|Chumming Is Ticket If Done Right
Granted, if its an aesthetic angling experience youre after, chumming isnt the ticket. Plugging the shoreline or casting flies to structure is what I, and many anglers, consider a more pleasant way to catch fish. But if you can handle the mess and smell of ladling gallons of bunker soup into the Bay, chumming is a fun and effective method to catch plump rockfish and, increasingly, football-sized croaker.
Last week, fishing with Jamie Baxter, Paul Willey and Will Smiley resulted in good success as we chummed up legal rockfish and hardhead off Love Point. Smiley took top honors with a beautiful 31-inch rock, and we all caught several croakers that measured better than 16 inches. A couple of croakers topped two pounds. Some of the hardhead were hooked close to the surface.
As productive as it is, chumming is not without its drawbacks, particularly this time of year when water temperatures are high. Every time you use bait you run the risk of deep-hooking a caught fish, which can injure vital organs and lead to death. Conscious of this fact, we used non-offset circle hooks ranging in size from 9/0 to 11/0 and had pliers and several types of de-hookers at the ready. These devices help remove the hook from the fishs mouth to avoid excess handling, which stresses the fish and rubs off protective film that helps protect the fish against infection.
Where the hook penetrates the fish is the single most important factor that influences the survival of released fish, and mortality is high if the hook pierces a vital organ. Other factors such as type of hook, its size, the use of natural bait versus artificial lures, angler experience or fish behavior all contribute to determining whether a fish survives or not. Survival of caught-and-released rockfish is influenced by environmental factors as well, such as water temperature, salinity and fish size.
The scientific and fishing community promotes circle hooks. The 1999 circle hook study (for details, check out www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/fishingreport), conducted by Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service and spearheaded by DNRs fisheries biologist Rudy Lukacovic, indicates that using circle hooks reduces mortality rates of striped bass when compared to fish caught on standard J hooks while chumming.
One aspect of the study that jumped out at me was that 9.1 percent of the rockfish caught on conventional hooks died whereas only 0.8 percent of the fish caught on circle hooks died. I like to catch, and eat sometimes, rockfish. But I also like to see them swim away healthy and feisty. For the benefit of the fishery, its important to take steps to reduce mortality. One of the best things we can do after we have our limit of rock is to move off the stripers and target other fish in our amazing Bay.
Fish are Biting
More of a good thing is the word from several recreational anglers, charter captains and tackle shops. In the upper Bay, Jamie from Anglers (410/974-4013) reports that Belvedere Shoals and Love Point remain consistent for taking limits of rockfish and fat hardheads. Also try fly-fishing and light tackle gear at Thomas Point or Hacketts Point. White perch are hefty in the main stem and creeks of the Severn, South and Magothy rivers.
Patrick from Rod n Reel at Chesapeake Beach (800/233-2080) says the headboats are doing well at different spots at the mouth of Choptank River for croaker, spot and some sea trout. The night boat is putting anglers on a better grade of hardheads at the Choptank and near Janes Island. Charter captains are chumming and trolling at the Diamonds and the Gooses, with 18- to 22-inch rockfish taken by bait and larger fish up to 32 inches hitting dragged lures.
Kim from Chesapeake Outdoors on Kent Island (410/604-0446) reports that big croakers are taking the usual baits in the main stem of the Bay, and flounder are hitting on minnows and squid along the edges of Poplar Island. Several fishing folk are now reporting jumbo Norfolk spot in Eastern Bay, where they say chumming for rockfish at The Hill and at Bloody Point has been successful.