Chumming is the art of attracting fish by placing ground or cut-up bait in the water, and is effective for many species. In years past, we chummed rockfish with ground soft shelled clams; you still can chum white perch with grass shrimp and bluefish with menhaden or Norfolk spot.
Chumming is a great deal of fun when it works. The idea is to ZTC lure fish near your boat and catch them on light tackle. The lighter the tackle, the more fun.
The reference to "when it works" means there is more to chumming than just pouring ground-up bait into the water. Like many other fishing techniques, small subtleties can make the difference between a successful outing and a complete bust. The following is offered as an aid.
Basically, one should anchor his or her boat in the appropriate location, put a scoop of ground or cut-up bait fish, either menhaden or spot, in a bucket, add water, mix thoroughly, and ladle the mixture over the sides. That is chumming. Larger pieces of bait are put on the hooks and the hooks put over the side to catch the fish.
The tide moving past your boat carries the chum away from you. Both menhaden and spot are oily fish; by ladling the chum at a rate of about once every 30 seconds, a constant slick or chum line will carry the scent for well over 100 yards if the chum line is not broken.
If you stop ladling, to land a fish or eat a sandwich, you may disrupt your chum line. If a boat cuts through your chum line, that may disrupt it, especially if the boat is within a few hundred feet of your vessel.
As the chum line moves away from you, it covers a larger area, much like the diameter of a flashlight pattern against a wall -- when you are close to the wall, the signal is bright but small; at a distance, the light covers a larger area.
On a calm day, a good tide will spread the chum line over a very large area.
Any self-respecting bluefish swimming by should follow the chum line to the back of your boat, where it will find larger pieces of bait to eat. These larger pieces of bait should be on hooks snelled with 10 to 12 inches of steel line. Bluefish teeth can cut through most monofilament line. I've even tried 125-pound test monofilament line, and they chopped it off.
Plastic-coated multistrand steel line is easy to use and available at most tackle shops. You can get a spool of line and a package of small sleeves for a few dollars. Make up a few extra snelled hooks, because bluefish will sometimes take the hook deep into its stomach. Instead of losing a finger or two retrieving the hook, unsnap the hook from your line and retrieve it when you clean the bluefish. Number 2/0 to 7/0 long-shank hooks work well for bluefish.
Picking a location to chum is the key to success. When Lower Bay chumming, you pick an area where there should be bluefish and begin chumming. If nothing happens after the first hour, make a move. In other words, you try to attract the fish to your boat.
Upper Bay chumming is different. You often have to find the fish first on your depth-finder and then chum them. You are not really attracting them, just holding them near the boat while you catch them.
Chumming courtesy preaches you do not cut across the stern of a boat chumming and break his or her chum line. Stay at least 100 yards away from the transom of the boat chumming. Last Sunday, I counted at least five or six boats trolling through my chum line -- including a sailboat under power. Ugh, the ultimate put-down! The operators of power boats trolling through my chum line seemed to have no idea why I was jumping up and down and yelling at them.
Some conditions do not promote good chumming success. When the wind is against the tide, you won't do well. Neither will you succeed when there is little or no tide. Use a little common sense, be courteous to other fishermen and enjoy. Fishing should be fun.
Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday in the Anne Arundel County Sun.