While epic black drum can be caught most of the year in Tampa Bay around the Gandy Bridge, schools of the hefty croakers gather each March reportedly to spawn in the shallows of the bay's south end. "You can hear them [drumming] 100 feet away. It's a crazy thing," says Capt. Ray Markham, a long-time light-tackle guide who grew up on Florida's west coast.
Of course, bay anglers all know about this sightcasting opportunity. When the drum school up in spring (and again in fall), crowds gather, so thoughtful fishing ethics are crucial.
To dial in this unique fishery, I asked Markham to answer several questions about the tackle and techniques.
Peak spring season: Full moons of March and April, as water temperatures push into the low 70s.
Tides and times of day: Around the full-moon periods, fish the afternoon incoming tide.
Where: In 3 to 5 feet of water over the Clam Bar, south of Pinellas Point and east of the Skyway Bridge. Schools of 200 to 300 fish in the 20- to 40-pound range tail on the bar, finning and rooting up mud, looking for crabs. When the drum fall off the bar into deeper water, they don't feed as readily.
Bait: If you choose to fish dead bait on the bottom, cut blue crabs or chunks of ladyfish work well. For variety, throw a few artificials such as a gold/glow D.O.A. CAL shad with a ¼-ounce jighead or a pumpkin-seed-colored peeler crab.
Tackle: Medium to medium-heavy spinning rod and reel, spooled with 20- or 30-pound braid. Four- to 5-foot section of monofilament leader tipped with a 2/0 to 7/0 circle hook, depending on bait size. Join leader to line with a swivel if fishing dead bait.
Presentation: If fishing dead bait on the bar, cast it out ahead of the school and leave it on the bottom. With artificials, if the fish are head down and tailing, cast ahead of the fish and reel the bait slowly toward them. Dragging the bait churns up more mud and attracts the drums' attention.