Five-alarm Action

Over-slot red drum are the rule and not the exception on nearshore reefs in August.

The heat of the summer is no time to sit at home: Head to the wrecks and reefs off Carolina Beach for hot action on big drum.

To many coastal fishermen, August is a month where the fishing goes slack and the kids go back to school. The heat rolls in early in the day, afternoon thunderstorms are the norm, the Gulf Stream fishing of the late spring is a memory and the kings have yet to invade the beaches for their annual fall blitz.

Too many fishermen put the tackle away for the last month of the summer. They have no idea what they are missing.

When Capt. Jeff Williamson of Get Busy Fishing Charters (910-367-0647) gets word that red drum are stealing flounder baits on the nearshore wrecks and reefs just outside Carolina Beach and Kure Beach, he puts his 21-foot bay boat on the trailer and heads for Wilmington.

Williamson spends most of the summer fishing the backwaters around Ocean Isle Beach, fishing the Shallotte River, Tubbs Inlet and the Little River jetties for flounder, redfish, trout, black drum, sheepshead and Spanish mackerel. The fishing is often excellent, but nothing gets his blood pumping like the over-slot fish he can find to the north.

The word came last summer on Aug. 19, and conditions were nothing short of perfect for the next day.

The forecast was for a light southwest breeze all morning, which meant fishing in protected water, just east of Frying Pan Shoals.

Leaving Shallotte well before daybreak, breakfast was finished and the boat got fuel and ice before being backing down the ramp before 8 a.m. Bait was a cinch — a livewell full of mullet minnows was acquired in no time — and Williamson had the boat through Carolina Beach Inlet, heading for a wreck just east of Kure Beach, in no time.

He said this particular wreck had been a consistent producer through the years, but that if it was vacant, not to worry: The area is littered with wrecks and man-made structure that can hold these fish late in the summer.

Approaching the wreck in just over 30 feet of water, Williamson made a few passes over the waypoint on the GPS, all the while watching the sounder to determine where exactly he wanted to set up.

When he marked the main body of the wreck, he threw a marker buoy fashioned from a “pool noodle,” some Dacron cord and a large bank sinker. He said the marker was instrumental in not only locating the wreck, but determining the drift for a proper anchor setup.

Sure enough, the angle of the line off the buoy showed he needed to setup just inshore of the marks on the sounder to fish directly over the structure.

The key to success, Williamson said, is being able to get your bait down on the offshore side of the structure, where bigger fish are less exposed to the tidal action but still supplied with bait from the nearshore churn.

As he figured out the drift, he motored around and set his grapnel-style anchor so the boat would stop almost directly on top of the mark. He said the grapnel, 12 feet of chain, and a sectioned anchor line — so you can quickly disconnect to chase a large fish — were perfect for this style of fishing.

His rigs were extremely simple. A standard Carolina rig, using a 1-ounce egg sinker and 25-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader, tied to a light-wire Owner circle hook, made up the terminal tackle. He has a surplus of the rigs on board, already tied, as his parties tend to go through a lot of terminal gear fishing this close to structure. Williamson scales up his rods for this type of fishing to medium-action Shakespeare Ugly Stiks matched to Ambassadeur level-wind reels spooled with 17-pound Cajun Red mono.

He also carries spinning tackle for those who are more comfortable with it, but he prefers conventional gear for larger redfish because of the more consistent drag settings it allows.

He selected the largest mullet minnow he could find in the livewell, laughing at the notion that bait could be too big.

“The key is to have good, fresh, live bait,” he said. “You can use pogies or mullet minnows, but they have to be frisky. You could probably come out here with an artificial, like Gulp! and catch some fish, but you are going to be much happier with the results if you put in the time to get good live bait.

“The (Carolina Beach) yacht basin is usually loaded with mullet minnows and pogies; just make sure you load up. The sea bass and oyster toads will cause you to go through your bait in a hurry. Throw the net until you think you have enough, and then throw a few more times just to make sure.”

Why argue with what works?

With everything ready to go, Williamson started giving instruction to his fishing party.

“Cast well offshore of the buoy and tighten up your line,” he said. “If a drum takes it, he’ll swallow it and all you’ll have to do is wind. If it feels like a flounder bite, then it probably is. Give him a long time to eat it, just like an inshore flounder, and then come tight. You would be amazed at how big a bait a keeper-sized flounder can actually eat. You just have to give him enough time to turn it around in his mouth and swallow it.”

It wasn’t more than three minutes when Williamson announced that he was getting a bite. “Flounder,” he said, patiently feeding it line, then cranking down on the Ambassadeur. The rod loaded up and doubled over, and the fight was on. There was no run or spastic jerk, just consistent weight and pull, so it was clear that his diagnosis of a flounder bite was right on. A few minutes later, a flounder every ounce of 4 pounds went into the net. Shortly thereafter, a member of the party duplicated Williamson’s feat. Talk about instant gratification.

