The chugger I was working near the shoreline sounded like a bottle rocket with each jerk of the rod tip. Suddenly, the water bulged, and a beach-ball-size swirl and whining drag confirmed I was tied to a giant redfish. Fifteen minutes later, we quickly released the 51-pound bull redfish back into the Neuse River shallows.
In North Carolina, enormous fish pour into the brackish Neuse River via the Oregon and Beaufort inlets starting in July, and the short spawn offers outstanding odds at fish exceeding 40 inches.
Capt. George Beckwith specializes in catching giant redfish. “This is the spawning factory for North Carolina’s redfish. The juveniles stay inside for three to four years, then they move offshore before returning every summer. By October, the big fish will usually be back out along the Outer Banks.”
Custom Rigs for Bull Redfish
Beckwith anchors near shoals, starts chumming, and lets the fish come to him. He has also witnessed big bull redfish chasing flounder on the surface. In calm water the reds lay up on shallow bars, with dorsal or tails exposed, which requires a stealthy approach. Anchor and-chum is the most common tactic.
Beckwith’s favorite redfish rig consists of 20-pound-class spinning rods loaded with 300 yards of monofilament or braid, and set at 4 to 6 pounds of drag. Using a Bimini twist, he ties on a 6-foot wind-on leader of 60- or 80-pound mono or fluoro. Terminal tackle is the Owen Lupton red drum rig, designed to prevent gut-hooking.
Owen Lupton Red Drum Rig
Using A 3- to 5-inch section of 100-pound fluorocarbon leader with a snelled Mustad or Eagle Claw circle hook up to 14/0 includes a 2- to 3-ounce egg sinker and rigging beads, with the line doubled between the sinker and the crimps.
“The weight drags the hook to the corner of the mouth to prevent gut-hooking,” says Beckwith. For bait, Beckwith uses cut fresh mullet and fishes up to six rods at a time. On a good day, every client records a couple of citation-size fish. “The largest fish I’ve heard of is 62 inches,” he adds.
Lures for Bull Redfish
Capt. Mitchell Blake caters to lure and fly-fishermen. In addition to big Yo-Zuri pencil poppers, Darters and Zara Spooks, Blake arms his clients with redfish lures such as the D.O.A. or Z-Man swimbaits rigged with up to 30 inches of 40-pound leader and ¼-ounce jig heads with 8/0 hooks. The soft-plastic lures are run behind a Blabber Mouth plastic popping cork to create commotion. Using his trolling motor, Blake targets the sandy shoals, contour lines and bait schools. “I tell my clients to make the longest casts they can, let the lure hit the bottom, and rip it back up before letting it drop again so it yo-yos through the water column,” Blake says.
The shallow Neuse offers excellent opportunities for catching bull redfish on fly rods. Blake recommends 10-weight outfits with 25- to 30-pound fluoro tippets, and big streamers patterns on stout hooks. He’ll sometimes tie a Cam Sigler foam popper a foot in front of the fly to add noise.
“When the fish are thick, you can sometimes catch up to a dozen, but that’s the exception, not the rule,” says Blake, whose personal best is a 54-incher. “Three or four on lure or fly is a fantastic day. These are 30-plus-year-old trophy drum, and they truly are the fish of a lifetime.”
What: Trophy red drum
When: August though October
Where: Neuse River/ Oriental, North Carolina
Who: These guides specialize in bull reds:
Capt. George Beckwith
Capt. Mitchell Blake
SWS Tackle Box
Rods: Medium-heavy spinning rods; 10-weight fly rods
Reels: 5000-class spinning or matching fly reels
Lines: Up to 300 yards of 20-pound monofilament, or braid
Leader: 30-pound-test fluorocarbon for lures or flies, 60- to 80-pound for bait
Lures/Terminal Gear: Large chuggers and soft-plastic swimbaits; Deceivers and mullet/pogy fly patterns; Lupton rig for bait chunks
Baits: Cut mullet and menhaden