Topwater fishing for red drum cranks up in mid-May when the water temperature begins to climb, and as it approaches, guide Rick Patterson of Cape Carteret starts counting the days.

“Spring is when topwater fishing for red drum goes crazy,” said Patterson, who points to the creeks, marsh islands and bays behind Bear and Browns inlets as top places to find hungry redfish.

“Everyone talks about May, but I think from mid-May to mid-June, the topwater bite is best,” he said. “It’s like October — the other time when topwater fishing for reds is hottest.”

The 70-degree mark is when things get going, said Patterson, who runs Cape Crusader Charters. (252-342-1513).

“Seventy is a really good number for a morning topwater bite, especially if the water is calm,” he said.

Redfish in the 18- to 27-inch slot limit under which North Carolina manages the fishery, will “start blasting topwater lures, lures that run just below the surface, spinnerbaits and live baits, said Patterson, who uses artificial lures or live bait, depending upon what the fish want most.

“To start, I use my trolling motor to cruise slowly in bays and make long casts,” Patterson said. “It’s basically sight-fishing. I look for reds pushing water. You can see them because the water is clear. You won’t see the huge schools, but groups of five to 10 fish, or a single might blow up on a finger mullet.”

Patterson glides to a set-up where he can cast in front of the fish, because spring reds are spooky and react warily to unusual movements or noises. 

“With the water so clear, sometimes you might make a pretty wide loop to get in front of a school, then stop and wait for them to swim within casting distance,” Patterson said.

Another tactic is to blind-cast parallel to marsh shorelines or anchor several feet off the bank and fan-cast toward the shore.

“The falling tide is the best time to fish,” he said. “The water drops out of the marshes and pulls baitfish with it. Redfish set up just outside marsh grass and wait for finger mullets or mud minnows to come out. It’s mainly a matter of finding fish, then figuring out what they want to eat.” 

Patterson starts fishing at the top of the high tide and continues for 3 1/2 to 4 hours during the falling tide. His favorite topwater lures for redfish are Zara Spooks, Top Dogs or Top Pups.

“There’s something about a Spook’s walk-the-dog retrieve that fires up red drum,” Patterson said. “They’ll smash ’em. A Pop-R or a chugging lure also works, but not as good as a Spook.”

Lure colors also are important.

“I like any (lure) with an orange belly,” he said, “but chartreuse may work. I like surface lures to have black backs, gold sides and an orange belly. ”

Patterson will fish a soft-plastic jerkbait on a 3/0 or 5/0 hook and work it on the surface or go to a sub-surface lure.

If artificial lures don’t draw strikes, Patterson uses live bait. He prefers a popping cork with an 18- to 24-inch leader, a small split shot crimped above the hook, and a finger mullet or mud minnow on a No. 1 or No. 4 circle hook.