Most of us set goals for ourselves. It seems like catching fish has always been one of my mine. Maybe it is because I have been fishing since I could barely hold a pole. I have caught Rainbow trout on a fly rod in Montana, waded an Alaskan stream full of salmon as I caught Dolly Vardens which are actually part of the char family. I have successfully gone after Brook trout, another member of the char family, from North Carolina to New Brunswick. While we were traveling through Alaska one summer, many of our evening meals revolved around Grayling that I caught in flooded gravel pits.
Like most North Carolina boys, I cut my teeth on catfish, bass, bream, and crappies. They came mostly from local farm ponds. There were saltwater fish over my early years during trips to the beaches, but I do not remember them as well. My obsession with saltwater fishing started as my wife and I developed a regular habit of taking our children to the Nags Head area. Eventually the crowds pushed us to Cape Hatteras where it seemed like the fisherman would make a last stand in the sand. My family often accused me of catching the same Pompano or Bluefish over and over again from the surf near the Lighthouse Motel.
We started looking for a place on the coast in 2003 after a thirtieth anniversary celebration in Beaufort, North Carolina. In the fall of 2005, I was privileged to enjoy a magical morning of fishing with Captain Tom Roller of WaterDog Guide Service. That morning I caught enough flounder and trout to please anyone. However, the real prize of the day was catching dozens of puppy drum We did not keep any of the drum, but they left a lasting impression on me. The first chance I got, I bought a beautiful watercolor of a Red Drum. It has been on my office wall in our last two houses. I am reminded of it every time I go to this page of North Carolina’s saltwater fish finder.
In the summer of 2006 we bought a home on the Southern Outer Banks of the North Carolina coast. More specifically our home is in the Crystal Coast portion of the Southern Outer Banks. We live just off the White Oak River not far from Swansboro and Emerald Isle.
The Red Drum is North Carolina’s state saltwater fish and we happen to live in one of the drum’s favorite spots. While I have done plenty of fishing here on the coast and caught my fair share of Speckled Seatrout, Spanish Mackerel, and Flounder, the only Red Drum that I seemed to catch were Puppy Drum or those which need to be returned to the water.
While catching a slot-limit Drum was not an obsession, it certainly was something that I wanted to achieve. I came close a number of times. Once three of us were fishing off Hammocks Beach in my skiff. The two other guys in the boat both hooked nice drum within seconds of each other. I reeled in and netted each of the drum for them. That was all the fish we saw for the next four hours.
In fall of 2012, I caught a number of Puppy Drum that probably could have been stretched to meet the limit. I resisted the temptation and even decided my drum would not count unless I got one over 20 inches. That personal requirement made things even more interesting. When you sometimes catch three or four 17″ Puppy Drum in a fishing trip, it would be easy to just let the tape slip a little.
Not satisfied I made the challenge even harder to a casual observer. I focused on catching my Drum with artificial bait. However, I found that using shrimp or other cut bait seem to take away the focus from catching my Drum. I enjoy catching a few Croakers or Pig Fish but I really wanted that Red Drum and in most cases having some cut shrimp on my hook seemed to get in the way of my goal.
Along the way there have been some memorable days fishing down here including one when we caught Bluefish until our arms were sore. Each summer I seem to find some really nice flounder like the one I caught earlier this August. However, the Red Drum became a quest. I knew my fish was out on the oyster rocks in the White Oak or even in the water by my dock since I had caught a 17″ one just yards away. I just had to find him.
While I could have fished the oyster rocks in our 20 ft. skiff, somehow it seemed more appropriate to go after my Red Drum in my kayak. It made the challenge more personal. Certainly the kayak made it easier to get to some of my favorite oyster rocks out in the river, but with a lot of fishy water between my dock and the rocks, I sometimes had a hard time getting there.
As the 2013 summer visitors came down for their last tastes of the beach, we got a spell of rainy weather. With some visitors here for only a short time, even the clouds and rain did not stop us from fishing. After three hours of fishing in the rain on Saturday, August 17, our remaining visitors took off to the beach the next day. I needed to make an adjustment to my depth finder on the skiff so on that Sunday, August 18, I decided to slip my kayak in the water because while the boat is on the lift, it is easier to work on it from the kayak. As long as I was going to be in the water, I decided to take a fishing rod with me.
It did not take me long to figure out that what I needed was a 1/4 inch wrench instead of a 3/8 inch one so I headed off fishing instead of being frustrated at trying to get my wife to find one of my 1/4 inch wrenches. I got out in the river and fished a few favorite spots and called my wife to see if our company had returned. They were still at the beach so I headed down the river to my favorite oyster rocks.
I started drifting up the river with the tide and fishing each set of oyster rocks. I had only been fishing a short time when I got a hit that I knew was something special. I fish with pretty light spinning gear loaded with 8 pound test line but with a heavier fluorocarbon leader. I knew I had a battle ahead of me. It was not long before I sure that I had my Red Drum at the end of my line. I also suspected that it would be easy to lose him especially since I left my net at the dock. My Red Drum and I had a good battle but I eventually eased him to the side of the kayak and flipped him in with my free hand. Then I had to deal with not having brought the piece of line that I use to take home dinner. I took the line that I use to make sure the kayak paddle does not float away and used that as a stringer. Once it was secure I put the drum back in the water, but I was mindful of the sharks we had caught nearby the previous day and the six foot alligator that I had seen a on August 9, so I tied my Red Drum close to the kayak and started the fifteen minute paddle back to our dock.
The trip back was uneventful except for the frequent checks to make sure the Red Drum was still with me. My wife was waiting for me at the dock and I was able to tell her that the salmon we had planned to have for dinner could wait another day. Our guests arrived shortly after I got back to the dock. I got my picture taken with my long sought after Red Drum. My wife thought he was too pretty to keep, but I wanted to eat this one fish after having thrown back sixty or seventy Puppy Drum. My Red Drum turned out to be delicious after my excellent job of pan frying.
I told some friends that I do not care if I catch another fish this fall since bringing my Red Drum to the dock made the season for me. Of course I went out the next day and caught a Bluefish while fishing with one of our guests. However, it might not count since it was an unintentional Bluefish. I was not paying any attention to the bottom rig that was in one of our rod holders.
It will not be long before I am back in the kayak chasing another Red Drum on the river. This next one likely will go back in the river since I feel no need to eat another one right now. Of course I already have another goal, catching an even bigger Red Drum from the surf over at the Point on Emerald Isle. I already know where I will catch him. I fished the waters there a few times this summer. I just have to make certain that I am there when the big drum are there. There is no doubt that I will be there lots over the next few months.