Fire ’Em Up
Live chumming with pilchards is really the key to success, and it’s why Trosset tries to make sure he reaches the grounds with plenty of pilchards in the well. First thing, though: “Let your chum block work for 15 minutes or so,” he advises. “Then, start throwing four to 10 freebies every minute or two.” If that approach is working, you’ll know: You’ll see fish busting on the bait. When you begin seeing that, “Throw a little heavier,” Trosset says— since, well, activity begets activity!
Returning to the theme of everything eating pilchards, Trosset says: “We catch a lot of sails on them. Once sailfish get fired-up, they sort of lose their minds — they just go crazy!” Multiple hookups, anyone?
Trosset also advises anglers to be ready to throw topwater plugs or jigs when they see fish busting on live chum. If the casts come close to the commotion, odds are they’ll hook up.
In the heat of a good surface bite, though, don’t neglect putting a bait or two down deeper; larger grouper and mutton snapper often lurk just under the commotion they’ve come to investigate.
Finally, Trosset suggests keeping in mind that “no matter where your chum is going, the freebie pilchards will swim towards shore. Blind-cast toward where those pilchards should be swimming.”
Ultimately, of course, nothing — even a livewell full of frisky pilchards — guarantees fish here or anywhere.
Still, for action and variety in the productive waters off Key West, chumming and fishing live bait is about as close as you’ll get to a sure thing.
A Pilchard Primer
Although universally called pilchards in the Keys (and elsewhere), Harengula jaguana are properly known as scaled sardines. This important forage fish, a member of the herring family, is abundant along the Atlantic Coast from the mid‑Atlantic to Key West, throughout the Gulf and south to Brazil.
Unlike the similar thread herring, pilchards lack an elongate last ray on their dorsal fins. Pilchards feed on plankton and grow quickly. Individuals larger than 6 inches are rare.
Photo by Jason Arnold / jasonarnoldphoto.com