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Fishing Blog

Puppy Drum Tutorial

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There are few fish in the Mid-Atlantic that have the spunk and the attitude of a redfish. They fight extremely hard, peeling off drag in blistering runs, only giving up when you force them to. Not only are they extremely fun on the other end of your line, they are fun to fish for. Chasing reds is hunting with a rod, seeing your quarry ahead of you in the water, waiting for the perfect moment, making the perfect cast and then “Bam!” you’re hitched up to a bulldog that takes you and your kayak for a spin. In this game, you are reliant on your stealth and being able to sight them before they see you and get spooked. In addition to the fun factor, the flats, tidal creeks and marshes where you find reds are beautiful places. The water is crystal clear with grass beds and oyster bars overflowing with life. Any day out on the flats is a good day. You’re likely to see a wide range of ocean life from rays, skates, sharks, crabs and sea turtles to schools of redfish, so even if you come up short, it will a beautiful trip.

                                         

General Habitat

Red Drum habitats change as the fish mature from juvenile through adult stages. Known as puppy drum in their juvenile stage they stay in shallower inshore areas such as creeks, flats and tidal areas from the lower Chesapeake, all the way south through Florida and the gulf coast. As they reach sizes around 30 inches redfish start to move out into the ocean, only coming back to inshore areas during certain times of year. Bull drum are an entirely different article, so for now, let’s focus specifically on where to find the puppies.

I figure most of you reading this article live somewhere in the Mid-Atlantic region. While you may find some reds in the lower Chesapeake Bay and around the backwater areas of Assateague and Chincoteague, you will generally need to do at least a little driving to get on the reds. Why search for days to find a single red when you can drive a little further and easily find dozens of them? Lynnhaven and Rudee inlets near Virginia Beach are probably your closest bet, unless we are having a particularly good year class of pups in the lower Chesapeake. From the Virginia Beach inlets it only gets better the further south you go, the Outer Banks (one of my favorites) Core Sound, Cape Lookout and then pretty much any inlet area down the North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida coast. As far as timing this is generally a warm water fishery. The season starts in late spring through summer, peaking in the fall when you can sometimes find redfish schools in the hundreds fattening up before migrating out to deeper water holes for the winter.

To the Inlets

Your key to finding puppy drum is to learn how the tidal movement affects the feeding pattern and movement of the fish. If you think getting the “golden spot“ from someone will get you all the fish you could ever dream of, think again. Redfish feed at particular spots, during particular tides. The key is knowing where AND when. The general idea is that redfish move with the tide, into and out of, an area. I’ll never forget my first trip to the outer banks. We were fishing at a creek mouth as the tide was going out, and watching as red after red spilled out of the creek where they had been feeding. While redfish can be found miles from the ocean, I have found that for the Mid-Atlantic region redfish tend to be more concentrated in areas close to the inlets. The puzzle to unlock is which part of the tide will find redfish at a given location. I spend a lot of time scouting spots on Google maps. I look for where the closest grass beds are to the mouth of an inlet. Inlets pump water consistently into and out of the flats. With that flush of water comes the food reds are after. The grass beds are important because they are habitat for the forage species. Grass is where baitfish, shrimp, and crabs find shelter and reds find food.

Redfish like to be the first to move into a newly flooded area to pick up any crabs or other critters that didn’t find shelter before the water moved in. Like many other species redfish also stage up in productive areas where water funnels current, where there are potholes or breaks in the current and where the current can do the work for them. Oyster bars, channel edges, pilings, docks, and bridges are all areas to look for reds as well. Remember to try to get a feel for how current is affecting an area. Do your homework. Look at satellite imagery to get a feel for the big picture. How does the water from the ocean coming through the inlet get funneled through the islands, cuts, sandbars and other structure? Where is the current going to be the strongest? Where will it be weaker? Where can the fish just chill and let the tide bring the food to them?

                                     

Arrows show the movement of water on an incoming tide

A.Closest grass flat to inlet. This is the first area I would look. I would expect to see redfish moving into this area on a high tide.

B.This is an important current break near this particular inlet. Reds will be around this island. The deep cut on the backside is important as well because it is a deeper hole to hide in during the low tide, there is also a minor grass bed on the front edge of the island.

C-D. Areas with good water exchange but out of the main current flow and thus an ideal location to find reds.

