Putting a fiddler crab on a hook involves more than most people expect. Catching the fiddler crab first, is the time-consuming part. Walking into a marsh during low tide, an angler sees armies of them with males waving one outsized claw to attract attention from females.
Fiddler crabs are nothing to fiddle around with. That big claw can draw blood from a fingertip during the catching or the hooking. Using rubber gloves makes capturing them safe, but makes impaling one with a fishhook impossible.
I usually remove the big claw before hooking a male fiddler so a fish will not bite it and take off, missing the body of the crab that has the hook. Yet, here I was, beneath a bridge, preparing to make a cast with a claw pricking my thumb and it hurt. My revenge was sending the clawless crab beneath the surface, weighted by a bank sinker.
Sheepshead were the target, but when the fiddler hit bottom another fish gobbled it down. It attempted to wrap the line around the bridge piling. But the braided line defeated the barnacled concrete.
The fish fought hard, like a sheepshead. But when it finally struggled in the net, it was a different species. While it had the same black and silver convict stripes of a sheepshead, the elongated shape gave the fish away as a black drum.
Most fishermen do not target black drum. Other “inshore slam” species that garner the glory included red drum, flounder and speckled trout. While black drum lurk in the same habitats, feeding side by side with the more glamorous game fish, it is their prey preference that makes them more difficult to catch.
Anglers after the inshore slam species typically use fish or artificial lures to catch them. But black drum, like sheepshead, have an affinity for crustaceans. If an angler does catch a black drum on a piece of fish or a lure, there’s a good chance that they are particularly plentiful in that locale and switching to shrimp, fiddler crabs, mole crabs or clams is likely to ensure more action.
Black drum are one of a handful of species without bag or size limits in North Carolina. Fishery managers have explained the lack of regulatory oversight by saying the species did not appeared to be impacted by fishermen, so a hands-off approach was adopted.
However, in many other states throughout the South, black drum are subject to size and bag limits. My biggest black drum weighed 74 pounds and would have been too large to land and weigh in some other southern states. That fish was caught from the Cape Fear River, not far from where my most recent catch was the two-pound juvenile in the landing net.
Over the years, I think I’ve the numbers of large black drum caught in the river decline. But without hard data, fishery managers have no way of sorting out what is going on today from what used to be. Ask any angler and he will tell you that the fishing was always better yesterday.
I enjoy catching black drum as much as red drum. I think they taste better fried, baked or blackened. In North Carolina, red drum are subject to a slot limit of one fish between 18 and 27 inches. But I can currently keep any number of black drum in any size. For me, one or two for supper is enough, but other anglers may fill their coolers.
Over the years, I’ve spoken to biologists about instituting size and bag limits. Commercially landed in other waters, notably Chesapeake Bay, black drum are now under the regulatory microscope.
Delaware, New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia are gathering public input regarding the Public Information Document (PID) for a federal Interstate Fishery Management Plan for black drum. Public comment is being taken on observed changes in the fishery, regulations, enforcement, management and research and any other concerns.