Freedom Fighters

Whether you enjoy plying fertile offshore waters, lush grass flats or anywhere in between, there’s no method as effective at increasing your score as live chumming. While both frozen and fresh chum can at times offer non-stop action, typical ground chum relies on scent dispersal to trigger aggressive responses. Live chum on the other hand creates vibrations and distress signals that game fish are genetically programmed to respond to. They simply can’t ignore the attraction. But before we get ahead of ourselves it’s important to note that live chumming is so productive that most tournaments outlaw this highly effective practice.


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The secret lies in chumming just enough to keep the fish interested without overfeeding them. Photo: Steve Dougherty

The most important aspect of live chumming lies in the preparation. While anglers can no doubt catch a quality supply of fresh offerings with a Sabiki rig, a cast net is much more suitable when baitfish are desired in such large quantities. The most effective cast nets for obtaining a healthy supply of live bait have an 8 to 12-foot diameter. When thrown properly, and in the right area, large nets minimize the amount of effort required to obtain the desired results. And if you hit the motherlode it’s feasible to blackout your well with one solid toss. Of course, a cast net is worthless if you don’t have the proper livewell to maintain your precious offerings.

One rule of thumb you must follow is to make sure that your hook baits are larger than the ones you are throwing as chum.

The bigger the livewell the better, although there’s no magic number. The capacity is in direct correlation to the hours you spend on the water and the species in your crosshairs. The offshore battlewagon I fish has an astonishing 370 gallons of livewell capacity with a 4,400 GPH pump system. This might seem like overkill, but I can assure you the setup has helped our success tremendously.

Once you’re equipped with the proper net(s) and livewell system, the next step is to find the right bait. If I’m heading offshore in search of larger targets I like to throw 3 to 4-inch baits. One rule of thumb you must follow is to make sure that your hook baits are larger than the ones you are throwing as chum. Start by culling the larger offerings and if at all possible, store them in a separate livewell. Of course, sometimes you have to take what you can get, as procuring a variety isn’t always feasible.

Now that a quality supply has been gathered, and you’ve arrived at a promising area to fish, there are a few things you can do to maximize your efforts. When drifting in deeper water for kingfish, tuna, sailfish and wahoo, start by throwing a net full of baits into the water after setting your spread. The freebies’ natural instinct will be to school up and take cover under the closest structure—your boat. Right from the start you have created a nervous school of baitfish that will stick around for the duration of your drift, luring predators into close proximity where they will hopefully gobble up one of your hook baits.

The next step is to begin a steady stream of live chum with wounded baits that will drift away from the boat. One approach is to cut off the tail with a pair of sharp shears before tossing the bait in the water. This will force the “freedom fighters” to swim in a spiral on their way to a watery grave. The second method involves squeezing the bait in your hand. This will stun the baits and make them frantically swim in erratic patterns on the surface as they drift away from the boat. This technique is a longstanding favorite for anglers targeting aggressive pelagics. Whichever method you choose, the trick is to chum just enough to keep the fish interested without overfeeding them. It’s a balancing act that takes time to master and practice to perfect.

Don’t think for one second that live chumming is only effective when plying offshore waters. When fishing the backcountry I like to find baits in the 2 to 3-inch range. These may include pilchard, sardines, herring, scad, pinfish or any other small forage species. While fishing inshore waters around flats, docks, bridges and shallow oyster bars I like to use a slightly different approach. With a bait slinger, which is simply a modified plastic baseball bat with the end cut off, I can increase my range. Fill the bat with baitfish and give it a couple tosses in each direction around the boat. If there are any snook, redfish, jack, tarpon or trout in the area they will make their presence known fairly quickly. Cast your hooked baits or lures towards the commotion and hang on!

Whichever way you choose to start your live chumming adventure, taking the extra steps to prepare for this kind of fishing can keep you on a hot bite longer. When it comes to creating irresistible action both inshore and off, live chumming can’t be beat. While it can at times be challenging to procure a healthy supply of live offerings to keep you in the game for an extended length of time, the results will certainly be well worth the effort.