It’s almost August and one of the legendary fisheries kicks off, the ‘Old Drum’ fishery mainly centered around their Neuse/Pamlico spawning grounds.
A few years ago, I interviewed the equally legendary Captain Joe Shute about his experiences fishing and monitoring old drum stocks. In the coming weeks, I will be reliving this informative interview with Captain Joe regarding the breeding stock of our state fish…enjoy!
Dr. Bogus: It’s a season for old drum fishing. Before we talk about the old drum take…you’ve been, not to play on it, but you’ve been here quite a while, Captain Joe.
Captain Joe Shute: Yes I have!
Dr. Bogus: You have seen many changes.
Captain Joe Shute: I guess I’m a bit likened to the old drum. I’ve been here on a charter since 1987 so I was probably one of a handful of people with a canoe that fished inside at first.
Dr. Bogus: What I wanted to address before catching these guys, in 1997 we had the Fisheries Reform Act, and we also got into the situation where we started to protect the resources, the red drum resource, this that we get to the point of killing them all. So how had it been, compared to those days when things were really at their lowest? What are things like now, not only with the slit drum, but also with the old drum, because it’s been quite a while now that some of these fish are getting old?
Captain Joe Shute: That’s right, old drum fishing is as good as I’ve ever seen it. Both in Pamlico Sound you see good concentrations of them and especially in the winter months around Cape Lookout from the Beaufort shipping channel to the east side of the cape we do very well there from November to January and February and some even until April.
Dr. Bogus: They work in those menhaden schools there.
Captain Joe Shute: Right you catch them in 15-20 feet of water up to 50-60 feet of water. You hear of more old drums from the New River area, and you hear of them near Wilmington far more of them than ever in the past that I have seen or I ‘ve heard of. And the old stock drums are looking really really good right now.
Dr. Bogus: It’s interesting that you mentioned the New River because one of the things I’ve noticed over the past few years is that the piers on Topsail Island catch a lot of those big old drums. And I don’t remember hearing that in years past.
Captain Joe Shute: Me neither, not in the amounts they catch now. They have days, pretty heavy days there now.
Dr. Bogus: I guess they breed in the New River and just work in and out of the New River Inlet.
Captain Joe Shute: Okay, I imagine a lot of it comes from there, either that or they’re just filtering some Pamlico.
Dr. Bogus: Joe, the old drum fishing is kind of a specialty fishery. What kind of tackle do you recommend if you are using bait or even artificial ones these days?
Captain Joe Shute: Lately, many people have started fishing for old drum using corks, which is something quite new to old drum in recent years, and it has been very effective. They use some of the 4-5 inch DOA Air Head Shads. They run them about 24 inches below the popping plug, and they work the edges and points around, especially where there are schools of baitfish. It’s been really surprising, it’s been really effective on those old drums, getting them up off the bottom and getting them up and taking a bite.
Of course, you need heavy equipment. When I say heavy, a good heavy, medium to heavy spinning rod, preferably with a 20lb braid or 30lb braid on your main running line and something that you can get those fish back to the boat fairly quickly, but it’s been coming very well.
There’s also great fly fishing up there for them now. Basically the same platform is used. It’s called a Pop-n-Fly that Gary Dubiel came up with. It’s a popping cork basically with a fly hanging 18-20 inches below the popping cork. And the same thing in 20 feet of water, you’ll get those big drums to come around those bait pods and eat that bait 20 inches underwater.
Dr. Bogus: Twenty years ago, you didn’t see people fly fishing for these fish, did you?
Captain Joe Shute: Nooooooo! And we do a lot of that in the fall. We are targeting them and doing very well with flight gear around Cape Town in November and December. And for conventional fishing, I use a lot of heavy spinning gear, 30 pound class and up. I use 50 and 60 pound braid on my reels because I really want to retrieve the fish.
Your basic rig is the Owen Lupton rig, which is just very short. The entire rig is only 4 or 5 inches long, and it has a fixed 3 ounce egg sinker and a 10/0 circle hook at the bottom of it. And you’re just fishing with your drag tightened if you’re fishing it with bait.
The fish picks it up, walks away with it, the sinker pulls the hook to the corner of the mouth and probably 90% of your fish hooks to the corner of the mouth and is very easy to release. And circular crochet is the way to go.
Dr. Bogus: And those circle hooks are barbless, right? (An Owen Lupton type rig is required equipment in North Carolina when bait fishing for old red drum. See http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/red-drum).
Captain Joe Shute: Yes, a barbless circle hook. All of these fish are above the slot and need to be released. And the reason for the heavy gear and heavy drag is that you want to get those fish back to the boat and release them with minimal harm to the fish because the water temperatures in the sound, especially in August and September, are so hot, if you play these fish on light hardware, you will end up killing them.
They can’t stand the heat and I use a huge net to land my fish. And for most of the fish, the group wants to take a picture, so we’re going to get the fish out very quickly and take a picture. I never even bring most fish in the boat. I’ll leave them in the net, pull out the circle hook, let the fish go, and the fish is no worse for wear. Lots of people get up there and want to take a picture of the fish…they don’t pay attention to what’s going on, they’re holding a 40 pound fish, the fish will squirm and fall and hit their head on the boat. You know it’s not too good! So the less you can handle these fish, the better off you are.
Next week I’ll wrap up this interview with Captain Shute, focusing on tackling and techniques and reflecting on winter action.
It’s been a brutal week with the wind blowing over 25mph, and the water choppy, dirty and overrun with red flag alerts, and the heat and humidity pushing the heat index into triple digits.
Fishing off the docks and in the waves is slow in the summer, but if you’re early you can find a good bite with reds and spots in the sound and marshes. The coastal drum is split to about 30 inches, and guess what, there’s no shortage of 2-5 pound flounder anywhere you fish. Early is good for surface water whenever you can use Mud Minnows and Mullet or Live Shrimp. On the downside, offshore and even nearshore have been problematic, but when you can get there, wahoos are still hot, with mahi and sails also caught.
As mentioned, the old drum fisheries fire in both the Neuse and New rivers. It looks like another banner year for old reds. And there are also other options. Yes, it’s probably time to break out the chicken necks, handlines, and crab nets for blue crabs.
For those interested, the shark bite, especially at night, is quite hot. And if you work it right, Morehead City Harbor Turning Basin still has wind shadows to hide from the blustery southwest winds. Just work the structure, wall, bridges, train trestle, and nearby rock piers. There are 6-10 pound sheep caught on crabs and sea urchins. It’s quite an attraction!
For the piers, the summer heat hash-bash continues.
Oceanana Pier had a very slow week with only a few bottom dwellers to report, a few croakers, mullets, sand perch and a few small blues.
Bogue Inlet Pier also had a slow week with many regular anglers staying home. Of course, there were blues and Spaniards, scattered croakers and spots, grays and a few blue crabs. On Monday, there were beautiful sheep caught in the still dirty water.
Seaview Pier brought in some blues and spanish, red and black drums and a 42-pound king last weekend.
Surf City Pier reports slow fishing with some blues, some BIG Spaniards early last week before the big hit, red and black drums, mullets and spots.
Jolly Roger Pier reports a good week with excellent sea mullet bite, with 13-14 inch fish. They also got a few lake trout up to 19 inches.
The Emerald Isle sea turtle update has at least 27 nests as I write this report on Monday.
A nest has already hatched. Of course, it looks like a busy year for 2022 turtles here at Emerald Isle.
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