Chumming: A New Twist To An Old Trick
A few summers ago my wife Jean and I went to Honolulu, Hawaii for my only daughter's wedding. We had planned to spend a week on Oahu, a week on the big island of Hawaii, and a week on Lanai, the island where my wife was born and raised.
It was to be my first trip back to Hawaii in some 25 years. I wanted to do a lot of fishing where ever I went. To that end, I took two of my favorite fishing rigs on the trip with me. Jean questioned the wisdom of taking fishing tackle on the airlines, and even worse, on the small commuter airlines that fly between the islands. She assured me there would be plenty of tackle to use, once I got to Hawaii. I explained that fishing tackle was like underwear....very personal, and that I didn't want to wear anyone else's underwear. I don't think she really understood.
Fishing in Hawaii proved to be a real revelation. Bank fishing proved to be not only dangerous, but extremely costly in terms of tackle. I quickly learned that before you cast your tackle out to sea, you kiss it good-bye, because you're never going to see it again. The shore fishing techniques the Hawaiians have evolved are truly unique.
Offshore trolling and bottom fishing in Hawaii proved to be equally unique. I'll never forget the day of fishing that Jean arranged for me with her old friend Pete Agliam. Pete is an old Fillipino man who has fished the waters around Lanai all his life. We went fishing off Lanai in his very old and worn looking 17 footer. It was a curious boat to a Florida boy. It was absolutely full of anchor rope and hand lines.
We trolled for a while, and caught some nice tuna. I was amazed to see Pete trolling and landing substantial fish with hand lines. Eventually, I asked Pete if we were going to do any bottom fishing. Pete responded that it was, "too cold down daya." but, agreed to humor me. But, he asked me, "What chou tink you gonna catch wid dem liddle poles. Too small! No can catch." I couldn't imagine what he could be talking about, and challenged that I could catch anything with my poles that he could catch with his tackle. Wrong! Man, I couldn't even reach the bottom! We were no more than a quarter mile off the cliffs of Lanai, and I couldn't reach the bottom. The bottom turned out to be more than 600 feet down.
The whole incident proved to be kind of embarrassing, but very educational. Pete was fishing with a very basic hand line of 120 pound test dacron. On the business end was attached a stainless spreader rig with a leader and drop-hook on each side. The real interesting part of this rig was in the middle. Hanging from the center of this spreader rig was a denim bag used to carry chum to the bottom far below. The bag was sewn in a cone shape, with a triangular shaped flap hanging out that could be tucked into the main bag to keep the chum from falling out.
When I questioned Pete about the bag he explained to me that he would fill the bag with chum, tuck in the flap, and send the chum bag to the bottom. The water pressure on the flap on the bottom of the bag would keep the flap from opening until the bag reached the bottom. Once the rig reached the bottom, Pete would give a couple of sharp jerks on the line, and the flap would open, dumping the chum out right where the baited hooks were. How clever! He was putting the chum right where the hooks were. And it worked. He was catching fish, although he was complaining that it was too cold at that extreme depth.
Well, I figured that if this worked in Hawaii, it should work in Florida, maybe scaled down a bit. So, when I got home, I quickly sacrificed an old pair of jeans, and sewed some chum bags. I cut some 12 inch squares of denim from old jeans and sewed them from one corner. Once sewn and turned inside-out, you have a cone-shaped bag with a triangular shaped tail on it.
I sewed six of these bags. Then, I put them away and promptly forgot about them. It wasn't until a grouper tournament earlier this year that I thought about them again. I had sewn six of the chum bags. I dug them out, filled them with the nastiest chum I could find, and froze them. When we got to our spot 25 miles offshore on the morning of the tournament, I hung one of the frozen chum bags on my double grouper rig, and lowered it down. My crew and I proceeded to catch and release more than sixty red grouper, many snapper, and several little tunny that day, while using six chum bags. We didn't win the tournament, but if it had been a tournament for the most fish caught, we would have won hands down. All of our fish were running five to eleven pounds, but the winning fish was around thirty pounds. Bottom line We caught a lot of fish and had a great day. The chum bags worked. Successive trips using the bags have yielded similar results.
Why do the chum bags work? Because they put the chum right down where the baited hooks are. Most chum systems put chum out on the surface, or in a general area down-current from the boat. This system puts the chum right where you're fishing. That's why they can be so effective for deep-water bottom fishing.
