Roll-your-own or commercial mix—they all do the job.

Commercial fish food meal, top left, mixed with menhaden oil, above,
creates a paste, left, that will draw sardines from a long ways off.

The bait chum mixes brewed up by coastal anglers would work nicely as crowd-dispersers, at least as effective as tear gas in chasing away unruly mobs. They could also replace many types of commercial adhesive; once the stuff dries on your boat, it’s there until you go after it with a chisel. And of course it can be used as emergency rations if you’re ever wrecked on a deserted island . . . well, maybe not, though I know a few salty old guides who taste their mix to make sure it’s right before starting to dribble it over the side. Iron men with iron stomachs.

But there’s no question that the classic mix for chumming scaled sardines, pinfish and other bait—canned jack mackerel and whole wheat bread—is highly effective. It’s moderate in cost, and if kept on ice you can use one bucket for several days. (If you forget to ice it, on the other hand, you may not be able to use your boat for several days!)

Most who have been at the baitcatching game long add a few special ingredients to the mix. Menhaden oil is a favorite, and by far the most effective; when the slick from this stuff starts to spread, bait comes from every direction. Canned sardines in oil are stinky but effective. Some also like anise oil. Why bait would like this licorice smell is open to conjecture, but some of the most seasoned pros in the business, including Capt. Scott Moore of Holmes Beach, swear by it.

Captain Nick Winger of Tampa omits the bread and instead uses commercial fish food meal of the sort used on tropical fish farms as the grain base of his chum, adding only a cup of menhaden oil and a bit of water to several pounds of the meal. Stinky but highly effective.

“The big secret to making chum work is to get where the bait is to begin with,” says Winger. “That’s usually the outside edge of a grassflat, around a shallow marker, or over an offshore bar where you’ve got good current flow. If there’s no current, the chum is not going to work, no matter how good it is, so move until you find current before you start chumming.”

There are several commercial dry chum mixes on the market, most also based on commercial fish food with added secret ingredients devised by long-time bait-catchers. They do not stink, nearly so badly, as fresh-mix, and seem to work well.

Captain Van Hubbard of Englewood, who has been marketing “Captain Van’s Magic Chum” for some 15 years, offers these tips, whatever chum you use:

“Chum them, but don’t feed them,” says Hubbard. “You want just enough chum in the water to keep the bait close, and then right before you throw the net you put a ball of it right where you want the net to center, let them rush in and then toss the net. And make really sure that first throw is perfect—a lot of times if that throw is good, you’ll have enough bait to fish all morning. If you throw a banana, on the other hand, the bait gets smart and hard to pull back in.”

Captain Dave Markett of Tampa, who markets “Captain Dave Markett’s Chum Magic” in jute bags, also has some effective advice:

“Be patient—don’t get in a hurry to make a throw; let that chum work and it will call bait in from a hundred yards downcurrent. When the water is just swarming with bait, that’s the time to make your throw. Otherwise, it’s a few here and a few there—hard work and it wastes fishing time.”

Markett also notes that in strong current, it’s smart to put the chumbag on the uptide end of the boat and throw the net from the downtide end—otherwise, the chum winds up too far downstream from where you want it for a good throw.

And of course, the deeper the water, the longer it’s likely to take for the chum to lure in the bait. Patience is a virtue—but if you chum for 15 minutes and don’t draw a crowd, you’re not in the right spot.

Purina is one of the largest makers of fish food; visit to locate a feed store near you that carries their products. Menhaden oil is available at most coastal baitshops as is Captain Van’s Magic Chum, or contact for bulk purchases. For Captain Dave Markett’s Chum Magic, call (865) 806 3289 for details. – FS

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