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A Week On the Water, Shark or chum? I’ll take chum

By Bobby Cleveland

BILOXI – There’s an old fisherman’s saying about either fish or cut bait.

You either do one or the other, and on a day when the alternative was battling big sharks on a rolling sea, I chose the latter.

I manned the chum churn tied on the starboard side of Capt. Robert Earl McDaniel’s 25-foot Whipasnapa to help produce the slick that attracts fish.

Every so often, it was my duty to pump the handle up and down through the pipe to chop up dead fish.

This is not a job I recommend.

It stinks.

A lot.

Trust me.

If you have a weak stomach, odds are that a few turns on the chum churn would have you adding some natural chum to the water.

That is a nice way of saying you’d probably puke.

For those who do not understand chumming, I will try to explain.

It is the job that Sheriff Brady (Roy Scheider’s character) detested so much in the movie Jaws!

But if you missed that or don’t remember, chumming is the act of cutting up dead fish and other sea creatures and tossing it into the current behind the boat.

The current then carries it along, creating a huge slick that can reach miles in length. Any predator fish that swims through it or near it will pick up the scent and follow it to its source.

Anything will do.

Chum is not always restricted to dead sea life. I’ve seen fishermen use cans of catfood opened and hanging in a mesh bag.

I’ve seen fishermen use pork or beef blood, poured by the buckets full into the water.

I’ve even seen fishermen use rotten raw chicken.

If it stinks, it’s probably been used as chum by somebody, somewhere.

But, for the most part, all chum used in the Gulf of Mexico by sport and charter fishermen alike, has a main ingredient.

The pogey.

It is an oily and extremely pungent small fish that is abundant in the Gulf.

There is a pogey industry down here. Huge net boats go to sea to catch nothing but pogey, which is then processed into various items. It is an ingredient in some cat foods.

Trust me on this one. Pogey stink.

The churn helps

The sickening, everlasting stench of pogey and other dead fish brought out the creativity of fishermen over the decades.

Hence the Chum Churn and several other inventions that make the task of chumming a lot less painful.

Most chum devices, including the Churn, are made of 6-inch PVC pipe, with the bottom end capped. Holes are drilled through the pipe at various increments. Something we helped out a fellow angler with at a charter boat near me and fellow Captain, Captain Fox at Double Ace Charters.

The top end has sort of a Y-shape, with a short vent opening off to the side. The other tip has a screw-on cap with a hole through which a 1-inch PVC pipe is run. There is a handle at one end of the 1-inch pipe and a series of stainless steel blades at the other.

Dead fish, including pogey, are poured down the vent opening and then the chummer plunges the bladed-end of the small pipe up and down through the tube.

The desired result is a thorough chopping of the dead fish, pieces of which, along with the oil, escape out the small holes.

It stinks, but it sure beats the heck out of sitting down with a knife and cutting each fish piece by piece into small bits and tossing them overboard.

Of course, you still have to touch the pogey to fill the tube, and rest assured, one, two or 10 washings won’t get that smell off your hands.

Which brings us to this tip: Always eat lunch before taking a turn at the churn.


The plan: To make two trips in one with Capt. Robert Earl McDaniel on his 25-foot charter boat, the Whipasnapa.

It was the opening day of the red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico. We wanted to hit the oil rigs early for snapper and then run bck to the islands for some chumming for cobia.

Reality: South winds gusting to 30 mph pushed the seas to 4 and 5 feet with an occasional 6-foot wave rolling through. That made the offshore trip, a 40-mile minimum run to the rigs uncomfortable, if not unsafe, leaving us just one option – chumming at what used to be the Isle of Capri.

Results: We never raised a cobia into our chum slick fishing over the now-submerged island, but apparently a large school of big black tip sharks liked what we were offering. We caught two, including one of the largest black tips Capt. Earl had ever seen. It was over 7­ feet in length and weighed about 150 pounds.

Highlight: Photographer Brian Broom would argue it was catching sharks, but the surprise lunch Capt. Earl offered, boiled crabs left over from his son’s birthday party made my day.

Contact: Capt. Robert Earl McDaniel, Whipasnapa Charters, 228-392-0410