MENTION SOUTH BAY and most Texas Gulf Coast anglers, and they will think of big speckled trout, burly redfish, and of course, the flamboyant and acrobatic snook.
Mention South Bay to Captain Carlos Garcia, and he begins talking about the hordes of black drum that take over the boat channels from July until the first major cold front in winter. In fact, Captain Garcia’s main focus through most of October is toward the noisy and tasty beasts that stack up in the eastern part of the Bay knows as The Washing Machine (or McGuillicutty’s Hole to some of the older anglers).
Granted, the black drum lacks the glamour of redfish, trout, or flounder, but when Captain Garcia brings in a three person limit of 15 black drum that tops 50 pounds, there is rarely any complaining. Anglers leave happy with bags of tasty fillets and tons of weary arms. A three- to six-pound drum on light tackle is a serious struggle, and these fish can wear you out.
There is no need for specialized tackle when you go after these black drum. The easiest rig to use is a single dropper bottom rig with a 2/0 Sproat hook and a one-ounce bell or pyramid sinker. Bait up with live or fresh shrimp, and pitch the rig up against a channel edge and wait for the telltale thump.
If tides or winds make running to South Bay prohibitive, it isn’t difficult to find another area that produces good numbers of black drum. Just a little north and west of the causeway is a broad flat 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 works well for these bruisers. Most of the fish will be over the maximum 30-inch slot, but the best bait for large black drum is 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.
Many anglers have recently begun using blue crab chunks or sea lice—or mantis shrimp—for bait. The trick is to remove the beasty’s head, peel back some of the carapace to let more scent ooze out of the body, thread it on a hook through the tail, and chuck it out.
Experience has taught me that those uglies won’t pass up sea lice as an easy meal. If you happen to come up with a live one in your bait bucket full of shrimp, be careful. These little beasts can lay a finger open with a quick flip (they have some sharp claws).
Another spot that often gets overlooked when it comes to hunting black drum is the deeper holes that are formed around the fishing shacks along the edge of the ICW. Black drum tend to mill around in these holes when the tide is washing off the flats behind the shacks.
The docks act as a current break, and crustaceans get washed into the areas. Drop your anchor or Power Pole next to the end of the shack’s dock—usually on the North side—and cast into the deeper water in front of and parallel to the shack. It is considered bad form to tie off to a shack’s dock, except in the case of a real emergency.
A standard free-line rig with a #3 split shot and size 1/0 Khale hook is a practical choice. Live or fresh shrimp is best, but again, crab isn’t a bad option if bugs aren’t easily available.
If the run to the shacks is a bit long for you—it’s a 30-minute run with even a large motor—an easier-accessed spot is the mouth of South Bay. This spot is a quick 5-to-10 minute run from most put-in points.
On an outgoing tide, anchor on the edge of the channel mouth that opens out of South Bay, and use the same free-lining techniques that you would on the ICW.
Sometimes, the tidal flow is stronger than normal (especially during the full moon), so a heavier weight or even a ¼ ounce jighead tipped with shrimp is a necessity. If the current is forming an eddy at the end of the mouth, set up down current of the eddy, cast into it, and let your bait flow out to the fish. It won’t take too long before you feel that telltale “Thump!”
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.
Even when the weather sours, you will have some good fishing opportunities on the Lower Laguna Madre. Just listen for the sounding of the drums, grab your favorite rod and reel, and get to it.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]