Big drum invade Neuse River this month

Ralph Brummitt of Kenansville, N.C., landed this big drum last summer in the Neuse River while fishing with guide Glenn Grigg. (Picture by Glenn Grigg)

Old drum deserve lots of attention this month

Often weighing 50 pounds or more, mature redfish spawn in North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound during late summer and fall, spreading across the nation’s second-largest estuary. Only the Chesapeake Bay covers more acreage.

This month, anglers will be chasing these red drum from the mile-wide mouth of the Neuse River to New Bern.

Guide Glenn Grigg of Merrimon, a small town near Beaufort, moved from Siler City 8 years ago and discovered fishing for these “old” drum.

Fortunately, it was about that time that popping-cork rigs were becoming popular for hooking up with these Neuse River beasts. Previously, soaking chunk baits on the bottom was the main tactic. And that often involved long stretches of waiting for bites.

“I look for old drum from Brant (Island) Shoals to New Bern,” said Grigg, 40, owner of Back Creek Guide Service (252-515-2971). “I start catching them in late July when they start busting bait balls.”

Just after safe light, Grigg will cruise to known hotspots, scan the river’s surface for signs of feeding fish or check his sonar for bait balls. Once he locates baits or redfish, he’ll move close enough for clients to cast popping corks or topwater lures.

Grigg uses medium-heavy, 7-foot St. Croix spinning rods and 4500 Series Penn Slammer reels spooled with 30-pound braid and a 20- to 30-inch leader of 40-pound fluorocarbon. When he uses a popping cork, he ties braid and fluorocarbon leaders to each cork, then a 1/4- to 3/8-ounce jighead to the leader with the hook inside a 5- to 7-inch Z-Man plastic grub.

“I love gold-and-black glitter Z-Man paddletails or jerk shads,” Grigg said. “They look like menhaden. At times, I switch to green and chartreuse colors.”

Best redfish spots include oyster beds

“Some of the old-timers gave me charts that show oyster reefs,” he said. “You can buy state maps that show (man-made) oyster reefs. They hauled a lot of rocks and put them in the river.”

Red drum love menhaden, mullets and crabs.

“When I find bait balls, customers throw (popping corks) at the outside edges, pop it once, wait 10 to 30 seconds and pop it again,” Grigg said.

His favorite topwater lure is an Australian-made Halco lure, a RoostaPopper. It’s a 7- to 8-inch, hard stickbait that catches large bluefish, Spanish and king mackerel; anglers can cast them long distances.

A large drum may require 30 minutes or longer to land. It’s a pump-and-reel game with the fish often exhausting anglers. Old drum have big shoulders.

“With the slot limit (18 to 27 inches in N.C.), old drum have to be released,” Grigg said. “It’s important to wet your hands so you don’t remove slime from scales, use a fish grip in his jaws and support his belly with the other hand or your thighs. Then take pictures and quickly release a drum (into the water). And never hold an old drum vertically.”

About Craig Holt 1382 Articles
Craig Holt of Snow Camp has been an outdoor writer for almost 40 years, working for several newspapers, then serving as managing editor for North Carolina Sportsman and South Carolina Sportsman before becoming a full-time free-lancer in 2009.

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