I ‘m slowly beginning to warm up to February. Most anglers will tell you that the shortest month is also the toughest, angling-wise.
The stout cold fronts, north wind, and otherwise snotty conditions make for tough fishing for the weekend angler (especially since it seems that cold fronts seem to blow in on Fridays and spoil the weather for three days.) That seems to be more myth than reality.
I’ve learned that trout and redfish are quite frisky in February. Some guides, like Captain Dan Land, make a lot of their money in February (I refer you to my Saltwater column, “Cold Trout, Warm Hearts,” elsewhere in this issue).
Sheepshead are really starting to stack up and continue the staging they began in January in preparation for their March spawn. And most of all, the black drum fishing that has been steady on the Lower Laguna Madre really starts taking off.
There are plenty of black drum lurking within a very short run from anywhere on South Padre Island and Port Isabel. These fish are low maintenance, and don’t require sophisticated tackle or techniques, they’re dogged fighters, and they can grow quite large.
More than a few anglers have latched into a gnarly, buffalo-shouldered monster black that tipped the Toledos in the upper 30s and 40s while fishing for more moderate-sized fish. There are also plenty of 14 to 30 inch puppy drum cruising to make most anglers happy.
For the past three or four years, there have been large schools of black drum roaming the flats throughout the Lower Laguna Madre. Fisheries biologists believe a large portion of the biomass in the Upper Laguna Madre migrated down the Land Cut into the Lower Laguna Madre, and found the environment to their liking. Much to the delight of local anglers, these noisy fish have made the LLM their permanent home.
These schools are prodigious in size, and though most fish average three to five pounds, there are some big rogues cruising around the edges of these schools and ready to cause some accelerated heartbeats. You can often spot these fish because the school darkens the waters for large swaths.
The water is clouded by the mud and debris black drum kick up while foraging for crabs, shrimp, and the other little morsels they love to grind up. Most of the time, these fish aggregate on flats adjacent to guts and dropoffs that provide an escape route in the event of a large predator, but they’ll also move farther out onto shallower flats that are too shallow for sharks and dolphins.
It isn’t difficult to find an area that produces good numbers of black drum. Just a little north and west of the Causeway is a broad flat known as the Pasture near the current Pirate’s Fishing Pier (a long cast from the pier can easily reach the area).
The best times to fish the area are the calm days after a cold front, and at night during the full moon. Large shrimp on a Carolina rig work well for these bruisers—most of the fish will be over the maximum 30-inch slot—but the best bait for large black drum are crab chunks with the carapace removed. Pass a 5/0 circle hook through a leg socket and out the top of the crab, chunk the whole rig out, and set the rod in a holder to wait.
Boat anglers can have some great success fishing the flats adjacent to the boat guts in South Bay. The drum cruise along the eastern edge of South Bay and retreat into the guts when the tide falls.
Many anglers use a free-line rig with a ¼ ounce sinker or a dropper rig with long-shanked hooks (the shrimp is threaded onto the hook from tail to thorax). Other anglers who can’t sit and wait for a bit will pin a live or dead shrimp onto an ¼ ounce jighead, then cast and hop the bait back to the boat and wait for the tell-tail thump!
My preferred technique is the use a ¼ ounce bucktail, usually in white or pink, with the same sthirmp. Pompano darts, available at Bass Pro Shops, is an effective jig for tipping.
It isn’t a bad idea to use stouter 17 to 20 pound tackle for this application. There aren’t any real snags in the area, but it’s much easier to turn one of these finny bulldozers with the heavier stuff.
An ambitious angler might try night fishing during February’s full moon. The calm, misty nights that are typical of a South Texas are prime black drum nights. Bundle up, take some hot coffee and a few sandwiches, motor out to the Pasture just east of the Intra-Coastal Waterway, and set out your baits. It shouldn’t be too long before a big ugly comes calling.
Even when the weather sours in February, you will have some good fishing opportunities on the Lower Laguna Madre. Be sure to remember to get plenty of roses so you can earn permission to go.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]