Red Drum (Sciaenops ocellatus)
If a poll were taken along the southern Atlantic seaboard,
it would probably reveal that red drum are the second most
popular saltwater fish pursued by anglers, finishing just behind
the spotted seatrout. Among fly-casters, however, that ranking
would probably be reversed. The favor with which fly fishers
look at the red drum is based on its ability to reach gargantuan
sizes and the fact that the fish love to feed on shallow flats,
making them very good targets for fly-casting. It does not hurt
their rating that they also make delicious table fare.
Red drum are known by several other names in certain areas of their
range, which stretches from the Virginia coast down to the Florida
Keys and around the Gulf of Mexico to the Texas shore. In Florida
and the Gulf states they are called redfish or simply reds. Other
names in favor along the Atlantic Coast are channel bass and spottail
bass. Especially along the coast of the Carolinas, smaller red
drum are called puppy drum, while the larger members of the species
are referred to as bull reds (even though these are usually females.)
Ranging from copper to bronze colored, red drum always have a
black spot at the base of their caudal fin, which accounts for
the nickname spottail bass. Additionally, it is not uncommon
for some fish to have several other black spots that are not
uniform in size or shape spread along their sides.
For the most part, the red drum found along the South Atlantic
Coast are not migratory. Instead, they tend to remain in tidal
creeks or rivers for their first four years until they reach about
15 pounds. They they begin to move to inshore ocean waters, forming
schools that return to the sounds and bays to feed.
The exceptions to this rule can be found on the northern fringe of
their range. While the smaller red drum there maintain their
sedentary habits, in North Carolina there is a migration of bull
reds along the beaches of the Outer Banks, moving south in the fall
and back north in the spring.
Along beaches red drum are found around tidal rips where conflicting
current clash, or in the deeper washed-out holes at the outer edge
of the surf. In bays, rivers, and creeks look for them around marsh
grass at high tide and around any beds of live or dead oyster shells.
The ideal shallow flat on which to locate red drum has marsh grass
along one edge and deep water on the other.
Most of the fly-fishing opportunities for red drum occur when they
are on shallow flats, where they feed on shrimp, crabs, and minnows.
On flats that are covered with grass, the fish sometimes assume a
head-down position in the vegetation while feeding, often leaving
their tails sticking out of the water. This is known as tailing and
is one way to locate feeding red drum. On mud flats these fish also
five away their position by creating "muds" as they stir up the silt
on the bottom in their quest for food. Finally, when a school of
reds is cruising in the shallows, the fish create waves on the surface
as their backs push the water before them. These waves are commonly
referred to as humps or wakes, and the fish are said to be humping
Although red drum have the underslung jaw that is characteristic of
bottom-feeding species, they take flies that are presented anywhere
in the water column, from top to bottom. The most exciting way to
catch them is on topwater popping bugs, but colorful Bendbacks,
Clouser Minnows, Lefty's Deceivers, and other colorful streamer
flies are more dependably successful. When sight-casting to tailing,
humping, or mudding reds, it is necessary to cast the fly very close
to the fish. Though red drum are quite wary in shallow water and
are spooked by noise and shadows, they have poor eyesight. Thus
the fly needs to be presented close to a fish, with a quick retrieve
to attract the drum's attention.
The current all-tackle world record for red drum is held by Dave
G. Deuel for a 94-pound, 2-ounce fish. It was caught in the surf on
the Outer Banks at Avon, North Carolina, on Novenber 7, 1984. ~ Jimmy Jacobs
Credits: Excerpt from Fly-
Fishing the South Atlantic Coast by Jimmy Jacobs,
published by Backcountry, an imprint of Countryman Press.
Fish illustration from Sport Fish of Florida
by Vic Dunaway, published by Florida Sportsman.