There’s a huge amount of waterfront property around Charlotte Harbor, and many of those homes are owned by anglers. Most of them fish from their own backyards at least occasionally, so let’s talk about one simple trick that will help you catch more fish from your own dock: Chum.
While the concept of chumming is basic to some types of fishing, such as sharking and bottom fishing, a lot of other anglers have never used it. So let’s start by talking about what chum is and how it works.
Chumming is simply putting out a good amount of food smell into the water, with the idea of attracting fish. Notice I said food smell, not food. Of course, the most effective way to do that is to cut it up nice and small. That creates a lot of scent but there’s not a lot of food to satisfy a big appetite, so when a fish comes across a big chunk, it’s happy to eat it. Naturally, that’s where your hook is.
Here’s the basic rule of chumming: Chum won’t always help your fishing, but it will never hurt it. You shouldn’t expect it to work miracles. It’s not going to turn a lousy fishing hole into a great one (at least not right away). But it will bring in all sorts of stuff: Crabs, shrimp, all sorts of small fish, and eventually the bigger fish that like to eat all those things.
Chum has a cumulative effect. Chumming once is a good idea, but chumming on a regular basis is a much better one. Everything in nature likes an easy meal, and if easy meals are served up in one place frequently, some critters will relocate there. Since chum mostly feeds small animals (remember, we’re only putting out little pieces), you’re building up the base of the food chain right where you fish.
There are a number of methods you can use to chum. The easiest is to use pre-made frozen chum, which is sold in blocks at any decent tackle shop. Some types are packaged with a chum bag, and all you need to do is tie on a line and chuck it in the water. Others you’ll have to put into a bag.
A chum bag is advised, since it keeps the chum in one place as it melts. Alternatively, you can let the block melt in a 5-gallon bucket and just pour the resulting goop over the edge of the dock or seawall. Just think of it as slopping the hogs.
You can also make your own chum from any sort of fish. Frozen sardines are cheap and make a nice, oily chum that will drift a long way. If you have any dead bait left at the end of a trip, freeze it for use as chum. Even the heads and guts from cleaned catches can be used.
Of course, the hard part is getting these larger pieces ground into small pieces. Big hunks aren’t what you really want, and hand-chopping gets mighty tiresome after a while. You might end up eyeing the wife’s blender, but that’s gonna get you in a heap of trouble. A meat grinder is really the way to go, but good ones aren’t cheap. Look at it as an investment into some good future fishing close to home.
If the grisly aspects of grinding up fish are just too much for you, there’s one more option. A mix of rolled oats or bread, tropical fish food, menhaden oil and play sand makes a good fish-attracting chum. It doesn’t stick around as long, so it’s not quite the same — but if you’re planning to fish soon, this recipe (very similar to what we use for chumming whitebait) will help.
Homemade ground chum can be used just like store-bought. With chopped chum, though, you have to be more careful about how you scatter it. It needs to go in places where gamefish are more likely to find and eat it — in other words, around the type of structure where you’d be likely to place a cast.
Think about how you chum also. Water flow will have an effect: The stronger it is, the farther it will carry your chum slick, allowing you to draw fish from a greater distance. However, it will also be used up faster, so it will need to be replaced sooner. And chumming at night will attract more catfish. Truthfully, you’re gonna get catfish no matter what. They’re always hungry.
Putting out some chum 10 to 20 minutes before you’re going fishing is a great idea, especially if you’ve been chumming regularly. But the basics still apply: Don’t go stomping down there and expect to catch fish. Stay as stealthy as you can.
Chum goes downcurrent, so concentrate your fishing efforts in that direction. If you’re using chopped chum, free-lined baits are ideal since they’ll drift with the current like the chum does. You can use the same kind of bait that you’re chumming with, but it’s not really necessary since chum brings in all sorts of things that fish will be snacking on.
Chumming your dock is a great way to bring more fish to you, but it’s not perfect. It’s messy, it can get expensive, and it can also bring in some less than welcome critters such as alligators, so be careful if you have kids or dogs around your dock or seawall. For me, the benefits outweigh the hassles. For you? Well, that’s your call.
Robert Lugiewicz is the manager of Fishin’ Frank’s Bait & Tackle, located at 4425-D Tamiami Trail in Charlotte Harbor and at 14531 N. Cleveland Ave. in North Fort Myers. Call 941-625-3888 for more information about the shop or for local fishing info, or visit them online at FishinFranks.com.