Sarasota Chumming Techniques
Chumming has been around for as long as humans have been fishing. Anglers use Sarasota chumming techniques to catch a wide variety of species. Fish will respond to chum of all kinds in a variety of applications. These tactics not only work in Sarasota, but anywhere that anglers fish.
Chumming is basically the art of using food to attract fish to the angler. It can be done from shore, bridges, and piers. However, most associate chumming with boats. Chum can be live, fresh dead, or frozen. All are effective when used properly. Chumming is a deadly technique that should be part of every angler’s arsenal.
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Frozen chum blocks are very effective. These are basically chunks of ground up oily fish. Oily fish such as menhaden, sardines, mackerel, and mullet make the best frozen chum. The oils that are emitted from the chum block help to attract the fish. Chum blocks often come in a mesh bag. This makes using them very easy. They are simply tied to a cleat at the start of the boat. As the chum melts, it is dispersed behind the boat. Chum blocks are available at just about every saltwater bait shop.
Fresh dead chum can also be extremely effective. This can be as simple as cutting up a few pieces of shrimp and tossing him in the water. This can work very well in the cooler months for fish species such as sheepshead and snapper. Anglers bottom fishing offshore will often caught up a fish they have caught, using it as chum.
One of the most effective Sarasota chumming techniques is the use of live bait fish as chum. This is a bit of a specialized method. It does require a lot of bait fish. Anglers catch scaled sardines (AKA pilchards), threadfin herring, and small Spanish sardines using a cast net. The baits are then put in a large, recirculating live well. Keeping a lot a baits alive and frisky is very important. The live bait is then tossed out behind the boat in hopes of attracting game fish.
Sarasota chumming techniques
The technique when using chum, no matter what kind, is basically the same. The angler is usually stationary, but it can be done from a drifting boat as well. This is primarily done offshore in very deep water where anchoring is not practical. Whether from an anchored boat or a dock, bridge, or pier, the chum is dispersed into the water. The current will take the chum away from the boat or structure and draw in the game fish.
Strategy comes into play when using Sarasota chumming techniques. Tide is the most important factor. Anglers will want to anchor the boat up tide of the area that is to be fished. This is true whether anglers are chumming inshore or offshore. The stronger the current, and the deeper the water, the further up current the angler will need to position the boat.
Chumming has been a mainstay of offshore anglers for decades. Those fishing wrecks, artificial reefs, and areas of hard bottom use chum to excite the resident fish. Chum can be dispersed both on the surface and on the bottom surface. Chum will attract species such as Spanish mackerel, king mackerel, tuna, and other species. Bottom fish such as grouper, snapper, grunts, and other species will respond to chum on the bottom.
Chumming the water column
Chum deployed on the surface can attract bottom fish as well. This is true if the angler is fishing and water that isn’t that deep or if the current isn’t very strong. Surface chum can also be used to pull fish up off the bottom. It is very cool when a school of mangrove snapper rises up off the bottom and starts feeding on chum right at the surface!
Anglers will oftentimes use both methods of chumming. A frozen chum block can be lower to the bottom while another is tied off the stern. Sometimes the surface chum will attract bait fish, which in turn will attract the game fish. Once the fish are in the chum “slick”, it is time to go fishing!
Every angler has his or her favorite rig for offshore fishing. It is basically a running line, a leader, a hook, and if required, some weight. If fish are seen right at the surface in the chum, free lining bait back to them can be extremely productive. A piece of bait with no weight floating back looks very natural. In fact, the desired effect is to have it looked exactly like the other chum floating back.
Rigging for chumming
Anglers bottom fishing will obviously need to add some weight. I prefer the “knocker rig”where the egg sinker lies right on the eye of the hook. Many anglers prefer to put the sinker on the running line then a swivel and a leader and hook. Both work fine, it’s just a matter of preference. With both bottom fishing and surface fishing, water clarity will be a determining factor in leader size.
Just a quick note; here in Sarasota in the Gulf of Mexico, anglers are required to use circle hooks when fishing offshore. Florida fishing regulations have become a bit strict. There are close seasons on grouper and snapper. The consensus is that circle hooks reduce the mortality rate of released fish.
Chumming can be effective from a drifting boat as well. This is something that is done more often in very deep water where anchoring is not practical. The chum is just dispersed over the side of the boat as it drifts with the current and wind. As in all forms of chumming, the hope is that it will draw game fish to the angler.
Inshore chumming tactics
While many anglers think of chumming as in offshore technique, it is used quite often when fishing inshore as well. As a full-time fishing guide in Sarasota, I use every trick that I know to help my clients catch fish. I use Sarasota chumming techniques on a regular basis to achieve this goal on a Sarasota fishing charter.
