Not everybody can afford to buy a big boat or hire a charter captain for an offshore adventure, but anyone can experience tackle-busting action from big fish all along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts!
Often ignored or even distained by many sportsmen, black drum range from Nova Scotia to around Florida and along the Gulf Coast to Mexico and south to Argentina. Related to redfish, the largest member of the drum family can weigh more than 100 pounds!
Few people intentionally fish for black drum, but the big barbeled beasts can provide outstanding sport for anglers on a budget. Anglers can catch big drum in anything from a kayak to a blue-water cruiser, but even sportsmen without boats can often land really big fish from shore with very little financial investment. Many people simply pull off the road at a likely looking spot and start fishing.
“Sometimes in a marina, we’ll look down and see huge drum moving along the bottom looking for something to eat,” remarked Mike Weaver (850-232-4251, www.captainmikeweaver.com) who guides out of Orange Beach, Ala. “They can be prehistoric looking when they get really big. It’s not unusual to catch drum weighing more than 40 or even 50 pounds. It’s a great fish for kids to target. They have a blast fighting big drum.”
Black drum eat almost anything, but typically prefer dead things more than live creatures. Anglers sometimes catch drum on jigs tipped with soft-plastic shrimp tails or gold spoons, spinnerbaits and other lures while casting for redfish, but big drum usually want meat.
Black drum scour the bottom looking for any morsels they can suck up such as clams and shrimp. Most people use live or fresh shrimp for bait, but drum also slurp squid, small live baitfish, such as minnows or menhaden, fish chunks or strips and other baits. However, the big barbeled fish favor shellfish.
“Black drum have several great big, fleshy, barbels hanging on the underside of their lower jaw and are predominantly bottom-feeders with no great preference for any particular foodstuff,” explained Dr. Bob Shipp, (bobshipp.com) a marine biologist and author of Dr. Bob Shipp’s Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico. “Although they graze on bottom, shelled animals are a main feeding strategy. Drum are especially proficient at digesting thick-shelled animals, like clams and crabs, by using a set of heavy, crushing teeth that are borne on the bones that support the gills.”
Although anglers catch many drum with shrimp and other baits, nothing works better than a crab. For monster drum, use a whole fresh crab. Keep the top shell attached, but crack it to let juices ooze into the water. Drum might also hit a small live blue crab hooked through the back near the rounded swimmer fins.
“It’s hard to get a black drum to hit a lure,” Weaver admitted. “I have caught drum on artificial baits, but it’s more of an accident while targeting something else. Drum really love crustaceans.”
Half a crab cracked oozing savory juices often proves too tempting for any drum. When fishing with a crab half, first break off the claws and toss them into the water for chum. Then, remove the top shell and break the remaining body in half. With the top shell removed, it should break easily into two nearly equal pieces. Run a hook through the meaty part so that the point exits out a leg hole.
“It’s hard to beat a cracked crab when fishing for big drum, except when using a soft-shelled crab,” quipped Tommy Pellegrin of Custom Charters (985-851-3304, www.Customchartersllc.com) who guides out of Cocodrie, La. “I use a 7/0 circle hook on a Carolina rig with the slip sinker above the swivel and leader. A circle hook catches a fish in the corner of its mouth, so it’s very easy to release it unhurt. We keep some small drum to eat. I think puppy drum, those in the 16- to 24-inch range, are better eating than redfish.”
Whole fiddler crabs also make excellent drum bait. Use the males with one large claw. In shallow water, anglers dangle crabs under corks, but most people fish crabs on the bottom of a deep hole. Put the rods in holders and set the reels to click when something runs off with the bait.
While most anglers catch drum by accident, the large fish can provide outstanding sport. After investing a few dollars for bait, or better, a little effort catching bait, anglers can frequently enjoy big-game action close to home.
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