Thunderstorm clouds billowed ominously, turning the southwestern sky a disgruntled gray. While some anglers may find such conditions daunting, it was all in a day’s work for Capt. Lee Parsons of Gottafly Guide Service, who was launching his 21-foot Southern Skimmer from an obscure ramp at one of the highway bridges leading to Surf City. It was June 30 and threatening weather was all in a day’s work for the venerable guide who, at age 65, had been helping anglers catch fish for 22 years.
“We might get rained on,” Parsons said. “But, we will stick close to the ramp in case that thunderstorm hits. Once it passes, we can always head back out again.”
Parsons lives in Hampstead and fishes inshore and near shore waters from Bald Head Island to Swansboro. His specialty is light tackle and fly-fishing for many species and today he was targeting red drum.
“We might catch a flounder,” he said. “But we will fish primarily for red drum.”
Parsons used his 90-horsepower Honda four-stroke engine to navigate a couple of miles along the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway before turning into a bay. Small islands with dead oyster shell piles poked from the water.
“We will fish on top of live oyster beds,” he said. “Red drum feed on all sorts of marine life that (live) among the shells.”
Shutting off the main engine, Parsons set down a bow-mounted trolling motor. Stepping up onto a bow platform, he held a Riley Custom spinning rod in his hand. A chartreuse MirrOlure Top Dog Jr. dangled from its tip.
“This is a 7-foot rod with fast action,” he said. “It’s what I need to cast a topwater lure a long way. I also use 20-pound Berkley Power Pro braid because its small diameter increases distance. Red drum are spooky, so you have to make long casts to prevent them from detecting the boat.”
Another lure Parsons uses is a Falling Tide Lures spinnerbait with a soft trailer that has a shad tail. His favorite trailer colors are root beer and purple, both with a chartreuse tail. Several rods stood rigged and ready on either side of the boat’s center console.
“If you have a strike on the spinnerbait and the trailer’s tail missing, the culprit was a flounder,” he said. “Sometimes, they don’t get the hook in their mouth. But, if it’s a red drum strike, you nearly always hook the fish.”
Parsons looked at the wind-rippled water and picked a spot. Making a cast, he worked the topwater lure back to the boat, twitching the rod tip as he reeled imparted a flip-flopping action that most anglers refer to as “walking the dog.”
A big boil under the lure announced a strike. Parsons’ rod tip shot up, setting the hook. A few minutes later, he gently picked up the red drum to remove the lure’s hooks from its mouth.
Dozens of casts yielded nothing more than bit-off soft plastic trailers on spinnerbaits. Parsons hauled up the electric trolling motor and used the big engine to head to another bay. Resuming his position on the casting platform, he set down the trolling motor again. This time, a blaze-orange float rig swung from the tip of his rod. The rig’s hook held a mullet chunk.
“The top of the float is concave,” he said. “I make a cast, reel the line tight and pop the rod and the float makes a popping sound. It sounds like a red drum feeding or a baitfish jumping.”
Parsons made a cast and let the bait settle. After it had soaked about a minute, he popped the rod tip. The float sank and the hook bit into a red drum. The same procedure caught two more red drum in a few minutes.
“That’s how easy it is,” he said. “Red drum are usually easy to catch if you use the right lures and rigs. It is figuring out where they are feeding that is hard.”
Looking at the sky, Parsons saw the storm was getting too close for comfort. He set down the big engine and pointed the bow toward the ramp. He made it to the landing just as the first big, cold, dollops of rain began to fall.