Chumming for Summer Rockfish
Tips on chum, tackle and tide
During the coming summer months, chumming will be one of the easiest and most effective techniques for getting a limit of nice rockfish in your cooler.
Chumming is essentially putting a stream of small bits of ground-up baitfish into the tidal current flowing out behind an anchored boat. The smell and taste of the fish bits trails out and sinks down, attracting game fish, hopefully stripers, to your boat. As they seek out the source of the attractant, they will also find your hook baited with a larger chunk of the same baitfish.
On May 16, trophy rockfish season ends and the early summer season begins. The mainstem of the Bay remains the only legal area to harvest stripers. The harvest limit is now two rockfish with a minimum size of 18 inches, though only one of the two fish may exceed 28 inches. On the Susquehanna Flats and Northeast River, the limit is one fish per day, 18 to 26 inches. No eels are permitted as bait anywhere in the Bay until June 1.
Menhaden (also known as alewife, bunker or pogey) is the primary chum of choice throughout the Bay as it is a major, natural food source for rockfish and they are well acquainted with both its odor and taste. Occasionally, however, anglers successfully use cat food, synthetic dry chum and the ground-up debris from a crab feast.
Generally, though, a frozen bucket of menhaden chum, suspended behind the boat in a mesh bag, is the simplest way to get the job done. When tidal currents are swift, weight the chum bag and hang it deeper so that the fish are drawn in close enough to your baits. When the current is slower, hanging the chum just off the stern will work fine.
Anglers seeking more effective approaches to the technique (usually charter boat skippers) may insist upon using only fresh-caught menhaden and grinding it on-site aboard their boat before dribbling it overboard. This superior approach will almost always result in a better, quicker bite. Still, under most circumstances, commercially frozen chum dispersed from a mesh bag will eventually get the job done.
Tackle is typically medium-heavy action spin- or bait-casting rod with lines ranging anywhere from 30-pound braid to 15-pound mono and fluorocarbon. Early in the season, all of these line choices have a reasonably good chance of success. As the summer wears on and fish wise up, most anglers will find more stripers seduced by the lighter tests of mono and fluoro.
Analyzing tide, tidal current and wind can also be essential to success. Choosing sites and times that provide a general sameness of tidal current and wind direction is critical. If the wind and tide current are opposite, your boat will be blown one way and your chum slick and baits will be carried in another direction, making very difficult conditions.
Timing of the tidal change is also important. Schools of rockfish often begin feeding at specific periods, usually sometime during the first or last two hours of tidal current. For the best chance of success, try to fish an entire six-hour tide cycle, from slack tide to slack tide.
When reading a tide chart, note that the current will not immediately reverse at the specific time and place a tide is noted. Generally, it takes about two hours after the time noted for an incoming current to slacken, then eventually begin to move out. The same is true for the low-tide cycle.
Keeping all of these variables in mind when choosing when and where to chum will save you a lot of time, allow you to concentrate on conditions that favor you the most and ultimately result in more fish in your cooler.
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