Picture the typical day spent trolling for blues. You pile into the boat at dawn and ride out to the trolling grounds. The captain throttles down and you boat ride some more at a slower speed. Soon enough a strike comes, but the fish is hooked automatically from the boat's volition.
You grap the enormous rod from its holder and crank mightly, spooling something that looks more like baling wire than fishing line. But with the pressure of a boat skipping over the waves to fight and perhaps a pound of lead to drag in, along with the fish, you need most of the steely muscle the stubby rod has to offer. In a minute or two, the mate swings a blue aboard and flings it into the fish box. He sets the line out again and you resume trolling.
You're a bit worn in the arm muscles after doing this four or five times, it's true. But from the fish? No way. You're tired from the deep-sea tackle you're wielding , the heavy sinker, and the pressure of a moving boat - not the quarry you've paid so dearly to pursue.
Now take a look at a typical chumming trip a group of anglers took last week out of Lewisetta, Virginia, near the mouth of the Potomac. It was like dozens of others they've taken over the years.
The day begins with a boat ride, like the trolling trip, as the anglers forge out on David Rowe's Ken-Ma-Ray to the productive fishing grounds the captain has pinpointed near Point Lookout. But instead of having nothing to do, the anglers have tackle to rig. Their tackle. Light tackle.
Some of them have special small hooks on plastic-coated leaders they like to use iwth the thin monofilament lines; others have plugs they're rigging in case the blues start popping minnows, pieces of chum or, yes, even cigarette butts on the surface. Still another on board has a fly rod he hopes to unfurl if action really gets frenetic and seastay calm.
Nowhere amid this plethora of tackle do you see any broomstick rods. The reason becomes apparent when they reach the chumming grounds. The boat is anchored. There will be no moving craft to contend with; no fist-sized spoon to pull through the water; no pound or more of weight to crank in from the depths.
In minutes the captain has sliced half a dozen menhaden backs off for bait and ground a large platter of pink menhaden gruel that will pique the appetite of the voracious blues.
Though he's a veteran of many chumming trips, Joe Canole can't contain the tremble of anticipation as he threads the menhaden back onto his hook and slips the bait into the water. It's eight-pound mono, and there's no weight to contend with. The sliced bait drifts naturally with the tidal pull.
Twenty yards out the mono races off furiously as an unseen blue inhales the floating morsel. Engaging the bail, Joe strikes back. Immediately the spinning reel spits a strident tune of joy.
Three minutes into the fishing day and the first fish in on, rampaging against the light rod. There's no rush for the gaff - the battle will take several minutes at least. And it is truly a battle, not just a crank-'em-in affair.
When the blue is pulled aboard five minutes later, it's the fish that has strained Joe's wrist and forearms, not the tackle. He has experienced the pure muscular energy of this strong gamefish on a gut level - where it should be left.
Dozens more of the blues succumb to the light tackle, while many othres leave the anglers muttering under their breath with busted lines and baitless hooks. And that, to these fishermen, is part of the pleasure of chumming with light gear: There's some challenge to the sport. But not so much that neophytes to the chumming technique can't subdue their share of the scrappy fish. Gary and Kenny Payne, experienced anglers but newcomers to bluefish, easily account for their portion of the six-man catch.
Often there are two, three, even four bluefish on at once. Amazingly, tangles are very rare as the sports play musical chairs in a comic ballet, dancing from starboard to port, threading rods over and under each others to avoid tackle-busting tangles while blues plunge away mightly below the surface all the while. It's joyous light-tackle abandon that will match any type of fishing for sport and excitement.
Trolling for blues still has its place in Chesapeake angling. For elderly anglers it's a useful technique, and for casual fishermen who want to put a few blues in the cooler and enjoy a nice boat ride, but don't really care too much about sport. And there are certain times and places where blues will simply not hit well in a chumline.
But for the majority of anglers who've experienced the rich joy of light-tackle chumming, there's no turning back. Trolling simply becomes a waste of time, money and gas that could be channeled into the more pleasurable sport of chumline angling.
Not only is there more sport per fish in chumming, often there are more fish. The party on David Rowe's bayboat fishing off of Point Lookout last week landed 60 blues ranging from tw to 13 pounds, plus three gray trout at eight pounds apiece. Far from being unusual, this was a modest haul. Any number of trips in recent weeks have seen up to 125 blues come abroad the boat.
While it's the light tackle aspect that is most appealing about chumming, it can be carried to extremes. Rowe once had a party that insisted on using two-pound line. "They landed a few fish, but they lost about 10 for every one they got in the boat."
While two- and even four-pound mono are a bit wispy, six is quite practical for bluefishing when spooled on a quality reel and handled by a skilled angler. Eight- and ten-pound lines are ideal for most anglers, but 12 should be the limit if it's sport you're after.
You'll want a long leader (three to four feet) that the captain or mate can grab to swing the blues abroad with. This can either be 30- to 50- pound mono with a short wire section near the hook or a plastic-coated wire leader. I prefer the latter, using Berkley's 30-pound Steelon and copper sleeves to make up four or five three- t four-foot leaders ahead of time. A long-shank 2/0 hook is crimped on one end and a swivel on the other.
Chumming is an option at virtually all of the sport fishing centers on the Bay these days. Be sure to ask how the captain feels about light tackle before booking a trip, however. Some are cooperative and some aren't. GETTING TO THE FISH
Here are some charter captains and fishing centers that offer chumming for blues. Prices range around $100 for a half-day trip, $135 to $200 for full-day trips for up to six anglers:
CAPTAIN DAVID ROWE, Lewisetta, Virginia: 804/529-6241 or 529-6725.
CAPTAIN FLETCHER POTTS, Reedville, Virginia: 804/775-2984.
CAPTAIN GARLAND WINSTEAD, Reedville, Virginia: 804/453-4077.
ROD'N'REEL DOCK, Chesapeake Beach, Maryland: 301/257-2191.
SHIEBLE'S FISHING CENTER, Wynne, Maryland: 301/872-5185. CAPTION: Picture, CAPTAIN DAVID ROWE UNHOOKS A 10-POUND BLUEFISH THAT ROSE TO THIS CHUM SLICK.