North Carolina coastal anglers often see schools of 100 to 1,000 redfish in the breaker zone each winter.
The bad news is that doesn’t happen during June. But the good news is summer schools of reds may range from 10 to 200 fish — plus these fish are inshore, so boaters don’t need to worry about getting swamped by ocean swells.
The Tar Heel state is a sight-caster’s dream in summer because its reds are so shallow they’re easily visible to bait, lure and fly casters. No other state can make a claim to the most sight-casting opportunities for saltwater fish (well, maybe Florida, but Sunshine State anglers get to count bonefish, permit, tarpon and snook as well as reds).
As for sizes, if North Carolinians could enter its inshore reds in other states’ record books, they’d own ‘em. The 51-pound and 58-pound record reds from Florida and Texas are surpassed every few summer nights at Pamlico Sound, sometimes three or four times in the same boat by the same angler, who might catch a brace of 60-pound “old” drum, take pictures and release ‘em.
That happens from June through October. During the fall, bull reds become targets for Ocracoke-to-Oregon Inlet surf anglers wielding Hatteras Heavers, Lupton rigs and cut bait.
Not only that, but off Wilmington and Southport, winter anglers regularly hook up with 50- and 60-pound reds at reefs and wrecks while fishing for kings or bluefins.
The piece de resistance, of course, is the world all-tackle red drum, documented by the International Game Fish Association. It came to shore at Avon, Nov. 7, 1984, landed by the late David G. Deuel, and weighed 94 pounds 2 ounces. Deuel’s giant would make two of many record reds from other states.
N.C. redfish anglers talk of seeing bigger reds than Deuel’s, and stories of stripped reels and broken lines are normal as seagulls behind shrimp boats.
So here’s a look at four of the best areas in the state to find red drum. An angler may not set a world record this year in N.C. waters, but if it happens, nobody will be surprised.
EASTERN PAMLICO RIVER
Most red drum chasers focus on the lower Neuse River, from Oriental east to the mouth of the river where it joins massive Pamlico Sound. There’s no doubt the Neuse is really good.
But that just leaves more reds to chase near Little Washington on the Pamlico River. After all, the Pamlico is the other major feeder stream for the sound, and reds found their way into that stream before the Tuscarora Indians migrated into North Carolina.
“We might not have the old drum they have in the Neuse, but we’ve got plenty of reds,” said Washington guide Richard Andrews (Tar-Pam Guide Service, 252-945-9715, www.tarpamguide.com).
During June, Andrews fishes for reds as if he were tackling spotted seatrout (specks), and that’s no accident. Both species like the same baits and lures.
His standard weaponry is a 7-foot medium-soft to medium Shimano Clarus rod mated to a Shimano Symmetry 3000 Series spinning reel with 10- to 15-pound-test braid and 2 feet of 20-pound fluorocarbon leader.
“I use the same kind of light tackle (for reds),” he said. “I fish the Pungo River and the feeder streams; they’re just 30 minutes from Washington.”
His clients determine his baits or lures.
“If I’ve got kids, I’ll use cut mullet fished on the bottom with Carolina rigs,” he said. “I’ll anchor off sandy points and (for novice adults) I’ll use live finger mullet, shrimp or 3- to 6-inch-long pogies (menhaden) or sometimes mud minnows. Reds really like mud minnows.”
The reds he catches range from 15 to 30 inches in length, which is enough size (2 to 15 pounds) and fighting power to capture the interest of any angler.
“My personal favorite way to fish for reds is to use a Gulp! artificial lure, usually a shrimp, or a Z-Man paddletail grub underneath a popping cork,” he said. “We cast right up on the banks of Slades or Fortesque creeks. Wades and Currituck (points off the lower Pungo) have got good areas just off the beach.”
Best habitats are oyster shell beds in 2 to 6 feet of water because of the drum’s proclivity to search such places for small stone crabs, a favorite food.
“I like to throw jigheads and grubs in those places,” he said. “My lures are 3- to 4-inches long, depending on the size of the reds. ProCure Inshore Formula, rubbed on the body of a soft-plastic bait, helps draw strikes. It lasts about 25 to 30 casts.”
During June, Andrews said he sometimes sees schools of reds, 10 to 100 fish.
“The first thing I usually see is ‘nervous’ baitfish schools, showering over the surface,” he said. “Then you’ll see schools of fish pushing water — not tailing and feeding — just pushing water.”
These schools usually work the shoreline, looking for juvenile blue crabs. Best places include stump flats.
“That’s when I throw a Crab-Z (lure) underneath a DOA popping cork,” Andrews said. “A lot of times reds will be tight to the bank, and the first time you throw a bait in there and twitch it, one will nail it.”
Just after daylight during slick calm June mornings, Pamlico River reds will hit topwater lures — sometimes.
“I’ll throw a Top Dog Jr., a Skitterwalk or a Lucky Craft Sammy,” he said, “but only if it’s calm. The walk-the-dog (retrieve technique) doesn’t work too good if there’s a chop on the water. If there’s a little chop, I’ll throw a Storm Chug Bug (spit bait).”
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