|Hard fighting 27" Redfish|
Sciaenops ocellatus has a lot of different labels up and down the East Coast: red drum, redfish, puppy drum and channel bass, just to list a few. I usually refer to them as pups and they are my favorite target from early June through October in southeast Virginia and coastal North Carolina. Red drum can get huge with several over 50 inches caught in Virginia every spring, but pups usually average from 20-30 inches and they are readily available and hungry.
Pups are usually cooperative and will readily take natural and artificial baits. They can range from structure (bridges, pilings, wrecks and rocks) in deeper water all the way to a few inches of water on the flats. Sight fishing the flats is my favorite way to catch these great fish. Nothing matches the feeling of putting your fly or lure in front of a hungry pup, watching him take it and then peel drag as he runs across the flat. Here are some tips for targeting pups on the flats.
|This big 29" Red was in only 1 foot of water|
Conditions: The biggest thing I need to target pups is moving water. I will fish both the incoming and outgoing tides. On the outgoing tide I like to fish creek mouths and rips where pups will ambush bait. On the incoming tide, I will follow the water as it floods the grass beds and the pups head in looking for food. To sight fish you want very little wind and clean water. This doesn't happen that often, but when it does you can pick out individual fish or whole schools. When the water is too murky or choppy to see fish, I will look for pups pushing water as they chase bait. It seems on TV that most of the shows can find pups tailing, but I hardly ever see tails. Usually I just see the moving water or a discoloration where the fish have stirred up the bottom.
|Standing in the Cuda allows me to see a big school of Reds|
Tackle: For pup fishing I like to keep my tackle pretty light. I use both bait casting and spinning tackle for pups. My favorite bait casting rig is a Diawa Tatula on a Shimano Clarus fast action rod in 6-12 lbs. I primarily use this rig for plugs and jigs but I will also use it with live bait, especially if I am using a popping cork. I use my spinner to throw soft plastics, lighter jigs and free lining live bait. My spinning rig of choice is a Shimano Saros 1000F on a Shimano Terramar with an extra fast action rated for 6-15lb test. I use braid on all my rigs (usually 20lb) and always use a leader. Since I prefer to sight fish in clear water, I use flourocarbon from 15-25lb depending on the conditions.
|My Diawa Tatula cranking down on a nice pup|
Pups are awesome on the fly and I never hit the flats without a fly rod. If I only have room for one I will carry my 8wt with a floating line because it is a great all around set up. However, there is nothing more fun than sight casting to a nice pup with my 6wt. A quick strip set and hang on!
|Having fun flyfishing on the SUP! Photo Credit: Richie Bekolay|
Baits: Pups are opportunistic and will eat almost anything in their environment. Shrimp, crabs and small fish are all part of their diet and all will catch fish. My favorite live bait is a finger mullet about 4 inches long. Free lined or on a popping cork, it is hard for a pup to resist a mullet that has wandered away from the school. Mullet last a long time and you always have a shot at a big speckled trout or flounder if you have one on your line. Everything eats mullet! I always use circle hooks when I use bait. The size seems to differ a lot between hook companies, but I usually use a 2/0 or 3/0.
|Landing a pup that nailed a live mullet|
If I am throwing artificial, I will throw a mullet imitation. Topwater lures like a Rapala Skitterwalker or a Heddon Zara Spook will trigger explosive strikes when worked with a “walk the dog” retrieve. Lipless Crankbaits have quickly become one of my favorite baits. I can cover a large flat really quickly, and the noise this bait makes draws fish in from distance. Another great mullet imitation is the Live Target Wake Bait. This is my Dad’s favorite pup lure and he consistently catches pups all season on this lure (All of these baits are also great speck lures.). Soft plastics like the Powerteam Lures Swinging Hammer and the JP Hammer Shad are great sight fishing baits because you can use them with a subtle presentation that will not spook fish in very shallow water. These baits are super versatile and can be fish weightless, on a keel weight hook, a spinnerbait trailer, or on a jig.
|Top to bottom: Lipless Crankbait, Skitterwalker, PTL Swinging Hammer, Wakebait, Swinging Hammer on a Spinnerbait|
If I am using the fly rod most clouser or deceiver patterns will work if the pups are feeding on baitfish. One of my favorite patterns for sight fishing is a crab or shrimp pattern. These flies can be worked slow or fast and a hungry pup will not pass one up.
|My personal favorite crab, clousers, and deceiver patterns|
Additional tips: Sight fishing can be tough. A good pair of polarized sun glasses is a necessity if you want to see pups below the surface. Binoculars can also help you find pups moving water at a distance. If you can stand in your kayak you have a huge advantage over someone sitting on their butt. The higher you can get your eyes, the further you can see. My favorite platform for this type of fishing is my Jackson SUPerFISHal stand up paddle board. When I am standing on my cooler on the SUP I can see fish at a much greater distance than when I am sitting on my yak. In shallow water you have to be quiet, try to minimize any movement that will cause noise. I always stop away from any area I plan to fish and do all my rigging and get everything organized before I move on to the flat.
|Standing on the SUP is my favorite way to catch reds|
Pups are great fish and they are prowling the flats of Virginia and North Carolina right now. Get out there and get in on some great fishing.
|When the action is hot you can even get a double header!|