Well, it’s May and the Delaware Bay is one of, if not the, best place to fish this time of the year. Where else can you catch giant fish like black drum without ever leaving the site of land or the confines of the bay?
As the water warms, the black drum will move in, and some of these guys will weigh more than 100 pounds. Typically, the “pups” move in first. These smaller drum average 12 to 25 pounds and will make up the majority of the catches. Around Mother’s Day (give or take a few days) the big drum will decide that it’s time to feed.
Drum are a relatively easy fish to catch. Though fishing for drum is generally considered to be an evening affair, some years, there will be a strong daytime bite along with the evening bite. As the water temperature rises, the daytime bite will become less reliable, but the evening bite will continue to be strong. I use the word ‘evening’ because most of the drum trips I run are either back at the dock by the time it’s dark, or at least on the way home by then with happy customers with tired arms.
When fishing for drum, good fresh surf clams as the only bait you will need. It is very important that you fish with enough weight to keep the bait on the bottom, where it will be still and not roll around in the current. I prefer to fish with conventional reels such as the Fin Nor Offshore OFC 16 or OFC 20, filled with 50-pound-test braided line on a 30-pound-class rod. Yes, you can catch these fish on lighter tackle, but remember, if you fight a big drum for 15 minutes in the hard current, they will come to the boat belly up and you will not have the option of releasing them. Should you decide to keep one, remember that drum are good-eating fish as long as you bleed them as soon as you catch them.
For the last couple of years, we’ve been lucky enough to find good fishing on the New Jersey side of the Bay as the biggest schools of fish have taken up residence there. Remember, if you choose to go to the Delaware side and leave from New Jersey, you will need a license to fish there.
It is very easy to find the drum hotspots, because most evenings there will be a sizable fleet where the fish were caught the night before. The most common places to find the drum will be at the Pin Top, Tussys Slough, the Punk Grounds or over at Slaughter Beach (Broadkill Slough) in Delaware.
When fishing the bay, keep in mind that when the wind is pushing against the tide, it can make for some very rough conditions in a short period of time. Also, it can get awfully foggy just before dark, so having a working radar unit is a must if you plan to fish into the dark.
Rigging up to catch these giants is a very simple task. All you need is a fish-finder weight slide for your sinker and a hook of choice on a 50- or 60-pound-test leader of about 30 inches in length. You do not need to use fluorocarbon leader for these fish – any leader material will be fine. I rig all my rods with 7/0 Daiichi improved circle hooks. I have found that circle hooks are the best way to go. This is because you don’t have to worry about when to set the hook.
When you feel that first tap, it’s just the drum “bumping” the bait, and you need to resist the urge to set the hook. You need to wait until they start to swim away. When the drum starts to move off with the bait, just start to wind and you will hook about 95 percent of your fish with circle hooks this way. You will be amazed how light such a big fish can bite.
The prime water temperature for drum action is the low- to mid-60s. When water temperatures get up to 70 degrees, the warm water will chase the fish out of the bay. The main thing you need to remember is that you will be fishing in a crowd, and boats will anchor up on top of one another. Always try not to crowd a boat that is already anchored up and fishing even though this can be very hard to avoid.
So, where else would you want to be in the month of May? The fishing in the Bay is good and the fish are quite large. But always remember that if you are going to use your own boat, be careful and safe as a trip on the Delaware Bay can be the fishing trip of a lifetime or a miserable experience as the weather can change in an instant.