Old reds: Radio interview by Dr. Bogus with Capt. Joe Shute on 8/13/18, Ben Ball Host of Coastal Daybreak, WTKF 1240 AM, 107.1 FM.
Dr. Bogus: This is a season for the old drum fishery, before we talk about the old drum catching…you’ve been, not to harp on it but you’ve been around here for quite a while Capt. Joe.
Capt. Joe Shute: Yes I have!
Dr. Bogus: You’ve seen a lot of changes.
Capt. Joe Shute: I guess I’m kind of equated with the old drum; I’ve been down here running charters since 1987, so I was probably one of the first of a handful of people with a skiff that fished inside in the early days.
Dr. Bogus: What I wanted to get to before we get to catching those guys, in 1997 we had the Fisheries Reform Act and we also went into the situation where we started to protect the resources, the red drum resource which we were getting to the point of killing them all off. So how had that gone, compared with those days when things were really at a low, how do things look now? Not only with the slot drum but also the old drum because, it’s been long enough now that some of those fish are getting older.
Capt. Joe Shute: Right, the old drum fishery is as good as I ever seen it. Both up in the Pamlico sound, you’re seeing good concentrations of them and especially in the winter months now around Cape Lookout from the shipping channel at Beaufort all the way to the east side of the cape, we do real well on then there from about November through January and February and some up into April even.
Dr. Bogus: They’re working those menhaden schools out there.
Capt. Joe Shute: Right, you’re catching them anywhere from 15- to 20-feet of water out to 50- to 60-feet of water. You’re hearing of larger numbers of old drum coming from the New River area, you’re hearing them down near Wilmington a lot more than they ever have been in the past that I have seen or heard of and the old drum stocks are really looking real good right now.
Dr. Bogus: Interesting you mentioned the New River, because, one of the things that I have noticed over the past few years it that the piers on Topsail Island are catching a lot of those big old drum. And I don’t remember hearing that in years past.
Capt. Joe Shute: I didn’t either, not in the quantities that they are catching now. They’re having some days, pretty heavy days down there now.
Dr. Bogus: I assume they are spawning up in the New River and just working in and out of the New River Inlet.
Capt. Joe Shute: Right, I would imagine that a lot of that is coming from there either that or they are just filtering down from the Pamlico.
Dr. Bogus: Joe, the old drum fishing is kind of a specialized fishery, what sort of tackle do you recommend, if you are using bait or even artificials these days.
Capt. Joe Shute: A lot of people in the last little while started fishing for the old drum using popping corks, which is something fairly new for the old drum in the last few years and it’s been right effective. They are using some of the DOA 4- to 5-inch Air Head Shad, they’re running them about 24-inches below the popping cork and they are working the edges and points around there especially where there are schools of bait fish. It’s been real surprising it’s been real effective on those old drum getting them up off the bottom and getting them to come up and take a bite. Of course you need some heavy tackle. When I say heavy, a good heavy, medium to heavy action spinning rod preferably with 20-pound braid or 30-pound braid on your main running line and something that you can get these fish back to the boat fairly quickly, but that’s been coming along real good. There’s also a big fly fishery up there for them now. Basically the same rig is used; it’s called a Pop-n-Fly that Gary Dubiel came up with. It’s a popping cork basically with a fly suspended 18 to 20-inches underneath the popping cork. And the same thing in 20-feet of water you’ll get these big drum to come up around those bait pods and eat that bait 20-inches under the water.
Dr. Bogus: Twenty years ago you didn’t see people fly fishing for these fish, did they?
Capt. Joe Shute: Noooooooo! And we do a lot of that in the fall. We target them and do real well with fly gear around the Cape in November and December. And conventional fishing I use a lot of heavy spinning gear, 30-pound class and above spinning gear. I use 50 and 60-pound braid on my reels because I really want to get the fish back. Your basic rig is the Owen Lupton rig, which is just a very short…the whole rig is only 4 or 5-inches long, it’s got a fixed 3-ounce egg sinker and a 10/0 circle hook on the bottom of it. And you fish just with your drag tightened down if you’re fishing it with bait. The fish picks it up, goes to move off with it, the egg sinker pulls the hook to the corner of the mouth and probably 90-percent of your fish are hooked in the corner of the mouth and are real easy to release. And the circle hook is the way to go.
Dr. Bogus: And those circle hooks are run barbless, right? (Owen Lupton rig is required gear in North Carolina when fishing bait for old red drum. http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/mf/red-drum)
Capt. Joe Shute: Yes, a barbless circle hook. All these fish are above the slot and have to be released. And the reason for the heavy gear and the heavy drag is you want to get these fish back to the boat and released with minimal detriment to the fish because the water temperatures in the sound, especially in August and September are so hot if you play these fish on light tackle you’ll end up killing them. They can’t handle the heat and I use a huge net to land my fish and most of the fish…the party wants to take a picture so we’ll pull the fish out real quick and get a picture. After we get a picture of a big fish, most of the fish I never even bring into the boat. I’ll leave them in the net take the circle hook out, let the fish go, and the fish is no worse for the wear. A lot of people get up there and want to take a picture of the fish…they don’t pay attention to what’s going on, they’ll hold a 40-pound fish up, the fish will wiggle and fall and hit its head on the boat. You know that’s not too good! Plus a lot of the males and females both when you pick the male up he’ll secrete sperm all over you, and it’s as slippery as it could be and the same thing with the females with the eggs. So the least you can handle these fish the better off you are.
