Beating The Drum To Sunset

We searched for the mysterious green flash as the sky turned crimson then vermilion mixed with a myriad of shades of yellows, oranges and blues.

We were heading out of Kiptopeake State Park, past the Concrete Ships to the Cabbage Patch. The sun dipped near the horizon hovering like an alien spaceship above the shimmering waters of the lower bay.

Though we had observed the green flash at lower latitudes, it still eluded us in Chesapeake Country. But this fact does not deter us from the hope of eventually seeing it here.

A Colorful Sunset
There was just a slight chop on the surface of the early evening waters. This added to the glorious sunset by diffusing the voracious cacophony of colors across the entire disk of water we were surrounded by.

My fishing partner Ruta said, “The trip is already a success, even if we don’t catch anything.”

The season was a bit young for drum, mid-May. However, in the occasional year, we had taken a few of these behemoths even in early May. But it was a pretty night, so we decided to give it a go.

Ruta quietly slipped the anchor overboard in 28 feet of water just as the disk of Sol slipped below the horizon. The tide had just turned to the ebb. Except for a few boats with fuzzy, vibrating outlines that looked like ghost ships near the horizon, we were alone.

Lines were lowered to the bottom and as they swept away from the stern in the outgoing current, the rods were placed in the holders. It didn’t take long before the ratchet on Ruta’s reel screamed with that wonderful urgency that is music to an angler’s ears.

She pulled the pole out of the holder, flipped the anti-reverse and hit the fish like a baseball slugger swinging at another homerun pitch. The drag whined as the drum peeled off the line.

Within 15 minutes the brute was brought to the boat and I carefully slipped the gaff into its gill and we both dragged it onto the deck.

Ruta Lands A 45-Pounder
“Robbin’ the cradle,” I teasingly said. It was only about 45 pounds. “Oughta’ throw it back.”

“Forget it,” she grumbled. “I land ’em, I keep ’em.”

Ruta with a couple of nice drum.

Drum may be encountered almost anywhere in Chesapeake Country. They usually appear in the Lower Bay anytime between the first week of May and Memorial Day. The Cabbage Patch and the rock islands around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel are favorite early season locations. They then begin to spread out and head north and may be found around the mouths of creeks including Cherrystone, Occohanock, and Pungoteague. They can also be encountered around the channel edge in the open bay. Chesapeake anglers prefer to fish depths between 8 feet and 35 feet.

Another body of black drum runs up along the seaside. These fish are heading for Delaware Bay. The first area where these guys encounter Eastern Shore anglers is around Oyster. They then progress farther up the coast to Great Machapongo, Quinby, and Wachapreague Inlets. Most angler’s here fish between the breakers sandwiched between the barrier islands. The preferred depth is between 6 feet and 15 feet.

Rigging For Drum Varies
Anglers use a variety of rigs. Our favorite is the sliding fish finder setup. One could employ the plastic sliders that can be bought in most tackle shops. Egg-shaped slip weights are just as good.

An 8/0 beak, or better yet a laser sharpened hook, such as the Mustad Ultra Point, is tied to a 4-foot, 50-pound to 80-pound-test leader. A strong swivel, 2/0 to 4/0, is fastened to the other end. The line is pushed through the 4-ounce to 8-ounce sinker, and tied to the other end of the swivel. Now the line can slide freely through the weight. The reason for the long, heavy leader is that the line often runs across the drum’s back and can be frayed by the sharp points of the dorsal fins.

While some do use light tackle, they lose a lot of fish. A 3/0 conventional reel, loaded with 30-pound to 50-pound-test on a medium to heavy rod, is just about right.

Crabs Bait Of Choice
The overwhelming favorite bait for black drum is soft or peeler crabs. These can be bought from bait houses and tackle shops. However, they can be fairly expensive. But when compared to the amount spent on other things we use to pursue our sport, it is minimal.

A large drum can be difficult to lift.

Clams also work well. In fact, in the lower bay and on the seaside they are the offering of choice. We’ve caught black drum on cut fresh menhaden and herring as well as pieces of squid. But if you have a limited amount of time, use peelers or soft crabs.

Bring plenty of bait. There usually are lots of “pickers” around. These are small fish and crustaceans that are bait-consuming machines. Usually there also are a bunch of sharks and skates roaming around. These guys could be fun to catch and bothersome at the same time. Be careful of the sharks’ teeth.

Black Drum fishing in May and early June in the waters off the Eastern Shore of Virginia can give you a chance to catch a really big fish and have lots of fun doing it.

For a fine assortment of fishing gear, click here.

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