Drumroll, please: They've arrived in big numbers Y: Bill Burton

Outdoor Journal

May 30, 1991

If big fish are your sport, head for the Stone Rock off Tilghman Island where black drum have moved in. Don't expect much of a fight; the thrill is in the size of the catch.

Most are of nearly 40 pounds, a few have topped 70 -- and i recent years there have been catches of these not-so-beautiful lunkers of nearly 100 pounds. I don't care what you hook, even a boot of that size provides some action.

Too bad black drum don't have the zip of their somewhat smalle red drum counterparts. Then fishermen would have it all. But, blacks stay close to the bottom, fight sluggishly and seldom make a long run. They're strong though, add to this their size, and they can be a challenge.

Just keep a tight line, hold the rod tip high so the bend in the ro will help prevent them from shaking the hook, and gradually you will work the fish to the boat. Unless you are good with a gaff, use a large net to scoop in the catch.

The drum's large and tough scales makes gaffing more of challenge than fighting the fish. If you insist on gaffing, aim for the fleshy section under the jowls. The scales are like armor.

Drum -- incidentally they offer tasty steaks -- are usually foun hugging the bottom in 15 to 20 feet of water. It takes a trained eye to detect them on an electronic fishfinder. On the screen, they appear like a low picket fence.

They are tightly schooled fish whose feeding habits are finicky. moving tide is needed, also required is fish in the mood to feed. The best -- and practically the only productive bait -- is a whole or half peeler crab, with enough weight to keep it on the bottom.

The technique is to scout around until they are located, the position the boat so wind and tide will carry it over them. As soon as the fish are spotted again, drop the baits, which of course are weighted with enough sinker weight to get them to the bottom -- and hope they're hungry.

Big as a drum is it often bites delicately, something like a Norfol spot. If you will feel the rat-a-tat pick up, allow the fish to move off several feet, then set the hook moderately, not too hard or you can straighten it. Then, set it again. At first, the drum will make a run of 30 to 50 feet; after that it's just wearing it down.

In this do-it-yourself age it's still best to book a charter trip to se how drum are fished properly. One trip, and you can learn enough to try it on your own next time. It's not difficult once you get the knack of it.

And, incidentally, if you're trolling from James Island Shore to th mouth of Eastern Bay and get a strike from what is obviously a big fish, don't assume it's a cownose ray, which are also moving in these days in huge numbers. I recall Earl Ashenfelter cutting five lines while chumming for rockfish thereabouts before landing the sixth big fish, which turned out to be a 60-pound drum on 10-pound line.

How long will the drum be around? Their migration is erratic, bu generally Father's Day -- this year on June 16 -- is considered the peak. But this year they arrived a couple of weeks early so it's anyone's guess.

Calendar ...

* Saturday: Beginning of nine-day Lightning Class World Sailing Championships in Annapolis. Headquarters will be at Severn Sailing Association, Eastport,

* Sunday: Mountain Club of Maryland hike on the Conestog Trail in nearby Pennsylvania. Call 659-7823 or 426-2071.

* Saturday/Sunday: Call 974-3771 to sign on for a weeken canoe trip along the Potomac out of Green Ridge State Forest -- with another trip planned June 15-16. Experienced paddlers only; $60 covers canoe rentals, transportation and meals.

Planning ahead ...

* June 15: Opening for fishing, by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through Oct. 15, of 54-acre Cash Lake at Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel. Boats will be allowed, but no gasoline motors. Bass and pickerel must be released other than one of 15 inches or more of each species a day, and the limit for sunfish and catfish will be 15 a day. Permits are free, and anglers must be 18 or over. Only applications submitted by mail are accepted.

List your name, address, phone number, your vehicle informatio including make, model, year and license tag, and dates for which permits are desired. Application must be submitted one week prior to fishing. Mail information to Fishing Program, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel-Bowie Road, Laurel, Md. 20708. Random drawings will decide who fishes.

Names and places ...

* You're going to be skeptical, and you'll never guess what has turned up in the Chesapeake down Solomons way. Some dolphin? Hey, they're old news these porpoises, though some anglers still don't believe it -- while others blame the appetites of these mammals for thinning out blues.

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