Friday, August 30, 2013

Bad Sign

I picked up 3 guys from Arizona and one guy from Florida at the airport at 5:45 pm, made it to River Dunes, checked into the sweet house that they are renting and we were on the water by sunset.   I wanted to at least catch a couple of fish before dark.  I ain't no vampire.

I cast the first rod and put it in the rod holder, turned around to bait the second rod and from behind me, the first rod went off.   I cringed.   That's no good.   Last time I caught a fish on the first cast I threw a kid out of the boat in a cast net.  We fished almost an hour and caught one more fish.  At least we caught a second one.

They're fishing with Capt. Brian tomorrow, I'm sure that they'll do great.  At least they got a taste of it today.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Need one more reference letter for Capt. James on the Dragin Fly

Any of you who have fished with him and have been impressed, shoot me a flattering e mail.  This is for IGFA endorsement as a IGFA Certified Captain.



The Rant: Chapter 2

It is the summer of 1999 and I had 5 years of guiding for giant red drum under my belt.  Back then, the majority of drum fishing was occurring on Swan Island Shoal and there were very, very few people fishing for them.  On a Friday night in August/September, there may be a couple boats fishing, but back then, we pretty much had the river to ourselves…..however the secret was getting out.

Because there were not many boats, I could fish the same place day after day without “getting caught” by other fishermen who would “steal” the spot and be waiting for me when I got there the next day.   I had a spot near Swan Island Shoal that we call “The Saddle”.   I was fishing exactly the same place every day and the drum would arrive at the same time every day.    I assumed that this was the same school of fish…….a lot of drum fishermen today assume the same thing, but those of you reading The Rant are going to learn differently. 

Our plan for the day was to tag a drum with a radio transmitter,  then use our grid system to locate the fish on subsequent days with our hydrophone, hopefully determining where he was spending his time.   With a few dozen tagged fish out there, we could hopefully determine the habitats they preferred and hopefully where they were spawning.

We’re sitting on the spot and right on time the drum showed up, we caught a fish, tagged it with the transmitter and sent him on his way.   The next day we spent several hours searching our grid for the fish that we tagged the day before but all was quiet.   We could not find our fish anywhere in the area.

That afternoon, we were sitting in the same spot as the day before, this time listening with the hydrophone and fishing.   Surely the fish that we caught the day before would arrive in our chum slick, but all was quiet on the hydrophone, no “beeps”.  Nonetheless, a school of  drum arrived right on time and we got our bite and tagged another fish.

With two fish swimming around emitting “pings”, surely we would find at least one of them the next day before setting up and fishing again.   We searched and searched and searched for miles within several miles of the tagging location, we heard nothing.   This is proving to be much more difficult than we suspected.  Maybe our tags are malfunctioning and not transmitting?  Maybe the fish are dying and drifting off?    We catch fish in the same place every day for weeks, certainly this is the same school of fish?   

On this third day, we were optimistic that we would hear one of the two previously tagged fish arrive in our chum slick.  After 6 hours of searching and finding nothing we set up to fish in the same place, same time, no “beeps”, but the drum were there and we got a bite and tagged a third fish. 

This time our curiosity got the best of us.  After tagging the fish, we followed it, trying not to get too close and “push” the fish with the outboard, but we wanted to get an idea of how much it was moving, what we learned changed the way we thought about drum behavior.    This drum went on the move, sometimes more than 4 or 5 miles/hour.   Turns out this is typical behavior.  When they are “on the feed”, a school of drum is moving fast, eating everything that they come across.    The point is, if you are anchored up on a shoal, the school of fish  that you are catching  now may be caught by other fishermen, 5 miles away, within the same hour.

There is absolutely no reason to cut someone off when you are approaching your favorite spot on a shoal, because the drum have no favorite spots.   The drum you caught in that spot the day before may not even be in the area.   If someone is where you want to fish, there is no reason to crowd them!!!!   Just get on the same shoal, in the same depth and the same fish are eventually going to come your way.   Also, why would you want to share fish?   Spread out, be adventurous and get by yourself a mile or two away and you’ll be catching the same fish.  

