The Sounding Of The Drums

They are certainly anything but glamorous.

Lumbering, ox-sized, and homely. That’s a better fit.

Black drum — they’re not the type of fish you want to take to the 3rd Annual Piscator’s Beauty Pageant. But I’ll tell you what, dog faced or not, they sure are one heck of a fightin’ breed. If you want to try and cash in on a piece of them, you’d better fine-tune your gear and head down to their playground in the waters of Delaware Bay — and by the way, when coming to this playground, carry a big stick!

Back In Town

From mid-May into late June black drum move through the waters off southern Jersey and enter the Delaware Bay to spawn, and any smart fisherman knows he has a shot a tying into the huge breeders in the 90-pound to 100-pound variety. Historically, they move in from the ocean and stay on the Delaware side of the bay in late May then move to the Jersey side of the bay later in June, swimming about the mussel and clam beds to feed and spawn.

Get Set Up

Bring four rods out for the trip. Two rods are conventional Penn Slammer, 60-pound class rods with Shimano Calcutta 700s attached, spooled with Power Pro 50-pound-test. The other two are set are for light-tackle fun — Penn 7-foot Power Graph rods with Penn 5500s lined with 25-pound-test.

The line from any reel is affixed with a fishfinder slide and a 4-ounce bank sinker, then a 100-pound barrel swivel tied via Palomar knot, which is then attached to a 4-foot piece of 40-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon, with a size 8/0 Gamakatsu chunking or circle hook on the business end.

Circle hooks are recommended here, since a drum will suck down a clam bait and you will minimize gut-hooked fish. Currents can rip in the bay, so you may need to up the weight ante on your bank sinkers, and use banks, not pyramids or any structure holding weights, since they will inevitably get caught on the mussel beds. To bait up, take your, biggest, sloppiest, whole clam and lance it through three or four times onto the hook. Drop the lines to the bottom, or cast them out, then sit them in the rod holders with the clickers on.

Slick It Up

Once set up on a spot with the anchor holding, start a clam chunk slick, which is key to bringing in the behemoths. Take about three whole clams, smack them together, and chuck ’em over to begin the slick. Repeat this process every two to three minutes or so depending on the current of the tide to begin establishing a slick in order to convince the drum to come under the boat. On your day out, make sure you bring at least a half-bushel to a bushel of fresh clams to be well supplied with bait, and you may opt to use frozen clams for the chum, but fresh clams work a world better.

Behemoth black drum to 100 pounds can be taken using fresh clams during the spring migration through Delaware Bay.

Listen Up — And Hook Up!

During the droughts of no activity, make sure your slick is running strong, but not too strong to be stuffing the fish full. A crucial point to note about drum fishing is to open your ears. Black drum are notorious for their pounding bass drum noise, which they emit when they are moving through the spawning territory. Listen for a series of “BUM-BUM-BUM” noises that sound deep and full and feel the bottom of the boat vibrate. It’s pretty wicked. When you begin to tune in and hear this booming sound, get ready, a strike should be imminent. Now comes the fun part!

When you see your line start moseying on off into the sunset, give it about a five-count and then set hard if you have a J-hook or simply reel up if you are using a recommended circle hook. Upon hooking up, these brawlers will sound immediately to the bottom and outward to the horizon. And then if you gain line on them, they’ll eventually come to the surface and show their face, only to slap their huge, weighty broomtail in your face and power down into the depths again like a Trident submarine.

The Payoff

Sure, black drum is not an esteemed gamefish of feverish following like the Star-Struck Striped Bass, or the Royal Regal-hued Weakfish. And they don’t want to be. They know that they don’t need to be coddled, worshipped and put on a wall. They are simply a big ol’ muscle-headed brute with a bullish determination to take you and your ego for a ride, and to make you plenty sorer than when you got up in the morning!

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