Chumming Tips For Summer Blues
October 04, 2010
Now's the time when effective chumming will go a long way toward bringing the blues right to you -- if you do it correctly!
Another tough bluefish fights all the way to boatside. You expect nothing less from these fine game fish.
Photo by Gary Caputi.
The chum bucket hadn't been in the water for 10 minutes before the first hit. As my young friend was drifting back a baited hook, the line was yanked from between his fingers. It started disappearing from the reel so quickly that only his presence of mind to keep his thumb on the spool prevented the reel from backlashing.
He turned the handle on the bait- caster and it slipped neatly into gear; the tussle between fish and boy began. The smiles, hoots and hollers that ensued were enough to invigorate even the crustiest old salt. There's nothing like the excitement and fun generated when you put youngsters, or any neophyte anglers for that matter, on a school of hungry bluefish. Even seasoned fishermen enjoy the action if you have the forethought to match the tackle to the size fish you're catching.
That blue was the first of dozens more we caught that day. Most were from 4 to 7 pounds, great fun on light tackle. Some blues fell for smelt or spearing, others to bunker backs, a few fish were even caught on jigs cast back into the slick.
Chumming is one of the simplest and most enjoyable ways to fish for bluefish because you can employ a wide variety of tackle options that will give you the opportunity to experience the fighting prowess of these gamesters. Bluefish are strong and fast for their size, regardless of how big, and their fighting ability puts many other popular game fish to shame. Here are a few tips and tricks for making your chumming trips more successful.
Before you ever get near the boat, assemble the gear you'll use, and make sure the local bait store has the chum and bait you'll need. Always call at least a day in advance and have them set aside a couple of buckets of chum and inquire about what kinds of bait they have in their freezer. Bring an assortment of baits because there are times when bluefish can be incredibly picky. Checking the availability in advance can prevent you from having to go on a wild goose chase looking for supplies when you want to be on the water fishing; it also ensures that you will have a selection of frozen baitfish for use as hook baits.
Do a tackle check. Since you never know for sure if you're going to encounter small, medium or large blues, bring a selection of outfits. Include light stuff like small spinners filled with 6-pound-test, some heavier spinners or baitcasting outfits loaded with 12-pound-test line and, if the big boys make an appearance, be prepared with some heavier conventional outfits with 20-pound-test, which is about as heavy as you need to go.
A private boat isn't like fishing on a head boat. There are no patrons lined up on both sides of the rail to tangle with, so you can easily beat the biggest bluefish on modest tackle and have plenty of fun doing it. If you fly- fish, take along an 8- or 10-weight, fast-sinking line and a selection of flies like old Deceivers (ones that you won't mind having shredded after hooking a couple of blues).
For terminal tackle, go light. Try making your own rigs using single strand No. 3 or No. 4 wire; haywire twist an inexpensive beak-style bait holder hook in 1/0 or larger size, depending on the size of the bait you're putting on it and the size of the blues you encounter. If the fish are large, super-size the rig with No. 5 wire and a 4/0 hook. Add a barrel swivel on the other end with a wire leader no longer than 6 inches.
All you're looking for is a little tooth protection, so that's plenty of length. Make some rigs with "bleeding leader" wire, red nylon coated 1X flexible cable in 30-pound-test. Sometimes the red triggers strikes when the fish are playing hard to get.
Don't forget to take an ample supply of lures, too, including diamond jigs, crocodile spoons and large bucktails, swimming plugs and poppers in a variety of sizes. You'd be amazed how often you can get blues into a chum slick and then catch them on artificials!
Do your homework the day before. Make some inquiries about where the blues have been caught most recently. Bluefish will frequently settle into well-known areas and stay put as boats come day after day dumping chum and bait in the water. There are dozens of such spots near my home port, and if one area has been producing, then that's where I start fishing first. However, there are also many inshore lumps, bumps, ridges and other structure that hold bluefish throughout the summer and fall. Sometimes you can get on one of these smaller pieces of structure and have the fish all to yourself.
Start your day early. Try and get out before the charter and head boats leave and before crowds of private boats show up on the bluefish grounds, so you'll be able to anchor on prime real estate. When you arrive, do a sonar search of the area to see if you can locate a school of bluefish. If there is a focal point like a high spot or other prominent structure, chances it will hold fish, so figure out how the wind and current is going to affect the boat. Anchor so your boat comes to rest just upcurrent from the structure.
If fish are not concentrated and you want to get their attention quickly, you can jump-start your slick by running a few hundred yards downcurrent from where you are going to anchor, put your chum bucket over the side and drag it as you run the boat slowly back to the anchoring point. Leave the bucket in the water as you anchor and by the time the boat settles into place, you'll have a well-developed slick to attract fish.
If you dislike thawing chum out on deck, making a soup and then ladling it out by hand, then get yourself one of those vinyl-coated canvas chum bags and simply dump the bucket of frozen chum (with the top off) upside down in the bag. Hang it by a line over the side, tied to one spring line cleat so it dunks in and out of the water as the boat rocks.
If there are bluefish in the area and they aren't coming to your slick, or the competition is heavy from other boats chumming, drop the chum bag down in the water and let the slick run heavy for a while. This can get things going and even steal a school away from a nearby boat. Once the action starts, back off on the chum or you'll end up feeding the fish instead of attracting them to your baited hooks.
You can also spice up your slick with some liquid bunker oil, which is a trick the kingfish pros use. Take a plastic soda bottle, and poke a small hole in the cap. Fill the bottle about a quarter full with bunker oil, tie a piece of monofilament around the bottom and hang it upsi
de down over the side. The bunker oil will slowly drip into the water, creating a monster slick on the surface and adding a lot of additional scent -- without adding more pieces of chum for the blues to eat.
The slick is cooking, blues are there and it's time to get down to fishing. You can start out by baiting up a couple of medium weight outfits -- those 12-pound-test baitcasters are fine -- and set one up with no weight and the other with a 1/4-ounce rubber core or egg sinker. Put different baits on the two rigs, maybe a smelt on one and a bunker back on the other, and start drifting them back in the slick. Work your baits well back into the slick and if nothing happens, reel them back and do it again.
After 15 minutes, if you haven't received a bite, start changing things. Switch baits, try more weight to get one of the baits deeper into the slick, try a red wire leader, or you can even switch one outfit away from wire altogether by using an 80-pound fluorocarbon leader to see if the fish are leader shy. Keep making changes until you get the fish going.
Pay attention to currents and tides. Sometimes blues will not feed on a slack tide, but as soon as it starts running, they'll start eating. On some days, it seems that no matter what you do, the blues will be accommodating, but on others, they can be horribly finicky. On those days, until you hit on just the right combination, they won't bite. When bluefish are like that, keep switching things, making little changes. It can make the difference between getting bites and getting bored.
If the bite is on and the fish are running in a specific size range, switch off to the tackle most appropriate to provide you with the most fun. If the fishing is hot and heavy, don't hesitate to switch away from bait altogether and cast spoons, jigs, bucktails or even poppers back into the slick. Poppers are particularly effective if you have the blues chummed up high in the water column. If you see them swirling on the surface, that's the signal for "poppers away!" It's also a good time to do a little fly-casting.
Keep these suggestions in mind the next time you decide to go wrestle with hard-fighting blues. If you do, you're likely to have a great time with these wonderful fish. Get them really going in the slick and you will be going home arm-weary, tired, and content.