You Can't Beat Drum...Especially When the Pitas are Blooming

There is a thirty mile an hour plus wind howling, and the sky is gray and threatening, so naturally Captain Chuck Fultz calls and says "Hey Richard, want to go fishing?"

"Uh, Chuck have you looked out your window?"

"Yeah, isn't it great, perfect weather for black drum fishing. I'll catch some crabs tonight for bait. Meet me at the house at Arroyo City at 7:30 in the morning."

There is an old fisherman's adage in deep South Texas that says, "When the pitas are flowering, the black drum are running." The yuccas have been blooming for a while now, so we decided to see if indeed the "tambor negro" were biting.

I slumbered with dreams of heavy drum bending rod tips that is until a terrific gale awakened me at 3:30 with gusts that appeared to be approaching hurricane force. I sleepily gazed for a few moments at the furiously whipping tree tops before dozing off with the thought, "Surely, Chuck will call around 7:00 and tell me it's just too windy to go out."

Arising before dawn, I notice the weather has done that tricky thing it often displays. You know the pre dawn lull that gets you up and caffeinated, before long you are pointed in the direction of the bay. The wind promptly picks up again, but you are complicit in the charade so you might as well head out.

Before reaching the mouth of the Arroyo, we hail Jorge Rocafurete as he checks his crab traps. He graciously shares half a dozen beauties with us, and we're off for the drum hole.

"That was lucky!" Chuck happily exclaims over the noise of wind and motor as we skim across the last of the calm water and out into the choppy bay. "I only caught a couple of crabs last night, but now we have plenty."

As we crash into the teeth of the gale and salt spray engulfs us, I ponder this cheerily shared revelation. "Hmm," I muse, "So Captain Fultz has dragged me out into this foul weather, and he did not even bother to tell me that he didn't have bait!"

We head south and after a long run reach a favorite spot on the intracoastal where we tie up to a friend's fishing shack that provides a welcome wind break. Chuck slips on a pair of ragged, mismatched gloves, one white and one black. The fashion police have no jurisdiction here, and besides the object is not style but to avoid getting pinched by a crab. "This way if they grab a hold of your finger you can always slide the glove off," he says confidently and grabs a crab from the cooler.

Fultz has taken one additional precaution and housed the fresh crabs on ice, so they are chilled and subdued. He deftly removes both claws, rips off the shell and splits the body. He now has four separate baits and attaches the chunks to circle hooks with bottom rigs.

"When the winds blow 30 miles an hour in March and the boys are giving you a hard time about going fishing, this is it," Chuck says as he casts out into the channel.

This is the part of the story where you would like to say, "We didn't have to wait long before the line started zinging off the reel!" It didn't happen that way. We waited for an hour before our Captain noticed one of the rods bending slightly. Chuck's son Kaston is with us, but the first fish goes to his friend Blake White. Blake enthusiastically takes up the rod and reel which has line peeling off it in short, powerful bursts.

Nothing brings a smile to a youngster's face like singing line, and Blake grins broadly as he begins to pump and reel. He is 12 years old, but an experienced angler, and quickly gets into the rhythm of fighting the big fish.

The stout pole is bent nearly double, and the 20 pound test line tautly stretched far out into the murky depths of the channel. Blake is a wiry 70 pounds, and has his work cut out with the heavy fish, but there is no quit in this boy.

Finally, the huge drum tires, and as Blake brings him to the surface near the dock, Chuck lays flat on his stomach with net outstretched. Only his net is almost not wide enough for the massive drum, but he manages to corral it. The fish makes a deep drumming sound as its netted, which probably means it's a male, and the vocalization is associated with spring spawning. The fish is over 38 inches and would probably go at least 35 pounds.

Enthusiastic high fives are exchanged and after a quick picture, Chuck returns the drum to the water. He carefully works the fish back and forth to revive the drum before releasing it. With a swish of its powerful tail, the "tambor negro" slips beneath the surface.

Blake is a young man of few words, and he didn't say much during the struggle, but as he watches his fish disappear he smiles and says, "It was fun, but it was hard."

Currently anglers are allowed to keep five black drum per day between 14 and 30 inches in length, but a new proposal would also allow fisherman to keep one black drum of greater than 52 inches per day. This would enable someone to set a new sate record. The state record is an 81 pounds 51.18 inch black drum caught by Wally Escobar Jr. in 1988. Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners have the opportunity to approve the new regulation during their upcoming April meeting.

After moving to a different spot, Kaston takes his turn at the next rod to bend, and he has another big drum on. Several minuets later the large fish wallows to the surface, and Chuck hauls it to the dock. This one is a couple of inches smaller than Blake's and measures approximately 36 inches. After photos and a release, Kaston says, "That is definitely a different experience. Usually I am wading and sight casting to redfish in the 24 inch range, but going to this is quite a big jump."

Chunking bait and waiting for a bite might not be as exciting for some as sight casting the clear shallows of the Lower Laguna Madre, but if you want to catch a big fish on a gray and windy day, you can't beat drum, especially when the yuccas are blooming.

Editors Note: Richard Moore will air a thirty minute documentary on the historic Yturria Ranch on Monday, March 27, at 6:30 pm on News Channel Five. The special will feature the fascinating history of one of South Texas's most famous ranches and focus on the amazing wildlife that make the Yturria Ranch their home.

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Copyright 2007 Richard Moore