The Art of Chumming

by M. J. Keyes

OK, if you think chumming is either immoral or brainless, you may as well stop here. Freshwater chumming is not considered kosher in North America for some reason, even though the minute an angler hits saltwater, it becomes a state of the art technique. To my mind, chumming done right is a skill few have mastered.

The basics of fishing are simple: find the fish, and bait a hook with something they will eat. Any good angler can find fish. It is the latter that baffles most of us. Chumming can solve this problem.

When it comes to inducing finicky fish to bite, the best anglers in the world are European match fishermen. Match fishing is for money and where the money goes, great technique follows. These contests are usually any species, the heaviest weight wins. They are run while thousands of spectators line the banks in venues with few numbers of fish. If you think jet skiers are the worst menace to tournament angling, try catching fish while crazed fans are cheering and stomping their feet each time a contestant brings in a fish. It's a wonder any fish are caught. The secret is feeding, or chumming as we call it.

When I fish for pleasure, I use a routine similar to match anglers. The idea is to get the target fish used to a steady stream of food without filling them up. I try to get them swarming on my chum so they will readily accept my hook bait. The trick is in the timing. "Little and often" is the motto for chumming and if you follow this dictum, you will catch more fish than other anglers at the same site most of the time.

Today I fished a local put-and-take trout pond of 22 acres which is normally filled with casual anglers. I did nothing fancy, but caught and released 11 trout, 2 carp, and a stray channel catfish. My bait was a can of corn and 6 slices of bread. I used a simple dropper rig, a size 12 salmon egg hook, and 4 pound test line. Very similar to what many of the others were using, only I was chumming. I saw a few fish caught, but no one was catching with the same consistency.

When I arrive at the water, the first thing I do is open a can of corn, pour the liquid over a few slices of bread, and then put a few pouch fulls of corn near a piece of cover (in this case a fallen tree) with my fishing slingshot. I fished 10 yards out with the wind in my face. Then I mashed the soaked bread until I made little "snowballs" of wet bread and tossed all of my bread in the same place. I try to imagine a kitchen table as my target and put all of the chum on the table underwater. Then I set up my rod and my banksticks. (Editor's note: these are fancy terms for the rodholders used in Europe which are, it must be noted, both nicer and more expensive than U. S. models.)

I never vary from this routine. While I am setting up my equipment, the smell of the bread and corn is permeating the water. I am assuming that there are fish in the cover and that they are going to be triggered by the chum. I did not put a lot in the first time, but it is more food than any other time in the session.

After about 5 or 10 minutes of fooling with my gear, I start fishing. But first I put in another 10 grains of corn on the table top and follow it up immediately with my hookbait. This way the fish learn to link the sound of the chum going in with a free dinner. The splash of my hook, sinker and bait (usually a single kernel of corn) is taken in with all the rest. If I don't get a bite within a minute, I recast to another place around the carpet of bait. But first I put in another 10 grains of corn. I search for the "hot spot" around the chummed corn and bread where the fish are less leery and more likely to bite. Sometimes this may take as long as an hour in this venue, so I don't worry until I have used about half a can of corn with my chum, cast, chum technique. I rarely leave the hook in the water more than two minutes before I recast in another spot.

When I have found the fish, I keep up the routine. Remember, always chum the same place unless you have good reason to change. If the fish are biting away from where the chum goes in, there is a reason. The current may be carrying the food to this spot, you may be ambushing the fish at this spot, or for some reason the fish are there. Yours is not to reason why, unless the fish stop eating your bait. On this particular day, the fish stopped biting just as I ran out of corn, perfect timing.

There are days when the fish are not interested in your chum or bait. The usual reason is lack of fish, but sometimes the fish are not going for your hook bait. Occasionally your chum is turning the fish off. It is up to you to figure out what is happening and the only way to learn is by practicing.

I know I will be asked what the best chum is, so I will state from the start of this question that anything your dog will eat is good chum. The idea is to turn the fish on to what you are putting in the water without over feeding the fish. You want to concentrate the fish in your fishing area (called a swim) and entice them to eat your hook bait.

I happen to like corn and bread as chum and hook bait because they are cheap and readily available. A surprising variety of fish will eat corn and bread including smallmouth bass, stripers, wipers, catfish, and carp. In addition, you can add flavors to both of these if you think it will help. Nothing fancy, but it works.

You can buy a variety of flavorings if you want to tailor your chum for specific species. Any of the bass, trout and walleye attractants work well and you may be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the fish you catch. I usually fish off the bottom when I chum, but using a float can be a terrific technique too.

If you chum with bread alone, you can run a loaf through a food processor and turn it into small particles which entice but are not filling. When you throw them in the water, they tend to cloud up the water and suspend at various levels. You can fish at these levels with your float, or you can fish just off the bottom over the bed of chum. The technique of feed and cast remains the same, although if there is wind, you can drift the bait over the chum and achieve the same result as if you were casting and feeding. A good trick with a float is to shoot some chum right at your float and get the fish to swarm around your bait. You can then lift the float slightly and move your bait, making it look like it is falling along with the other chum.

You can tell if fish are near the chum even if you are not catching fish right away. If you cast to the far side of the chum carpet, you might see little blips on your line. These are called line bites and are caused by fish hitting your line. Usually anglers hit these bites and miss the fish. Never fear, just cast a little closer the next time.

So follow these rules: feed a little, feed often, don't stay in one place for long. Hit that underwater table top each time you chum, and you will catch fish.