A Puppy Drum in the Surf
A Puppy Drum in the Surf
By Joe Malat
The Outer Banks of North Carolina boasts a strong population of red drum, from jumbos to small fish, called “puppy drum.” Puppy drum are young drum and as adults these fish may grow to weigh upwards of fifty pounds, but most of the “puppies” Outer Banks anglers catch in the surf are in the 18 to 25-inch range.
All red drum, puppies to grown ups, are opportunistic feeders; they scavenge the bottom for whatever they can find to eat. Crabs, small fish, and sandworms make up most of their natural diet, but they will eat whatever comes their way. During the course of a year, anglers fishing from the beach with fresh, natural baits fished on the bottom will account for most of the puppy drum, but many drum are fooled by artificial lures.
Bait fishing requires tackle heavy enough to cast several ounces of weight, plus a bottom rig and one or two chunks of bait. For puppy drum I prefer a nine foot spinning rod, such as the graphite composite Daiwa Sealine-X because it is light yet has enough backbone to easily handle 4 ounces of weight, plus a bottom rig and bait. Soft "buggy whip" rods are not adequate for the task. I match this rod to a Daiwa BG-30 spinning reel loaded with a premium brand of 14 to 17 pound test monofilament.
Puppy drum often bite with solid determination, but they don't always swim away from the beach when they take bait, so a suddenly slack line is the alert angler's cue to quickly take up the slack and immediately set the hook. Stay alert and be ready.
Many anglers use a typical two-hook bottom rig with 1/0 to 5/0 hooks, and the standard two-drop rig that is available from every Outer Banks tackle shop will work fine for small drum. I make my own single or double hook rigs with 50-pound test monofilament, and the only hardware on the rig is the hook. From a 36-inch piece of mono I tie a dropper loop at the mid-point of the line, and a surgeon’s loop at each end. Whatever the choice of terminal tackle, hooks should be needle sharp.
Fresh mullet or menhaden are both ideal baits, and experienced drum anglers will use frozen bait only as a last resort. Be sure to check your baits often and change them as soon as they looked washed out, or appear to have been nibbled by small fish and crabs. Battered, old bait loses its scent and will not have any appeal. Fish are a lot like humans; they eat what looks and smells good. Remove the scales from mullet before cutting it into chunks or strips because these scales are tough as iron and impossible to run a hook through.
Spring through fall, puppy drum can appear anywhere in the Outer Banks surf from Kitty Hawk to Ocracoke. Drum of all sizes like to feed in white, choppy and breaking water, and the shoal waters on both sides of every inlet will hold drum. Cape Point, near Buxton at Hatteras, is one of the “drummiest” beaches to be found anywhere. The Point is noted for strong currents, and deep holes that run next to shallow sand bars. But the Point also attracts legions of anglers who are willing to stand shoulder-to-shoulder and hope the next bite will be theirs.
There are alternatives. Sections of beach from Hatteras to Oregon Inlet with deep pockets and drop?offs are good places to fish, especially if you can find a deep hole that’s bordered by a shallow bar and lots of white, breaking water. Look for a fairly narrow slough, maybe a sand bar within casting range, and try to fish the entire slough from the bar up to the drop?off right at your feet. The drum could be holding anywhere in that range.