Plenty of anglers dont just consider December a time for bragging-sized trout on Lower Laguna Madre. Granted, there are quite a few out there who are on the hunt for Ol Mustardmouth, but plenty of rank and file anglers shift their focus from spots to whiskers. The color of favor for these fishermen isnt the yellow of a big trouts mouth, but the silver and black of a black drum.
Lower Laguna Madre from Brazos Santiago to Port Mansfield is loaded with black drum that are grubbing around flats and thumping along in channels and are relatively available to anglers who dont want to spend hours casting Corkies and Catch 5s waiting for that single mouse-tap that could be a wall-hanging trout. These anglers are usually looking for steady action and some fillets for the table and the black drum is an accommodating sort of critter.
Shorebound anglers can get access to some decent fishing for drum along both the South and North Jetties that bracket Brazos Santiago Pass on the southernmost end of South Padre Island. The deep water channel is a major thoroughfare for various sizes of drum. A calm day and an incoming tide are ideal conditions for the December angler to have a shot of latching into the noisy cousins of the redfish. Most of these fish are in the upper end of the 14 to 30-inch slot, and many are beasts that can push north of 40 inches (a neat little fact about black drum is that after they surpass 26 inches or so, you can figure their weight at about a pound an inch. These brutes can be a real handful to land, even on some of the heavier surf casting combos and 20 pound line that many rock hoppers use this time of year.
Whether you are using a coffee-grinder spinning reel, Penn 309, or lighter tackle, the best bet is to not try and burn a cast to the middle of the channel, but actually fishing closer to the rocks. The deep holes that are formed by currents and eddies create slackwater that drum aggregate in to feed or stay out of the current. Most anglers like pinning fresh dead shrimp or crab chunks on a dropper rig with the sinker at the bottom and one or two hooks hanging about the sinker. The problem is that the sinker is prone to snagging up in the crevices and crags of rock outcroppings. A better rig is a slip-sinker rig using a sliding leger composed of a doubled length of line looped over the main line above a red bead and swivel and several 2 or 3 split shot pinched onto it. If the split shot get snagged in the rocks, they will pull off the loop with a little steady pressure and you can reel in and re-rig. The same fresh shrimp or crab chunks on a 3/0 or 4/0 Khale hook will suffice.
Fishermen who are looking for a mess of eating-sized drum should look further inshore to South Bay. The boat channels that allow egress in and out of the shallow bay are also drum magnets. Look to points and where two channels intersect as potential spots to fish, especially during an outgoing tide. Again, fresh shrimp and live shrimp are great choices for bait. Use a free line rig with a split shot to take the bait down into the deep water.
Another excellent choice for feeding black drum is a 3-inch Gulp! Shrimp on the same rig or on a 3/8 ounce football head jig (such as the ones bass fishermen use on plastics). If you use the jig/Gulp! Combo, hop it along the bottom. The shape of the head allows the tail to stand straight up, which will get a drums attention. Good colors are Glow and Pearl. The rig is easy to use, and the use of artificial tails mitigates the difficulty in finding shrimp, which can be a bit problematic.
Further north is the Texaco channel, which is located just off of Holly Beach. This is a little-known, but productive, drum spot. On warm days, pods of drum will spread out over the flats that are on either side of the channel to forage and get a little sun and warmth. If you watch, you will spot the mud boils and disturbed water pushed by feeding drum. Use the same football jig, but you can choose between the Gulp! or a headed shrimp threaded onto the hook. When hooked on trout tackle in this manner, even a 4 pound drum can prove to be a challenge. They tear off into long, line peeling runs and will give you a dogged fight similar to a redfish.
On cloudier, cooler days, fish in the deeper part of the channel itself. You can use the same jighead setup, or you can actually fish with a popping cork setup, especially if you are using live shrimp. Set the line below the cork a little deeper to take into account the 4 foot depths of the channel. If the drum are there, it wont take long to dial them in.
These black drum may not be as glamorous as a monster trout, but they are earnest fighters, and a good day cold means a box full of the delicious noise-makers. It isnt a bad way to spend a December day.
THE BANK BITE
Hot Spot: North Jetties
Species: Black Drum, pompano.
Tips: Use fresh shrimp on the surf side on an incoming tide, the channel on an outgoing.