Capt. Mark Stacy of Ocean Isle Fishing Charters doesn’t know whether he and other fishermen have been missing for years huge schools of big red drum feeding just off the beach in his neck of the woods, but he’s glad somebody has finally discovered an unusual fishery.

Stacy, said big schools of fish were discovered a couple of weeks ago cruising just off the beach between the mouth of the Cape Fear River and Little River Inlet at the North Carolina-South Carolina border. They’re constantly feeding, which makes them fairly easy to hook – if not get to the boat.

“I don’t know if these big reds have been here all along and we just didn’t know it, or if this is something new,” said Stacy (910-279-0119). “It’s hard to believe there could have been this many big drum this close to the beach and we didn’t find them years earlier. One thing for certain is I’m glad we found them now.”

The fish, Stacy said, are the same size as those regularly caught in the Pamlico Sound and at Little River Inlet in August and September – most easily citation-sized (40 inches) and some exceeding 50 inches. 

Stacy said the big drum were discovered, in part, because the fantastic fishing at Little River was drawing so many boats. Stacy and several guides decided to fish outside the jetties, away from the crowds, and they found the big drum shadowing schools of menhaden moving along the beach. The first big drum was a surprise, as was double-digit catches the first day they were discovered, not to mention consistent catches for better than a week.

“The technique is pretty simple,” Stacy said. “Find a school of menhaden moving close to the beach and ease up to them and cast a few live menhaden in. If there are drum under that school of bait, you’ll know pretty soon. They aren’t the least bit hesitant about grabbing a bait. If you haven’t had a bite in a few minutes, move to another school of menhaden.”

Stacy said the big reds have been as shallow as five and as deep as 15 feet. Pier and surf fishermen are catching them occasionally. The large drum are feeding on menhaden and prefer them, but they will also eat large finger mullet and bigger mullet. 

Stacy said he stepped up his tackle to medium-weight spinning outfits loaded with 30-pound braided line. He said the fish are in a full-on feeding mode, and fluorocarbon leaders aren’t necessary.

Stacy makes an oversize Carolina rig using 30-pound mono line and a 1-ounce sinker. He said some folks are using circle hooks, but he has been having really good luck using 1/0 to 4/0 “J” hooks and setting the hook as soon as he feels anything. These fish are so large they are gulping baits whole and swallowing any hook that isn’t set quickly, he said.

The heavier tackle allows fighting the large fish aggressively so they can be landed quickly and released. While these fish may have been in the waters of Long Bay for a while, they were just discovered this year and fishermen should take care to be sure they are handled properly and released healthy to be back for next year.