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Step Up Your Chumming Game

10 tips to keep you catching

Chumming is one of the simplest ways to catch your limit of nice rockfish on light tackle. It involves a minimum of fuel, since you’re fishing anchored, and that helps cover the cost for the chum and bait. It is also an excellent way for anyone of any experience to tangle with the Bay’s premier gamefish.
    Hang the chum bag over the stern and cast out a few rods with chunks of menhaden on your hooks, weighted down by two-ounce sinkers. Then wait for the bite. It’s a simple formula and a recipe for some great action. That is ... until it isn’t.
    By mid-summer our rockfish will become somewhat accustomed to the presence of the chumming fleets, often as large as 30 to 40 vessels, all streaming ground-up menhaden into Bay waters and fishing with pieces of menhaden. Many of the smarter (and usually larger) fish will have become wise to the anglers on the other end of the line.
    Simple variations on customary chumming techniques can often give you an edge when the fish are getting finicky.
    1.    Use the very freshest bait. If you can get menhaden (alewife or bunker, same fish) netted the night before, you will out-catch anyone using older or frozen bait. Grinding your own fresh menhaden over the side will also attract more and better fish.
    2.    Chunking fresh menhaden (cutting whole fish into small pieces) and adding them into your chum slick can also increase your setup’s effectiveness. Stripers are school fish. If one fish starts to feed actively on the chunks drifting back, others will eat as well, eventually finding the pieces with your hooks in them.
    3.    Use lighter test, less visible lines and leaders. I like going to 15-pound mono with no more than a 15- or 20-pound fluorocarbon leader. Replace your leaders often, as worn leaders are far more noticeable to the fish. It’s one of the little things that can make a big difference.
    4.    Fish lines both close to and far from your boat. Some days the big guys will hang way back in the chum slick, while other days they may be right under you. That can change with the strength of the tidal current.
    5.    Change your sinker weights. The rule is to use as little weight as possible and keep your baits where you want on the bottom. But sometimes we get lazy. Switching out to one-ounce or less when the tides are slow, then gradually increasing the weight as the current increases, can make a real difference.
    6.    If you’re marking fish suspended off the bottom under the boat, they’re probably suspended out behind the boat as well. Though these fish are often not feeding, try dropping a lightly weighted bait a little ways back. Don’t try this with multiple rigs (unless it really starts working) because of the possibility of tangles. Just one rod can often let you know if this is the trick of the day — or not.
    7.    When cutting bait, don’t throw the menhaden heads over the side until the end of your trip. Sooner or later during the season some of the smarter (and bigger) fish will figure out that the heads are always hook free and concentrate on them. Fish a menhaden head as a bait from time to time down deep, and you’ll often be surprised at the size of the fish that eats it.
    8.    Vary your bait sizes and cuts. Try a saddle (the top fillet just behind the head), a side strip or a belly strip as well as the traditional steak or half-steak cut. The linesides can get just as particular (or difficult) as any diner on the Bay.
    9.    Don’t neglect the gut gob in the body cavity of the first cut just behind the head of the menhaden. In the middle of the gob you will find a tough piece of innards (the heart). Pierce the heart with your hook to hold the gob together. You can fish it alone (if it’s cast carefully) or add it onto a piece of menhaden. Either way it will often tempt the most reluctant rockfish to eat.
    10.    Change your baits every 20 minutes, and don’t throw the old whole pieces over the side. Cut them up into smaller portions, then gradually add them to your slick.
    Finally, it doesn’t hurt to flip a shiny penny or two over the stern as an offering to Lady Luck. That trick sometimes works for me.


Support Female Crab Protections

    Maryland Department of Natural Resources has announced the female blue crab season will likely close November 20. This is great news for firmly establishing crabs by ensuring enough females to keep the overall population healthy for the long term.
    However, that date can change. This year’s Winter Dredge Survey ranked the population of juvenile crabs down almost 50 percent from last year. As the number of mature crabs declines with the advancing season, commercial crabbers could lobby to open up the female harvest to protect their incomes.