by George Poveromo

Chum can be a powerful weapon in the angler's battle to attract fish. But not all chum is created equal.
The right kind of chum will draw fish to your boat.
Chum has rescued me from the skunk more than once, bringing in the fish and turning on the bite when neither seemed possible any other way. Many anglers think chum is chum, but different types work in different ways on different fish. Successful chumming begins with choosing the right type for the targeted species.

There are four main types of chum available to anglers. While each will attract fish, some will prove substantially better than others in specific fishing situations. Here's a quick rundown of the kinds of chum and how to use them.


You're Grounded
Ground-fish chum is made from the carcasses of dolphin, amberjack, grouper and anything else that happens to be in the fish house at the time. Commercial fish houses grind up the scraps and sell it as chum, rather than paying to have them removed. This chum is not very oily, since it is primarily ground bones, heads and skin. The dispersal of particles, rather than the scent of the slick, attracts the fish. Relatively inexpensive, ground-fish chum is especially productive for snapper and grouper, Spanish and cero mackerel and other fish that hold on or near structure. It is a good base for target chumming into such structure and wrecks, where its larger particles are picked off by these fish. Smaller fish, such as blue runners and other baitfish, also rally to the pieces. The particles of food filtering back, plus the commotion of bait and gamefish frantically feeding, attracts even more fish.


Mess of Menhaden
Menhaden-based chums emit an oily, heavily scented slick and are widely used for everything from bottom fish such as yellowtail snapper, grouper and flounder to pelagics such as sharks, mackerel and tuna. Available in both coarse and fine blends, menhaden chum is effective for target-chumming directly into structure and is exceptional for dispersing a scent trail over a broad area.


Similar to ground-fish chum, the coarse menhaden block is ground just once and contains larger particles, great to get the fish into a feeding mood. The big difference here, compared to ground-fish chum, is that menhaden chum also draws in fish via its prominent, oily trail.


Fine-blend is made by running the menhaden through the grinder twice, making for a labor-intensive, more expensive product. Fine-blend chum is a favorite among those who target yellowtail and mutton snapper, or for those looking to draw in live bait such as pilchards, tinker mackerel and ballyhoo.


"The difference between the coarse-ground and fine-ground chum is that one draws in fish by feeding them, and the other uses scent," says Pat Lynch at Bionic Bait, a major bait-and-chum distributor in Pompano Beach, Florida. Lynch says Bionic Bait adds Menhaden Milk — an emulsified form of menhaden oil — to its fine-ground menhaden blocks, while coarse-ground chum is available with or without the additive.


Packed Like Sardines
Another premium chum available to anglers is comprised of coarse-ground Pacific sardines. Sold as Captain Mark's Fishing Chum, sardine chum emits an oily slick and a strong fish-attracting scent and disperses well throughout an area.


"It is pure sardines, ground up," says Mark Mercer of Captain Mark's. "A block lays down a slick like an oil tanker, while releasing tiny pieces of meat that filter down through the water. The chum offers a good combination of scent and particle distribution." Available in a six-pound block in its own chum bag, sardine chum attracts various bottom fish, bluefish, sharks and baitfish, and is so effective on yellowtail snapper that several commercial hook-and-line fishermen use it exclusively. It has also proved its worth on king mackerel.


Herring Test
Herring chum has gained in popularity. Sold in sealed logs, Double Strike brand herring chum needs no refrigeration and is made of fine-ground North Atlantic herring along with a "proprietary" additive. It disperses a cloudy, scent-laden trail that attracts everything from baitfish to sharks.


This chum is dispersed in two ways: A plastic-sealed log is tossed into a mesh chum bag, then punctured with a knife. The rate of dispersal is governed by the number and size of slits into the bag. The other option, and a favorite of mine, is to dump the contents of a few logs into a five-gallon bucket and ladle it over as a supplement to a frozen chum. It makes a super additive, and I've done very well with it on yellowtail and mutton snapper, big grouper, cero and Spanish mackerel and big kingfish. This chum is ideal for broadcasting a scent trail over a wide area.


Flounder and yellowtail snapper fishermen requested a version of the chum available with cracked corn, and it rallies yellowtail snapper very well. Double Strike is used for bluefish, striped bass, king mackerel, fluke, flounder and sharks.


Herring chum is also sold frozen and has a strong scent and oily base.

"Herring is a major forage of a lot of gamefish," says Mark Pumo at Baitmasters in Miami, a supplier of bait and chum. "So it's a very effective chum that emits a scent that triggers a lot of fish into feeding." Pumo estimates that herring chum is roughly half the price of premium menhaden chum, and is not as finely ground. But it disperses well and leaves no scraps to hang up in the chum bag.


Precision Chumming
There's more to chum than just choosing the correct mix. To be effective, the chum must reach the target area, within range of the senses of the fish. For example, if you're looking to pull fish out of a reef or wreck, the chum must filter back into that lair to be effective. If it streams well above the structure, it won't do much good.


Take into consideration the depth, current and wind when setting up to anchor and chum a piece of structure. Anchor far enough ahead of your target to where the chum will drift down and into the zone. Such precision isn't necessary if you're looking to pull in pelagic species that roam the middle and upper water columns. For them, broadcast your chum over a stretch of water that these fish are likely to frequent.

Not all predators key on the chum. Sometimes the activity of forage fish draws their attention.

Another consideration is the chum's dispersal rate. If fish are holding well back in the slick, try slowing down the flow and forcing them to move closer to the boat. Also, if it appears their appetite is waning, perhaps too much chum has gone into the water — slow the rate.


To optimize your chum, carry both fine and large mesh chum bags. If you're looking to increase the chum flow, or spice the slick with larger bits of chum, go with the large mesh. Conversely, if you want to slow the chum flow and keep the particles to a minimum in the slick, go with the fine mesh bag.


Chumming may not be the cleanest, sweetest-smelling form of fishing, but it produces wonderful results. Get a handle on the best type of chum for your kind of fishing, tweak the dispersal, and you'll see your catch rates soar.