Published On: Tue, Mar 21st, 2017

Berley, or Chum – Using Berley to Catch More Fish – Video

How to use berley to increase your catch rate

Video Title: Berley Basics with Allan Burgess. Description: You will catch more sea fish if you attract them to your fishing spot with berley, or chum. It is more effective if the minced fish waste is mixed with water first and then tossed across the surface. Exclusive Fishingmag.co.nz only video.

A couple of years back it was all the rage for anglers to follow big commercial hoki trawlers off the South Island’s West Coast in search of southern bluefin tuna. These big tuna are attracted to the trawlers, and their mother ships, by a massive stream of chum, or berley, flowing from them as they go about their business. Anglers, seabirds, marine mammals including seals, along with sharks and tuna are all brought into contact with one another by the enormous amount of by-product, in the form of live and wounded fish escaping the nets, along with fish waste from onboard processing being discarded into the sea! The scent of fish waste is the dinner gong for practically any species of fish.

Pacific bluefin tuna (image).

Local West Coast angler Steve McCowan with his record 325kg Pacific blue tuna. Photograph reproduced courtesy of Lisa Davidson and Westport News. Big tuna like this one are attracted to trawlers and their motherships operating on the South Island’s West Coast.

A couple of years back it was all the rage for anglers to follow big commercial hoki trawlers off the South Island’s West Coast in search of southern bluefin tuna. These big tuna are attracted to the trawlers, and their mother ships, by a massive stream of chum, or berley, flowing from them as they go about their business. Anglers, seabirds, marine mammals including seals, along with sharks and tuna are all brought into contact with one another by the enormous amount of by-product, in the form of live and wounded fish escaping the nets, along with fish waste from onboard processing being discarded into the sea! The scent of fish waste is the dinner gong for practically any species of fish.

Shark Chumming

Some 30 years ago I, along with members of the Canterbury Sports Fishing Club, used to berley, or chum, for sharks about 5 miles off the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour. As I remember we would go out in at least two or more trailer boats not much more that 20 foot in length. The berley would consist of ground up fish frames, heads and fish offal that had been finely chopped in a large meat mincer. It was stored in 20-litre buckets and would be mixed with sea water once at our destination. After a bit of stirring, we would ladel this mixture over the side. The object being to maintain a steady flow rate by tossing out a cupful or so about once every minute. This was an important job. The flow rate had to be maintained no matter what happened or the target species would drift away.

Five miles offshore the sea is almost black rather than the greenish blue colour it is closer to shore. It always amazed me that sharks could find the scent trail in the vastness of the open sea. Not only could they find the berley, they could also easily follow it to its source. Their sense of smell is truly impressive. Scientists believe sharks can detect blood in the water at concentrations down to one part per million. I guess sharks need a good sense of smell or otherwise, they would starve.
On some occasions, there would be several dozen blue sharks swimming lazily near our boats always inquisitive to find the origin of the berley that had brought them there. Looking down into the water, what we were really looking for were mako sharks. The mako is the Ferrari of the shark world. Fast and furious describes this species perfectly. There would be fewer makos in our berley trail, and initially, at least, they would be more cautious than the blues, the makos typically circling from wider out.

Sometimes an attempt would be made to target individual sharks with the saltwater fly rod or some other light-weight line class. At other times more traditional rods would be used with a baited hook. While this was going on, and particularly when a shark was hooked, it was essential to maintain the berley trail so as the others wouldn’t lose interest.

The first to appear at the boats would invariably be blues. They would be a mixture of sizes. Where did these sharks come from? What had they been doing when they first caught the scent of the berley slick? Sometimes sharks would arrive in less than an hour. I wasn’t there at the time, but have been told they could take up to five hours to appear. Obviously the rate the current disperses the berley is a factor but clearly, the blues and makos could have travelled a considerable distance to find its origin.

In the natural world, it would be the scent of a dead whale or other fish, that would bring them in from long distances. I’ve considered whether or not it is appropriate to include photographs from these expeditions which took place over three decades ago. Some of these trips involved the unnecessary and needless killing of sharks. It is not something we would do today. Even then quite a few sharks were being tagged and released. What this does tell us is that berley is the key to catching sharks. You might still catch sharks without it but for attracting them to your fishing location in numbers, a constant berley trail is essential.

