Chumming Up Summer Catfish
October 05, 2010
Here's where and how you can call Tulsa-area catfish to dinner -- even before you're ready to catch them. (August 2009)
When I worked for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, one of my duties was conducting fishing clinics for youngsters.
My clinics typically were conducted in Tulsa parks that had small ponds. They included some basic instruction and practice with casting, knot-tying and so on, followed by a couple of hours of actual fishing.
When we were lucky, the ponds were stocked ahead of time with catchable-sized catfish. Often, though, we just took our chances with whatever fish inhabited the ponds.
I learned quickly how to improve the fishing success of some of the children.
If you're not familiar with that term, it just means feeding the fish to draw them closer to your fishing spot, and maybe to put them into a feeding mood.
All it took was a can or two of generic canned corn or hominy scattered a few feet from shore at a spot where kids were going to fish. Repeatedly, I saw kids who fished the baited areas catch fish quicker and more often than the kids who fished in the non-baited areas.
Many years before that, when I was the outdoor editor of a Tulsa newspaper, I took part each year in an annual children's fishing tournament at Lake Keystone. Members of Tulsa-area bass clubs volunteered their tackle, boats and time to take dozens of kids from area orphanages and institutions out to do a little fishing.
There always was a mixed bag of success until one year when a participant came in with his livewells crammed full of catfish, carp and other fish. That group swept the competition and their kids won the biggest prizes. I'm not positive, but I think it was the late Joe Krieger, host of a local television fishing show that aired for most of three decades on Tulsa stations, who had the winning team that day. And the reason for the huge success was that they had chummed their fishing spot for a couple of days before the contest.
That launched a storm of chumming in later events, which resulted in the kids catching many more fish and having much more fun. Even if they didn't win the big prizes, they got a lot more enjoyment out of the day because they caught a lot of fish.
"Coarse" fishermen in Europe have turned chumming into a fine art. Anglers there employ slingshots and floating or sinking feeders to dribble bait into the water and have lengthy arguments about which concoction is best for chumming this species or that.
Here in the U.S., there are many schools of thought about chumming. Some anglers use dog food. Some use cattle food cubes. Cottonseed cake, although sometimes hard to find these days, has long been a popular choice. You can find recipes online for a variety of chumming baits, like grain fermented in beer and water.
I've even chummed with frozen Ore-Ida crinkle-cut French fries, a successful trick I learned from a carp angler 20 years ago. I've also chummed with live maggots.
All of those things and more can be effective. But I prefer a simpler approach. Canned, starchy vegetables like corn and hominy seem to work and are quick and easy to use. I've wondered about using canned beans also, but haven't tried it or heard anyone say they have.
You do not have to use the same bait on your line as you use for chumming. When fishing for catfish, I have used the corn and hominy as bait on my hook and caught channel cats and bullheads. However, those baits tend to catch carp about as readily as they catch catfish.
I'll usually chum with the canned veggies, but fish with night crawlers or some sort of prepared bait on the hook.
Channel catfish are the prime targets when fishing chummed areas. You may catch the occasional blue cat if they are present, but blues in Oklahoma waters tend to dine chiefly on gizzard shad, whereas channel catfish readily feed on just about any food substance they find lying about on the bottom.
Flathead catfish, which tend to eat live fish or crawfish or other creatures they catch, are rarely as charmed by chumming as other barbled species.
I have fished with catfish guides who put a lot of work into their chumming. They anchor burlap bags of feed on the bottom, suspend perforated buckets of chum beneath their boats or make other elaborate preparations.
If you plan to return to a spot again and again to catch channel cats, such efforts may be rewarded. But for a few hours on the bank of a lake, pond or stream, it isn't necessary to go through so much work.
I have also had success fishing "naturally" chummed areas. One such incident surprised me. The other you might find a little disgusting, but it worked.
Many years ago at Lake Eufaula, a friend and I were anchored, fishing with cut shad, but fishing was very slow. In a couple of hours, we had caught only a couple of small catfish barely big enough to keep.
When we finally caught a channel cat of about 2 pounds, we noticed that its belly appeared full and bulging. My buddy knocked the catfish in the head, then skinned it and tossed it into the ice chest. The stomach was full and so he nicked it with his knifepoint to see what it contained. It was full of persimmons -- pulp, skin and seeds.
We looked around and saw, about a 100 yards away, a persimmon thicket standing in shallow water, so we pulled in our lines, upped the anchor and moved closer to those trees. As we were getting the boat positioned there, I noticed that when the wind blew and persimmons dropped into the water, fish swirled beneath the trees.
We began catching catfish close to those trees. I wrote a newspaper column about that trip that prompted a lot of skeptical feedback. The next summer, while fishing in Missouri, I met a trotliner at the little resort where I had a cabin. He pulled his boat into a slip and tossed a dozen or so big channel cats onto the dock. I asked him what he was using for bait, and he told me he gathered persimmons in the fall and froze them in plastic cartons, then baited his lines with them throughout the summer.
Another time at Lake Eufaula, late in the fall, a catfish guide who normally drifted the flats with cut shad to catch blue cats, took me to his then-current honeyhole, which turned out to be a cluster of tall, dead trees on a submerged hump.
Each night, and sometimes during the day, the trees served as a roost
for a flock of cormorants, or "water turkeys" as many local anglers call them.
Channel catfish gathered beneath the trees to feed on the droppings from the roosting birds. And fishing around the bases of the trees was like fishing a chummed area.
In big waters or small, I like to find a spot, if possible, where a little stream enters the still water. Flowing water carries the scent and sometimes some of the chumming material outward and can help draw fish closer and closer to your baited lines. Also, especially after local rains, catfish tend to search in-flow spots for food being washed in by the runoff.
But even in ponds that have no in-flowing stream, chumming can draw fish from other parts of the pond toward the spot where your baited lines await.
When I fish a chummed area, I use the tight-line method. That is, I don't employ a bobber of any kind, but let my baited hook lie on the bottom of the pond or lake or stream.
When tightlining, you may need to add a little weight to your line, if only to enable you to cast more easily. But I recommend using the lightest weight possible, or use a sinker that can slide up or down on your line -- held several inches above your baited hook by a swivel or some sort of stopping device -- so that a fish can pick up a baited hook and chew or swallow or swim away with it without feeling much resistance.
And since you are drawing fish closer to you with chumming, you rarely need to make long casts. Often, you can merely lob your baited hook or swing it out, sort of like a bass fisherman pitches or flips a jig, to let it land in the chummed area.
Chumming may not always be necessary. But it can sometimes bring success much quicker than fishing without it. And it can trigger some action at times when fishing is slow.