Woods, waters and wildlife

The black sheep

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Possibly due to better press coverage, a lot of fishermen seem to think there are only three fish in our bays to catch and eat: redfish (red drum), speckled trout (spotted sea trout) and flounder. Offshore fishermen in the Gulf also target red snapper, and several others. I’ve eaten a seine-full of all and hope to do so again. They’re part of the blessing of living within driving distance of the coast. (I’m glad it’s almost supper time; I’m getting hungry just thinking about it).

Before anyone reaches for a pen and paper or their computer, please understand that I know there are other edible fish is saltwater. This column isn’t about them. I’ve eaten most others, but you may not want to know all the things I’ve eaten.

This offering is about black drum. Shortly after I moved to Alice, near Corpus, a new friend told me he enjoyed catching black drum as much as anything. I listened intently. He also told me I’d probably unknowingly eaten a platter or two of black drum in restaurants that sold it as redfish. You also may not want to know all the places where I’ve dined. And I’ve never gotten sick eating seafood, although I came close one night in Juarez after a plate of oysters.

Juarez is a long way from the coast in every direction.

Capt. Sally (Moffett) Brown and her husband, Capt. Aubrey Brown, own Baffin Bay Rod and Gun and guide the area. Capt. Sally recently wrote that black drum is “delicate white meat that is sweet and easy to cook.” She called five black drum on a stringer “a mouth-watering event”. Ones under five pounds are the best eating. Larger ones have coarser flesh.

Then why are black drum the “black sheep” of saltwater fish? For one reason, Parks and Wildlife doesn’t classify it as a “gamefish”. That may have been a trade-off with commercial fishing interests to get the so-called “redfish bill” passed that outlawed commercial netting of game fish in the 1970s. Black drum are commercially caught and sold. But non-commercial black drum catches are regulated. The bag limit is five per day between 14 and 30 inches in length. An exception in the regulations allows anglers to keep one over 52-inches to permit a state record fish to be entered. The current Texas record is 81 pounds, 51.18 inches, caught by Wally Escobar, Jr., in 1988. No special tag is required, and the oversized drum counts in the five-fish bag limit. A valid fishing license and saltwater endorsement are required.

Black drum are often caught in shallow water Texas bays by boat or wade fishermen sight-casting in front of a “tailing” drum or two, using cut fish, squid, crab, or peeled shrimp. They feel or smell food with whisker-like barbels on their chins. Some use flies, spoons, or scented soft plastic lures.

In the Gulf, larger drum are caught year-around near jetties or in deep channels.

Don’t pass up this bounty!

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