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Saltwater Chumming: A Complete Guide to Using Chum in the Salt

Written by: John B
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The logic behind chumming is simple and convincing: by offering fish something that smells and tastes good, they are simultaneously attracted to where you’re fishing and primed to strike.

And there’s simply no question that chumming works.

In some cases, chumming is as simple as throwing a handful of corn into the water, but in others, it’s a complex task that takes the full attention of one angler.

If you want to know more about chumming, as well as its legality, you’re come to the right place!

Below, we’ll cover the basics, introduce you to some effective techniques, and discuss whether chumming is legal.

Related: Saltwater Fishing Tips

What is chumming?

how to chum

Chumming is the practice of “baiting” fish to attract them and prime them to feed actively. It can range from spreading grains or dog food into a pond to attract carp or panfish, to using blood and fish oil to create a slick that other anglers fish.

The techniques are only limited by anglers’ imaginations, and I’ve seen everything from bait bags leaking bloody bits of fish to meat grinders mounted on the bow of a charter boat.

Before you even consider chumming, check with your local department of fisheries. State law varies quite a bit, and there may even be different rules for fresh and saltwater where you live.

And laws have changed very recently in some places; don’t rely on “What use to be true!”

For instance, in 2019, Florida banned chumming from shore and piers. 

From that point forward, Kerry Sheridan reports that “People who fish for sharks in Florida will soon have to get a special permit. State wildlife officials are also banning chumming from shore, which involves dropping fish parts and blood into the water to attract sharks. The changes to fishing from beaches and piers were made after a series of public meetings, held statewide over the past several months.”

How Does Chumming Work?

Most species of fish are very sensitive to scents dissolved in the water.

how does chumming work

Catfish, for instance, "can smell some compounds at one part to 10 billion parts of water.” According to Dr. John Caprio of Louisiana State University, “Catfish are swimming tongues … You can't touch any place on a catfish without touching thousands of taste buds. To use an analogy, it's as if the tip of your tongue grew out and covered your body." 

Sharks are no less amazing in this respect. Scientists at the University of Hawaii, Manoa say that “sharks can smell blood from hundreds of meters away,” explaining why chumming can attract big fish quickly.

When you chum, microscopic particles of the food source you introduce are distributed into the water, floating with the current. When fish detect that smell, it’s like passing a bakery with an empty stomach is for you - and they’re taken by an almost irresistible urge to show up and investigate the possibility of a free meal.

Different methods of chumming - and different conditions - affect its effectiveness, with some methods being better suited to calm, still water and other to stronger currents.

Common Chumming Methods

There’s no question that chumming is more common in saltwater angling, where the need to attract fish across vast distances drives the practice.

Some anglers do chum for catfish, and I’ve seen corn chumming for carp as well as dog food chumming for bluegill. Keep in mind that chumming in freshwater is often illegal, and we do not condone breaking the law.

In the spirit of that, we’ll focus on saltwater chumming, which is widely accepted and generally legal from a boat offshore.

Chunking

Chunking is a method of chumming in which chunks of cut bait are thrown into the water while the boat moves slowly forward. The result is a line or trail of scent, as well as bits of free food, that attract fish effectively.

And when used in combination with hooks armed with the same bait, you can expect that fish are well and truly primed to strike!

Chunking well demands that you go slow and don’t over-do it. A slow, steady stream of cut bait is better than a big dump, and judicious use of your available chunk lets you fish all day.

Chunking also requires that you let your baited hooks drift right into the chum line, at just the same speed, and the best way to accomplish this is to pull line from your spool by hand, keeping loops of slack on the water to ensure that the hook descends at exactly the same pace as the chum.

Circle hooks are essential for this technique,m as your hands will be busy with the line and you won’t have the rod in your hand to set your hook.

Chum bags

A properly prepared chum bag does an amazing job at leaking blood, oil, and tiny particles into the water, attracting fish to your boat and bait.

Typically, frozen ground menhaden, sardines, or pinfish are loaded into a chum bag, which is then tied off to the bow and allowed to do its thing.

The size of the holes in the netting makes a huge difference: larger holes allow more chum to escape the bag, attracting larger species but also depleting your chum block much more quickly.

Recipes for chum are pretty simple, typically ground bait fish, oats, and perhaps a bit of menhaden oil:

Sand ball chumming

Creating chum that’s a mixture of fish and sand may sound crazy, but the effect is two-fold.

First, it helps you chum sink quickly, targeting fish that are deeper in the water column. Second, it can actually help disperse your chum more broadly, as it doesn’t disintegrate immediately, keeping it shape and form for longer.

sand ball chumming

Sand balls disperse chum as they sink, slowly releasing their scent into the water.

The trick is to start with fresh or thawed fish, so that it can be worked properly for snapper and other deep-feeding species.

Start with a five-gallon bucket filled about ¼ full with dry sand. Pour the thawed chum into the bucket, and knead the mix until you get something that looks like peanut butter. It should be thick and sticky, erring on the thick side.

Form the mix into balls and gently drop them into the water.

Wait a few minutes after the first ball sinks, and drop your live bait to the bottom. Then keep chumming with sand balls.

You’ll be shocked by how effective this is!

Chumming Tips

Watch the tide and current

You really want to control where you chum goes, especially if you’re using a chum bag.

You need to keep that trail of scent where it can do you some good, and that means keeping track of the current and tide. 

A meandering slick is harder to fish than a relatively straight line, and in the same vein, a slick that’s traveled far to the side isn’t going to help you if you’re casting aft.

Start as soon as you arrive

Chum takes time to work, so start as soon as you arrive at your fishing spot. 

My angling allies chum first and rig their tackle while it does its thing. That way, the fish are ready when they’re ready to catch them.

Don’t over-do it

This bears repeating - too much chum is simply too much.

A little goes a long way, and you don’t want to be feeding fish but rather attracting them.

Where to Chum

While the ocean might look monotonous on the surface, below the water, there’s an entire topography that affects where fish live and hunt.

where to chum

Near anything that breaks the monotony of a flat bottom is a good place to chum.

Any hump or change in the bottom that forces nutrient-rich water from the depths upward is going to create an entire local ecosystem, including hungry apex predators. Locating these places with powerful fishing electronics is essential for success.

Deep channels and ravines are also places where you’ll find pelagic species hunting, and chumming near these can result in really big fish coming up to take a look.

Wrecks, reefs, and other structure that breaks the monotony of a flat bottom are also excellent options to explore.

Just remember: your chum will float with the current and tide, so use these forces to your advantage and position your boat so your chum can be most effective.

Final Thoughts

Chumming is almost a necessity in some areas, and inshore and offshore anglers really need to master the various techniques to discover what works for them and the species they’re after.

We hope that this article has helped you better understand how to chum, and as always, we’d love to hear from you if you have any questions or comments.

Please leave a message below!

About The Author
John B
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
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