OUTDOORS: Black drum get little or no respect

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 6, 2002


Only Rodney Dangerfield and hardhead catfish get less respect.

Most fish species gain popularity with size but not when it comes to these guys. Maybe it’s the broad ugly face, those weird-looking chin barbells or the huge rubbery lips and bulging eyeballs.

When it comes to looks, Mother Nature has definitely shortchanged the black drum. On the other hand, what the drum lacks in beauty, it more than makes up for with brawn.

It’s during the hot months of summer when the big monster black drum schools prowl oyster reefs, clam beds and deep holes searching for a quick meal. And even though they’re easy to find and hook, there aren’t many anglers who actually target them.

“Most of the out of state customers are excited to catch a 30-40 pound fish of any kind on light tackle. To them it’s a thrill, but there’s only a handful of locals who really want to catch the big drum,” said Captain Theophile Bourgeois of Bourgeois Charters in Lafitte.

Young, small drum in the 16-20 inch class called “puppies” are fine. But like mongrel dogs, when they grow up they aren’t cute anymore. Puppy drum are very similar to their cousins the red drum and until they mature, acquire a strong taste and become infested with parasitic worms the same recipes that have made redfish a local favorite apply to black drum.

Juvenile drum are often mistaken for sheepshead because they have similar vertical, black stripes which fade and eventually are lost with age. There is a commercial fishery for them but for the most part, for recreational anglers catching big drum is a catch and release proposition.

Most drum are caught incidental to catching redfish. Fishing with heavy tackle and whole crabs or cut mullet in the Gulf of Mexico passes for bull redfish will produce an occasional bull black drum. But to really find them bunched up it’s important to find the holes.

“It’s more important to locate a variation in depth than the deepest holes. If you find a 12-foot hole in five feet of water, that’s a good spot. It’s all relative,” said Bourgeois.

There’s a wide range of rigs that will catch black drum but the best light tackle set up is one of the simplest – the Carolina rig. Line can be anywhere from 10-30 pound test depending on how long you want the fight to last. Start with a sturdy kahle hook tied to 18 inches of at least 20-pound monofilament leader. Tie that to the bottom of a swivel. On the line coming from the end of your rod thread a half to one ounce egg sinker (whatever’s needed to keep the bait down in the current) on and tie it to the top half of the swivel.

Best bait is half of a cracked crab with the top shell and claws removed. Drum will also hit shrimp, croakers or any cut bait but the crabs are better because the hardheads can’t swallow them. When a big black drum picks up the bait, one of two things will happen. Either it will slowly start to swim off tightening the line or it will just “sit” and you’ll feel the dead weight.

A short hook set later and the fight is on. It’s not unusual for a black drum battle on light tackle to last 20-25 minutes. On a fly rod we’re talking hours.

The limits for black drum are exactly the same as for red drum – five per person per day, minimum size 16 inches with only one more than 27 inches. But there’s no limit on how many over 27 inches can be caught and released. After a long fight in shallow, hot water on light tackle, big drum can be totally exhausted and releasing them live can be a tricky proposition. Releasing drum before they are revived enough to survive is a common mistake and is wasteful. Once the fish is unhooked it should be held by the tail with a wet towel or wet hands and pointed downward.

A side to side motion will help oxygenated water pass over the gills which after about a minute should allow the fish to swim off on it’s own.

The fish should not be released until it swims under its power. A fish floating and struggling on its side will probably not make it. If this happens a second or even a third attempt at the release will often be successful.

Timmy Darcey holds the state rod and reel record for drum, a 77-pounder he landed in 1975. Susan Gros who landed a 46.63 drum three years ago holds the state fly fishing record. The all-tackle world record is 113 pounds, 1 ounce.

DON DUBUC is the outdoors reporter for L’Observateur.