Stepping out the door at work tonight I spun around, pulled the gates shut, checked again for my keys, snapped the lock and then locked the outer door. Pleasantly absent was the chill breeze of winter. It was replaced by a welcome soft hint of spring with a touch of the balminess that portends a new season and biting fish. I love the optimism at this time of year… made all the more interesting by the big fish starting to show
As the weather continues to straighten out and the waters warm from longer days and a higher sun the local fishing just gets better and better. It’s always been fun to watch the transition of the bass bite from right on the bottom during the cold water to mid-water and ultimately right up on top with the later spring and the advent of the spawning season. We’re still a couple months away but it’s coming and in the interim one of the simple tricks to jumpstart the bite is chumming.
One of my first fishing lessons as a kid was taught to me by an older East Coast fisherman. I sadly no longer remember his name but I clearly recall the lesson. He had a neat wire cylinder about 4” in diameter and about 8” long. The base was made of lead and the ¼” mesh of the wire tube was cast right into it. It had a heavy wire handle to tie a cord to and the top hinged open to add ingredients then it would latch down. I was highly intrigued the first time I saw it.
As I’ve mentioned before I love fishing the shallow spots off Huntington Beach. Many hear “Huntington” and the think of the featureless sand flats that get loaded up with the migratory sand bass when they’re around in the summer. Not me. I think of all the little wrecks, rocks and hard bottom spots that go largely untouched from season to season. That sector is where I learned my craft and I fish it today with as much anticipation as I did nearly 50 years ago.
On that first day with the “Chum Pot” we had pulled some mussels of the dock and crushed them underfoot before taking off. On the first stop down outside the cliffs somewhere he loaded up the pot with the mussels and threw in a smooth, round rock he called a “Rattler”, snapped down the lid and slung it over the side. He rattled it up and down for a bit then pulled it back and did the same off the other side and then again off the stern. We reloaded from time to time and kept “Rattlin”. It didn’t take long to get the bass and sheephead all fired up and biting full speed.
This was a worthy lesson and it has withstood the test of time.
So now we fast-forward a bunch years to a February somewhere in the late 80’s or early 90’s. We had our booth set up early with the Fred Hall Show nearly ready to start and I thought it would be so cool to run to the Island, make a catch of seabass and bring some into the show in an ice chest. I had a hunch and some good recon and that “No pain, no gain” attitude that had served me so well for so many years. And so off we went into the night.
Rounding the East End the weather got rude but we crawled up the back a ways to the bait grounds and got set up. Luckily the bait making was good and we got fat quickly. A short move got us relocated on the spot I wanted for daylight and then it was time for a quick couple hours of much needed sack time. And by 0430 we were back up…choppin and chummin.
I was marking the seabass along with miscellaneous sharks and rays and they were bitin’. It’s frustrating to keep dealing with that riff raff but it comes with the territory. And we kept steady handfuls of fresh cut squid rings going over side…port, stbd, port, stbd…always remembering the time-tested mantra “You’ve got to get the smell in the water”.
We hooked our first seabass with the first blush of dawn’s color on the horizon.
They bit full speed. The setup was perfect; a nice trickle of downhill current leading right into an edge of kelp. We got our limits and I turned it over to Allyn on the Dreamer and they loaded up and then it was over…long before the sun got up over the island. In the gray, my favorite time of day. We had to haul ass back but we made the show in time and those seabass were a huge hit.
The above story is just one of a zillion I have that highlight the importance of choppin and chummin. I’ve seen it proven time after time as we mark fish for a long while until conditions change and they start to bite. When we clean the fish later…they’re stuffed full of squid rings. The key is consistency. It’s not so much about throwing tonnage of bait but more about the unbroken smell trail in the water, just a handful at a time…port, stbd, port, stbd… “You’ve got to keep the smell in the water”.
For years I had the perfect tool for the job. Just picture an oil drain pan with a wood topped island molded into the center. You could chop your squid, gather up a bunch then take the container to the side of the boat to do the dispersal. So much less mess that way. It was a part from back east somewhere and I’ve not seen any more for over 25 years. Mine finally met an untimely death and so on the cusp of a new season I got busy in my shop and built a functional substitute. Not quite as state-of-the art as the original but it works. And I can make the cutting board from the starboard leftover from our regular production work.
Just in the last couple of days a bunch of new squid has moved in to the Island. And right with it is more volume of seabass, right on schedule, and they’re bitin. I’m fishing halibut tomorrow (my buddy Brian got a 42# monster today) and then it’s show time again in Del Mar and after that it’s time to go fishin. And from the way conditions look now we’ll run across, make some bait, get setup somewhere and start choppin and chummin up those seabass I love to catch!!!