Barrier-island surf south of Crystal Coast turns on when water cools plenty
Red drum swim in skinny waters behind barrier islands, around inlets and in ocean surf “all-year long,” according to guide David Towler from Swansboro, N.C.
But members of the species are especially accessible in the surf on beaches from North Carolina’s Crystal Coast south during October and November. Their voracious appetites as they fatten up for winter’s hard times never fail to excite Towler.
“When I was playing sports in high school, I’d get amped up, and my buddies would say, ‘Get ready for Towler time!’ That’s what October and November red fishing can be like.”
Towler said potential clients cancelled fishing trips for a month after Hurricane Florence devastated the coast.
“A week after, two trips got cancelled because beach houses (anglers had rented) weren’t there anymore,” said Towler, who owns Towler Time Charters. “But by November, conditions should be back to normal, especially surf-fishing.”
Towler, 32, who started guiding three years ago, still chases fall redfish from his boat, but he found casting from the shore of local barrier islands as productive and not as dicey as ocean angling from a fishing platform.
“I’d rather pull up from a slough behind an island and walk across to the ocean,” he said. “Redfish are in the suds in 2 to 3 feet of water chasing baitfish. You can see if you look, and you don’t have to throw a lure a mile. In fact, most anglers throw right over fish at their feet.
“The surf also is good for flounder and trout this time of year; they also hit soft-plastic lures I cast at redfish.”
Towler’s most-productive and easiest-to-access surfin’ safari spots include beaches at Bogue Inlet, Hammocks Beach State Park at Bear Island, Bear Inlet and Browns Inlet.
When light to moderate winds blow from the north to the west, a calm ocean tempts red drum “to just crush a big topwater lure like a full-size Spook, big Top Dog or ½ – to 1-ounce Johnson gold spoon, Towler said.
“But if the water’s too wavy, topwaters don’t work as well because reds can’t see ’em,” he said. “I like a big Spook with silver sides and white belly. If the water’s a little rough, that’s when I’ll cast a 4- or 5-inch Z-Man DieZel MinnowZ swimbait or Z-Man StreakZ. They’re a little bigger than the normal soft plastic but have bigger profiles in the surf.”
Towler (910-554-4742) uses the same tackle he employs from his boat: 7-foot, medium-action spinning rods with 2500 series reels spooled with 15- to 20-pound braid and 2 feet of 25-pound fluorocarbon leaders.
“If a hook gets bent, I change out (trebles) with a No. 2 or No. 4 VMC (hook),” he said.
Towler’s favorite redfish lures include a 2-inch, ¼-ounce Johnson Sprite Gold Spoon or a 2½-inch, ½- and ¾-ounce Original Johnson Gold Spoon.
“They’ve got a good wobble and shine and splash in the surf,” he said.