Dec 12

Late Summer & Early Fall Redfish Along the North Carolina Coast

PointClickFish Adventures with Wayne Justice
Late Summer & Early Fall Redfish Along the North Carolina Coast          

As the summer season comes to an end, many coastal residents and visitors alike are gearing up for fall fishing. When water temperatures begin to cool inshore, fishing heats up and savvy anglers know that red drum are preparing for the onslaught of winter. Luckily, they are creatures of habit and by following their seasonal patterns, it is relatively easy to find your own fishing hot spots.

The first strong northeast winds that we experience along our coast every fall begin to cool the water and push a lot of bait like mullet and menhaden from the sounds and bays along the beachfront. These “mullet blows” usually kick off a feeding frenzy, as every fish in the area knows that hard times are fast approaching, and they feed with reckless abandon, trying to fatten up while food still is readily available.

Biology and Habitat

Red drum can be found throughout the coastal waters of North Carolina. I have been fortunate to catch them on the capes, shoals, in the marsh creeks, and everywhere in-between. Small boat fisherman should be able to find plenty of fish near shore structures like piers, wrecks, and rock jetties.

When targeting red drum, I like to search along estuarine marsh banks that have patches of oyster reefs. I look for activity or color changes just under the surface of the water as I drift 20-30 feet off the shoreline. Schools of fish often can be found in shallow bays and narrow creeks, moving along on the search for baitfish, crabs, and shrimp that inhabit the same areas. When the schools move in super skinny water, they can’t hide from a patient angler with a good pair of polarized sunglasses. It takes some effort to find them, but the excitement of sight casting fish that are schooled up right in front of you is worth the work.

Surf fishing will heat up as many of the fish chase the bait along the beaches. The waters along Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras are world renowned for targeting red drum in the surf. It is a lot of fun to load up the four wheel drive vehicles with camping and fishing gear and spend a week at the Cape in the fall, pursuing a classic sport fish from the shoreline. All you have to do is drive along the beach at low tide and search for the deeper holes or sloughs that form in the surf. Often, red drum will stage up near shore and attack bait that is working south hugging the coastline. You don’t always have to cast far out to get to water that holds the fish; it helps to be able to read the beach. Sometimes they are, literally, right under your feet!

Tackle and Techniques

When chasing puppy drum inshore, I recommend using a 6 ½ -7 ft medium light rod rated for line breaking strengths between 8-12 lbs. Lure weight will often range between ¼- 1 ¼ oz., so take that into consideration, as well. You want a rod to be comfortable in your hands and light enough to cast over and over again. But, it needs to have enough backbone to turn the powerful fish when they make their initial run after hitting the lure.

I love my split grip stellar light Star Rod because of the lightweight design and the superior strength and flexibility. I matched it with a Penn 440SSg spooled with 10lb test line. I still use monofilament; however, a lot of die-hard drum anglers have switched to braid to give them more casting distance and more line strength.  When fishing from the beach with natural baits, I scale my gear up a bit and use an 8 foot rod capable of throwing up to 4 oz. of weight. My go-to reel for surf fishing is the Penn 550SSg with 12-15lb test line. I love the upper end Penn reels, because just about any tackle shop can get parts for them and can do quick and easy repairs.

Penn 550SSg

Penn 550SSg              Split grip stellar light Star Rod


Red drum can be caught on a variety of different bottom rigs using natural bait like live minnows, fresh cut mullet, or shrimp, but many anglers really enjoying fishing artificial lures. I like to start out with a spinner bait or a gold spoon, something with a little flash to it that attracts the fishes’ attention.   Soft plastics rigged light work well, too, and if you can find a school feeding aggressively, nothing is more fun than hooking one on a topwater plug. The most important thing to remember is that when these fish are in shallow water, they are super spooky. Moving slowly using either a push pole or trolling motor allows you to sneak up on the fish and see them before they flee. Many anglers purchase specially designed boats that allow them to go into super skinny water where the redfish love to hang out. Kayaks are useful when pursuing the reds in super shallow water, because they allow you to access areas where most power boats cannot go.

Be careful when casting to the schools to ensure that they do not become aware of your presence. Try not to cast directly across the school. Instead, aim for the outside edges of the school and bring the lure back to them slowly. At times, you might not be able to see the fish but instead will see the wakes that they create in the shallows. Try to figure out which direction the fish seem to be moving and put the lure several yards ahead of the school. Let the fish discover the easy meal.

The Adventure

I was fortunate enough to be invited out on my friend Captain John Mauser’s boat last month for an adventure with Tailing Tide Guide Service near Swansboro, North Carolina. Captain Mauser provides anglers opportunities to target reds in super shallow water as he runs an Ankona poling skiff that will float in water as shallow as 6 inches. That morning, John methodically pushed us into some back bays and tidal creeks that were teeming with life during low tide. Bait was concentrated in the creeks, since the water had receded. We found lots of redfish cruising the shallows searching for an easy meal.

The captain was skilled in pointing out the fish from the poling platform. I did my best to attempt to put a cast close enough to the fish to allow them to see the lure but far enough away not to spook them in the super shallow water. John recommended light lures that don’t create a big splash when they hit the water, so we started off with a gold spoon. The way the spoon fluttered through the water must have been too much for the fish to resist, because we were hooked up to several nice reds within minutes of entering the first creek.

We worked our way through a network of marsh creeks that day, occasionally switching tackle to a Redfish Magic spinner bait as the tide came in and the water became more stained. Also, we used DOA shrimp rigged on a weightless and weedless hook in the super skinny areas when we could see the fish clearly. The lightweight set-up allowed us to put the lure right in front of the fishes face, often resulting in a hookup as soon as the lure hit the water. The fish seemed especially hungry that day which made us extremely grateful that we had cameras onboard to document the trip. If you haven’t checked it out yet, make sure to watch the video we put together out on the water that day. It proved to be one of the best days I have had on the water during 2013!

DOA Shrimp

Redfish Magic Spinner Bait

Captain John and Tailing Tide Guide Service certainly kept my hands full all day as we caught more fish that either of us cared to count. We released all of the fish that we caught, but when the fishing is this good, it is important to remember that each angler can keep only one red drum in the 18-27 inch slot limit.

If you are interested in learning more about targeting redfish in shallow water, I suggest you contact Captain Mauser at Tailing Tide Guide Service. Another good resource would be Chasin’ Tails Bait and Tackle in Morehead City. Captain Matt Lamb has everything you need to get set- up for fall redfish. He is a tournament redfish angler, as well as the shop’s owner, so he keeps up with all the new tackle and the movements of fish throughout our area. If these two guys can’t help you find red fish, I suggest you take up another hobby.

PointClickFish.com Adventures with Wayne Justice is brought to you by:
   Hook and Bones Water Lifestyle Discovery Diving

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.