Throughout the inshore waters of both Carolinas, the bull redfish bite has been red hot for the past few weeks, and it’s expected to stay hot for the foreseeable future. If you’d like to catch the biggest fish of your life, now is as good a time as any to do it.
This time of year, the big redfish come in from the open ocean and spend some time in the inshore waters to spawn. Anglers are catching bull reds that are preparing to spawn, those that are spawning, and those that are leaving after spawning. It’s a magical time to hook one of these fish, some of which are upwards of half a century old.
Areas like Winyah Bay and the Pamlico Sound, which offer some protection from the open ocean with jetties and barrier islands, are some of the hottest spots for catching these fish right now. Many of the bull redfish that were either in the backwater creeks or heading there, got pushed out or held up in these areas after the flooding from Hurricane Matthew, which pushed more freshwater into the inshore waters than the baitfish could stand. This pushed them out to wait for all the runoff from rivers to the north to stop dumping so much fresh water in. But most have moved inshore now.
It’s tough to beat cut bait on the bottom in these areas. Capt. Rod Thomas of Capt. Ponytail Guide Service (336-240-5649) suggests putting out a number of rods, placing them in rod holders, then waiting for the fish to hook themselves, which lately, hasn’t taken very long.
“I start off putting six rods out, but the bite has been so hot lately that after the first few fish, I cut it down to four rods, and sometimes two rods. It’s not uncommon in the past few weeks to catch 40 bull redfish on a trip,” Thomas said.
Size 4 to 6 circle hooks on Carolina rigs with short leaders are the way to go, and Thomas said the shorter, the better. He also said anglers can do their part to help these fish stay alive by using something a little different than a Carolina rig.
Thomas’ preferred rig is the Owen Lupton Rig, a modified Carolina rig that is required in some parts of North Carolina at certain times of the year. Thomas uses it year-round in both Carolinas, and said he’s found two advantages to using this rig over standard Carolina rigs with longer leaders and sliding weights.
“When I first saw this rig, I had been using standard Carolina rigs with 18-inch leaders. I thought it would be impossible to catch one on an Owen Lupton Rig, but just the opposite happened. My hook up ration went up without a doubt,” he said.
But something even more surprising happened, said Thomas.
“The gut-hooking ratio went down. Way down. I find it’s rare now that I ever gut-hook a redfish,” he said.
The reason seems to be because with a standard Carolina rig, a redfish takes the bait in, and feeling no resistance because the line slides through the weight, it swallows the bait. With the Owen Lupton rig, the redfish immediately feels resistance from the weight, which is very close to the hook and doesn’t slide. So instead of swallowing the bait and hook, the fish typically swims away, allowing the circle hook to do its job of hooking the fish in the corner of the mouth.
If anglers do gut-hook a big redfish, Thomas said the best thing to do is usually to cut the line as close as you can to the hook. It’s not ideal, but it’s better than doing more damage to the fish in an attempt to remove it.
“The bite for these big drum usually continues through the end of November and often stays hot through December, especially in the Winyah Bay area,” he said.