A run on red drum

Smaller crowds translate to success for those seeking big, challenging red drum

CorrespondentSeptember 26, 2012 

— Fall is a great season to head for the beach. While the big crowds of summer tourists have dissipated, the ocean piers swell with the ranks of anglers who want to take advantage of cooling water temperatures that bring on the big migrations of fish they call “runs.”

But sometimes it’s the fishermen running for their rods. One of them was Johnny Rodgers, who was fishing at Kure Beach Fishing Pier recently.

“I’ve had three hits, but landed only one drum,” he said. “I made sure it was long enough to keep by having it measured at the pier house. It is 26 7/8 inches long.”

Rodgers was fishing at the end of the pier, using a 9-foot surf rod with a bait casting reel to heave a heavy sinker, leader and a hook baited with a live mullet into the unsettled sea. A northeast wind had the ocean churning, which is one of the reasons the fish were biting so well.

“When the wind picks up, the fish start biting,” he said. “I grabbed the rod when the fish took off and it took a few minutes to land it. Another fisherman helped by using my hoop net. When the fish got close enough to the pier, he dropped the net down with a rope and lifted it up to the pier.”

Rodgers, 52, has not lived in Wilmington for long, having moved recently to be closer to his son, a soldier stationed at Fort Bragg. Rodgers retired from his job as a road construction contractor in Oklahoma.

“I came down on vacation last Christmas and heard about the fishing on the piers and wanted to give it a try,” he said. “It was all new to me, but lots of people helped me get started. The first drum I caught was landed with the help of a rope. I had the fish tired and another fisherman made a noose at the end of the rope and caught the fish by the tail. That’s when I found out I needed a hoop net to land fish from the pier.”

Rodgers’ rod bent down and stayed bent, signaling another strike. He ran over to the railing and picked up the rod. The reel’s warning clicker sang out as the fish stripped away the line. But the fight was all too brief. The line went limp and Rodgers reeled in a bare hook with its point bent. It was a 2/0 stainless steel hook, able to land a very large fish.

“Red drum are big fish and they fight hard,” he said. “A lot of the fish you catch are too big to keep, so you have to let them go anyway and I already have my limit in the cooler.”

The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries sets regulations for ocean fish. The recreational size limit for red drum is one fish between 18 and 27 inches long, with the length measured from the nose to the tip of the compressed tail.

While Rodgers was replacing his hook, another fisherman standing at the railing about 50 feet from the end of the pier jerked up a stout, 7-foot rod with a bait casting reel. The rod tip rose and fell as he pumped the rod and reeled the line, trying to tire what appeared to be a heavy fish. But when the rod surged back down below the pier planks at his feet, it was for the last time. The line went slack. “It was a big red drum,” said Doug Shores, a 66-year-old retiree from Randleman, N.C. “I couldn’t stop him from wrapping the line around the pier piling. I use 30-pound test mono line, which is plenty heavy for pier fishing. But the barnacles on the piling cut the line.”

Shores said he had already battled, netted and released a red drum that was 32 inches long, a fish he said could have weighed as much as 15 pounds or more. But while he said he liked to catch red drum because they fought hard and long, when he was fishing for flounder as he was this day, they just wasted his bait and time. He comes to the pier a couple of times a month, sometimes more frequently in the fall because that is the best time for fishing.

Shores led the Kure Beach Pier Fishing Tournament in the flounder category with a 5.42-pound flounder caught during the summer.

“I’m trying to break my own top flounder weight,” he said. “I’ve hooked eight red drum and landed five of them over the last week. I don’t keep them even if they are inside the slot limit.”

However, Rodgers had no qualms about eating a red drum. His redfish dinner was resting on a bed of ice inside his cooler.

“I’m going to cook this one outside on the grill,” Rodgers said. “That’s a lot of fish and it’s going to be good eating.”

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