The lowest rung in the catfish world is occupied by chummers and trotliners. Most major tournament organizations across the heartland, for example, don’t allow either group to employ their favorite technique. Rule 6 of the United States Catfish Angler Tournament Series states: “Fish may be caught by rod and reel method only.” Rule 13 adds: “No chumming. No fishing intentionally baited holes.”
Some traditionalists and purists in catdom claim they don’t want their hallowed customs besmeared by chum. To their dismay, though, chumming continues to gain popularity at an increasing rate on reservoirs across the southern plains. On some midsummer mornings on the big flatland impoundments in eastern Kansas, for example, chummers often outnumber other anglers by three to one.
Before its recent rise in popularity, chumming was the bailiwick of only a handful of catmen in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. In chumming’s infancy in the 1980s, the late Bob Fincher of Nixon, Texas, was its most vocal proponent, telling anyone who would listen that “chumming an area before fishing it, will increase the catch ten to one.”
Things began to change in the mid-l990s, when Fincher and his chumming tactics caught the attention of the Texas outdoor press. In 1994, Russell Tinsley wrote a story about Fincher’s chumming tactics in Texas Game and Fish magazine. Then Ray Sasser of the Dallas Morning News wrote another piece in 1995. Then In-Fisherman published a series of articles about chumming, letting the rest of the country in on the secret.
Despite the press’ anointment of chumming as a fruitful method for pursuing channel cats, many veteran catmen held fast to their prejudices, castigating chumming as an inferior and even an unsportsmanlike fishing method.
Cat fishermen’s bias against chumming parallels the way bass fishermen look at trolling and livebait. Bass tournaments have banned livebait and trolling for more than 30 years, claiming that they’re bush-league tactics and devoid of skill. Even after walleye tournaments have shown the angling world that trolling and livebait can be a sporting strategy, bass anglers won’t relent, and the angling world is poorer because of it.
If bass tournaments would yield and allow trolling and livebait, and cat tournaments would allow chumming, some astute observers say that our knowledge of the ways of bass and catfish would increase significantly. For instance, Doug Hannon, who carries the moniker the “Bass Professor,” revealed in a television show and in an article in In-Fisherman that chumming with live shiners can activate largemouth bass in Florida. ivebait and chumming have since made a significant contribution to our understanding of the nature of largemouth bass.
Biases, however, are difficult to eradicate. Consequently, there is little hope that old-line catmen will change their negative tunes about chumming any time soon. Chumming, therefore, is for new-age catmen who are willing and able to employ a multitude of motifs to catch their quarry. nd from these multifaceted catmen of the 21st century, a better understanding of the aquatic world eventually will emerge.
A Chumming Primer
Not every chumming site is created by design. Such happenstances regularly occur at Lake Texoma on the Oklahoma-Texas border. At the marinas around Texoma, anglers fillet scads of striped and white bass every day. nce the fillets are removed from the carcasses, the carcasses are tossed into the water, forming unintentional chum heaps.
Through the years, Texoma’s blue cats have found those carcasses delectable, and untold numbers of big blue cats gambol about the waters in the general vicinity of those chum heaps. Of course, a few anglers ultimately discovered the bounty that those mounds of chum create, and since then, these anglers have tangled with some titans and a multitude of blues of lesser proportions.
Likewise, anglers catch channel cats galore from docks at Grand Lake, Oklahoma, where anglers dispose of crappie carcasses. owadays at waterways all across the nation, fishermen catch catfish around fish-cleaning stations. hat’s more, some catmen are beginning to use shad and fish carcasses as part of their chumming routine.
Sonny Hootman, manufacturer of Sonny’s Super Sticky dipbait (319/878-4115), often experiments with different chums on the rivers near his home in Farmington, Iowa. To date, though, he hasn’t found a chum that attracts more cats than his dipbait. He keeps experimenting, though, because he’s seen how effective natural chums can be in attracting cats and triggering them to feed.
On many warm June afternoons, Hootman has watched channel cats gather below mulberry trees dropping ripe fruit into the river. Cats intercept the berries as they drift downstream. After the berries stop falling, some anglers tie a road-killed critter to an overhanging branch. Cats are attracted to the steady supply of maggots falling into the water from the rotting carcass.
And as we explain elsewhere in this issue, fellow bait manufacturer Buddy Hollub of Catfish Charlie (515/673-7229) also has witnessed the effectiveness of natural chums. For many years, Hollub watched channel cats eat ripe grapes falling from vines growing along the river. He responded with a grape-flavored doughbait that was as effective as real grapes for catching cats. The bait worked fine for catfish, but never caught on with fishermen and so was discontinued.
Both Hootman and Hollub are fascinated by tales of catmen from Glen Elder Lake fishing beneath trees where cormorants roost during their fall migration. Cats are attracted by the shad-laced excrement the cormorants deposit into the water beneath the roost. These cats usually fall for a shad-based dipbait.
In this ever-expanding circle of chummers, an occasional debate erupts concerning the best chum. fter witnessing the results at fish-cleaning areas, there is no doubt that crappie, striped bass, and white bass carcasses attract blue and channel cats. But day in and day out, large quantities of carcasses aren’t easy to obtain. Most chummers, therefore, use some kind of grain.
