Story by Tom Pagliaroli

And in about two weeks, the tentative taps will accelerate to the rapid beat as in the solo on the Surfari’s skin-thumping ‘63 hit “Wipeout”.

Then the real banging begin!

Yep, black drum are back and are starting to inhale fresh clam baits in Great Bay and lower Barnegat Bay, (a few have even been dragged from the LBI surf), and by the first week in May, they will have begun invading their traditional booming grounds in the expansive Delaware Bay.

A sportfishing enigma, much remains unknown about the black drum which can attain weights of 100-lbs. and is considered by enthusiasts as bay big game. The constant is that it begins entering the aforementioned bays, first in pods then in schools, in late April, with the migration continuing through May. It’s all about procreation, and the “booming”, caused by vibration of the swim bladder to attract mates, can oftentimes be heard, and felt through the soles, as the fish pass under the boat. Very cool!

One thing is certain: the black drum is expanding its range as the population grows and is also caught in Lakes Bay and Great Egg Harbor Bay to the south and upper Barnegat Bay and Raritan Bay to the north. Not in big numbers, but frequently enough that the expansion is being noticed.

Strictly a bottom feeder that lives on crustaceans and bivalves (hence the firm, sweet meat referred to as the “Veal Chop of the Bays”), and sporting a suit of huge armor-like scales and a tail the size of a kabuki fan, the drum can really pull when hooked, turning its humped, wide body broadside in the current, at the same time sweeping its tail back and forth, creating a freight train-run-amok rod ‘n reel ride.

Bait? Fresh clam and more fresh clam? No fresh clam? Then stay home.

Beats East: While the majority of drum are caught in or along channel edges, there is a shoreline bite in Great Bay that is lighting up as you read this. Graveling Point at the end of Radio Road on Osbourne Island, and Ohio Road (Pebble Beach) and Iowa Court, also on Osbourne Island, are currently surrendering drum at a decent pace that will accelerate during the next couple of weeks. Right now, the boomers are topping at 33-inches, but expect much bigger in the days ahead. If you have a boat, set up in Grassy Channel, smash some clams in the shell and scatter them over, lob the clam gob out and wait for the telltale bend in the rod that signifies a drum has inhaled the offering. A contact for the shore bite is Scott’s Bait & Tackle (609-296-1300); for a charter, it’s Capt. Dave Showell (609-484-0409).

Delaware Bay Play: Figure sometime around the first weekend in May for the D’Bay drumming to start. The run will last into the second week in June and, for all intents and purposes, it’s a boomer-by-boat dealio. Tussy Slough, the Pin Top, the Bug Light among others, are prime locations. If you don’t have a ride, consider a charter or a “semi-charter”, i.e. a party boat that takes a limited number of drum beaters. For the former, it’s the drum major Capt. Steve Bent aboard Free Spirit Sportfishing (609-703-6639; Cape May); the latter is all about the Bonanza II with Capt. Mike Roth (609-381-2978; Fortescue).

Float Your Boat: Speaking of boats: check out the free two-day Huddy Park In Water Boat Show happening Saturday and Sunday. There will be 30 or so boats on display, not only in the Toms River but on land as well, including center console and dual console fishing boats, pontoons and tri-toons, deck boats and pleasure boats. Boat rides included. Hours are 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Some really good deals are available, so if you’re planning a vessel purchase, hurry to Huddy this weekend.

Trout Goin’ Out: The fourth week of trout stocking includes plenty of venues in The Hawk listening area. These include (trout numbers in parenthesis) the Toms River (590), Manasquan River (960), North and South Branches of the Metedeconk (320 and 490 respectively), Pohatcong Lake (470), the Shark River (270) and the Mingamahone Brook (120). Note: the Toms, Manasquan and both sections of the Metedeconk will be stocked Monday, April 30 and cannot be fished until 5 p.m. that day.

Photo by Tom Pagliaroli

Last Call for Tog: This portion of the blackfish season ends Monday, and the way they’re chewing, make up any excuse or prevarication to board a party or charter/open boat and go! Tog master platforms include: Barb Gail IV (Brielle), Capt. Cal II (Belmar), Norma K III and Jamaica II (Brielle) and the Carolyn Ann III and Mary M IV (Barnegat Light).