BEATING A BIG, BLACK DRUM
Although I consider myself more of an offshore fisherman at heart, the chance to hunt down a 30- to 70-pound fish in skinny, crystal-clear water definitely gets my heart pumping.
The size of the fish you can chase offshore is typically of a bigger class, but you can't always get offshore and sometimes I just don't have the time to put in a full day. So when I need a quick fix for something of size and another sea trout or redfish just won't cut it, I like to go out and stalk a true giant and the black drum fits the bill nicely.
Black drum are a very under-rated game fish, even though they can reach huge proportions and are more difficult to catch than their red counterparts.
The black drum (Pogonias cromis) is similar to the red drum but is known to reach a much larger size. Juvenile black drum feature a distinctive black-and-white striped pattern resembling an Atlantic sheepshead until they reach 15 to 20 pounds. At this point the black drum's color pattern greys out and depending on the fish, its appearance will become a brownish black or sometimes a light grey to a dark-copper color.
As they get older, black drum start to look all beat up and tattered, and anglers have given them an appropriate nickname — the Big Nasty. They really become quite ugly in their old age, and almost appear like they're molting. The drum spend much of their life foraging in shallows and oyster beds so their skin can become bruised and flaky.
Black drum use their powerful jaws and crushers in their throat to consume their prey. The majority of their diet consists of crushed oysters, clams, crustaceans and barnacles. They are bottom feeders true and true, with sensitive barbels under their chin to help them locate food.
It's said that black drum have very poor eyesight, which in my experience makes it easier for anglers to get close to these fish while stalking them on the flats. Unfortunately, it makes hooking a nice black drum on an ill-placed fly or artificial lure damn near impossible. Fishing for black drum with artificials is another story entirely. For the sake of this article, however, lets focus on using crabs to entice these nearly blind game fish to eat.
Many times you will hear black drum as you search the flats or when fishing near piers, pilings and structure. They are capable of producing drumming tones between 100 and 500 mHz! To this day I'm still amused by the sound they make when you land one.
There are many ways to fish for large black drum in the western Atlantic, since they cover a wide range and diverse habitat. Black drum can be found from Florida to Nova Scotia and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. The species is most common along the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to the southern portions of Florida but I'm told they are abundant along the Texas coast and Louisiana.
Spawning usually takes place in the early spring after the fish reach sexual maturity around 4 to 5 years old. Black drum can live more than 40 years and the current world record weighed in at more than 110 pounds!