By Ken DeBarth
As the air and water temperatures rise and the days get longer, large red drum begin their annual spring migration. In April, the fish move along the beaches and through the inlets and into the sound where they will spend the summer. After a long winter off shore, the red drum are hungry and easy to locate. They will be followed by the annual migration of big bluefish, and then cobia. The water temperatures are already higher than normal for this time of year, so the fish should be active at the time you read this.
Surf fishermen will have success with large chucks of cut mullet fished on a bottom rig. There are a number of rigs available for bottom fishing, but I prefer the “Chip Stevens Rig,” (as it is called locally for the owner of Blackbeard’s Lodge) which consists of two circle hooks rigged one above the other and decorated with a brightly colored buck-tail and a snap clip on the bottom for your sinker. Ask for a “Chip Stevens” rig at Tradewinds Tackle. They always have a number in stock.
How do you select the spot to cast? The sheer amount of beach available can be intimidating. The two best areas to present your baits are in the still water troughs between the breaking waves and areas where there is irregular white water.
Find troughs by watching the wave pattern. There will be places where the waves crest and break over the shallower bar. The water will then become relatively smooth before forming into another crest and breaker. This smooth water is a section of deeper water paralleling the beach. Drop a bait into this area where predator fish lurk to pick off food as it settles between the breakers.
Another prime area to drop your baits is where the water is “jumbled” with white breaking wave tops running in different directions. Look for section for surf in which there is no smooth water. If small waves are crashing into each other, there will be turbulence and a stirring of the bottom and debris. Red drum often frequent these shallow rough areas hunting for food caught in the moving water.
If you find the combination of clear water and bright sun, try casting a bright lure. An Ocracoke favorite is a gold or silver Hopkins at 1½ or 2 ounces. If you can stand knee deep in the water and see a gold Hopkins on the bottom at your feet, the water is clear enough for lure fishing.
Inshore boat anglers can find schools of feeding drum around the inlets. At times one can find schools of drum feeding on the surface. It is always a thrill to look down on the red backs of the drum as they surge past just under the surface. When you find a school of surface feeding drum, cast a two-ounce jig tipped with a six-inch twister tail into the school. Try to let it drop through the school since the smaller fish will be near the surface and will strike first. On a good day you can follow the school and repeat this process over and over. Watch for surface disturbances and birds to help find a school of active fish.
Remember to support local tackle shops, clean up the beach after yourself, and return unwanted fish to the water unharmed.
Ken DeBarth lives and fishes (although not enough) on Ocracoke.