Dr. Bogus: This fishery has gotten quite popular over the years; do you think we’re impacting those fish? Obviously the growth of the fishery is partly because there are a lot of them around.
Capt. Joe Shute: Right, I think that more and more education to people as far as how to handle the fish, what tackle to fish with, you don’t use “J” hooks anymore, you just use circle hooks on them. I think that that’s had a big impact.
Dr. Bogus: We’ve got a lot more user friendly with them over the years. Even though the fishery has expanded we’ve gotten better at handling them?
Capt. Joe Shute: Right and there’s been a lot of education put out there from the DMF and also from guides that do seminars and tell people. The main thing is pushing the barb down on these circle hooks because many people don’t realize, and I used to get this all the time on the fisheries commission about how need to switch everything over to circle hooks, because it’s a catch and release fishery. What people don’t recognize is the circle hook was not designed as a catch and release hook; it’s a catch and HOLD hook. If you don’t push that barb down and you don’t know how to properly release a fish with a circle hook, you end up doing more damage than you do good.
Ben Ball: We talked about this so much; don’t they make barbless circle hooks? (Gamakatsu, Owner, Mustad and others make barbless circle hooks for sharks, salmon and fly fishing etc.)
Capt. Joe Shute: There are barbless manufacturers but it doesn’t take but a second with a pair of pliers to pinch it down. So it (the hook) will just slip right back out. The main thing is to take it out the same way it went in. You can’t just push it straight down like you can with a “J” hook and pop it out because it’s got the curve in the hook; you actually have to rotate that hook around to get it out.
Ben Ball: How old are the old drum?
Capt. Joe Shute: They can be anywhere, when they are hitting the upper 30’s, 40’s and 50-inch range they can be anywhere from five or six years old to 50 or 60-years old. They live a long time and some of those fish that you are catching that occasionally we used to see a lot of them years ago, even though there weren’t as many you would see the 60 and 70-pound drum, and they are still out there. And there are a lot of them. I would say the majority of the drum people are catching now are anywhere from 35 and 50-pounds and once they get up to a certain length you can just about within a few pounds get the weight of the fish due to the length of the fish. If you got a 45-inch fish he’s pushing 40 to 45-pounds.
Dr. Bogus: The state record is that 94-pounder (1984), and that was estimated to be over 50 years old. We’ve talked about flies and DOA soft plastics on a popping cork but the traditional method was using live or cut bait.
Capt. Joe Shute: Mostly it’s cut bait; the two most prevalent baits are menhaden and mullet. A lot of the guides really like to use mullet; they feel that the mullet will get them a better bite. This time of year especially don’t go out there with just a dozen mullets and expect to fish for a while, the pinfish and skates and rays are very bad. Most of the guides when they go out there to fish a full day they take 50-pounds of mullet with them. And they will go through on a good day, 50-pounds of mullet. I leave Morehead and run up there through the ditch and I always stop here and load my boat up with fresh menhaden. I keep some alive and I keep some on ice and I constantly change baits and we’re fishing six to 8-inch baits and I’m using half a fish on each hook.
Dr. Bogus: I remember going out with Bryan Goodwin, I forget how many rods we had out but he’d start out at one end…is that the way it works? (https://www.ncoif.com/big-red/)
Capt. Joe Shute: That’s the way it works, I fish six rods when I go, but I know people that fish as many as 12 rods, and that’s too much work for me. Because when you get out there, sometimes when it’s real frustrating you’ll cast your six rods out and about the time you get to the sixth one you’ve got to do it all over again, because there’s nothing, no bait left. The bluefish and the pinfish are that bad. But you know a lot of times that will create a (chum) slick and that will get the drum in there also.
Ben Ball: They you can try your popping corks and flies.
Capt. Joe Shute: That’s right, that’s right.
Dr. Bogus: It’s amazing with the popping corks, well I guess sometimes those fish could be suspended part ways up off of the bottom, but often they can be right on the bottom feeding that dinner bell gets them all the ways to the top!
Capt. Joe Shute: It gets their attention and they will come up and check it out. A lot of them you know are cruising around the schools of bait and, they won’t be on the bottom but a lot of them will be underneath the bait on the bottom picking up what falls to the bottom. So it’s a very good way to get their attention and when they come up and see that little shad floating there they say okay I’m going to eat that.
Ben Ball: You use popping corks in the creeks.
Dr. Bogus: Oh yah, in the wintertime particularly like to use various kinds of corks because I can adjust the speed that I work them and there in the wintertime the fish get a little sluggish and so we want to be able to do that. Joe you said you use 50-pound braid on a 30-class reel.
Capt. Joe Shute: Right, I use one of the old 7000-Penn Battle reels and I actually have 65-pound braid on mine. And I use a 30-pound class spinning rod and you can put a lot of heat on those fish. And when I’m setting my drags for the fish I’m setting it at 12 or 15-pounds. It takes a lot to pull them off, but the good thing about that is when that lines starts going that hook’s already set, you never have to set the hook. It’s great for charters because people say, “well when do I set the hook?” I say don’t worry. “When will I know if I got a bite?” I say don’t worry, whenever the rod bends over and you hear the line start squealing then touch it and pull it out of the rod holder.