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Chum the Flats

How and where to chum the flats.

Double release on permit, the result of casting to a school of fish lured in by chum.


Sight casting on the flats is challenging enough when the fish join the party. But it gets really frustrating when fish are few and far between.

Chumming is a great remedy. It brings more fish into casting range, and it can get them in the mood to eat. It can be a day-saver when water temps are at the low or high end of a fish's tolerance range.

For redfish, bonefish and permit, fresh shrimp and crab are top-shelf chum baits. Oyster, clam and squid can work, too. We won't discuss live chumming with finfish here (effective for redfish, especially) so don't fret if your boat lacks a livewell.



Choice Current



First consideration for effective chumming is current. Flats fish use current to locate their prey by smell. Stronger current, typical during spring tides carries scent farther and more quickly. Because flats chumming is primarily used to bring fish from deep to shallower water, falling tides are best.

Determining the best spot to chum depends upon the makeup and size of the flat. Shoreline flats—long stretches of shallows running parallel to land masses such as the Atlantic side of Islamorada or Key Largo—don't present as obvious a starting point as, say, “toothpick” flats such as those found south of Biscayne Bay's Cape Florida (Stiltsville), or channel-edge flats found all along the Florida Keys tract, particularly at the highway bridges. Sometimes the current on neap moons (quarter phases) can be weak along shoreline flats. The water drops and rises vertically mostly, though chumming can still produce. On these weaker tides, I've enjoyed greater success on oceanside or midbay flats. These flats are swept with stronger current on average due to proximity to the ocean and surrounding depths.

On a budget? You can make your own chum tube.


Pick Your Position



Anchor or stake out with a pushpole where the bottom is soft, uptide of lightcolored bottom (sand or mixed grass and sand) that allows you to easily spot incoming fish. On sunny days with a basically flat surface, bones, reds and permit show well over solid turtle or shoal grass when swimming at you. But cloud cover and wind chop can make it tougher. Big fish, such as trophy bones, bull reds and permit, that are fired up can come in hot and push a noticeable wake. Other times, they ghost in, slowly grubbing in the bottom to find the sources of the scent.

If you are chumming where the shallows abut a channel, don't crowd the channel edge. Give yourself more time to see the fish by positioning your boat at least 50 feet or so inside the dropoff, if not more to allow you a bigger window to see the fish and make an accurate cast. And keep the size of your quarry in mind— you'll need at least two to three feet of water if chumming for permit, due to their body depth, and you may have better results where it's even a bit deeper. Bones can comfortably forage in a foot of water but are more comfortable in two feet (especially true for those Florida double-digit-weight trophies).

A footlong section of schedule 40 PVC is converted into a handy container for broadcasting a chum slick in shallow water.


I first heard of chumming the flats for bones and permit back in the 1970s when Capt. Bill Curtis popularized the practice in Biscayne Bay. Curtis chose live or freshdead shrimp and diced them with a bait knife. He liked to scatter the shrimp bits by hand, broadcasting them widely, and at various distances, over light-colored bottom downtide of his staked skiff. This method is preferable unless there are bait-stealers around, such as pinfish, mojarra and little snappers. Then, it pays to go to a custom-made PVC or commercial chum tube or wire-mesh cage. And a mesh chum bag is an option. The tubes and cages save your expensive shrimp or blue crab meat, but produce a more condensed chum line, some anglers theorize. I'm not so convinced that the tubes actually do this. You'll have to make your own determination. I do know that baitstealers can go through 20 bucks of chum shrimp in a hurry. And in the summer, shrimp can be especially “shrimpy,” forcing you to use more at one time. FS

First Published Florida Sportsman Magazine May 2016




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