade, populations of flounder, fluke, blackfish (tautog), grouper and many other bottom species have declined dramatically and become more widely scattered. Chum is pivotal in drawing enough fish to help fill today’s meager day bag limits within a reasonable amount of time.
Blackfish, porgies, sheepshead, and other reef dwellers react well to mashed shellfish. Clams, mussels, barnacles, snails, whelks, and oysters can be gathered from rocks or mudflats at low tide and, if need be, held in a cool location for a day or two prior to a fishing trip. If you have a large freezer, shellfish can be kept fresh for months. Other bottomfish, like grouper and sea bass, prefer chopped fish, so do your homework first.
“For bottom feeders like blackfish, chumming is crucial,” says well-known angler and fishing author, Ed Migdalski. “It pulls the fish in and guarantees more action. If, for instance, you can get hermit crabs, save the bait, but crush the shells and throw them over. After baiting up with green crab bodies, toss over the legs and shells. Or buy commercially made frozen chum. Grinding and freezing your own is another option, but it’s a messy and smelly proposition.”
Commercial chum is made from ground fish and shellfish, which are then frozen in containers. Using it frozen releases a slow stream as it thaws. You’ll need to place the frozen “chum log” into a “chum basket” (usually made of wire or plastic mesh and heavily weighted), and lower it to the bottom on stout twine ahead of the baited hooks. This is the preferred system for flatfish. Some flounder pros puncture canned tuna, sardines or cat food and place the whole can in the chum basket. The can is periodically replaced as the fish oils wash out.
Get Into Position
Boat positioning is everything, whether you’re anchoring near structure or drifting a shoal line. To be effective, chum must get down to the fish. The trick is to judge the position of your boat in relation to the target area and the direction of the current. How far up tide is the big question. Learn to judge the placement of the anchor so the wind and current carry the boat to the spot you want to fish. This is easier to do in shallow water.
After anchoring your craft on a known hotspot, promising structure or likely drop-off, immediately begin chumming by scattering a handful of crushed shellfish or chopped baitfish to coincide with where your hooks will rest. In deeper areas with a strong current you may need to throw chum forward of the bow. Continue to toss chum overboard every five minutes or so, depending on action and amount of chum available.
In some types of fishing you might drift and chum, such as when paralleling the edge of a reef or working a shallow bay. Speed then becomes the concern. If your craft is pushed too fast by wind or tide, fish will find the chum long after you have passed over the area, especially when throwing live baitfish. You can slow your drift with a sea anchor or by using power. Some professional guides drag a section of heavy chain along the bottom, which slows their drift and also acts as chum by stirring up forage into the water.
Tools of the trade. A sturdy hand line with clip and a weighted, wire chum basket or weighted mesh bag are effective ways to drop and disperse chum down to the fish.
Use The Right Technique
The species you seek will, of course, determine the type of chum and the way it’s dispersed. And the target species don’t have to be bottomfish. Mid-water predators, such as tuna, bluefish, striped bass, snook, barracuda and many others are also drawn to the boat by chum. For these sportfish, large baits like herring, menhaden, mackerel, squid or butterfish can be cut into chunks. It is, however, a time consuming process. The rule-of-thumb for proper dispersion is to drop one piece of fish overboard as soon as the previous one has disappeared from sight. A chunk containing a hidden hook is then fed down into the water column to simulate a piece of free-falling chum.
“I like to have a certain timing when I chum with chunks,” Haigh says. “The fish adjust to it. Your pace must be consistent to keep the chum slick going and the fish in the area.” Haigh also says that the right amount of chum keeps the fish competitive and draws them closer to the source. Chumming too heavily causes fish to be lazy and hang back in the slick.
Some experts work all depths at once by tying a heavy weight to the end of a sturdy line and staggering mesh chum bags at various intervals. Others simply hang a perforated bucket over the side. But they all pay close attention to hole (or mesh) size. This determines how fast the chum is released. A bag with a -inch mesh, for instance, should disperse a seven-pound block of frozen chum in about a half-hour.
Check with local tackle shops to see what’s the most popular chum technique for your target species. And don’t be afraid to experiment to find what system works best for you. If you do it right, you’ll have fish schooling near your boat like the pros do.
“The only other thing I can say about chumming,” concludes Haigh with a smile, “is that those fishermen with the weakest stomachs make the best chummers.”