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Captain Bill Walsh
Dawn Patrol Charter Fishing
Marco Island, Florida
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The Pleasure of Fishing: Chummy fishers

Being a good fishing pal doesn't mean you have to bring a bunch of chum

By Bill Walsh

Thursday, July 27, 2006 (Naples Daily News)

These days, one of the best "games" in town is the Spanish mackerel action on just about any of the nearshore reefs.

Attracted by the huge schools of baitfish, the voracious mackerel have hung around in significant numbers right into midsummer. Usually, they have vamoosed by now, following the bait farther offshore — but good news for all of you fishers paying today's fuel prices, this action remains close to home.

However, to pull a significant number of the marauding mackerel away from the bait pods and onto jigs and shrimp, fishers end up deploying significant amounts of chum.

That fish attractant usually comes in the form of frozen blocks, but can be a liquid or, nowadays, even a powder. No matter what form it takes, it's relatively expensive, kind of messy to handle and, most of all, odoriferous.

Doing all that chum work the last few weeks to keep those mackerel hot, reminds me of a trip I had several years ago, that I remember vividly, involving a chumming experience. It was an experience that I'd sooner forget.

The main character was a fellow named Andy who arranged the trip for himself, his wife and their three young sons. Andy was sort of a fishing geek. In conversations leading up to the charter booking, he would spiel off facts on every piece of tackle, rod, reel or lure in existence.

I wasn't surprised then when he asked what type of chum I used and, upon explaining that I just used a frozen block of chum from time to time but not all the time, he was aghast.

"You mean to tell me that you're not using Uncle Lou's Extra Special Killer Chum in the backwaters or DOD Chum on the reefs?" Andy asked.

I knew I pained him with the negative answer. He instantly retorted: "I will arrange to bring all the chum for our trip. You'll see what a difference it makes."

With things being busy and such, I completely forgot about Andy's promise until he showed up at the dock on our appointed morning.

There he was in his Orvis regalia right down to the pith helmet, sporting a rather large cooler that he was struggling to bring aboard.

With everyone finally aboard, he slyly smiled, pointed to the cooler and said one word: "Chum!"

We had planned to do some fishing on the nearshore reefs and then head back inside in an hour or two on the turn of the tide. We were in the early part of spring and the promise of early-season feisty mackerel and maybe some end-of-season sheepsheads would challenge us this day.

As I prepared to anchor on an inshore reef, Andy asked that I tell him right before I deployed the anchor. When I asked the reason, he held up a contraption that looked like a child's Styrofoam surfboard, with a square hole cut in the middle that held a mesh bag in which Andy had deposited a block of his DOD Chum. A lead sash weight attached to the board by line completed the bizarre equipment that Andy held high to launch.

He let it go some 40 yards behind the boat as I anchored and after setting the rode properly, it ended up some 30-40 feet dead astern.

"This device will leach out chum at a regulated pace and bring all kinds of fish right to us — wait and see!"

He was right. We didn't have to wait very long to see.

Now one of the nuisance fish that you try to avoid in the early spring is the bait-gulping, highly aggressive, pesky baitfish known as the blue runner. If they show up, that's just about all you get ... blue runners!

In fact, lots of times we won't put any chum out until we're sure these pests aren't in the area. But the chum was there today and so were the runners. Legions of them showed up to partake of the DOD chum.

You literally could not get bait to the bottom without an attack of blue runners. We were pouring through our bait shrimp trying to keep the kids' hooks in the water and they, too, were getting frustrated. After you've caught 20 or so runners, you're ready for something else.

Undaunted at first, Andy finally came to the realization that the chum device had ruined the fishing instead of the intended purpose of enhancing it.

"OK, let's go work the backwaters," announced Andy. And after retrieving the anchor and the now odoriferous "device," we set sail for the backwater portion of the trip.

I could hardly wait to see what our "Chum-meister" would do in the placid backwaters.

The tide had turned, and we set up on a good late-season sheepshead and snapper spot. We anchored without a hitch or hint of chum deployment. That is, until Andy drew this PVC tube riddled with holes and end caps from the cooler and took aim to toss the tube some distance behind the boat tethering it with a line to a stern cleat.

"That tube is stuffed with Uncle Lou's Killer Chum. Get ready for some great action!"

I think it was on one of the son's first casts that he snared the tether line and became hopelessly entangled. Then another kid's cast did the same thing. Soon we had what looked like macramé behind the boat.

All the while, Andy's wife was fishing the front of the boat, well away from the chum, and was landing nice-size sheepshead and a few snapper. When the entanglement behind the boat was solved, all that was attracted to Uncle Lou were some small jacks and ladyfish.

Time ran out on our charter and nothing much changed for that last hour — macramé and small fish astern. Nice keepers up forward.

I felt bad for Andy as we winded our way home from the "Chumfest" with disappointing results. But he learned that chum works only in specific situations.

He kind of smiled when, after cleaning his wife's fish, I told him that if he had a compulsion to bring something on the charter next time, make it sandwiches.

Fishing Marco Island, Everglades, Naples, the 10,000 Islands, Florida