Reds & Black Drum Winter Bonanza

It’s a fact that redfish and black drum are plentiful along the Texas coast, and without these two tasty and hard fighting gamefish a whole lot of anglers would not be having fresh fish for dinner. Redfish have been a mainstay for Texas anglers for decades. But catching and keeping black drum has not been so prevalent. Just to make sure we’re on the same page I’m talking about reds and black drum in the two to 10 pound class. The thinking is that reds are fun to catch, will hit just about any lure dropped in front of them and taste great when fried, grilled, broiled or blackened. On the flip side is a black drum. This fish doesn’t normally hit lures. Nine out of 10 can usually be caught on shrimp (live or dead) or chunks of mullet or Spanish sardines. As far as taste goes a black drum is right up there with trout and reds. A black drum filet is firm white meat and can be cooked just like trout and reds. The big difference between reds and black drum is that reds are a good looking fish. They have character and have been featured in many sporting art paintings. Conversely, black drum are kind of odd looking, drab in color and don’t have a whole lot to offer anglers fishing with lures or even live baits. Plus, I don’t recall seeing an angler in an artist’s painting stalking black drum. But it’s certainly true that both can be caught year round, especially during the cold winter months. The great thing about black drum is that you can keep five per day. Add that to about three redfish and a few trout and you’ve got a load of good eats. A black drum is a chunky, high-backed fish with many barbells or whiskers under the lower jaw. Younger fish have four or five dark vertical bars on their sides. Young black drum and reds, in the 1 to 5 pound class, feed on worms, small shrimp, crabs and fish. Both reds and black drum can adapt to a wider range of habitats than any other important Texas food fish. Both are found in the clearest water on sand flats and in the muddiest waters of a flooding slough. Both species thrive in water so shallow that their backs are exposed, and also in the Gulf waters more than 100 feet deep. They are found on extremely warm shallow flats from Port O’Connor to the Laguna Madre during summer, and survive better than many other fish in freezing weather. They are attracted to freshwater runoff of creeks and rivers, yet can live in waters twice as salty as the Gulf of Mexico. This adaptability makes reds and black drum available to more anglers than any other bay fish, according to studies conducted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Unlike red drum, black drum are rarely taken on artificial baits since most feeding is done by feel and smell. Peeled shrimp tails (preferably ripe and smelly) are excellent bait for taking black drum. I do a lot of fishing for black drum, less than five pounds, at Port O’Connor. What I’ve found is that shrimp, live or dead, will take them all day long. Another great option is to use a small piece of a Spanish sardine, about the size of a quarter. Drum, like catfish, tend to go after smelly baits like old dead shrimp. However, I’ve caught them on live and dead shrimp while staked out with a Power Pole in one spot. One thing you can do to add a little pizzazz to a peeled shrimp is to soak it in menhaden oil over night. What I like to do is spray peeled shrimp, or chunks of mullet and sardines, with Yum F2 spray attractant in shad or shrimp scent. This will catch both reds and black drum all day long. Rigging up to catch small black drum and reds is simple. My favorite rig starts with an 18 inch piece of Silver Thread Fluorocarbon 20-pound-test leader. The leader is tied to a small black swivel. The line off the reel, 14-pound-test Silver Thread, is placed through a ¼-ounce barrel weight and tied to the swivel. A 2/0 Kale hook is tied to the business end of the leader. It’s simple and easy to cast.  It’s a classic bottom fishing rig that allows a fish to pick up the bait without feeling any tug from the weight. I’ll also use this rig with an oval shaped Bomber Paradise Popper X-treme, when I’m trying to cover lots of water that’s two to two to four feet deep. Unlike reds black drum will often "mouth" the bait for some time before swallowing it, so you want to wait until the fish moves off with the bait, then set the hook. Drum don’t jump nor make long racing runs or any of the other things a great sportfish is supposed to do, however they are powerful and will fight all the way in. Black drum and reds will often be found feeding in the same area. Many times I’ve caught both while fishing isolated shell reefs in two to three feet of water on warm winter days. During the summer months, schools of one to four pound drum can be found in shallow water. If the water is clear, the schools can sometimes be spotted, but the clear water makes the fish spooky and hard to approach. Schools of drum feeding shallow often produce a patch of muddy water. This telltale sign allows an angler to drift a boat or to wade into the school. During the colder months, drum of all sizes frequent deeper waters and channels, the jetties and the surf. Some of my most successful winter days for catching red and black drum are during extended periods of warm weather. That’s when these fish will move out of the deep channels to feed on the flats. One thing you need to keep in mind is that reds will eat lures on just about any given day. Black drum definitely prefer small chunks of smelly shrimp, mullet or sardines. Some of the best cold water lures for reds are soft plastics and mullet imitation plugs. One of the newest lures for taking reds and speckled trout is a Bomber Saltwater Grade Mullet. This is a 3-1/2-inch, 5/8 ounce slow sinking mullet imitation lure that’s made in all the right colors. The red head flash has proven to be a hot lure on the middle and lower coast in the clear water. At places like Galveston and Sabine Lake the top colors are gold/orange/black, silver flash/pink/chartreuse and black/chartreuse. Soft plastic jigs like a Yum Mud Minnow or Break’N Shad will fool lots of cold water reds. One little trick is to tip the jig with a tiny piece of peeled shrimp that’s been sprayed with Yum shad or shrimp scent. For more information on finding and catching both reds and black drum at Port O’Connor email sloan288@aol.com.