• Published:August 5, 2019
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What do you do when the wind is up and a long run offshore isn't in the cards?

You could stay tied to the dock and catch up on boat work. Or you could consider inshore chumming for the likes of cobia, mahi-mahi, bluefish, mackerel and sharks.
If you’re like us, you’ve been eyeballing the FishTrack SST charts and Buoyweather forecasts for days, keeping a close eye on the offshore conditions and staying in constant contact with the crew. You’ve filled the fish box with ice and put the provisions in the cooler. The blue water beckons, but as soon as you push through the inlet, that forecast of 10- to 15-knot winds feels a lot more like a solid 15-plus. A few miles from the inlet you realize that the long run to the fishing grounds is going to dish out a severe beating. You only have two options, right? Make the call to turn around and go home, or tough it out and risk a full day of misery.




Surely, you’ve been here before. But there’s a third choice that gets overlooked all too often. Rather than calling the trip off or beating through rough seas for hours on end, you can opt for the inshore option.

STRUCTURAL STABILITY

Along most of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, every time you run for the deep, you pass by inshore structure that holds fish. The same wrecks, reefs and shoals that anglers hit when bottom fishing also attract upper-level predators. You aren’t likely to encounter the likes of billfish or tuna at these inshore options, but depending on where you’re located, you may well have a good shot at cobia, bluefish, Spanish or king mackerel, sharks, maybe even mahi-mahi or a mix of all of the above.
Regardless of which species might be swimming in your neck of the woods, the key to locating fish inshore is usually a matter of finding structure. Free-swimmers like the aforementioned species might not stick close to structure the same way bottomfish do, but they certainly use these areas as hunting grounds.

A second key factor to utilizing the inshore option is carrying chum. In rough conditions, drift fishing is usually impossible. Trolling is certainly an option, but at some point you’ll be fighting through an uncomfortable head or beam sea. Anchoring up provides the most comfortable, safest option for fishing. And if you have a chum line streaming behind the boat, you up the odds on finding some action.

As with any form of chumming, boat positioning is critical. You want to anchor up so you’re up-current of the structure, far enough that your chum line sweeps across the rockpile or wreck, and your baits are presented over or around it. After locating the zone on your fish finder, consider the depth and idle far enough forward to allow for sufficient scope, and drop the hook. The biggest mistake many anglers make at this point is shutting down the engines and assuming the boat settles into the right spot. Wind and current may well force the boat to swing a bit off target, even if you dropped the hook in what seemed to be the ideal spot. Don’t assume, always verify, and after studying your position for a few minutes, if you’re not satisfied that your chum and baits will be in the zone, yank that anchor up and re-drop.

CHUM IT UP

The best way to chum in this sort of position is to have a frozen bucket or block of chum that you can hang over the side. Sure, the fresh stuff may have a better stink but maintaining a steady stream of chum is critically important and a frozen chunk that thaws over time, constantly releases an uninterrupted flow.

Bait-wise, you’ll want to choose a fish appropriate to the potential species in your area. Remember, however, that fishing baits that match up with the chum is usually the best move. In a slick of bunker chum, for example, bunker baits, or menhaden, commonly catch best. One glaring exception: live baits will almost always out-fish dead ones.

Once you decide on the inshore option and all you have aboard is ballyhoo, it may well be worth the time investment to turn around and put some live bait in the well. On the best inshore option trip I can remember, we took the time to turn around at five miles out and came back into the bay to cast-net finger mullet. At the end of that day, we had a healthy mix of cobia, bluefish, and king mackerel to show for our efforts. And while none of those species were in our original plans, what might have been an aborted trip instead turned into an awesome day of fishing.

CHUMMING TIPS

Stagger lines by using weight. Set one bait on the bottom, another one just above it and a third bait at mid-depth. If you’re in sharky territory, make sure the rig on the bottom is up to the toothy task.

Always run a free-lined bait with no weight. Set the reel to free-spool with the clicker on, drop the bait right behind the chum bucket, and strip line from the tip so the bait drifts back naturally with the flow of chum. After five or 10 minutes, engage the reel and allow the current to sweep the line up towards the surface. Still no hits? Reel in and start the process over again.

Keep a heavy spinning rod with a bare 8/0 to 10/0 circle hook at the ready and out of the way in the rocket launcher. If you see a mahi or a cobia appear close to the boat, you’ll be ready to slap on a fresh bait and toss it to the fish.

Keep another rod up top rigged with a spoon or swimming plug. Mackerel will usually take a few passes through a chum line and then move on. When you see them, or when you see nervous water behind the boat, grab that rod and rip the spoon through the slick at top-speed.

When the bite is slow, drop a bottom rig down and capitalize on some of the species that dwell in the structure. Between all of these options, you should come home with something in the fish box instead of a scrapped trip.

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