Can’t Be Beat!

Drum are one of the most-underutilized species in the state, but this angler knows they’re great tablefare. Here’s how and where he catches limits of the succulent fish.

Passing anglers might have thought Raymond Aucoin was after tuna in his flatboat if it hadn’t been for the fact he was anchored more than 15 miles north of the open Gulf.

But two short, medium-heavy tuna rods were already nestled in holders, with 30-pound line tipped with 150-pound mono and a No. 6 kahle hook disappearing into the beautiful green water.

A gaff was propped in the corner of the boat.

It was just a curious sight.

Aucoin didn’t care what others thought — he was there for meat, and he knew all he had to do was find the right spot in Dularge’s Grand Pass and his box would soon fill with it.

“You just have to move around until you find a school,” he said after casting his third line out.

Aucoin kicked back, resting his feet on the gunwale and letting the rod rest in his lap.

Relaxation was soon replaced by tension as Aucoin sat up and bird-dogged over the rod, getting closer to the rod tip to confirm that a fish was playing with his bait.

A moment later, the rod tip was shot to the sky, and Aucoin was fighting the first fish of the day.

“Well, that took seven minutes,” he cackled as what obviously was a big fish stripped drag.

The fish didn’t run all around the boat, and it didn’t surface and wallow around.

It just sat near the bottom and pulled, much like an amberjack 30 miles offshore.

Aucoin expertly fought the fish, knowing that the chances of a break-off were slim because of the heavy tackle he uses.

A couple of minutes later, the first flash of the fish was seen, but at the same moment the big creature spotted the boat and plunged for the depths again.

Aucoin could do nothing but hold on and laugh.

But that was the fish’s last hurrah. It finally had had enough, and the 65-year-old Morgan City angler reeled it into range of his gaff.

The 30-pound black drum was stuck in the lip, hoisted aboard and the hook was removed before being slipped overboard and released.

The drum slapped its tail and disappeared.

Aucoin was all smiles, even though he hadn’t begun filling his ice chest.

“They fight, but I don’t keep anything over 10 pounds,” he said. “When drum get over about 10 pounds, they have a lot of worms.”

As more bait was added to the hook, several boats whizzed by on their way to fishing grounds farther out. The anglers’ rods were rigged with popping corks, giving testament to the fact that trout were the target.

Aucoin just waved, tossed his offering into the water and settled into his boat seat again.

“They’re all heading out to catch trout, but I don’t have to go that far,” he said.

While many people turn their noses up at black drum — or simply don’t think about the species — Aucoin loves them.

“A lot of people don’t realize just how good drum are,” he said. “They come out here to catch redfish and throw back drum.”

To a large extent, the under-appreciation of black drum stems from the perception that the first-cousins of redfish are wormy.

And that is the case, but only with the oversized versions.

“If they get too big they have worms, but the small ones are great,” he said.

For years, Aucoin and his buddies would make the long boat run from Morgan City to Oyster Bayou on the east end of Point Au Fer, but he gave that area up when fishing buddy John Livingston showed him Grand Pass.

“If you leave Morgan City, you’ve got an hour, hour and a half run before you can fish, and then you don’t know what kind of water you’re going to find,” Aucoin said. “Here, it’s a 20-minute boat ride (from Dularge), and I’m fishing.”

Of course, he spends more time driving his truck before launching the boat, but Aucoin said he’s happy to trade time in a boat for time in his truck.

“I’d rather drive farther in a truck and be closer to the fishing,” he said. “I drive about 50 minutes, and I’m only 20 minutes from the fish.”

Another major force behind Aucoin’s decision to abandon Oyster Bayou is that there is no better place in Louisiana to catch limits of drum than Grand Pass.

The wide waterway connects Lake Mechant on the north to Caillou Lake (or Sister Lake) on the south.

The water on this day was gorgeous, tinted a pretty, clear green that is a signal to any experienced angler that fish should be near.

But Aucoin said the beauty of drum fishing in Grand Pass is that it doesn’t matter if the water turns muddy — the fish are still there and will still bite.

“They’re bottom-feeders, so they feed by smell,” he said. “You can still catch fish if it’s muddy.”

The pass attracts legions of drum for a couple of reasons.

First, it’s got deep water.

“The drum like it because they can move if the water temperatures change,” Aucoin explained. “When the water gets hot in the shallows, they can move to the middle where it’s cooler.

“The same thing happens in the winter: If the water gets too cold (along the shallows), they can find warm water.”

The pass also is covered with oyster reefs.