Grass Beds

                                   

Grass Beds

A.This large grass flat near a current obstruction (the Island) is likely a very productive spot. Grass beds will appear as a slightly darker and greener color on google maps as you can see here. Remember grass=bait so redfish will come here to feed. As stated earlier look for the closest grass flats to an inlet where there is a regular exchange of water. The dotted line B, would be a logical spot to look for redfish on an incoming tide as they will be searching along the outer edge of the flat against the island. You can see the difference in depths in the different colors of the water. Also notice the arrow indicating the general flow of current through the area. On the outgoing tide I would expect some redfish waiting at the bottom this current funnel by C.

Ammo:

                                    

There are lots of ways people fish for puppy drum. You can use cut bait on a bottom rig, toss it into a deeper hole and sit and wait. I get bored quickly, so I prefer a more active type of fishing. I use primarily artificials, and tend to keep things simple. My lure of choice is a ¼ oz. jighead (Zman trout headz or Redfish headz) with a Zman 3.5 to 4 inch paddletail. I like natural baitfish or shrimp colors. I also like to add Procure scent to my paddletails. Redfish don’t tend to be picky eaters. If they are on the flats and they are actively feeding and you can get a lure into their zone, its game on. The biggest challenge really is getting a lure in front of them without spooking the fish. Remember the water is SUPER clear most of the time and they have excellent eyesight. You have to be careful NOT to cast on top of them, instead cast a ways ahead of a cruising red. Pump it a few times (or burn it if needed) so that they see your lure. As they start to chase, hit the kill switch, let the paddletail fall to the bottom and wait for the unmistakable “thump.” Set the hook and its game on. A common mistake here is to have the drag set too tightly. Set your drag tight enough to get a good hookset but loose enough to allow the red to run. Redfish are gonna run, and run and run. Expect an upper slot red to spin your kayak a few times, to have your line tangled under the boat and to have the beautiful sound of drag playing to your ears. (I once had a particularly feisty 30+ inch red pull my kayak around the flats for over an hour) As far as rod/reel setup you want a medium to medium heavy 7 to 7 ½ foot rod, with a 2500 to 3000 series reel. I use 15 to 20 lb power pro braid (moss green) to get some nice long casts. Usually I use a 20-30 lb. flouro leader but sometimes when there is a lot of floating grass, I just tie directly to my braided line.

On windy days the water will get cloudy and full of floating grass. Under these conditions I like to use a ¾ oz. 2 ¾ inch GOLD Johnson silver minnow spoon. Tied directly to braid the spoon casts a country mile, even into the wind. The direct braid, and precise weed guard will shed, and actually cut through, the floating grass. 

                                    

The spoon is a great searchbait. The flash and vibration finds fish under cloudy water conditions, but don’t overlook it under optimal conditions too. For some people it is the only redfish lure they use.

Catch my Drift?

                                    

Once you have figured out a good grass flat you want to fish (ideally one near an inlet with good exchange of water) you have to strategize how to move through the flat. Paddle, Pedal or push pole all work, but I tend to use the wind when possible to help me out. It allows me to minimize the amount of movement spooky fish may see from a distance. I like to pedal to the top of a flat, stand up and allow the wind to drift me (standing motionless) through the intended target area. I can adjust the direction of my drift with the sailing rudder on my Hobie Outback. (a perfect boat for this type of fishing, BTW) I also use a folding camp bucket to slow my drift, when it is particularly windy. A micro power pole would be ideal in these conditions to stop when needed and allow you to plan out that cast. Good polarized shades are really important here so that you see them before they see you. I don't spend much time fan-casting with this type of fishing. Redfish in this environment are extremely spooky, instead it's all about seeing them before they see you. The position of the sun also plays another important role...if the sun is behind you, they seem to spot you from a much greater distance. Unfortunately the wind direction and sun direction don't always add up in your favor.

                                   

With so many variables it may seem like fishing for redfish is extremely hard. Honestly most of the information I’ve shared here has been stuff I’ve just figured out through luck (a little reading) and repeated exposure. It’s not rocket science. Go out there, find some grass flats (I suggest 2 hours before, to 2 hours after the high tide) and look for the fish. You will see them….cruising around in singles or packs, or schooled up in the hundreds. Hopefully the sun and wind are in your favor and you see them before they see you. A word of caution, however chasing the reds has been known to be terribly habit forming, I can think of worse things to have happen to ya. Good luck… now get out there and give your drag a workout.

           

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