Milo—Bob Fincher recommended the cheapest available grain. round his home in southern Texas, milo is the most plentiful and cheapest. hen Fincher made a batch of chum, he went to the local feed and seed store and purchased 50 pounds of milo.
Fincher put 25 pounds of milo in a five-gallon bucket, then filled the bucket with water and put a lid on it, allowing the milo to ferment. Every 48 hours, he checked the water level in the bucket and, if necessary, added some warm water. t takes about 10 days in the heat of summer for the milo to attain the appropriate state of sourness.
According to Fincher, though, the process can be accelerated by using hot water. A trained nose can tell when the milo is ready to be chummed; it exudes a significant odor. incher noted that good chum is a lot like his punch bait: “It just gets more powerful with age.”
When Fincher took his chum afloat, he used a quarter to a gallon of chum per spot. He scattered the milo over the area, like scattering grain across a barnyard to feed chickens. He preferred to use a quart of chum rather than a gallon, thinking that too much grain tends to fill the stomachs of the cats and cause them to become lethargic.
On the reservoirs across southern Texas—Amistad, Braunig, Calveras, and Choke Canyon—Fincher scattered his chum along riprap shorelines, around submerged brush, in a shallow patches of aquatic vegetation, atop a submerged roadbed, on the edge of an underwater hump, at various contours of a main-lake point, and hideaways along submerged creek and river channels. He seldom chummed in water deeper than 15 feet.
Some of Fincher’s cohorts prefer to bait an area a day or two before they fish it. incher rarely worked that far in advance. nstead he chummed several spots just before he began fishing. hen throughout the day he moved from spot to spot, and upon arriving at a chummed spot, he scattered a little more chum.
When trumpeting the merits of chum, Fincher always issued one disclaimer: “Chum won’t work when the fish aren’t moving and aren’t hungry, but when they are, catfish chum makes all the difference.”
Wheat—In western Kansas, Jeff Rader runs a guide service at Glen Elder Lake, and since 1996 has been using fermented wheat. len Elder sits near the heart of wheat country, where wheat bins and elevators dot the countryside. here is so much wheat lying around that Rader usually can get as much as he needs for free. All he has to do is get a shovel and some barrels, and when some one wants the rotten wheat scraped off the floor of a wheat bin or elevator, Rader arrives and begins scraping. He shovels the wheat into a 30-gallon barrel, adds water, and lets it ferment.
Once the wheat sours, Rader takes it to the lake and chums “four strategic spots along the river channel, including underwater humps and significant drop-offs.” After his chumming routine is completed, his clients start to fish, using Sonny’s Super Sticky dipbait. They catch channel cats weighing from a pound to nearly 12 pounds, at an amazing clip.
Regarding his chumming tactics, Rader has only one regret, and that is that he doesn’t live in soybean country. e believes that soybeans make the best chum.
Soybeans—Perhaps one of the epicenters of soybean chum lies about 200 miles east of Glen Elder at the flatland reservoirs surrounding Topeka, Kansas. This is the home of Wayne Smith, Cat Daddy Shumway, Clyde Holscher, Charlie Bisnette, David Schmidtlein, and an endless list of notable chummers. All of these catmen are veteran soybean chummers, and there’s nothing fancy about their soybean chum. t’s merely a five-gallon bucket half filled with bean and the rest with water and allowed to ferment for a week or more. ut some of these catmen chum in deeper water than Fincher did in southern Texas. chmidtlein, for instance, has been seen chumming main-lake humps at Melvern Lake, Kansas, that sit in 30 feet of water.
Almost every group has a maverick or two. And in this eastern Kansas coterie of chummers, Smith and Shumway became the mavericks. hey always experimented with their chum, adding the residues from their bloodbait and more. nd by 1993, they concocted what Smith called his “potpourri chum,” which they assembled in a 30-gallon barrel.
It included a hodgepodge of grains, such as soybeans, corn, milo, wheat, barley, and sunflower seeds. The major additives were tiny wood chips, maggots, and uncongealed turkey blood.
The maggots were a byproduct of the fermenting process. s the grains, wood chips, and blood stewed in the 30-gallon barrel, flies arrived and procreated in the festering stew. Then the maggots, which are the larva of houseflies, soon followed. Once the maggots grew to a sufficient number and size, the barrel of chum was frozen until two or three days before Smith and Shumway were ready to use it.
River Chum—When the 1993 flood stocked the Kansas River with a marvelous number of big channel cats and a respectable population of medium-sized blue cats, Smith and Shumway left the reservoirs and began learning the ways of these river cats.
In short order, they defied the notions of old-time river rats who obdurately proclaimed that the river’s quick current negated the effectiveness of chum. Even Smith and Shumway were amazed at how a small stream of bloody, maggot-laden chum coursing through a logjam would activate channel cats and an occasional blue. And in the eyes of the multifaceted catmen of the 21st century, Smith and Shumway’s river chumming revelations paralleled Doug Hannon’s revelations about chumming with live shiners for Florida largemouth bass.
Congealed blood, sour grain, and a variety of other materials are effective cat attractors, but many anglers consider homemade chums too much trouble. Two types of commercial chum are available; loose chums are effective in lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, while solid blocks and slow-release chum bags are more effective in current.