On any given morning, shrimp boats up and down the Atlantic coastal inlets can be found anchoring up for the day. After a night of shrimping, the captain and crew will rest during the day. One of the chores they perform after they anchor is to pitch overboard all the by-catch in the hold from the previous night.
By-catch from these shrimp boats can be anything from baitfish to crabs to most any kind of fish that happens to get caught up in the shrimp net. As they clean the decks and the hold, this by-catch forms a huge chum line of dead fish, fish parts, and fish oil on the surface. The line of dead fish can be as long as a half mile or more in the tidal current behind the shrimper. Its this line that draws the interest of a number of fish this time of year, more specifically, tarpon. It also draws the attention of savvy anglers looking for a great morning of fishing.
Fishing these slicks is a whole lot easier than catching baitfish and building your own chum line. Simply ease up to the back of the shrimp boat and drift back with the slick in the current. I like to net several of these floating fish yellowmouth trout work well to use for bait. Then Ill anchor well back from the shrimper and place my baits right in the chum line.
I use a hypodermic needle to inject air into my bait so it will stay on the surface like the rest of the by-catch. Then I free-line drift the bait into the chum. Live pogies (menhaden shad) under a float work well also, but that requires extra effort to net your live bait up on the beach. Effortless is a key word for me!
Tarpon will pick up the scent of the chum line and begin swimming upstream, rolling and leisurely eating fish off the surface as they go. Ultimately they will get to your area, and your bait will likely be inhaled! Alternately, you can simply drift along with the chum line until you see tarpon rolling. The problem here is they will pass you quickly, and starting the engine generally causes them to sound. I prefer to anchor and wait.
Most of the tarpon we catch are fifty pounds or under, but it is not uncommon to hang fish in the 150 to 180 pound class. The book on tarpon says you will hook up with one in every five tarpon you see, and land only one in ten of those. The odds are definitely in favor of the fish.
While catching tarpon like this can be fun, you need to realize that other fish work that same chum line. By July you will find kingfish in that chum, and at most any time, you will find more sharks that any other fish. Charter captains rely on these sharks to provide excitement for their paying customers when the tarpon wont cooperate.
I have fished with chum for many years, always either the kind I bought or with baitfish I netted. This kind of chum fishing is a simple, laid-back way to hook and possibly catch a silver king, something that not every angler can take credit for! Try it yourself this weekend!