Forget full moons and flower blooms, the black drum arrived with the April showers.
The spring bite on black drum in Delaware Bay is as close to a guarantee as any bet you can take in life. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy everyday but if you do some homework and put in your time, you will be successful.
I hear guys every spring say “The drum don’t bite till the full moon in late May,” or “you have to wait till the gnats bite or the forsythias start to bloom.” Well lose all those thoughts and watch water temperatures. They show up every year sometime in April and keep coming through the month of May. And, once that water gets in the high 50s they will start to chew.
In 2019 we had 34 drum on the boat during the last week of April and they continued to bite right through May and into early June, as usual. Last year I caught some fish with friends in early May on the 3rd day of the month. The wind went hard northwest for a couple of days later that week and they totally shut down for a solid week. They don’t go anywhere since they are here to spawn – they just stopped eating.
Here’s fixing another fallacy; no, you do not need to go in the dark. I run my trips usually leaving the dock in the early afternoon and most of the time I’m back at the dock before the street lights come on. I will say that some of the really good bites are when the end of a tide and sundown occur together, but many times we start catching soon after we get set up on the anchor.
On The Spawn
Sometimes there will be a couple of days with slow fishing in the middle of it all and my opinion is that they are spawning and they have other things on their mind besides feasting on your clam. Of course, the biggest issue is getting bait. Fresh clams are the “go to” bait and you will need to pre-order them in most cases as they can be hard for the tackle shops to get. More and more guys are starting to experiment with crabs and are having good success. But, if you’re using clams, put the whole clam on the hook and if they are small use two. Crabs should be cut in half, remove the legs and cut the points off the outer end. The crabs will cut down on all the little bites that become quite annoying when the water warms and the little fish show up. Just make sure you’re keeping fresh bait in the water at all times.
As far as the rig goes, you want to use a fish finder rig with a leader of 60-pound test that is about 2 to 2-1/2 feet from the swivel. In the hard running current, shorten the leaders so the bait will remain more stationary as drum are lazy. I use 8/0 circle hooks and it makes it easy to get hooked up. When the drum first bites you tend to swing and it’s going to be a miss. That’s why circle hooks make so much sense because there’s no hook set to miss – all you have to do is let them swim away with your bait and when the rod bends, just turn the handle and your success rate will be well over 90 percent.
Always lean towards a heavier weight than you think you need. The key is to keep it still. My preference in rod is a PENN Rampage jigging rod (#RAMJG8013058) and the reel is a Penn Fathom 15, either a lever or star drag.
Here in black drum country in Cape May, the fishing has been very good for the past few years just a couple of miles north of the ferry slips and within 3 miles of the beach. More of these black drum are spreading throughout the state, with catches also coming from all along the New Jersey beaches, and from Great Bay to Raritan Bay as well. Clam baits in the surf during May and June will score you a striper, but it may get you a decent drum as well.
As for anchoring up in other locations north of Delaware Bay, I recommend talking to your local tackle shop for inside advice. Black drum are notorious for making a mess of commercial clam lots. If you’re finding difficulty getting surf clams in the shop perhaps you can find a local bayman who can help you purchase big chowders and even direct you to where any drum are known to school up in the spring.
Black Drum Battle
The Fisherman Magazine is once again partnering with PENN to help kick start the spring run of black drum with the annual Black Drum Battle. First place grand prize is a $2,200 prize package that includes an eight-hour black drum charter next season aboard Full Ahead Sport Fishing, a pair of PENN Fathom reels with matching PENN Rampage 7-foot rods, two 300-yard spools of Spider Wire Ultra Cast, two 100-yard spools of Berkley Pro Spec Fluorocarbon Leader and one pair of Costa Sunglasses.
The contest is open to subscribers and non-subscribers alike, and to qualify for the grand prize, a black drum of at least 20 pounds must be caught on rod and reel within New Jersey or Delaware marine waters, and must be weighed and measured (length and girth) at one of the participating tackle shops designated an official Fisherman Magazine Weigh Station. One second prize winner will receive a pair of PENN Squall star drag combo outfits, a pair of 300-yard spools of Spider Wire Blue Camo and a pair of Costa Sunglasses.
Those who aren’t subscribers have to register for the tournament first; it’s free and can be done online by visiting www.blackdrumbattle.com and agreeing to the official rules prior to fishing. After you’ve registered in the Black Drum Battle and caught your big boomer, the fish weight and measurement must be entered on an official entry form, signed and dated by the tackle shop’s authorized personnel, with a photo of you and your qualifying catch submitted along with the Official Entry you’ll find at the official Fisherman Magazine Weigh Station. The contest entry period begins at 12:01 a.m. on May 1, 2021 and ends at 11:59 p.m. on June 30, 2021.
If you are a current subscriber to The Fisherman Magazine, you’re already entered into the contest, and you could also win $500 cash prize on top of the first place prize package if your black drum tops them all. The contest is open to residents of Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, though employees of The Fisherman, sponsors, promoters and any prize providers are not eligible to enter or win. The contest is only open to those not currently employed in the fishing industry (commercial or for-hire captains and crews are excluded, as are tackle shop owners and staffers, marina owners and staff, outdoor writers, and those who work in the sportfishing and marine industry).
You’re apt to encounter black drum throughout New Jersey this month, but for sure Delaware Bay is still black drum central this time of year. Where else can you go fish reasonable hours, have a real chance of catching a fish well over 50 pounds and never be out of sight of land?