Inshore fishing for Red Drum can be some of the most rewarding catches of a lifetime. This species can also be referred to and known as a Red Fish, Channel Bass, or even Spotted Sea Bass. Pound for pound, this fish is one of the most fun fighting inshore species. I’m going to give you the low down on Red Drum tactics for how to target this species, everything from how to catch them on the beach to how to target them inshore.
Let’s first break it down into the three types of Red Drum. First you have Bull Drum, these are the big boys, typically here in Virginia and North Carolina we define them as anything over 40 inches. For whatever state you are in, make sure you follow your local state regulations when determining Slot size for what you can keep, since they vary across the board. And then you have Puppy Drum, which are the smaller class of Drum.
There are three main areas anglers can target Drum. Anglers can fish for this species on the beach, inside inlets and your inner coastal waterways, and the third area is focused on the marsh and grass flats. Once you determine how you want to go after this species and where, you will then need to understand their forage and where to find it. Drum are voracious feeders, as an old fisherman once told me, “They ain’t coming to shop, they comin’ to buy.” You will find that wherever you can find the bait, you can find the Drum.
Beach fishing is heavily focused on your gear and making sure you’re set up with salt graded equipment, typically an 8000 series reel, making sure it has plenty of line capacity. You could even fish as low as a 5000 or 6000 series. You don’t have to go crazy with the pound test, as long as you’re playing your drag right, you’ll be able to land these 40-50 giants from the surf. I always recommend using circle hooks, this is not only for the fishes safety, but this is for your hookup ratio. Typically if you’re using a circle hook, that Drum is going to hook itself! Fresh Blue Crabs are serious Drum candy. If you’re going after the big boys then you can use a whole crab with the shell on, consider taking the front legs and pinchers off, just leaving the two back swimmer legs. Mullet, Bunker (Menhaden), and Shrimp are also some of their other forage they will go after. Just remember, the fresher the better! Conventional surf rods are preferred when beach fishing, but if you’re just working with spinning tackle, that will still produce quality catches! When you’re casting from the beach, you want to look for slews where you have shallow water and deep water. How the waves are breaking is a great indication, so if you’re seeing breaking waves with white water, know that below the surface it’s probably shallow. If you’re seeing cresting waves but they are not actually breaking, that’s more of the channel and deeper area. Focus on casting into that deeper area into the slew at low tide, but once the tide changes to high tide, remember the drum take advantage of following the tides and the bait so they will be rushing to the beach to feed during that incoming high tide. An incoming tide is one of my favorite times to fish for these Drum since they are easy to target right against the shoreline.
When fishing an inlet, to find the most success, you’ll want a moving tide. Drum follow the tides and it’s cycles so depending on the high or low tide, that’s where you’ll want to target them. Drum also adhere to structure, this could be anything from rocks, docks, jetties, or even drop offs and grass flats. If you’re working jetties, think of them as funneling the water through, acting as a conveyor belt for not only the Drum, but also the bait. The Drum are easy to target by jetties but if you have a fast moving tide, the timing might be deadly for a solid hookup! You typically want to fish 8-30 feet in depth range when fishing jetties. Fishing inside of inlets can be seen as the saltwater version of freshwater bass fishing. You’re working docks, bridges, and dock ledges. For this type of fishing, you can switch over to your light action tackle; using a 4000 series would be recommended. Puppy Drum will usually stay in these areas until they reach about 30 inches or 3 years old. That moving current and tide also plays a large role in this fishing scene. You can also utilize the backs of the inlets for times such as the spring, for when the fish are looking for warmer areas to rest and feed, so they will retreat and adhere to more shallow pockets of water. The low tide will have an opportunity to bake and heat the back pockets of the inlet and also the mud, creating an optimal environment for these fish. The sun is even going to heat up any of the rocks and wooden structures, so when the tide rises back up, the Drum are going to adhere to some of that warmer water.
When targeting the marsh areas and flats, focusing on the tide is going to be key. When fishing skinny water, you can usually spot a tailing red drum as they are feeding on the bottom. This is when their tail sticks out of the water as they dig their nose into the sand to locate their forage. When you see this, you want to cast 5 feet ahead, really presenting that bait in front of them. A lot of anglers like using artificial baits in backwaters, and couple it up with a popping cork could mean a very successful day out on the water. Berkley Gulp is some of the most effective artificial soft plastics I have personally experienced, but Z-man also produces. When fishing these areas, a lot of the structure you want to look for and target are actually the grass flats themselves.
There is nothing quite like hooking up to your first Red Drum. Whether you’re an experienced angler or just beginning, this species is one of the best and most fun fighting inshore fish! Learn their patters and behaviors, and you’ll be hooked too.