Trick or Treat: Tips & Tricks of the Sportfishing Trade

Fishing Tips and Tricks

One of the first fishing “tricks” I learned as a kid has, in the decades since, entertained fellow anglers and netted me some fine catches from both freshwater and salt. That’s one of the joys of traveling to fish: discovering local tactics that can be learned and put into practice back at home – sometimes with startling results.

Fishing Tips

For example, after spending several years living and fishing in the Florida Keys, one of the angling tactics I brought back to the Midwest was chumming. But what exactly is chumming and what is the most effective way to chum? Read on for a deeper look at this and a few other fishing tips to try next time you’re out on the water hunting your next catch.


In its simplest form, chumming is introducing food into the water that will draw baitfish and predators to the area around the boat to spark a feeding frenzy. In the Keys we used bags or boxes of frozen commercial chum containing ground fish and oils that created a slick and a cloud of food particles swept down-current with the tide as the fragrant chunks thawed from chum bags hung over the transom of “white boats,” which was the generic term for trailerable-size, outboard-powered center console boats that remain so popular for their fishability.

Current is important to chum dispersal, and Midwest catfish anglers are known for baiting their favorite river pools by sinking burlap sacks full or of bones, cat and dog food and other catfish-attracting grub in the current above their fishing holes –sometimes days in advance of actually wetting a line to allow the fish to congregate. Carp anglers chum their fishing spots with handfuls of canned corn. We use cat food in cans punched with holes and tied to our anchor when fishing for yellow perch in the Great Lakes on recreational craft, semi- and deep-vee hull fishing boats 20 feet or larger in size.

Personally, I throw a dozen minnows into a submerged brush pile as live chum to get the crappies active before baiting hooks with same and fooling the heck out of the suddenly aggressively feeding fish. Good baitwells are important to keeping the quantity of minnows alive for chumming and baiting over day’s fishing. Chumming with live bait, cut bait or prepared concoctions works best for schooling fish species and in current, but now you probably have some ideas in mind for your local waters and it’s worth a try.

Crappie and yellow perch anglers have been known to fill a large glass jar with water and minnows, tethering it with a stout line and sinking it below the small inland boats or all types to attract fish. They say any hooked minnow dropped in the vicinity of the trapped specimens stands nary a chance among the frustrated panfish that are attracted to underwater show.

The Noisy Approach

While most boaters preach stealth when approaching a fishing spot, often cutting their engines on the approach and drifting silently within casting distance of the targeted area, some swear by the opposite approach. Muskie anglers are famous for trolling oversized lures literally in the prop wash of their transom to fool aggressive fish that are attracted to the sight, sound and vibration of the engine and prop. In the south, panfish anglers will beat a lily pad are with a long pole before fishing. They do so to clear a surface area of vegetation, knock any bugs off the pads and create a commotion that they swear attracts “brim.”

Some charter captains on the Great Lakes will keep their inboard diesels running when anchored over schools of yellow perch. They are usually aboard 30-foot-plus inboard-powered fishing boats designed for the open water sport, boasting large, open aft cockpits to accommodate so-called “six pack” parties of a half dozen anglers. They say the sound and vibration attracts and keeps the fish below the boat and in range of their customers who drop minnow-baited, multi-hook perch spreaders vertically into the fray. Turning off the boat’s engine often leads to the school moving, apparently in search of louder waters. One veteran “perch jerker” I know used to place a transistor radio face down on the floor of his aluminum boat and crank up the sound to keep the perch below in place and active.

Fishing Tips and Tricks

Similarly, saugeye, walleye, striped bass and even crappie anglers will cast baits into the wake of passing boats. The sound of the engine and the boat, and the underwater commotion created, may trigger predator species into reaction bites or the boat may merely stir up the bottom to reveal food; the anglers just know that casting into another boat’s wake, especially in ten feet of water or less, will bring a strike often enough for them to make it a practice.

Fin-Clipping Baitfish

Live bait anglers in both fresh and saltwater will often clip a fin off a baitfish before offering it to the depths. They realize that the predator species they target are drawn to dine on injured baitfish which are easier to catch, and the action of a fin-clipped fish mimics an easy meal. It’s the same reason some anglers carry red fingernail polish in their tackle boxes, often to the surprise of their fishing buddies. They are quick to explain that slashes of red painted to their fishing lures spells blood and an injured baitfish to their quarry, and net more attention than do untreated artificials.

Fishing Tips from Dan Armitage

As for the fishing trick I learned as a kid in fresh water that has worked well in the salt, it concerns catching schooling fish such as crappies and white bass that often roam open waters. You take an eco-friendly, biodegradable, inflated balloon and attach it to a short length of line to which a hook is tied at the working end. Keep the balloon rig handy until someone aboard catches a fish, which is unhooked from the fishing line and re-hooked to the line that trails the balloon. The fish is then released to re-join its school. Trailing a high-vis marker that needs only to be followed by boat to remain within casting distance. Of course, when the day is done you retrieve the marker fish, unhook it and release it as a reward for a job well done (and, of course, dispose of the balloon properly).

If you think that sounds fun, upsize the tackle, head for blue water and try the tactic on schoolie-sized dolphins!