Black Drums Rolling East in South Jersey
Black drum, the biggest of the drum family that includes weakfish, croakers and redfish (red drum), is the Garden State’s “big game” quarry that is caught well within sight of land, and, as during the past decade or so, from terra firma itself.
An expanding population has the “boomer”, so called because of the booming noise it sometimes emits when in transit (and oftentimes when it hits the deck of a boat or is dragged up on the sand or sedge bank) moving into areas where it was once plentiful, and also into places, especially north such as Raritan Bay, where it was an infrequent transient at best.
Delaware Bay has long been considered the boomer factory, and this bite should be developing in the next couple of weeks at the latest. Drum in the 60 to 80-plus pound range are not uncommon there, and it’s where the current state record, a 109-lb. beast, was caught in 2008 (more on the D-Bay drum action later next week). However, it’s “east” such as the beaches of Long Beach Island, lower Barnegat Bay, and Great Bay in particular where boomers, from “puppies” (12 to 20/25-lbs.) to fish in the 30 to 50-plus lb. class have been caught mid-April through mid-May with enough regularity to make it worth the effort.
Drum consume crabs and clams, hence its steak-like texture that we refer to as “Veal Chop of the Bay”. Unfortunately, because of its skeletal structure, the yield of meat-to-poundage is not great, and it’s indeed a chore skinning these fish, as it’s impossible to scale them, unless, of course, you have a jackhammer. Worms? Yeah, some drum to play host to what are known as spaghetti worms, but these 2-3 inch parasites, usually found in the tail section, can be plucked out easily, and the most we’ve ever seen is four. They do not affect the meat, but are a bit unsightly.
Fresh surf clams are by far and away the most effective bait. Not frozen clam, not salted clam, but fresh surf clam cut from the shell. We opt for 6/0-8/0 circle hooks (Daiichi or Gamakatsu) when fishing bay side, and make it a point to thread the clam to keep it affixed to the metal.
Getting fresh surf clams can be a challenge, even more so in a few weeks as angling pressure for stripers and drum intensifies. Right now, three reliable sources for the beach and Great Bay drum action are Fisherman’s Headquarters (Ship Bottom), Tuckerton Bait & Tackle (Tuckerton), and Absecon Bay Sportsman Center (Absecon).
While there are a few boomers being picked off in the suds from Ship Bottom down to Holgate, Great Bay is the corral to rein these golden-eyed plow horses. The expansive sedge banks along Graveling Point, Ohio Drive and Iowa Court, all accessed via Radio Road in Osbourne Island below Mystic Island in Little Egg Harbor, offer the best shots at hookups through Mother’s Day week.
From a boat, Grassy Channel is the place to anchor and drop the clam, as it’s Great Bay’s boomer highway. Toss clam shells over periodically, as the scent will pique the interest of any drum moving through.
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