Where will this system work? I've got to believe that if it works in Hawaii, and it works on the west coast of Florida, that it will work anywhere in between where you're fishing deep.
O.K., so you say you'd like to make some of these nifty chum bags and try them. Well, go get out an old pair of jeans, and let's get started. First split the legs open. Then, cut squares of denim about 12 x 12 inches. At this point, I should state that you need to have a sewing machine handy, but, you don't need to know how to sew. Have your wife set the machine up with the proper tension for the double layer of denim you'll be sewing. Then, start at any corner of the cloth, and fold the material back onto itself from the corner, aligning the edges of the cloth. Sew down the edge of the cloth. After removing from the sewing machine, turn the piece inside out, and you will have a cone shaped cloth with a triangular shaped tail on large the open end.
Now insert an eight ounce bank sinker attached to a snap swivel or heavy mono up through the small open end of the pouch, and tie wrap the swivel so it's just exposed out of the top of the bag. You now have a chum bag with a weight anchored up in the inside top of the bag. It's ready to clip onto your main line using the swivel eye exposed at the top of the bag.
Now, we're ready to fill the bag with chum. Hold the bag upside-down, with the open end up, and fill it with the chum of your choice. Pack the chum down into the bag, filling the point of the bag, and stuffing the chum all around the weight. Now, tuck in the flap, lay the bag in a storage box, and place in the freezer. When you're ready for an offshore trip, your chum bags will be ready, too. When attached to your grouper rigs where your normal weights would be, the bags act as a weighted time release chum system. And, once all the chum has dropped out of the bag, you still have the sinker inside the bag to keep your rig down where it belongs.
Here, we should talk about the rest of your terminal tackle. To properly use this chum system, you'll probably have to rethink the way you presently rig for grouper and other bottom fish. I never have liked the conventional grouper rig, anyway. If you think about it, what have you got. You've typically got a very large sliding weight suspended a short distance above the hook and leader. We're asking the grouper to come to dinner, and when he does, we threaten to beat him over the head with a large piece of lead. I think there's a better way.
You'll need to run down to your favorite tackle shop to pick up a few supplies if you don't already have them. You'll need a spool of leader line, preferably 300 pound test Ande. You'll also need to buy a good pair of crimping pliers, line crimps (preferably black), some large three-way swivels, and some JAP hooks in whatever size you prefer to fish. Now you're ready to build an improved bottom fishing rig that's perfectly suited for use with the chum bags.
Begin building your leader by attaching an 18 inch length of mon9 to one of the swivels. Attach one of the JAP hooks to the other end. From the adjacent eye of the swivel, run another length of mono just a few inches longer than the first. Attach the other end of this drop line to a second three-way swivel. From the second eye of the lower swivel, run another piece of mono about three feet long. To the other end of this leader attach a second JAP hook, maybe a size larger than the other hook. From the remaining eye of the second (bottom) swivel, attach a short length of mono which is lighter in test than your main fishing line. At the other end, attach a snap swivel.
You now have an improved grouper rig. Attach the chum bag to the small drop line, which will break off before your main line breaks, should it get snagged on the bottom. The heavy mono leaders will tend to lay out flat, and not tangle with each other. I usually fish a live bait on one hook, and a cut bait on the other. You'll often find you're catching grouper two at a time if you don't get to anxious to reel up when you get the first bite. Grouper travel in pairs, and the mate is often excited into striking the remaining bait when he sees it being dragged around by his mate. The JAP hooks are great for making hookups without you actually setting the hook, and will almost always hook the fish right around the jawbone.
So, there you have it. If you keep a bucket of chum on board, you can fill the bag every time you retrieve your line to check and change baits, and always keep a chum slick going right where your putting your bait. If you'll make up some of these small chum bags, and use them, I can almost guarantee you you'll catch more fish.
Those Hawaiians are pretty smart, huh?
By Capt.Butch Rickey
This technique should be attributed to filipinos since Mr. Pete Agliam is a filipino. This technique is also used by local filipino fishermen including my "bangkero" or fishing guide in Bolinao, Mang Eddie. However, the original technique used by the local fishermen is that they used a thin plastic sheet sourced from plastic bags or "supot". - John