Each year about this time, bull red drum come to spawn in the sounds along the North Carolina coast. They particularly like the long points and shallow waters of the Pamlico Sound, a salt-water lagoon separated from the Atlantic Ocean by the Outer Banks.
Red drum are known by different names in different regions. Red fish, reds, spot tail bass, channel bass and puppy drum are just a few.
Regardless of the name, they’re sought after by anglers on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for their fighting ability, size and great taste. Heavier than normal saltwater tackle is required to catch them, since a small one is 30 to 40 inches long.
Big ones can top 50 inches and weigh 50-plus pounds. Just how big they grow is anybody’s guess, but the record, caught in the surf at Avon in November 1984, weighed 94 pounds.
It’s no wonder that I was excited when Capt. Craig Price (www.fishonlakenorman.com) of Denver invited my brother, Ken, his son, Kenny and me to join him in Oriental for a weekend of bull red drum fishing.
The trip was fabulous and one that everyone should consider taking with Capt. Craig during the August and September spawning run.
The method used to tempt these big fish made the trip unique. Instead of bottom fishing with cut mullet, the normal technique, Capt. Craig introduced us to casting popping corks with a D.O.A. Airhead soft plastic jerk bait trailed behind a 4- to 5-foot leader.
Fishing popping corks with live and artificial shrimp has always been popular for trout, but catching bull reds on them is a relatively new twist.
The difference is in how violently the cork must be popped in order to attract the big fish from long distances. The loud popping action simulates the fracas made when game fish are feeding on the surface.
When the fish rises to the action, the first thing it notices is the 5-inch-long jerk bait sinking behind the cork in between pops. After another violent pop or two, the fish can’t resist and it strikes the bait. The battle that ensues will be remembered for a long time, particularly when using saltwater spinning tackle.
Ken Jr. caught a very nice bull red on the morning of our departure. The 40-inch plus fish was a personal best and a lot bigger than the mountain trout he typically lands on fly-fishing tackle.
The interesting thing about his fish was that it, along with a few others, was feeding on baitfish in relatively deep water. A tell-tale slick gave the position away, as did the large markings on Capt. Craig’s fish finder.
In fact, the blips were so big it reminded us of those by made by bluefin tuna on the “Wicked Tuna” television show.
Tips from Capt. Gus
When popping cork fishing for bull drum, set a light drag to prevent the fish from breaking the line or pulling the hook on its first run. It fact, set it so lightly that you hear the drag working as you pop the cork.
Free Fishing Seminar: “Top Ten Bass Lures for Catching Lake Norman Bass” will be discussed at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15 at Gander Mountain, Exit 36 in Mooresville. Jake Bussolini and I will cover the basics of lure selection and how and when to use each while casting or trolling. Contact 704-658-0822 for additional information.
Free safe-boating class: “How to Navigate Lake Norman Day or Night” will be the topic at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at The Peninsula Yacht Club, 18501 Harbor Light Blvd. in Cornelius. For more information, call Ashley at 704-892-7575.
Hot spots of the week
Wow, fishing for bass, hybrid striped bass and white perch has been excellent. Best results are after the fish move off the bank during the day. Cooler-than-normal water temperatures and an abundance of bait are the main reasons for the spike.
Hybrid striped-bass fishermen are raving about the tenacity in which they fight and are wondering how much fun they will be to catch when they reach weights above 5 pounds. For now, there are lots of 14- to 20-inch fish hitting live and artificial lures suspended in water from 20 to 50 feet deep. Fishing for spotted bass is excellent, particularly early in the day on top water and later in the day off channel points.
The surface-water temperature varies by location but is mainly in the low 80s in open waters not affected by power generation. The water level is about 2.9 feet below full pond on Lake Norman and 3.2 feet below full on Mountain Island Lake.