“Metal, plastic, sometimes wood,” may not sound like a recipe for catching puppy drum along the surf, but for those of us who like the challenge of catching redfish only on our cunning and deceit, it is the ultimate light tackle anglers high.
The red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus, our majestic state fish, so named due to its distinctive ocelli, or eyelike black spot markings on its tail, goes by many common names: red drum, channel bass, redfish, spot-tail bass, red bass, and to restaurateurs, the blackened redfish. In fact, these magnificent fish were almost totally exterminated by the blackened-redfish dining craze some years ago.
Although red drum can be a year-round fishery here along North Carolina’s Crystal Coast. From the beach, ocean surf fishing action starts to pick up in May and June and will continue throughout the fall speckled trout season. The key to success is reading the beach to look for productive red drum habitat, which means thinking like a hungry red drum.
And for success, whitewater equals red drum!
Drum are grazers and browsers, aquatic buffalo if you will. Like most fish, they are opportunistic feeders, and yes, they are always looking for a free lunch. They are also powerful fish and strong swimmers and at home in rough waves, dirty and turbulent waters and breaking surf.
If you think whitewater, you will think about the inlet areas: Bogue Inlet, Beaufort Inlet, around Rough Point at Shackleford Banks, Bear Inlet and Browns Inlet. In all those areas, tidal currents create an outflow pattern of sand that makes up nearshore sandbars and shoals. And these areas are perfect drum feeding zones.
I like to call drum “oligoniverous,” that is, they will eat almost anything, but they do like shrimp, along with a wide variety of small fish and they really love crabs.
When you look at the shoals and the wave activity over them, you will see the waves of whitewater breaking over the top of the sandy structure, then calmer deeper water on the back end or beach side of the structure. All that action stirs up the crabs and other bait in and over the sand and then drops it back down at the back end of it, becoming easy pickings for drum, flounder and other whitewater savvy fish.
The drum themselves will actually work or patrol that backside inshore edge of the sandbars, putting their noses right into the bottom edge, sucking out the crabs and other tasty critters. Although, around the inlets, there are bars and shoals usually as far as the eye can see. There are many of these fishy structures within easy reach of the dedicated drum fishermen. Just watch the waves, the whitewater and think like a hungry drum.
Since we are targeting mostly slot-sized puppy drum, that is, fish in the 18- to 27-inch legal slot limit, light tackle is appropriate for these fish. By light tackle, I mean a long medium rod 7 to 8 feet in length, with enough backbone to tire out a determined redfish, a 2000 to 4000 spinning reel with a smooth drag and spooled with 10- to 15-pound test monofilament line or your favorite super-braid line.
I use PowerPro and about 18 inches of 20- to 25-pound test fluorocarbon leader tied directly to my main line with a four-turn surgeon’s knot. Popular alternatives include the Albright or double uni-knot. To end of the fluorocarbon, I attach a 40-pound rated DuoLock snap for quick and easy exchange of baits.
Although we are targeting so-called slot drum, fish in the 30- to 40-inch range and even sharks are encountered on an irregular basis. Fish this size will test both your gear and patience but can be landed with care from the surf.
Next week: targeting red drum with artificial baits.
This past week, in spite of over eight inches of rain here in Emerald Isle, we saw a breakout for the nearshore and pier fishing for smokin’ king mackerel.
Late last week, three kings were landed from Bogue Inlet Pier. The following day, an armada of boats appeared south of the pier out to Keypost Rocks and from the pier west to the Bogue Inlet Sea Buoy.
And the king fishing was HOT! This is on top of a continued good week for Spanish mackerel, and to a lesser degree, bluefish. Hot-casting Spanish baits include Thingama Jigs and Spanish Candy, although from time to time, the sometimes size-fussy Spanish appeared to have lockjaw while only targeting very tiny baits.
By the way, did you know that all this freshwater deluge, well over 20 inches in May and June, will give us bigger blue crabs this year? And did you know, drought years and high salinity results in smaller crabs? Hmmmmmm.
Surf fishing has been up and down, and with the murky water and tannin-stained runoff, fish were preferring natural baits, particularly red and black drum.
Several anglers working sandbars east of Bogue Inlet were having great success hauling in reds and blacks on blue crab body chunks…they love crabs.
We Kastmaster anglers were nearly shut out in the stained water, although a few were hooked, and I lost a couple while working bright, soft-plastic baits. There were some other bottom fish around like pompano, croakers and sea mullet, with sand fleas being the bait of preference, although Fishbites should work well.
Inside, there are still trout to be had, but finding them has gotten problematic.
I’ve heard of some at Harkers Island around the bridge and in Taylors Creek. Reds have been caught in the Haystacks and up Core Creek, some in the Neuse River creeks and marshes (you might want try Slocum and Hancock creeks) and in the New River creeks. Also, it’s probably a good time to work the bridge rubble that is AR-398 in the New River.
I mentioned black drum in the surf, but the inside black drum bite is as good as it has been in years. Could the slot and size limit instituted a few years ago be paying off? A near look-alike, the sheepshead is also having a good season, many of them over 5 pounds. Could the slot and size limit instituted a few years ago be paying off?
Remember, the black drum have two sets of dorsal fins like all in the drum family and the sheepshead only one continuous very spiny dorsal fin, as in the same family as pinfish! Both are notorious munchers and crunchers, and various crab baits are baits of choice.
Now for our fishing piers:
Oceanana Pier reports Spanish on live bait, black and red drum and flounder.
Bogue Inlet Pier had a great week for kings with seven landed. There are also a variety of bottom fish, red drum, sea mullet, spots, croakers a few nice pompano, one on a Sabiki Rig, and loads of small flounder and a few blues. Water is dingy and stained with tannins from freshwater runoff.
Seaview Pier reports speckled trout on live shrimp, mullet, spots, blues and Spanish, a couple of kings this week and a crevalle jack.
Surf City Pier reports two kings last week to 30 pounds, sea mullet, spots, blues and Spanish, with one topping 5.5 pounds.
Jolly Roger Pier reports blues and Spanish and one king over the weekend and even a barracuda. They also report some keeper-size puppy drum, as well as some mullet and croakers at night.
Let’s talk bait. So where are the finger mullet?
They are there, but it seems like that are late in growing. Usually by Independence Day on July the Fourth, they have gotten big enough to NOT get gilled in standard 3/8-inch cast nets.
Well, we are NOT there yet.
Offshore, there are some monster dolphin fish being caught.
Chasin’ Tails weighed in a 70-pounder last week. I once saw a 76-pounder weighed in at the Big Rock Tourney and it was really other worldly looking.
Did you know they only live for about 5 years or so? Live fast…die young.
Grouper? I’ve heard of keeper grouper in about 60 feet of water. That’s pretty close in.
If it’s tuna you want on your table, the fishing is currently hot-hot-hot out of Hatteras for yellowfin and bigeye tuna.
So, grab a few of Capt. Joe Shute’s offshore lures and take a ride to Hatteras.
2) "Ask Dr. Bogus" is on the radio every Monday at 7:30 a.m. WTKF 107.1 FM and 1240 AM. The show is also replayed on Sunday morning at 6 a.m. Callers may reach me at 800-818-2255.
3) I’m located at 118 Conch Ct. in Sea Dunes, just off Coast Guard Road, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. The mailing address is P.O. Box 5225, Emerald Isle, NC 28594. Don’t forget a gift certificate for your favorite angler for fishing lessons or my totally Bogus Fishing Report subscription. Please stop by at any time and say “Hi” or call 252-354-4905.