You say Drum; I say…
Red Drum, Redfish, Channel Bass, Spot Tail Bass, Puppy Drum, Bull Red, Rat Red and Old Drum are all names for the same fish — Sciaenops Ocellatus. In North Carolina, the most common name is Red Drum while two other names denote different sizes of the same fish. If you hear someone refer to the Red Drum as a “Puppy Drum” it usually means weighing less than eight pounds. If you hear someone say “Old Drum” it refers to fish generally more than 40 inches long. Whatever you call them, they are a good fight and pretty decent eating as well. They can be caught from water so fresh that you might catch a largemouth bass on one cast and a puppy drum on the next. You might also catch them 15 miles offshore while bottom fishing for grouper. The Red Drum is North Carolina’s state fish, and with good reason. They were very abundant here and the world record was caught in off of Hatteras Island weighing in at a whopping 94 pounds, two ounces. The Red Drum population started crashing in the 1980s for various reasons, but with tighter management they are starting to make a comeback. As of today, you, as a recreational angler, are allowed one red drum per person per day, no less than 18-inches and no more than 27-inches long.
For this article we will focus on surf fishing for Red Drum. The southern end of Topsail and the north end of Lee Island are probably your best bet to encounter these fish on a consistent basis. The north end of Topsail and all along the beach will produce a few, but the two areas mentioned prior are your best bet. The closer you get to New Topsail Inlet the better. Look for rough water; Red Drum like turbulent and confused seas. I think it is because they know it disorients the baitfish and makes them easier prey.
Red Drum will eat a lot of things. I have caught them mostly on cut or whole-finger mullet in the surf. I have also had good luck with Menhaden and cut crab. Fresh is usually the name of the game. The fish in the surf are usually feeding by smell and they know fresh when they smell it. That is not to say they won’t bite frozen bait, but fresh bait usually produces more fish. Tide is usually a big factor, but fish have been caught at the inlet on both tides so far.
As for tackle, I like to use a very simple rig and make my own. The leader material I use is 50-pound fluorocarbon. I then snell a 5/0-9/0 hook to the end and then crimp or tie on a 100-pound swivel. I like my leaders short, 4- to 9-inches long because it makes casting easier. I will then slip a sinker slide on my line and then tie to the swivel. I use just enough weight to hold bottom. As for rods and reels, I usually use a 10-foot surf rod and a reel spooled with 20-pound braided line. You do not usually have to cast as far as a lot of people think. Most of the fish will be close to shore but there are times you will need to get it on out there.
When baiting the hook with your choice of bait, make sure the hook point is exposed so the fish can get hooked. After casting, reel up all the slack and then pull off a couple strips of line to make the bait float away from the sinker. Set your rod in the rod holder and make sure your drag is kind of loose to allow the fish to swim away from you and eat the bait. Once your rod is bent over from the fish, adjust your drag and start reeling. No need to set the hook because you are using circle hooks which is better for the fish (not many gut hooked ones) and you because circle hooks actually hook fish more often when used correctly.
Lots of Red Drum (Puppies and Old Drum) are around right now in the inlets. The Black drum fishing is doing well off the surf along with Blues and Sea Mullet. The Spanish are chewing on the end of the piers and the Spots have started to run a little bit. The Wahoo are on the feed in the stream when you can get out there. And some decent King Mackerel fishing has been had inside of 20 miles.
Tight Lines and Fair Winds,
Capt. Chris Medlin