From North Carolina’s Neuse River and Outer Banks to Florida’s Indian River Lagoon and passes all across the central Gulf of Mexico, late summer and autumn are the prime times for inshore “cowboys” to hitch up their rides and set off for the annual bull round-up. By bulls, we mean the coppery/bronze variety with spots on their tails, broad shoulders and snorting-in-the-chute attitudes.
Sciaenops ocellatus or red drum grow to very large sizes in terms of both weight and length. North Carolina issues catch citations for fish exceeding 40 inches, and true “bulls” can often approach the 50-pound mark. These Brahmas are spawning stock and are most active in the early morning, late afternoon and overnight hours when they feed aggressively and conduct courtship rituals. On a quiet night, you can actually hear the fish “drumming” or making noise to entice perspective lovers.
The typical arsenal for bull reds is 20-pound class spinning rods loaded with 300 yards of monofilament or braid with four to six pounds of drag. A Bimini twist or Spider Hitch knot doubles the main line. A leader up to six feet of 60- or 80-pound test will help protect against chafing from other lines or fish. Terminal tackle consists of a circle hook sized to match the bait and heavy egg sinkers to hold the bottom.
For bait, chunks of fresh-caught mullet add plenty of scent to the water. Menhaden cut in half is another option, along with live pinfish and spots. For whole dead baitfish, cut the tails off to increase the smell factor.
A normal spread is four to six rods, spaced apart and with different baits to determine the pattern. If the rod tip bounces or moves, pick it up and steadily wind the line. As with all circle hooks, avoid the violent hook set. With steady pressure the hook will rotate, typically embed in the corner of the jaw or roof of the mouth and hold.
A single fish of this size is truly a trophy. But when the bite is on, it’s not unusual to catch multiple giants per outing. Just use steady pressure on them, and they’ll be boat-side soon enough. Ideally, the whipped fish should remain in the water. A large rubber landing net is an alternative if the hook won’t come loose easily, but avoid stressing the fish as possible.
Bull reds can be fooled with artificial lures and flies, too. Big chugger or popping topwater plugs will trigger explosive surface strikes when the water is calm. Large plastic swim baits rigged with oversized jig heads are effective as well. To add extra commotion, tie the plastics on under a popping cork. DOA or Z-Man swim baits in natural patterns like pearl belly and greenbacks are effective. Watch for bait schools. If you find some that are nervous and showering on the surface, there’s likely bulls underneath. Fan-cast the area thoroughly before moving on.
Carolina Skiff’s Sea Chaser 26 LX is an ideal platform for a bull round-up. The expansive front deck and walkaround access around the console comes in handy during the fight. The boat’s overall length (25 feet 11 inches) allow for comfortable fishing in large bays or along the beach, and the Ultra leaning post and forward console seat will accommodate a bigger crew.
This model also features tons of rod storage and most importantly, the live well capacity to handle bait needs. The forward deck well has a 25-gallon capacity with aerator. Another well to the rear lets you separate different types of bait with aeration and water flow. The 26 also comes standard with a storage compartment with a bucket receptacle for the cast net, and the underwater LED lighting will illuminate the action after dark.
See the full line of Carolina Skiff and Sea Chaser boats at carolinaskiff.com. With 60 different options and models, you can use the Build A Boat feature. On the website, you can find a dealer, request a catalog and more. Check out the loyal following of Carolina Skiff fans and owners on Facebook.