The flatfish looked good in the cooler, but they weren’t what Williamson was really after. He released a little more line from the anchor well so the Kenner boat would drift back, more towards the offshore side of the wreck. Within a few moments one fisherman was hooked up on a different fish, one that simply grabbed the bait and headed offshore.

“Stay tight,” Williamson said as the anglered turned the fish and started him back toward the boat. “Let me know if he gets near the anchor line.”

He was giving out instructions and started to put his rod in a holder, but before he could finish that task, his rod doubled over and his line peeled out. The first fish came to the net five or six minutes later, a healthy 33-inch drum.

Then it was Williamson’s turn to work on his drum. He had to work around the anchor line several times — a simple matter of pulling the boat towards the anchor to create slack and quickly unsnapping the clip, allowing the fishing line to go through, and then re-connecting the anchor line. It wasn’t terribly difficult, but it has to be done quickly to make sure there is no chafing.

The effort paid off, as his drum wore out and popped up next to the boat at a healthy 36 inches.

All it seemed to take was about a 20-foot adjustment, and we had found what we had come for. Fishing is never this easy.

“That’s what we’re after” Williamson said. “Those fish are a bit on the small size, but the class of fish gets bigger on into fall. They are all over these wrecks this time of year.”

The action remained consistent until a summer squall forced the entire fleet off the water. The final count was a half-dozen over-slot reds — released, of course — plus five big flounder. Between bites from the reds and the flounder, the mullet minnows were attacked by 11- to 14-inch sea bass, which are seemingly on every piece of structure in the area. Williamson said it was a first for him not to hook up with a single ray.

Both Williamsons said that there are other opportunities on these wrecks as well. Bringing a 20-pound king mackerel outfit can pay off big if you put a bluefish or big menhaden out under a balloon while you work the structure. Cobia frequent the structure during the spring, summer and fall and are suckers for a jig tipped with a squid. And as demonstrated, it wouldn’t be too difficult to fill a cooler with keeper-sized black sea bass, provided the season is open.

When you factor in the accommodations and first-class boat ramp in Carolina Beach, the fishery is a slam dunk.

In late August, most of the hotels and motels are running specials, and there is no lack of places to eat, either before or after your fishing trip. Island Tackle and Hardware isn’t far from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission-maintained ramp; it has everything you need to target fish on the wrecks and a set of certified scales on which you can hang your flounder while filling out a citation form for the flatfish or big drum you encountered and released alive.

The N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries sends out certificates for every red drum over 40 inches that anglers release alive; on the nearshore wrecks off Cape Fear wrecks, it’s hard to find drum that fall into the state’s 18- to 27-inch slot.

More of the fish you catch will to be closer to the citation length than “keeper” size. What’s more, most of the fish you will encounter on the ocean side of Pleasure Island are sexually mature adults.

North Carolina’s state fish, red drum are a shining example of a species that has been successfully rebuilt since their decline in the 1980s. Stick with circle hooks, handle the fish carefully at the boat and do your part to keep the population healthy. With a bay boat and a minimal investment in fuel, you should be able to wallpaper your garage with citations in no time at all.

That makes up for not bringing home any reds, but who cares? More than 20 pounds of flounder were in the cooler.


WHERE TO GO/HOW TO GET THERE — Carolina Beach is the best jumping-off point for fishing the nearshore reefs off the east side of Cape Fear. From I-40 or US 17, take US 76/74 to US 421, which becomes Carolina Beach Rd. After crossing the Snow’s Cut bridge, turn left onto Access Rd., right onto Spencer Farlow Dr. and left onto Annie Dr., which will take you to the newly renovated N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission ramp. After launching and heading through Carolina Beach Inlet, try the following waypoints: John’s Creek, 34 06 327N/077 50 866W; Marriott Reef, 34 01 804N/077 52 132W; High Rock, 33 56 294N/077 54 944W; Stormy Petrel, 33 57 442N/077 54 650W; USS Peteroff, 33 54 942N/077 55 144W.

WHEN TO GO — Over-slot red drum are available on the wrecks just offshore of Pleasure Island from early spring until late fall. Black sea bass will be there year-round. Prime time for big reds starts roughly the second week in August and continues through the end of September.

GUIDES/FISHING INFO — Capt. Jeff Williamson, Get Busy Fishing Charters, 910-367-0647; Island Tackle & Hardware, Carolina Beach, 910-458-3049. See also Guides & Charters in Classifies.

ACCOMMODATIONS — Sea Witch Motel, Carolina Beach, 910-707-0058; Drifter’s Reef Motel, Carolina Beach, 910-458-5414. For meals, the Sea Witch Café and Tiki Bar, 910-707-0053, is an absolute must. Also check out Harbor Masters, 910-458-2800, in the Carolina Beach Yacht Basin, accessible by boat after a day on the water.

MAPS — Capt. Segull’s Nautical Charts, 888-473-4855,; Sealake Fishing; Guides, 800-411-0185,; Grease Chart, 800-326-3567,; Maps Unique, 910-458-9923,; GMCO Maps,

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