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Fishing the Chum Slicks
written by Ron Brooks

Learning these few tips about shrimpers and trawlers can put you onto some really big fish.
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U.S. Navy Pilot Brian Bartlett shows off his chum line false albacore.

From Texas all the way around and up the East Coast, shrimp boats ply near shore waters in search of pink gold. More often than not, their work "day" is actually at night, and while the crew sleeps during the day, savvy anglers can catch fish right under the shrimp boat's nose!

Shrimpers deal with by-catch every day. Dragging the ocean bottom for shrimp necessarily traps numerous smaller fish and crabs in the nets — fish like small croaker, spots, drum, white trout and whiting. Part of the crew work on a shrimper is to separate the by-catch from the shrimp. It's this by-catch that is important to the daytime anglers.

After dragging nets all night, shrimpers will anchor up, often in a group, and go through their morning routine, cleaning equipment and washing by-catch over the stern. A good shrimper captain will do one of a couple of things. First, he is more than happy to offer a courteous angler a bucket or two of by-catch, and second, he is perfectly happy allowing boats that mind their manners to anchor up and fish in the wake of their anchorage. Of course a nice "thank you" gesture from the angler in the form of cash or liquid refreshment goes a long way!

A good rule of thumb to follow is only approach an anchored working boat if you see activity on the deck. If there is no activity, the captain and crew are more than likely sleeping. The best advice is — let them sleep!

As the these shrimp boats purge their catch holds, and sweep by-catch overboard, a line of chum forms in their wake that provides a feeding source for a variety of fish. Setting up behind a shrimper, in the chum line puts anglers right in the middle of what can become a feeding frenzy — a sort of shopping mall food court for fish.

The chum draws both bottom feeders and pelagic feeders, so be prepared for anything. Using the dead fish as bait — cut in half — on bottom rigs can produce red drum, cobia, sharks and even large flounder. Drifting whole dead fish back in the chum line on top of the water will produce a variety of top feeders, including tarpon, bluefish, Spanish and even king mackerel. Many anglers use a hypodermic to put air in the bait and keep it on the surface for these top feeding fish.

It is not uncommon to find a school of tarpon rolling and leisurely feeding on the by-catch coming their way.  All these feeding fish, including tarpon, will be moving up current seeking the source of the chum. Anglers have only to sit and wait.

Some shrimpers fish the daylight hours. They, along with the large fish trawlers, offer another opportunity for near shore anglers, only this time the anglers will be on the move.

These boats drag their nets along and just off the bottom, stirring up sea life. Feeding fish will follow behind the nets, eating any and everything that comes their way.

Fishing behind a working commercial boat requires patience and knowledge. This is where courtesy becomes a real necessity. Commercial captains can be quite vocal when an angler ventures too close.

Nets that are under water extend quite a distance behind the boat. Pay attention to the rode of the net lines and the depth of the water to determine how far back the nets many extend. Then, make sure you stay well behind the nets. One thing that makes a working boat captain really ill is for recreational anglers to hook into his nets.

Fly fishing anglers can have success with a weighted clouser or deceiver fly.

Anglers fishing behind working boats generally use artificial lures like jigs or spoons, working the area behind the nets. Schooling fish like mackerel and bluefish can be caught in the usually muddy wake. King mackerel, bonito and false albacore also follow the nets and are willing to strike almost any lure presented to them.

In recent years, fly fishing anglers have gotten into the mix following the nets and looking for false albacore. Using sinking fly line, anglers run up behind a working boat and "dump" all their line, allowing it to sink straight down. As their boat sits at idle, the angler strips a weighted clouser or deceiver fly straight back to the boat.

Strikes are fast and furious, and fly tackle lighter than about nine weight will take a real beating. Eleven-weight tackle often takes 30 minutes or more to wrestle a fighting albacore to the boat.

Not a fly fisherman? No worries, mate! Spinning tackle can do the same thing as a fly outfit on albacore simply by using small spoons. Make sure the reel holds several hundred yards of line, because a 15-pound albacore or bonito will run all of it out in short order.

If bluefish, Spanish or king mackerel show up in the chum, anglers will need to use about 6 inches of wire leader to prevent cut-offs. Start with a normal monofilament leader or tippet. If you get cut off once or twice, it means a toothy species is down there and you can react accordingly.

Fishing these chum slicks in the wake of working boats, while somewhat specialized, can be done year 'round when the weather permits. Remember your manners and stay out of the way of the working boat. They are out there trying to make a living while you enjoy your day fishing. Keep that in mind!

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