Oft-maligned black drum provide exciting action at little cost

Alabama Living Magazine

By John Felsher

Old concrete pilings placed to prevent shoreline erosion along a canal created stair-step structures that made convenient places for a boatless angler to sit and fish. Breaking a blue crab in half, I tossed one chunk into a deep hole and waited.

Before long, the reel began clicking. Moments later, it started singing as 50-pound-test braided line sizzled from it. Soon, I battled the leviathan in a spirited fight before landing a black drum topping 40 pounds. I tossed the other crab half into the same place. Minutes later, I battled the first drum’s twin.

Many Alabama anglers dislike the big, ugly, noisy fish. Related to redfish, also called red drum, black drum are habitually ignored because many people believe they don’t measure up on the dining table. Large ones can become wormy, but small ones taste delicious.

“Drum are edible fish, particularly young ones up to a couple of pounds,” says Dr. Bob Shipp, a renowned Alabama marine biologist and author of Dr. Bob Shipp’s Guide to Fishes of the Gulf of Mexico. “Many people call these puppy drum. These fish are often offered as a replacement for red drum because red drum are generally unavailable commercially. Larger fish are especially prone to be wormy, although this doesn’t pose a health problem, only an aesthetic one.”

Dustin Bounds shows off a black drum he caught. When temperatures drop, large black drum congregate in big numbers in deeper holes. Photo by John N. Felsher

When temperatures cool, drum action heats up along the Alabama coast. During the fall and winter, giant drum commonly drop into the deepest holes they can find in passes, ship channels or coastal rivers. In these holes, they frequently gather in great numbers and can provide anglers fishing from docks and seawalls tackle-busting action on monster fish for little cost. Black drum can weigh more than 100 pounds. Robert Dean Disney holds the Alabama state record with a 61-pounder.

“Sometimes in a marina, we’ll look down and see huge drum moving along the bottom looking for something to eat,” says Mike Weaver, who guides out of Orange Beach. “They can be prehistoric looking when they get really big. It’s not unusual to catch drum weighing more than 40 or 50 pounds. It’s a great fish for kids to target. They have a blast fighting big drum.”

Anglers occasionally catch drum on lures, but the big bruisers typically want meat. Live or fresh shrimp, clams, squid, small baitfish, fish chunks and other morsels make excellent baits. Above all, though, the barbel-chinned behemoths love to crunch crabs. 

“Drum really love crustaceans,” Weaver says. “We don’t catch as many drum on live pogies or other baitfish. For targeting black drum, I definitely stick with fresh crustaceans.”

Many anglers clean their catches on docks and toss scraps into the water. Crabs come to feast upon the scraps. Drum gather to eat the crabs. For huge drum, use a whole fresh crab. Keep the top shell attached, but crack it to let the savory juices ooze out.

Half a crab can prove irresistible for drum. First break off the claws. Then, remove the top shell and toss it into the water for chum. Next, break the remaining body into two approximately equal halves. Run a hook through the meaty part so that the point exits out a leg hole. Drum might also slurp small live crabs hooked through the back near the rounded swimmer fins.

In the right spot, action can come fast on big ravenous fish. Jetties like those at Perdido Pass near Orange Beach and similar structures that mark deep passes or channels make outstanding places to look for drum. That area also offers good bank fishing access. Drum also gather around bridge pilings.

“Drum tend to hang around structure, such as bridge pilings, rock jetties, wharves and docks,” Weaver says. “Sometimes, currents scour out deep holes around bridge pilings. Those holes around pilings are excellent places to tempt black drum. We also catch drum around the bays and in the canals. Look for deeper holes that have some type of structure.”

Anglers with boats can also find big drum around gas wells and other structures in Mobile Bay. The Dixey Bar area in Mobile Bay can hold giant fish. Also try fishing near any sunken boats, artificial reefs or oyster reefs anywhere along the Alabama coast. In the right spot at the right time, anglers can often land several reel-screeching line pullers quickly without breaking the budget, with or without a boat.

John N. Felsher lives in Semmes, Ala. Contact him through Facebook.


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