“There’s solid oyster from one bank to the other. Basically a drum will feed around those oyster reefs,” Aucoin said. “A drum has a muscle down in its throat, and it can crush those oyster shells.”

And that answers the obvious question about the super-heavy leader this angler uses.

“There’s all those oyster shells down there, and it prevents you from nicking or cutting the line,” he said.

And getting the bait down to those shells is important because that’s where the fish are going to be.

Aucoin’s approach to fishing the pass is pretty simple.

He first heads straight for one particular spot that has proven productive time and time again, drops anchor and sets out his baits.

He uses a 30-pound anchor, even though his boat isn’t very heavy.

“You’ve got to have that heavy anchor because of the current,” he said.

Many anglers use cut mullet as bait, but Aucoin said he favors cracked crabs.

“I find the fish bite that better,” he said.

The crabs, which come from Jug’s Seafood No. 2 on Highway 315, are quickly declawed, and the top shell is peeled off.

“You just throw the claws and the shell in the water as chum,” Aucoin explained.

A sharp knife is used to cut the crab in half, leaving the legs on each half.

Aucoin then pushes a No. 6 kahle hook through the meat and out the underside of the shell.

“This kahle hook makes all the difference in the world,” he said. “When they get hooked on that, they’re hooked.”

A slip sinker weighing about an ounce is held above the hook by a clamp crimped on the leader. The lead is free to slide between that crimp and another clamp about 6 inches higher.

That’s an important element of Aucoin’s success.

“When a fish picks up (the bait) the sinker slides and gives the fish a little slack,” he explained. “It doesn’t give them tension that pulls the bait out of their mouths. It gives them a chance to chew on the bait.”

And chew they will.

Several times a line would jump or a rod tip would bobble, but a hookset would come up empty.

A check of the bait would reveal half a crab shell with most of the meat missing.

“How they can chew on that crab and not get the hook I can’t figure out,” Aucoin said. “But they can sure do it.”

Although he often fishes two lines at a time, Aucoin said the best way to detect bites is to hold the rod and pinch the line between a finger and thumb.

“That lets you feel the bite,” he said.

He said it’s also important to keep the line tight.

“If you’ve got slack in the line, you can see the line jump when they pop it, but when you’ve got a tight line, you can feel it,” Aucoin said.

Close attention must be paid because often drum will just nibble away at the crab until nothing’s left on the hook.

“Redfish hardly ever nibble at it; they pick it up and they’re gone,” he said. “Drum sometimes hit it like crappie, and sometimes they smash it.”

When the bite is subtle, as was the case on this day, Aucoin advised against setting the hook as soon as a fish begins chewing on the bait.

“You want to wait until the fish tightens up the line,” he said.

Once the fish puts pressure on the line and it remains taut, set the hook.

But there are other times when the line won’t tighten up — it’ll become slack.

“Sometimes they pick up the bait without you feeling it and swim to the boat,” Aucoin said. “And sometimes the line will just move to the side.”

So he remains alert for any movement of the line.

On this day, Aucoin’s no-fail spot on the edge of the drop-off didn’t work out. There were a few fish, but the bites were few and far between.

Aucoin simply pulled up his anchor line, cranked his four-stroke Mercury and eased to another, deeper spot.

“You’ve just got to move around until you find the school,” he said.

A depthfinder can be a vital tool; Aucoin had one, but hadn’t hooked it up yet.

“If you’ve got a depthfinder, you can see them down there. When you see a school, you drop your anchor, and there they are,” he said.

The move produced a few bites, but the action wasn’t exactly non-stop.

Up came the anchor, and Aucoin moved the boat to near the middle of the pass.

“The water is about 35 feet out here,” he said.

That stop proved to be the ticket.

A bait would barely settle to the bottom when the crunching would begin.

But many of the fish were still able to nab the bait without being hooked.

So Aucoin reduced the size of the bait.

“If they’re biting but not taking the bait, I put a quarter crab on instead of a half crab,” he said. “That way, if they bite it, they’ve got to take the hook.”

It wasn’t long before drum were being hauled up almost as quickly as Aucoin could get baits down.

Every one was a rubber stamp, weighing in at between 8 and 15 pounds.

“That’s how it is with drum. When you get in a school, they usually run the same size,” he said.

About Andy Crawford 863 Articles
Andy Crawford has spent nearly his entire career writing about and photographing Louisiana’s hunting and fishing community. While he has written for national publications, even spending four years as a senior writer for B.A.S.S., Crawford never strayed far from the pages of Louisiana Sportsman. Learn more about his work at www.AndyCrawford.Photography.