Red Drum Fishing in the Carolinas

Red drum are one of the most popular saltwater fish in the Carolinas, and fishing for redfish is often simple and rewarding.

Red drum, North Carolina’s state saltwater fish, are known internationally as the behemoths of the Cape Hatteras surf and locally as the hard-fighting redfish of many canals, inlets, and beaches in both Carolinas. While fishing for bull red drum with 13-foot rods, long pendulum casts and huge lead weights in a spraying surf makes a romantic picture, smaller redfish (often called puppy drum) are taken more often all along the beaches and waterways.

Red drum are nearly year-round residents of the Carolinas. They roam from the ocean beaches up the rivers to nearly fresh water. Redfish are especially fond of old docks and shellfish beds, and in the ocean they congregate around the holes in sandbars near deep sloughs.

The smaller redfish don’t leave the estuary marsh areas for the first four or five years. The larger bull red drum are caught often in the surf of the Outer Banks from late summer through fall and often into the winter.

Tackle differs for the puppy drum redfish and the larger surf Outer Banks fish. For redfish one or two hook rigs with two or three ounces of weight are fine. Some anglers prefer the sliding fishfinder rigs while others use standard bottom rigs with pyramid sinkers to hold the bottom. Rods from 7 to 9 feet are spooled with 8 to 12 lb test line are fine for redfish.

For the larger red drum anglers use heavy surf equipment. Rods from 10 to13 feet are common, as well as 20 to 30 lb test line, heavy leaders, and one-hook 3-way swivel rigs with 3/0 to 7/0 hooks and weights from 4 to 8 ounces.

The best baits for puppy drum are small live finger mullet or small menhaden, often called pogies. Fresh cut mullet works well and redfish will hit cut shrimp or squid, whole or halved crabs, and even bloodworms or earthworms.
Larger red drum like a big, juicy cut bait. Mullet, spot, menhaden, or bluefish all work whether fillets or heads are used.

Redfish also hit lures, especially in inshore areas around structure. Jig head and grub combinations work well, fished just off or bouncing on the bottom. Synthetic baits such as the Gulp! brand are very popular. Minnow-like plugs and even crankbaits will catch redfish.

The North Carolina record red drum of 94 pounds, 4 ounces was caught at Cape Hatteras and is also the world record. Redfish are a very protected species so it is important to check the state saltwater size and creel limits for red drum when you go fishing for them.

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