Offshore 101: Chunking The Canyons - The Fisherman

Offshore 101: Chunking The Canyons

large bluefin
Sometimes elephants eat peanuts! Here is a large bluefin that ate a small bait while chunking.

The fall chunk bite in the canyons can produce a variety of species, here’s how to get started.

Chunking is very different from chumming. Chunking is a great method of attracting many different species of fish, and it is extremely useful when you are trying to avoid sharks. The major differences between the two methods is that chumming is a mindless process usually consisting of finely ground frozen fish, oil and blood doled into the water. As it thaws a scent trail is broadcast into the current. Curious fish will follow the sent trail to the source in search of a meal. On the other hand, chunking is an art and you must pay attention to contributing factors and adjust as needed. Chunking sends both scent and visual cues (edible pieces) into the current. The goal is to work your intended species into a feeding frenzy by giving them a taste, always drawing them closer until they are in range of a hooked bait.

The crewman assigned to the chunking process has two responsibilities: monitor amount and cadence of deployed chunks. Paying attention to how fish are reacting is the key. Slowing down the cadence and amount can bring freeloaders into your strike zone. You don’t want fish just hanging back picking off all the free food, so adjustments should be done especially if the sounder is marking fish and no strikes are being realized. A change needs to be made to get those fish curious and swimming closer to the boat.

When chunking you can add some live baits to the chum, and there are two ways to live chunk. The first is to throw live bait into the water to work up your prey. Toss in a hook bait as they are worked up to a frenzy and you should come tight. Mix live offerings with chunks to prolong the offerings as your supply of live bait will be limited. This is a great way to get things going when you see your prey. If you come upon a floating object or high flyer, throwing in a few peanut bunker will quickly determine if there is anything hiding out there. When you find the fish and have them worked up, stop throwing live bait and switch to small chunks. As they feed on the chunks toss in a live hooked bait and you will be off to the races.

Cutting frozen chunks
Cutting frozen chunks is easier with a rechargeable reciprocating saw and stainless steel blade.

The second way to live chunk is to chum up live bait like squid, and keep them with your boat. When canyon fishing chunking butterfish, herring, and spearing are the norm. When you mark bait, grind or cut these chunks finer into a chum. Use this offering to get the squid to come up into your lights, and then mix in the larger chunks for tuna. Keep in mind to throw some ground up mush from time to time to keep the squid happy. Netting or jigging a few squid and live-lining them as bait will further ensure hook-up success. If you are using chunk baits “work them” or check them often as the squid will steal your baits.

What is working a bait? Drop your hooked chunk bait into the water with a handful of chunks. Keep the hooked chunk drifting back at the same rate as the chunks. When it’s all out of site, take another 50 to 100 pulls of line off the reel. If nothing happens reel in and repeat.

When a hook-up occurs, it is paramount that the chunking remains steady. If done correctly you can get a school of fish to come to and stay with your boat. The biggest mistake crews make is they all focus on the hooked fish and forget about what got it there in the first place. You need to assign and make sure someone stays with distributing a steady flow of chunks. If you do break off from the flow, after you boat the fish move the boat back to where you hooked-up and chunk heavily for 10 minutes. If they are around, they will come back. If you went too far in moving the boat don’t worry, you should drift back over them.

Don’t wait for a hooked fish to be boated before attempting to hook another. Anyone who fishes for mahi mahi knows this trick. Leave a hooked fish in the water until a second one is on. Often curious or jealous members of the school will follow the hooked fish. Hooked fish often regurgitate what they have been eating to try to dislodge the hook. This creates an instant chunk cloud that following fish will devour.

The amount of chunking material to bring is dictated by the time allotted to this process. In the middle of summer, the days are longer, and the nights are shorter. Trolling after the sun set has become very popular as it is productive. Many captains will troll until 9 or even 10 o’clock at night. It may take a half an hour to switch over and settle in for the night. If you switch back to trolling pre-dawn you will be on the move around 4:30. Basically you have six hours to kill chunking. This scenario warrants three to four flats of bait. As the length of night darkness increases in the fall bring six to eight flats. Get one thawing a few hours before it’s needed and keep taking a frozen one out a few hours before it is needed. Keep in mind it is easier to cut semi-thawed flats over fully thawed and mushy ones. You don’t get extra points for bringing bait home so don’t be stingy; cut and use what’s appropriate.

It often takes time to get the night bite going so assign jobs in shifts. It’s a good idea to let part of the crew rest and get some sleep. If you hook up and get things going wake everyone up. Nothing better than stuffing the boxes at night and just heading home early the next day.

Day, night or both? It is always good to start the day with a bucket of pre-cut chunks in a cooler on the ready. If you come across anything floating or troll past a pot, throw a handful and see what comes out. If a bunch of mahi mahi show themselves then by all means, start chunking as the crew pulls in the spread. Throw out some hooked baits and you will have a blast bailing mahi mahi, triggerfish, blue runners and possibly tuna. When you are trolling and you hook-up, throwing chunks into your spread will help entice other fish to come in and feed. If the lines are cleared after a hook-up and you intend to jig, throw chunks too. After the fish are boated, spin the boat and troll over the water that was just chunked. Pass the “hub “and proceed a few hundred yards turning back to the hub. When done correctly your track line will look like a flower with a few figure eights centered on the point where you hooked up. If there are no marks or promising signs move on.

Chunking
Make sure that someone is assigned the job of continuing to chum once a bite is started. Failure to do that can cause the fish to move.

Gloves are an important part of chunking. Thicker gloves (Kevlar or rubber) can offer protection from accidental nicks and cuts that happen during the process. There are filet gloves on the market that not only offer protection, but they make gripping and throwing the chunks easier, too.

A serrated knife is a must. You need a knife that can cut through skin and bones with ease. Newer to the chunking scene are the chunk box (Chumcutter.com) and the Filetzall Sawzall blade (filletzall.com). The chunking box is a white plastic box with knife guiding slots. Fill the box with semi-frozen bait and run the knife through each slot creating chunks. These boxes were designed to hold an entire flat of fish. They make cutting chunks safer and easier. If the flat is still frozen using the Filetzall blade on a reciprocating saw will make short work of the task. Just be mindful not to cut into the bottom of the box. Regardless of which blade you use, it’s a good idea lay the chunked bait onto a cutting board and further inspect and hand trim larger pieces.

Chunking is a fish-attracting method that is used both inshore and offshore for a variety of species. If you are an offshore fisherman practice this technique inshore with bluefish and other readily-available species. Be careful not to overdo it. The goal is not to feed your prey, but to draw them in for the meal. Care for your chunks; don’t leave them out to bake in the sun. Keep them out of freshwater and store them in a cooler with ice. Using zip lock bags or a small bucket is the best way to do this. Refreezing chunks is ok if they are not intended for use as hook baits as thawed chunks will be a little softer the next time. Mixing them with fresh chunks on your next trip is a good idea. If you have bait like ballyhoo that you thawed and didn’t use, chunk them up and add them to what you’re freezing.

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