Targeting Red Drum in the Lynnhaven Flats

The Lynnhaven Inlet is a gateway to some of the best flats fishing on the East Coast.  Anglers from all over travel to experience this fishery in person and to experience its abundance in quality fish first hand.  One species that anglers love to target in the Lynnhaven marsh areas and flats are Red Drum.  It’s important to first learn how to target these species in order to produce the best results and maximize your time on the water.  Learning a Red Drum’s patterns and behaviors is the first thing an angler needs to educate themselves on to learn when, where, and how to target them.

One of the most key things to focus on when getting out to the spot is observation. It’s all about keeping your eyes and ears attuned to your surroundings. Observation of the environment around you is fundamental to finding the fish.  Be on the look out for birds wheeling and diving as they typically feed on very similar crustaceans and bait fish that the Drum do.  If you begin to see birds covering over pockets of water and see them diving it’s almost always an indication that they found a school of bait fish, as birds are often equally attuned to their surrounds. Relying on the ecosystem to leave you clues and hints will significantly increase the success of your Red Drum hunt. When riding or wading out to your fishing spot, be cognizant of the low lying eco system within the structure of the marsh flats. The reeds, oyster beds, mud, and flat itself, create a home for many of the forage living within this ecosystem, providing protection, nourishment, and life.  The drum will be feeding on anything from Fiddler Crabs, Blue Crabs, bait fish all the way to snails and other forage living in the marsh.

Topography can be a good indicator and cue an angler in on where to target Drum.  Wade fishing allows an angler to be in tuned with what’s below the waters surface and to better understand and begin to eliminate where the Drum may be.  Drum sometimes adhere to sandy bottoms but they are typically drawn to structure.  When you begin to think of structure, begin to think outside of just docks, pilings, or rock structures.  Although these are key elements to look at, keep an open mind that grass flats, drop offs, and marsh areas can all constitute as structure for these Drum.

Tides also play a large part in effectively targeting Red Drum.  The Lynnhaven Inlet provides an ever changing environment out in the flats and marsh areas. It’s very important to understand a Drum’s behavior with the tide change.  One of the first things I do when I get out to the fishing spot is eliminate water. If you can eliminate a bunch of water and focus on those areas that are holding the Drum, then that is going to significantly improve your chances of hooking up to that shallow water Red Drum.  The Drum typically follow the tides, so when it’s low tide, the Drum are typically going to pull back into deeper water. Some of the channels run up right against the grass flats so it provides about a 4 or 5 foot drop off into that channel, which is actually pretty deep water for a shallow water Red Drum.  The low tide is where you want to use the topography of the ground to your benefit and to take note of what that topography looks like.  As the Drum follow the tide on it’s way out, those Drum are going to use the deeper slews and drop offs as a resting and hiding place, but once the tide changes to high tide, the Drum are going to adhere to higher ground like oyster beds, grass flats and marsh areas, and also mouths to some of the creek areas.  Think simple, Drum follow the tides. That’s where at high tide you want to take advantage and target the flats near the marsh and grass areas.  Those Drum typically come up during that incoming tide and feed on the forage living in the marsh.  For a lot of anglers, some of the best tides to fish are low and incoming because during a dead high tide, because at dead high tide it provides the Drum ample room to roam, making them much more difficult to target. Ultimately, we want to eliminate water so we can eliminate the word luck from our fishing vocabulary and maximize our fish catching.

During an incoming tide is when the Drum are rushing to the flats and marsh lands.  As opportunistic feeders, Drum are using the high tide to their advantage since a lot of their forage lives and hides in the grass areas. Anything they can find they will typically be feeding on.  Drum typically push their noses into the sand to dig for small crabs and forage, so often you will see what is called a “tailing Drum”.  Along with the high tides comes the bait fish as well.  The tide will push a lot of the smaller fish to the flats and this is where they often use the grass and reeds to hide and stay safe from predators.  This again produces more opportunities for those Drum to feed as bait fish are corralled into the marsh flats.  Just remember that Drum are opportunistic feeders during the high tide so they will be coming and going with the ever changing tides, which is why studying their behavior is fundamental in successfully targeting these fish.

Red Drum will follow the outgoing tide by the same route they they came in during the incoming tide. Drum tend to follow their same patterns when riding the tides which also give anglers an advantage as they learn their behaviors.  The tides are almost a resent button, so at low tide the Drum pull back, following their same pattern and will draw back into 4-6 feet of water, which for shallow water drum this is pretty deep.  During this low tide, the drum use this as their opportunity to feed on bottom forage such as shrimp, crabs, and any bait fish found in the drop offs. While the Drum are following the tide back out to these drop offs and deeper slews, their forage that was using the grass flats as a hiding place during the high tide, will begin to dart out of the structure as the water pulls them back out during the low tide. When that tide starts rolling back out and there’s no more water for those bait fish using the marsh flats to hide in, then those Drum are going to be waiting with hungry stomachs for their forage to dart and literally make a mad dash back out into that 4 or 5 feet of water.

Low and incoming tides are my personal favorite time to fish during the tide cycle to successfully target Red Drum. Keep casting, keep working, and keep your eyes open for clues. Eliminate water, try and maximize areas where the Drum might be located based on the tide cycle and their forage.  The three key main things that these Drum are motivated by, all fish including Red Drum are motivated by spawning, feeding, and comfort. If you can remember these three things, you’re going to eliminate about 80 to 90% of water and you’re going to maximize your Red Drum catching.

Kristi Anderson

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