Balls Deep

Chum balls fool finicky flags.

FSF Staff July 16, 2012

Around the state, anglers both inshore and offshore employ widely diverse chumming techniques in the hopes of attracting inquisitive predators. Whether you are chunking for tuna or dispersing chum on your favorite reef, all game fish respond to free handouts. You may be under the false impression that there’s nothing to chumming but simply placing a frozen block of ground menhaden in a mesh bag and hanging it over the side. However, professionals have made it more of an art form than a task, employing unique techniques and tactics to trigger finicky fish into a full-on feeding frenzy.

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A perfect approach when fishing clear water, sand balls soothe spooky fish. Photo: doughertyphotos.com

Although game fish can be indeed be captured without the aid of chum, anglers targeting tasty bottom fish in the vicinity of fertile reefs and artificial wrecks can greatly increase their odds of connecting with effective chumming techniques. Whether you call it sand balling or chum balling, a technique revolutionized across the Florida Keys provides a perfect means of hiding your offering within a tennis ball sized concoction of chum, fish oil and sand. Sand balling is extremely effective at presenting your bait and chum deeper in the water column. As mentioned earlier, traditional chumming techniques are typically limited to a chum bag hanging off the transom with the occasional toss of freshly cut chunks or silversides. This proven method certainly creates an attractive slick and piques the interest of both baitfish and big bottom dwellers, although it takes time for any remaining tidbits to reach the ocean floor. By sand balling you can effectively chum the depths, with your chum ball leaving a smoke screen in its wake as your hidden offering gets a free ride to the strike zone. As the mixture dissolves and breaks apart it not only initiates a feeding frenzy, but the clouded water also helps hide terminal tackle from wary reef species.

Perfected as a tactic for fooling line-shy yellowtail snapper, anglers throughout Gulf and Atlantic states have adopted this proven technique while making minor adaptations. It works on a lot more than yellowtail snapper, and you will notice that ingredients and mixtures vary greatly from crew to crew. When concocting a sand ball mixture you should start with a box of double ground menhaden chum. Place your thawed chum in a 5-gallon bucket and start mixing in sand. Although beach sand is free and will do the trick, most professionals utilize masonry sand because it holds together better and is more effective at clouding the water. At this point you can mix in some oatmeal and menhaden oil. If your mixture is too thick add saltwater to dilute it, while additional sand will help firm a wet mixture. The goal is to have a paste-like consistency that enables you to form small handfuls that stick together.

Once your sand ball recipe is perfected it is time to fish! The beauty of this chumming technique is that it makes it possible to bottom fish without a heavy sinker. Simply shape a chum ball around your favorite chunk bait, squid strip, ballyhoo plug or tipped jig, wrap your leader around the compacted ball four or five times, and carefully place your bait in the water. You want to avoid tossing your chum ball in the water as the impact on the surface could prematurely break the ball apart. While deploying your bait place your reel in freespool. Pulling a few arm lengths of line off the reel will help facilitate an easy ride to the bottom with little resistance. While most of your chum ball will dissolve on the way to the bottom, when line stops coming off the reel give the rod a quick snap. This will free your bait from the remaining chum and create a cloud of lip-licking goodness around your tempting treat.

While sand balling is a highly effective technique, the resulting mixture is sticky and oily. Many anglers shy away because it can be messy, but now there’s another option. Recently introduced to the retail market, Doc’s Chum Bawls (chumbawls.com) provide a simple solution for anglers not willing to take the time and effort to mix their own recipe. Developed in the Florida Keys where the tactic originated, these pre-made mixtures of finely ground fish, oil and oats take the guesswork out of chum balling. Simply insert your bait of choice into the center of the chum ball, compress, make a few wraps with your leader and you are ready to fish.

Whether you choose to shape your own fresh chum balls or if you prefer to purchase pre-made offerings, you can’t go wrong. Sand balling works!

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