We experience a strong run of sheepshead starting around the first of the year. These tasty saltwater panfish stick around until early April or so. The water can get quite chilly this time of year. The number one bait for catching sheepshead on my Sarasota fishing charters is shrimp. Both live shrimp and frozen shrimp are effective.
On those days when the water is chilly, chumming with small pieces of shrimp can be the difference between success and failure. The sheepshead and snapper are a bit lethargic in this cold water. A couple shrimp diced up into tiny bits and tossed back into the current will oftentimes stimulate the fish.
Live bait chumming
Chumming with live bait fish is a deadly technique! This is something I do all summer long and into the fall until the water temperature hits around 70°. When baitfish are plentiful, it is a simple matter to cast net up a bunch of pilchards (scaled sardines) or threadies (threadfin herring) to use. Local anglers call this “white bait”or “shiners”.
Using live bait is one of the Sarasota chumming techniques that I use all summer long. I mostly do this on the deep grass flats. These are submerge grass beds in between 6 feet of water and 10 feet of water. This deeper water is cooler than the shallower water is. Anglers seeking action and variety target the deep grass flats in the summer time.
I anchor the boat up current and upwind of the flat that I want to chum. Then, I simply toss out a few handfuls of live bait as chum. If the game fish are around, it won’t take them long to find the chum. Often times fish will be seen “popping”the bait behind the boat. Hooked baits are then tossed out and hookups are soon to follow.
Many different species are caught on the deep grass flats using this technique. Speckled trout, Spanish mackerel, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, bluefish, Seabass, flounder, ladyfish, catfish, sharks, jack crevalle and other species will all be attracted to the chum. This is a great time of year for novice anglers and children to experience some terrific action on a Sarasota fishing charter!
Chumming for snook
I will also use this technique to catch snook, redfish, and jacks in the spring and the fall. The bait fish needs to be a bit larger to attract the snook. However, not as many bait fish are required. The procedure is similar to fishing the deep grass flats. The boat is anchored up current of the area to be fished. Docks, oyster bars, and mangrove shorelines are all productive spots.
Once in position, a few pieces of bait are tossed out behind the boat. Less chum is used in this situation. We want to excite and attract the fish, not fill them up. Too much bait in the water will result in the snook losing interest. Again, this is a great way for less experienced anglers to have a chance to catch a big fish.
Sarasota chumming techniques are used extensively in the inshore Gulf of Mexico. In the spring and again in the fall, Spanish and king mackerel along with false albacore, sharks, cobia, and other species migrate along the beaches. They are following the migrating schools of bait fish. All of the species respond well to frozen and live chum.
Chum works especially well for anglers targeting Spanish mackerel. These fish are very fast, school up in big numbers, and are aggressive. There are three artificial reefs within 2 miles of Lido Key. These reefs are fish magnets and attract mackerel, false albacore, and other species.
Chumming the inshore Gulf of Mexico
The best technique is to anchor up current of the artificial reef. The chum can then be dispersed out behind the boat to attract the game fish. Frozen chum blocks work fine for this type of fishing. However, anglers live bait chumming can really get the fish fired up! When the fish get feeding heavily, it can sound like hand grenades going off in the water.
Using the proper amount of chum is extremely important. This is something that an angler will only learn by experience. Also, every day is different. This is especially true with live bait chumming. Some days just several baits every five minutes will be plenty. On other days, it will take a lot of chum to keep them behind the boat and excited.
The goal when chumming is to attract the fish, and get them excited, but without filling them up. If too much chum is used, the fish will remain back in the slick, but will become difficult to catch. The best bet is to use chum sparingly in the beginning then step it up if the bite is a bit slow. It is always better to start slow like this than to chum too much in the beginning.
Anglers will sometimes find that fish are hitting the chum bait but will not take a baited hook. This tends to occur more often when the water is very clear. The solution is to go lighter with the leader and use a smaller hook. Also, wherever possible use little or no weight. Anglers can view current Florida regulations here.
Chumming for sharks
One of the other Sarasota chumming techniques I use is to cut up fish for small sharks. In the summer time, black tip and bonnet head sharks move in from the Gulf of Mexico and scatter out on the flats to feed. The flats closest to the passes are generally the most productive. The sharks are often caught in water as shallow as 3 feet deep. They are a really fun size, averaging between 15 pounds and 40 pounds.
I most often do this at the end of a Sarasota fishing charter. I will save a few ladyfish and jacks to use for bait and chum. Both of these fish are oily and are good shark baits. I will fillet the fish and cut a couple nice chunks of that fillet for bait. I’ll take the rest of the fillet and chop it up into pieces. This I will use for chum. I also take the fish carcasses, tie them together, and put them in the water for chum as well.
In closing, using these Sarasota chumming techniques will help you catch more fish. After all, isn’t it easier to have the fish come to you than the other way around?
Capt Jim Klopfer
1059 North Tamiami Trail Sarasota, Fl 34236