Looking for the ultimate drum bait? Look no further than the crab family.

This fisherman hooked up to a redfish on a whole fiddler crab under a float.

For catching redfish and the related black drum, nothing in your tackle box or bait well beats a piece of crab fished close to or dead on the bottom. Blue crabs are available at most coastal bait and tackle stores and cost around a dollar each. Recreational fishermen can also catch their own blue crabs with a crab trap, of which they are allowed five per fisherman. For info on recreational harvesting of blue crabs visit www.myfwc.com.

Looking for red or black drum on unfamiliar waters? Start by finding plenty of crab trap floats in a bay, in deep sloughs adjacent to large oyster flats, or along the edge of a grass flat. When you see the crab traps, the drum will likely be close by.

Fiddler crabs are a redfish delicacy, becoming an easy target when a high tide floods their marsh or shoreline habitat. High water levels caused by winds, a full moon, flood tides, or combinations of all these factors allow redfish to feed on the excellent stock of fiddler crabs. Here, shallow water fishermen will often witness several redfish tails poking from the water, like Flag Day. With their tails poking straight out of the water, redfish will feed head-down on the bottom, while filling their stomachs with high protein fiddler crabs.

When targeting redfish with fiddler crabs, simply take a 1⁄4-ounce leadhead jig and barb the fiddler crab through the bottom and right out the top of its shell. Cast the jig and fiddler crab combo into a pocket of grass, at or next to an oyster bar where red sh are tailing or pushing. A small oat can also be added to the terminal fishing line to allow the crab bait to drift slowly along the bottom as well.

Mature blue crab will be quartered for best results.

As for the more robust blue crabs, begin preparing the crab by removing the hard shell from the crab, then remove all of the claws. Take a knife and cut the remaining crab into four baits. Take a 6/0 red circle hook and barb one of the quartered crab chunks through the shell and fish the bait dead on the bottom. When fishing shallow sloughs, chunks of blue crab are effective without any weight.

When drum fishing in deeper water, fish chunks of blue crab with a fishfinder setup. First slide the appropriate size egg sinker onto your terminal fishing line, then attach a small plastic bead onto your fishing line as well. Next, tie a 50-pound barrel swivel to the tag end of your terminal fishing line. Finally, tie a three-foot section of 50-pound fluorocarbon shock leader to the remaining end of the barrel swivel and to the eye of the circle hooks. Fish the chunk of blue crab dead on the bottom and either place the rod in a rodholder, or hold the fishing rod. I prefer to hold the fishing rod, making sure the crab bait is dead on the bottom and also to detect the drum’s strike.

Upper Tampa Bay Fall redfish caught by Capt. Ray Markham have been slamming the DOA Softshell Crab.

When either a red or black drum picks up the crab, it will first move the crab back into its mouth, then crush the crab with its huge molars. Wait patiently until the fish tightens up your fishing line, then apply steady pressure to the rod. The circle hook will move from the back of the mouth to the corner of the mouth, making for a perfect hook set. More importantly, this will avoid hooking the redfish in the throat, or worse yet, in the stomach, keeping in mind that Florida regulations require that redfish measuring over 27 inches in length be released unharmed.

In many cases when fishing deep inlets and bays both black drum and red drum will school in the same waters, where shallow bars drop off to deep holes, or at the very end of jetty rocks. Some of the best drum fishing with blue crabs comes during the change of the tides.

When drum fishing in the backwater flats, or close to oyster bars with both chunks of blue crabs, or fiddler crabs, the best tide is an hour before and after high tide. The best tide to fish the deep sides of oyster bars is the last few hours of the falling and the first few hours of the incoming tides. FS

First published Florida Sportsman November 2017

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