We had just finished a limit of trout for the father and son team of Brian and Danaher Broom of Jackson Mississippi. The trip was a present for Danaher for doing so well in school. The plan was simple, go nail the trout in the morning and do some sight casting for redfish in the midday. Step one was complete before 8 in the morning. We were just about to head for some shallow water when we saw the tails a hundred yards from our position. I immediately thought it was a massive school of bull reds so we baited up. We used very few of the 100 live shrimp on the trout limit so we had plenty. All three of our corks landed perfectly in the tailing school. The tails of the fish literally bumped into our corks. I was the first to make the switch to a plain jig head and was hit the second the live shrimp touched bottom. I passed the rod to Danaher and re-rigged the other two rods.
Minutes into the fight we realized what we had stumbled on. It was the largest school of black drum I had ever seen. There must have been over a hundred fish in the school ranging from 5 to 40lbs. We spent well over an hour fighting these brutes, testing our light tackle to the breaking point. Keeping a few of the smaller fish for the dinner table and releasing the big ones, Brian was the one who pulled the plug on the slaughter. “Hey Capt, you said we were gonna do some redfishing.“. Gently releasing a hefty 30lber I cranked the engine and moved to the next spot, grinning the entire way.
Not getting the fame or attention of their bronze cousin (red fish), black drum fight just as hard, maybe even harder. Much like their red relative, the smaller drum is excellent table fare. Fish that are 10lbs or smaller have very few worms and the meat is not at all gamey. Easy to clean and very fun to catch the smaller striped “puppy drum” are delicious game fish.
Spring and fall in the Biloxi Marsh are prime times to find black drum of all sizes. The ideal conditions to locate drum would have to be a grass bed that borders an oyster bed. In areas where this happens if the water is shallow and clear enough it is a sight casters paradise. A 30lb black drum will have a tail the size of a Frisbee so always be on the look out for tailing drum. Of course, the near shore reefs along the MS Gulf Coast are some of the most populated black drum structures on the planet. There are around 60 reefs just off the beaches and they ALL hold fish. The drums stay very close to the rubble, so snags and break offs are unfortunately a package deal. Just be sure to bring plenty of extra hooks, weights, and swivels.
Tackle set up for catching black drum is very simple. A medium heavy rod and reel that can hold 150 yards of braided line. 20 to 30lb will handle almost any sized drum. We have been using the Okuma V series, RTX and Trios in the 30 to 40 class with great success. A 40lb fluorocarbon leader is always a good play. Most, if not all of the drum feed face down to the bottom, so go deep. A Carolina rig or a tight lined lead head will work just fine. Live bait is much more productive but plastics will work. Live shrimp is always a safe bet, but if you can get your hands on some fresh crab, count yourself lucky. Fresh crab to a black drum is like selling air to an astronaut. If the crab are on the larger side, simply crack them in half and hook the farthest end of the shell.
For some real excitement get in a kayak. Much like reds, the black drums will be in the very shallow water. They often times look like a sea monster crawling across the shallow flats. Make your casts count and always lead the fish. Reel your bait in front of the fishes path and give it a few light jerks. Owner of Shore Thing Charters, Capt Mike Thompson found himself stalking a large black drum in the biloxi marsh several years ago in a kayak. “I thought it was nutria rat swimming in a duck pond,” Thompson recalls. “As I got closer I could tell it was a black drum. I was fly fishing that day with a client and we where several hundred yards apart.” Capt Mike explains what happens, “I put the fly right in his path and it was on. That fish drug me for almost 2 miles through the marsh. All I could do was lock down the drag and hang on. Over an hour later I finally got the fish in the kayak with the help of some boga grips. She weighed right at 37lbs and was beautiful.” Thompson had another surprise waiting for him when he got back to the boat. The fish pulled him so far from the boat and fought for so long the other angler got worried. Thompson explains, “When I got back to the boat the other guy was sending a may day to the coast guard. I immediately canceled the distress and apologized.”
The black drum may not get the “spotlight” that their redfish kin can get, but they certainly demand respect. If you are looking for a fish that fights hard and tastes great, give black drum a try. Remember they are regulated so make sure you know the size and bag limits where you are fishing. As always, have fun and be safe.
Captain Sonny Schindler
Shore Thing Fishing Charters
Bay St Louis, MS