I’ve considered whether or not it is appropriate to include photographs from these expeditions which took place over three decades ago. Some of these trips involved the unnecessary and needless killing of sharks. It is not something we would do today. Even then quite a few sharks were being tagged and released. What this does tell us is that berley is the key to catching sharks. You might still catch sharks without it but for attracting them to your fishing location in numbers, a constant berley trail is essential.

Blue sharks taken off Lyttelton after being attracted to the boat by a berley trail.

Blue sharks caught off Lyttelton after being attracted to the boat by a berley trail.

Experienced anglers are aware that berley is very effective at attracting and holding many different species of fish. Anyone who has lived on a farm will tell you, if you want to catch freshwater eels you can’t beat dragging a sheep carcase into the creek earlier in the day then coming back after dark with your torch and spear.

Cubing for Tuna

There are also various fishing methods that play to this general berley fish attractant theme. For example, albacore tuna, and other tunas can be brought to the boat, and induced to hang around, by cubing. A technique used in the deep ocean in which 25mm cubes of an oily bait fish are feed out in a constant stream over the transom until tuna are induced into lure or baited hook range.

Berley From the Boat

When boat fishing there are two ways of dispensing berley. Firstly, it can be used as described above for shark fishing, where it is tipped into buckets, and mixed with seawater to create a much-diluted brew that is cast onto the surface of the water with a ladel. It can also be used in a perforated berley pot, or onion bag fastened to the stern of your boat and shaken every now and again to release scent and fish particles.

Secondly, the berley pot or onion bag containing the berley can be weighted and lowered to the bottom with a rope. This is most effective when fishing in reasonably shallow water where there’s a strong current, that would otherwise quickly take the berley too far from your boat. Be sure to fish your baited hooks close to the bottom down-current of your berley dispenser.

Berley from Shore

Berley is not the sole preserve of boat anglers. It can also be used to good effect when fishing from rocks and wharves. I’ve have had quite a bit of experience in this area. Berley bombs fished from shore work well for snapper and moki, especially those that contain minced shellfish. However, it is always more effective if the minced fish waste is mixed with water first and then tossed across the surface so that it drifts down through the water column. This permits better dispersion and attracts more customers! As mentioned above you need to keep dispensing the berley at a steady rate so the fish don’t lose interest and head off elsewhere.

Berley is also effective for attracting bait fish like mullet. As you can see in the video above, fish waste can be extended with stale bread to add bulk. You need to stir the mixture regularly to help break it down into smaller particles. When using berley from rocks, after an hour or so, you can often attract baitfish in enormous numbers. Such a big gathering of bait fish will also attract predators like yellowtail kingfish and barrcouta looking for an easy meal. Depending on where you are fishing there can be quite a variety of fish species in the berley slick.

In the video above the bait fish are juvenile yellow-eyed mullet and juvenile kahawai. On occasions, particularly when I have been fishing in the Marlborough Sounds, fish attracted to the berley include snapper, frigate and jack mackerel, trevally, and small sharks. Provided you are fishing over a clear bottom, a casting net can also be used to quickly gather a supply of baitfish, after “seeding” the water first with berley. Another bonus of using berley is the considerable ease with which baitfish can be caught on small hooks. This is very handy as you will be able to easily get a supply of fresh sea fishing baits without the need to carry bait with you. All you need to worry about is taking some berley out with you.

Making Berley

One of the easiest ways to make a supply of berley is to retain all your crab and lobster bodies, shellfish, unused squid bait, fish frames, heads and guts, old bread and so on, and store in your deep freeze. When you have built up a good supply, put it all through a meat or berley mincer while still frozen. Then store it in plastic bags, two-litre plastic ice cream containers, or old plastic milk bottles, and return to the freezer. If this sounds like too much trouble, and mess, you can always buy frozen berley blocks from tackle stores.

The best berley to use depends on the target species. As mention above for fish like snapper and moki, species that regularly feed on crustaceans and shellfish, the best berley for them will be one that comprises plenty of these. When targeting sharks and most pelagic species, oily fish like tuna and mackerel are a better choice to use for making berley.  

If you haven’t bothered with berley before give it a try. You may be delighted to discover just how much more effective your fishing can be with even a modest supply of berley. It can make an enormous difference to your catch rate. By ringing the dinner gong, you can bring fish to you that might otherwise have passed you by.

About the Author

Profile photo of Allan Burgess

- Fishingmag.co.nz website editor.

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