The (red) drum beat goes on

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By Barrett McMullan

It’s Sunday, Sept. 15, and we’re right on schedule. The fishing and weather, or vice versa, are doing exactly what we’d expect this time of year. The first cold fronts are beginning to make their way through the area, bringing cooler mornings and north winds. Seemingly every baitfish in the ocean is gathering just off the beach or in the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway as the annual migrations take shape. The result of all these factors is good fishing and comfortable temperatures, a wonderful time to be a fisherman on the Carolina coast.
Starting offshore, the wahoo fishing along the break in 160 feet to 220 feet of water is picking up steam.  The weather has been stable enough recently for fishermen to venture offshore 50 miles to these depths and they are being rewarded with great catches.
Wahoo is the name of the game for the rest of the year and it looks as if they’ve arrived in good numbers already. The most success is being found by fishermen trolling ballyhoo behind skirts over natural bottom structure in the depths mentioned above.  The key, as is often the case with fishing of any kind, is to find the schools of baitfish and concentrate your efforts in the same area.
Moving inshore just a few miles to depths of 100 feet to 130 feet, the bottom fishing for vermilion snapper and grouper has been excellent.  Anchoring or drifting over good bottom structure where you are marking the fish will put you in a position for success with the bottom dwellers. To catch the snappers, try dropping several pieces of squid or northern mackerel on a “rally rig” to the bottom and then bring it off the bottom about 10 feet.  Once you find the right depth where the snappers are biting, tie a rubber band around your line to mark the depth and simply drop it back to the depth each time.  This will help you catch more snappers and less by-catch.
In the intermediate range, 65 feet or so, king mackerel and big Spanish can still be found. Right now though, the big numbers of kings are likely staging somewhere offshore for their annual migration to the inshore waters, below 50 feet. Once this move takes place, you don’t want to miss it.  
Within the next couple weeks they’ll arrive at places like the Cape Fear River channel, Shallotte inlet and Yaupon reef.  There are already reports of a few king mackerel being caught off the local piers.  I’m not ready to declare the beach bite on, but it’s close and getting closer every day.
The fishery getting the biggest spotlight this week is red drum. Red drum, or redfish, are also in the middle of their yearly migration and inshore anglers are hot on the scene. In mid-September every year, with the mullet, medium to large size redfish arrive in masses to the inshore waters, in particular the Little River, S.C., jetties and surrounding artificial reefs. On any given day in mid-September, you can find 20 inshore fishing boats drifting the Little River jetties and usually you’ll see bent rods and smiling faces.
This past week the redfish bite has been on fire, especially on the rising tides. If you can time your fishing trip with a north wind and rising tide, that seems to be the best of the best times to be fishing.  The redfish are averaging 30 inches or about 10 pounds, but plenty of fish up to 20 pounds are being caught.  
The next phase to this fishery will take place in a couple weeks, when the really big “old” drum come into the area and fish up to 40 pounds will be common. Live bait such as mullet or menhaden fished on Carolina rigs near the bottom is the technique most are employing.
Fishing overall is very good and only getting better as we move into the fall season.  With continued stable weather and, knock on wood, no tropical weather activity, we’re looking to have an excellent fall fishing season.  

Barrett McMullan, a two-time winner of the SKA national championship, is a charter captain and fishing columnist for the Beacon. Reach him at captbarrett@oifc.com.