The bluefish have finally arrived. Yippee!
And they are nice bluefish, some running to 5 pounds. Another yippee!
It is possible for good fishermen to get tired of catching bluefish if they confine their technique to trolling. Here, in the upper ormiddle-upper bay area, the fish are seldom deep. Therefore, if you can get over the fish, you have a good chance of getting one on the hook.
Trolling in the Solomons area can be different. I have seen many days when the bluefish were mostly at 35 feet. Therefore, not onlydid you have to get over the fish, you had to get your baits down tothem. That can present a challenge, especially if you do not use wire line.
However, the subject of today's bit is chumming, probably the most misunderstood fishing technique in the Chesapeake.
Chumming in McClane's New Standard Fishing Encyclopedia is the act of usingchum to attract fish to a baited hook. Chum is defined as a living substance such as minnows chopped or ground into pieces, which is distributed in the water to attract game fish to the angler's bait.
There are two distinct bluefish chumming techniques in the Chesapeake -- the lower bay technique and the upper bay technique.
In the lower bay, the angler goes out to an appropriate spot, generally where hehas caught bluefish before or where he knows bluefish are being caught. He anchors his boat, sometimes in 40 feet of water or more, and begins to ladle ground menhaden or spot into the water.
His boat isanchored and the tide carries the chum and the scent of chum to the bluefish, which are usually swimming at mid depths. The bluefish follow the scent or the chum line to the back of the boat, where they arecaught with baited hooks.
A tad oversimplified, but for sake of comparison, close enough.
Upper bay chumming is much more difficult.
First, the angler must find the bluefish. They generally are sitting on the bottom in pods or small schools.
The angler must anchor his boat over the fish and begin chumming. The chum is to excite the bluefish and keep them interested. Then, the angler baits his hook and puts it among the fish.
Lower bay chumming is much like the McClane's definition. The fish will often rise from mid depths and can be caught near the surface on lines without weight. Upper bay chummers usually need some weight to get the bait down to the bluefish.
Frozen chum is available at many tackle shops and it will work, thoughnot nearly as well as fresh chum. Better to take an hour or so and catch a pile of spot. Cut large-size fillets for bait and grind up therest for chum.
Mix the chum with bay water and ladle it out every30 seconds or so. The secret is to keep an unbroken chum line, if possible.
Menhaden also make excellent bluefish bait and chum, but the problem is finding fresh menhaden. Down at the Potomac you can stop by a pound net and pick up a bushel on your way out to fish. Up here, finding fresh menhaden is often harder than finding the bluefish.
Both menhaden and Norfolk spot work well for bait and chum becausethey are oily fish. Drop a chunk of ground fish in the water and watch the oil lines spread.
Bluefish also love catfish. I would not waste good catfish for chum, however, but I might invest some as bait.
So much for theory. How does one go about doing chum?
Assumingyou are going to try upper bay chumming, you need to know how to read a depth finder. Moreover, you need to know how to find bluefish when they are setting on the bottom.
If you do not qualify, either stick to trolling or charter a captain who will take you out and teach you where to go and what to look for.
Pick up a gallon of frozen chum and a dozen or two bloodworms from your favorite bait shop. Reserve your chum ahead of time. The chum is an insurance policy. You can add your ground spot to the chum when you get there.
Stop on the way out and catch your spot. They really love bloodworms. They will bite night crawlers, but if you are in a hurry, a dozen or two bloodworms will give you a quick catch. Only a very small piece is needed to catch a spot.
Your bait should be ground in a food grinder. A tripor two to a flea market or a yard sale should help you find one.
Hooks should be snelled with wire to keep the bluefish from cutting the line.
Chumming can be very productive. You need not kill everything you catch. A handy de-hooker will allow you to release the unwanted bluefish.
If the hook is deep in the gullet, cut the snell with wire cutters. The bluefish has a good chance of surviving if it is not handled.
Of course, the draw of chumming is the ability to catch the scrappy bluefish on light-spinning tackle, instead of heavy trolling tackle.
Enjoy, but appreciate the resource.
Bob Spore isa Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena. His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel CountySun.