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Laying Down a Smelly Trail

Chumming ground-up baitfish lures the big fish to you


     Though my buddy and I had been doing very well drifting fresh soft-crab baits around the Bay Bridge structures, that tactic was going to be short-lived. Soon we would have to search for rockfish over much wider areas. For that kind of fishing, the soft-crab approach is not very effective.

     “Guess we’ll have to go chumming soon,” we said, almost in unison. 

     This technique can be very effective and efficient, not just in finding fish but by drawing them to you from surprisingly long distances. You can also still employ light tackle and really enjoy the excitement of battling Mr. Rockfish.

     Chumming involves releasing ground-up baitfish from a net bag into the tidal currents, spreading a long and wide scent trail, called a chum slick, behind the boat. Chunks of the fresh baitfish are then placed on circle hooks and laid out on the bottom or suspended at various depths to capture the less wary fish that arrive for the free meal. It is one of the most productive and least technical techniques available to Chesapeake anglers.

    A lot of the boats we saw fishing were employing that very tactic to lure fish holding tight within the bridge supports. You could see the chum bags, full of frozen pre-ground mixtures on the smaller recreational craft, hanging from the stern. 

     The commercial charters, each carrying numbers of anglers, featured an actual chum grinder on board into which was fed a constant supply of fresh menhaden, a decidedly superior method for attracting fish. Though using the frozen chum is a not-too-distant second, it does not quite measure up to the fresh-ground version. Baitwise, fresh-caught menhaden (a.k.a. alewives) are superior to frozen baits. 

     Chumming can be a very simple operation in its more basic form. When there are plenty of rockfish about, there is really no reason to complicate things. A bag of frozen chum and any medium- to heavy-weight spin outfit with a minimum of 15-pound test line will do. Circle hooks, non-offset, are mandatory. A hook size of at least 5/0 is most effective. Two-ounce sinkers will generally get the baits to the correct depth: the bottom.

     When the fish get picky or scarce, certain techniques besides having your own grinder on board can tip the scales in your favor. Chunking periodically is one of them. Chunking involves cutting up a baitfish into small pieces and tossing the pieces across the waters behind the boat to mingle in the chum slick.

    Stripers are schooling fish, and when one or two of the fish begin to feed on the bigger freebies, the others will generally follow. That means they are much more likely to pick up one of your baits and encounter a hook. Giving your chum bag a generous shake periodically can also help in accelerating a bite.

     When using frozen chum, employing a larger-mesh net bag can be more effective in generously distributing the ground fish. A small-sized mesh can easily get clogged. Adding a squirt of menhaden oil into the slick can also make it more attractive, especially if it has just a little bit of liquid soap in it, allowing it to disburse more thoroughly. 

     When the tidal current is slow to moderate, a stern placement of the chum bag astern is appropriate, and will get the slick deep enough to draw the fish to your baits. When the current accelerates, the slick stays higher in the column, and the fish may hold back beyond casting range. Moving the bag forward in your boat nearer the anchor line can improve your chances, as can drifting baits farther back using lighter sinkers and longer lines.


Fish Finder

     More keeper rockfish are filtering into the mid-Bay. Love Point and Podickery Point are hosting good numbers. Swan Point and Hodges Bar are reputedly accumulating hangers-on as well.

    Chumming and fishing fresh menhaden are the preferred techniques, though there are some anglers throwing jerk baits and jigs claiming substantial scores of late. Trollers dragging small to medium sized bucktails adorned with Sassy Shad bodies are also taking fish, sometimes of much better sizes, off the Eastern Shore and cruising all the way past Poplar Island. 

     White perch are unpredictable and sometimes non-existent, but that should improve with some better water quality. The particularly low salinity of Bay waters due to the recent rains has also encouraged the presence of snakeheads chasing white perch.

     Crabbing has not shown much promise despite DNR’s claim of a 60 percent increase in crab numbers. A commercial crabber recently advised me that the 60 percent number only applied to an increase over last year’s juvenile count, which was one of the lowest on record.