JANUARY IS CONSIDERED a tough month among anglers. Unless you are a truly dedicated grinder looking for that ONE trout that may never come.
The rest of us are usually at home getting caught up on the things that you neglected when the trout and reds were biting all summer and fall. Maybe you’re watching WFN and a) wishing you were somewhere in the tropics catching fish; or b) wondering what possesses Yankees to sit on top of three feet of ice to catch fish.
January’s up-and-down weather makes planning a fishing trip an iffy proposition at best. Even when you can get out, there is no guarantee that there will be trout or redfish around to make the run to the Lower Laguna Madre worth the effort.
Anglers who are willing to modify their targets to a different quarry can have plenty of action, even when the weather is snotty. There’s no need for specialized tackle or for neoprene waders that can withstand an Arctic gale.
In fact, you may be at an advantage if you simplify your approach when hunting the tatanka of the coast, the black drum.
Some sharpies along Lower Laguna Madre have taken to calling the schools of foraging black drum “tatanka.” As we learned from the Kevin Costner horse opera Dances With Wolves, tatanka means “bison” in the Lakota language.
The name is not unjustified. Much like their wooly namesakes, black drums are burly, large; and they tend to forage the breadth and width of LLM. Much like the bison, they may also be one of the toughest critters in their habitat.
A two-to five-pound blackie can put up a stout fight on trout tackle. Tangling with one of the 30- to 40-pound beasts that lucky anglers sometimes latch into is often likened to reeling a bowling ball up a sharp incline.
It isn’t difficult to find an area that produces good numbers of black drums. 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 sea lice—or mantis shrimp—for bait. In the winter, sea lice are easier to find than fresh shrimp. The trick is to remove the beasty’s head, peal 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 tatanka won’t pass up a sea louse as an easy meal.
Often overlooked when hunting tatanka are the deeper holes around the fishing shacks along the edge of the ICW. Black drums 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 these 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’s 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 five- to ten-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 into 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 put on your best Kevin Costner scowl, and go after a tatanka or two.
Spot: Highway 48 Shoreline
Species: Sheepshead, drum.
Techniques: Freelined live shrimp, fresh bait on the bottom.
Email Calixto Gonzales at [email protected]