Uzzle: A winter one two punch
It is always the intent of any fisherman to do battle with a mighty fish, a giant of epic proportions that will live forever in memories for years to come. For most folks who do not regularly inhabit offshore waters your choices of really big fish to catch are rather small. The occasional redfish of 35 to 40 inches are often the biggest boys in the neighborhood next to alligator gar or maybe a big catfish. You can add a pair of names to the list of heavyweights that routinely make a name for themselves during this time of year, black drum and stripers.
While the dedicated legions of big trout anglers are waist deep on a shallow flat somewhere out there a few folks are taking advantage of another bite that offers up a real opportunity to tangle with a monster. The jetty systems that line the channels become a highway for some very under rated and over sized fish as big black drum congregate in the deep holes there that have eroded over time. The classic set up for folks who would rather stay warm and dry while chase their trophy.
Under normal everyday conditions black drum inhabit surrounding waters in respectable numbers most of the year. Generally the drum that are found on the north end of Sabine Lake and in the Sabine River are usually anywhere from 12 to 20 inches long. During the winter is when the big fish show up. While fishing the Sabine River and Intracoastal canal in January and February I have had at least a dozen of these big black drum over 40 pounds in the past caught by clients fishing live shad or cracked crab. Let me say this, “A drum that size is a real deal workout any way you look at it”. For nearly every person who catches one that size it’s the biggest fish they have ever caught on a rod and reel, a great accomplishment no matter how you slice it and a proud day for a guide when they can put people on their personal best fish.
The really big fish are normally found closer to the jetties, along the ship channel, and out in the gulf. On a run out to the lake recently I stopped to watch a fisherman do battle with one of these huge fish. Slow powerful runs kept the rod bent nearly in two as the great fish worked the drag system over for more than 20 minutes. My clients and I were amused by the fight and gave out encouraging words and congratulations as the fish finally was brought to the boat. Perhaps the best description of what happens when you hook one of these giants is to compare them to hooking a runaway fork truck, they won’t outrun you but you just can’t stop them either when they decide to pull.
Big black drum can be caught on a variety of baits, shad, mullet, or shrimp are good options but the best bet for these huge fish is crab. Big black drum are suckers for a piece of crab fished on or near the bottom. Popular rigging for this method consists of hooking a 1/4 of a whole crab onto a 3/0 or 4/0 live bait hook that is tied to a 1/2 ounce weighted Carolina rig with 18 to 24 inches of leader. Some fishermen really beef up their tackle by using 20 to 25 pound test monofilament and big heavy rods, use your own discretion and just remember what they say about chasing a bear with a switch. Hooking up and landing a fish in the 40 to 50 pound class is real treat for any fisherman, especially those of the inshore ranks. Big fish like these don’t come around often so take advantage of the opportunity.
Now the other member of this 1-2 punch is another hard pulling specimen that receives little pressure due the places where they normally reside. Striped bass are a welcome diversion for local fishermen during the winter and early spring. Many anglers only find these brutes on accident as they probe the river for redfish. It wasn’t until the last 5 years or so that we really got to pattern these fish and become proficient at catching them. Most of the ones we caught were strictly by accident while chunking crankbaits along the shorelines and at the mouths of the marsh drains while targeting redfish. The toughest ones by far to catch are the ones that suspend in the main river, any fish suspended is a tough target and these are just exactly that. By relying on good electronics anglers can position themselves and make a proper presentation by casting up current and allowing their bait to fall into the face of the fish.
Another great option is to fish with a heavier jig or swim bait and fish vertically or slowly trolling over these suspended fish, freshwater anglers refer to the technique as “strolling”. The tried and true method of fishing live bait scores some big fish as well, live mullet, shad, or crawfish are tops on the list for options. All the techniques mentioned are great ways to catch stripers but there is no more exciting way to catch one than on a topwater plug. Occasionally the stripers will school up and break the surface making them ideal targets for a surface plug. The strikes are violent and are often by some really huge fish. Dickie Colburn and I found the stripers mixed in with speckled trout one day under the birds in the Sabine River of all places. All the trout were good fish but the stripers stole the show as they routinely ran off with line and gave a great fight. These fish love low light conditions so the overcast crummy days play right into their strength as they prowl around looking to ambush their next meal. I have spent some great days in less than desirable conditions with a smile on my face as these fish continued to crush my lure. For this time of the year there are few fish I would rather chase and still fewer who fight as well as the stripers do.
The striper and the black drum are not high on the “flashy” or “sexy” list but they rarely fail to impress those who catch them. The sheer size of these fish and the strength with which they pull can be a real eye opener, especially if you are one of those who dismiss these fish as inferior or not worthy of your time. I, along with a whole host of other anglers will be glad to tell you how much fun and challenging these fish are to catch. They are a tremendous option and alternative to fish you target everyday and can certainly provide you with plenty of excitement. In the coming weeks if you are looking for a challenge of different kind do yourself a favor and check out the winter 1-2 punch of black drum and striped bass, they just may surprise you.