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Feature Stories 2012

Volume 3, Issue 1, July 2012: The Big Uglies - Bridge bound black drum on fly

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In this issue of FRESH FROM THE SALT,  Volume 3, Issue 1, July 2012:  The Big Uglies – Bridge bound black drum on fly, we proudly begin our third volume of work covering the action on the flats and offshore here in our rich West Central Gulf Coast waters. I am especially excited about this first issue of volume 3 as longtime friend and fishing madman James “spoonfly” Davis joins me on the hunt for giant drum around our Upper Tampa Bay bridges. Specifically, we targeted these fish at the Gandy and Howard Franklin bridges which hold good numbers of bruiser black drum throughout the spring and summer. I know that lots of Tampa Bay anglers have caught these huge fish before on either cut blue crabs or artificial baits but we were dying to get them to eat a fly. And, we did just that. With the right crustacean fly, these WILL eat your fly, and when they do, it’s a fast and furious game to get them out from between the bridge pilings without getting broken off. This is deep water sight fishing really, as the fish are high in the water column chewing on piling barnacles, but will take you to the bottom immediately when hooked up. Once hooked up, it’s a mad dash to muscle them away from the bridge and begin the long fight. This is something every saltwater fly fisherman should experience!

This story is also featured in my monthly column, Angler Xtras, in the July 2012 issue of Saltwater Angler Magazine, pg. 18.

Joshua W. Broer (pondfisher)



The Big Uglies – Bridge bound black drum on fly
By Joshua W. Broer


As a kid I was sometimes lucky enough to tag along with an adult who was black drum fishing at the Gandy Bridge. Throughout the 80s, when you could fish from the old bridge, anglers would gather during the summer months to try their luck at catching one of the huge, resident black drum there. The bait of choice was always a blue crab with the claws removed. It never took long before your heavy-duty bottom fishing rig was doubled over, hooked up to one of these prehistoric looking giants.

Many years have passed since those great childhood days, and I haven’t intentionally set out to fish for black drum since… until now that is. Fishing our Upper Tampa Bay bridges for the past few years, I noticed the number of monstrous black drum nibbling on the pilings. Many of these big fish will actually lie on their side while chewing on the piling barnacles. This helps to spot them as this behavior leaves their dorsal fins exposed, above the water, and easy to see. Trying to trick them into eating an artificial fly is not so easy, however.

If you want to try your luck at catching one of these bruisers which often weigh 30 – 60 lbs., presenting the right fly is a must. These crustacean lovers eat barnacles, crabs, shrimp, muscles, etc. Theoretically then, any imitation of these should get the fish interested enough to eat. That turned out not to be the case though as I bought and tied many of my own fly imitations to match each of these black drum foods. And then it hit me – the blue crab bait of my youth should be the answer.

I sought out the advice of Mr. Brad Lowman, an expert fly fisherman and fly tier who I’ve known for years and who has published heavily in saltwater fly fishing magazines. Brad had experimented with catching these fish on a fly rod, the “Big Uglies” they’re often called because of their enormous size and rather ugly mugs, years prior. He though, like many local guides and recreational anglers who target them while they’re spawning in large schools on the flats, was not fishing them in the deeper water of the bridges. He did, however, put a rather large crab fly in my hand and promised me that a big black drum would eat it. He was right.

My first attempt at hooking and landing one of these fish was not so smooth. I was successful in getting one of the piling-dwelling drum to inhale the crab fly, but not so successful in keeping him out of the pilings. Score: fish 1, angler 0. My second hookup I used the trolling motor to help muscle the fish out and away from the pilings before he broke me off. Using an under-gunned 8 wt. fly rod and having nobody onboard to help me land the fish, I spent the next three hours being drug across the bay from one bridge to the other. The leader finally popped and that was that. Score: fish 2, angler 0.

Two weeks later I returned to the bridge with a fishing partner, heavier weight fly rods, and a strong will to land one of these behemoths for a few good pics. Upping my rod to a 9 wt. and my leader to a straight piece of 30 lb. fluorocarbon, I found success. It didn’t take long to sight-cast to a fish nibbling at piling barnacles near the top of the water column. This fish, un-spooked, turned on the crab fly and inhaled it immediately. With my 1st mate on the trolling motor I tried desperately to keep the speeding fly line from wrapping around obstacles on the deck. I got the fish on the reel and watched my fly line disappear in a flash through the rod guides. Seconds later the fish was taking me deep into my backing and making the drag sing.

That drum, along with two others we landed, took about half an hour each to get to the boat. We were on a mission and we completed it. After taking a few photos, each fish was released. It’s not easy catching these monsters on the fly, but it’s certainly worth it. Between the sheer power of these giant fish, their ability to break you off on bridge structure, and their tendency to sound into deep water, this is truly one catch to be proud of.

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