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By Capt. Chuck Uzzle
For the Record 

Overlooked, under appreciated, and cooked well done

 

Last updated 4/9/2024 at 5:15pm

 It’s a given during certain months that there will be tons of ink dedicated to the pursuit of certain fish. There are “big trout” months, “flounder run” fiestas, and “spotted fever” epidemics during the summer when the redfish steal the show. I get it, believe me I truly get it. All the while most folks believe that the sun rises and sets with the “big 3”, specks, reds, and flounder when that may not be totally true. I cannot count how many times I have told folks who attend my seminars or I just have a random conversation with at a show how far from the truth that line of thinking about the “big 3” is because it’s a lot.

I recently had this theory proved to me first hand and I will admit it was beyond eye opening. My wife and I were down in Corpus Christi for the weekend and one afternoon we decided to kill some time and take in a few sights. After checking out the beach for a while we made our way to Doc’s under the Causeway bridge for a cold adult beverage. As we sat at the bar looking out over the water a group of guys, obviously fishermen, came in and sat down next to us. After ordering their drinks they began to enthusiastically recount their day on the water and re-live all the fun they had. My wife, being the sociable one, asked them if they had any luck to which the reply came back “it was awesome, we caught over 200 pounds!”. Immediately I was baffled by this reply and tried to figure out just exactly what it meant. The first thing that ran through my mind was that they had gone offshore because you never hear anyone associate catching the “big 3” with pounds, it’s always a limit of fish or a number of fish. While still trying to figure out just exactly what the guy meant he handed me his cell phone so I could see the pictures of the days catch. There, lined up next to cleaning table, was a dock full of black drum. I nearly shot beer out of my nose. Here it was, in glorious digital color, proof that there are other species to not only target but to enjoy and eat as well. I must admit this was somewhat foreign to me in the aspect of chasing black drum on a guided fishing trip but I quickly gathered myself and congratulated the anglers on their successful day. I wasn’t exactly sure what I had witnessed as we left Doc’s but I knew I was both intrigued and happy at the same time. I needed to know more about this subject so long time guide and Corpus resident Jim Leavelle was just the guy to help me out.

Later that same evening at supper, which coincidentally was fried black drum and shrimp, I recounted my story of the anglers to Jim and he sat back and smiled before answering my questions. “You have no idea how big catching black drum and other species are down here. You can go to a tackle shop and there will be double the amount of gear on the wall to catch drum or sheepshead compared to trout or redfish” said Leavelle. For years I had been telling anglers that thought the whole world revolved around wading, artificial lures, and other expensive techniques that they were indeed in the minority and here it was in living color and on display for all to see. Now don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of folks who target the “big 3” but the amount of anglers who just want to catch a fish is exponentially greater and still growing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “go to your favorite tackle dealer and watch how many lead weights and live bait hooks go out the door compared to 10 dollar topwater plugs and 300 dollar waders”, you will be surprised.

Now with all that being said let’s look at what it’s going to take to go catch some of these fish. For this part of the world on Sabine and Calcasieu the majority of the black drum are taken in deeper water along the rivers and channels. The most popular and productive bait by far is crab, especially the claws. Commercial drum fishermen love using the claws because they are so durable and hard for other smaller species to steal form the hook. When using crab, either the claw or cracked bodies, most anglers rig up with a “fish finder or Carolina rig” for presentation. This rig consists of an egg sinker rigged above a barrel swivel, 18-24 inches of leader and a 2/0 or 3/0 live bait style hook attached to the opposite end of the swivel. Black drum are opportunistic feeders and will scavenge the bottom following the scent put off from the crab. Some anglers even take a few crabs and crush them up in a burlap sack and anchor them to the bottom in order to put a submerged chum line if you will. This technique works great for red and black drum as well as sheepshead.

Speaking of sheepshead they have also jumped in popularity as a game fish in recent years, mostly thanks to fly fishermen. Jetty anglers for years have long been fans of these toothy hard pulling fish as they are plentiful around the rocks. Many a savvy angler has probed the granite with a free lined shrimp and caught their fair share of sheepshead. Fly anglers have gotten into the act and even renamed the “convict fish” to a more regal “Texas permit” so as to add credibility and stature to the once frowned upon barnacle eaters. To make matters even more interesting the fly anglers have begun targeting these fish in shallow water alongside the more popular redfish. I know in the marshes I frequent there are numerous opportunities to take some real stud sheepshead, I’m talking about double digit fish that will get even the most “snooty” fly fisherman’s blood pumping. The largest fish I have seen caught was over 12 pounds and it somehow got a topwater plug in its mouth. My theory was that the fish was following the plug like they always seem to do and opened its mouth at the same time the angler stopped his retrieve, the perfect storm so to speak.

Most fly fishermen who target the sheepshead in the shallows like small crab or shrimp patterns that they can scoot along the bottom to entice these finicky fish. The sheepshead are very curious and will follow a lure or fly for long distances without committing to a strike, an attribute that causes them to be compared to permit by many anglers. Even though it’s somewhat blasphemous and looked down upon the practice of spraying an attractant on a fly obviously increases your odds when targeting sheepshead. Well known Florida guide Mike Holliday actually used to tie scented attractants into the body of some of his flies so his clients wouldn’t even know it was there. The hook up ratio magically increased and the clients were happy so everyone wins in that regard.

The opportunities that are presented by some of these lesser targeted species are being discovered daily by many anglers who normally wouldn’t think twice about them. Just the fact that these fish are gaining more and more credibility is a bonus for all concerned. With different species being targeted the pressure on other species like the “big 3” will be lessened and that’s a win win situation all the way around. I would like to encourage you to take a look at targeting some of these fish and checking out what you may have been missing. After all, anything that makes our sport more accessible and enjoyable for others is a bonus we can all live with.

 

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