On the fourth day,  with 3 “beeping” fish out there, we expanded our search area, now covering both sides of the river, and the center of the river from Oriental to the Neuse River entrance marker.   We spent 10 hours looking for our fish and we never found them……that day.    We again needed to change our strategy because these fish were moving more than we ever suspected and if we were going to learn anything about them, we needed to spend more time with them…..but we had to find them first.  More on this in the next chapter of the rant which I have already begun.

In short, over 2 years of tagging the drum with transmitters, we never found the same fish in the same place on subsequent days.   We would tag two fish together and later find them miles apart but with other drum that we had tagged at different times.   Several days or weeks later, we may find those two fish back together.   It appeared to be a lot of mixing of individuals and more movement, up the river and down the river than we ever suspected.   I believe that we often temporarily lost track of fish because they moved outside our search area which was pretty much all of the lower Neuse.

This was actually good news.  If all the fishing effort is concentrated on Swan Island Shoal, at least those fishermen aren’t hammering the same fish day after day.   But the secret was now out and the fishery was beginning to explode.   More and more boats were fishing and at the time, almost all of them were using j-hooks, letting the drum run before setting the hook which was already deep inside their stomach.   Conversation on this is coming together in a future chapter. 

 I’m just getting started, hope you will pass along to your friends and especially those clueless acquaintances who just don’t get it and think that they are spot fishing behind Shackelford or crappie fishing in Lake Jordan. 

Pics and comments from the last couple of days

"Hi George,
We had a fantastic trip as always.  I am thinking I am going to get two boats for next year.  Would probably like to nail down the dates asap so we fishing with you and Brian.  
Also send me info on Costa when you get a chance.  Would like to hear on both east and west coast trips.
Have a great season.  Mike"

Here is a pic of Logan with his first big drum.  What a way to start.   Thanks again for everything. Capt. Timmy did a great job. 


Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rant Feedback

It was the Perfect Storm this past Friday night, and unfortunately I am not referring to weather we experienced; but rather the wave of boats that seemed to have total irregard for anyone else on the river. I have never had so many boats not only cut across the hump I was fishing, but literally almost across my lines.  To make matters worse, when I would lift my arms in the air as to symbolize "what the hell",  no one seemed to care. Some cared only enough to kindly fire some hand signals back my way.  It was utterly ridiculous!  I know you have experienced this more times than you care to think about, but I bring one simple request;  will you Please post your upcoming rant to Facebook, so many of us can share it!  I know that you are not the biggest fan of social media, but the more of these knuckle heads that make there 1 annual trip to the river read it, maybe- just maybe it will resonate some of them!! 
 Mason "

More chapters of the Rant will follow

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Rant, Chapter 1

The Rant, Chapter 1:
OK ladies and gentlemen, here’s the beginnings of the rant and the ramble.   These are my thoughts based on my experiences, some of which are based on observations while doing research, some are  backed up by statistically significant findings, others based on observations while guiding 60-90 days/year on the lower Neuse/western Pamlico for 20 years.

Four years after graduating from UNCW with a B.S. in Marine Biology, my degree was un-expectantly put into use when I was approached by a scientist from NCSU who was pursuing a Fisheries Resource Grant to study adult red drum.   His goal was to use radio transmitters to track adult red drum in the lower Neuse River and western Pamlico Sound in hopes of documenting where these fish were spawning.  

In the summer of 1999 we were on the way out to tag our first red drum with a radio transmitter the size of half a roll of Life-Savers candy.   It was attached to the drum by one of the shoulder tags that we normally use to tag big drum.   The transmitter was attached to the dart with a material that would break away after about 6 months, about the life of the tag.  Each tag had a different frequency, too high to even be noticed by red drum.  Each tag had a different “ping” sequence so that we could identify individuals.  

To hear the tags, we used a hydrophone on the end of a pole that we would hold in the water, slowly turning and turning until we heard the “ping”.   The cables from the hydrophone went to a box where we could change frequencies; from the box a set of head phones was attached.    The guy with the head phones would sit on the gunnel of the boat, eyes closed, concentrating.   Depth finder would be off,  VHF off, we would often be anchored and we would take turns listening…….and listening…….and listening.  

The range of the tag was over a mile under ideal conditions, under rough conditions, we could easily hear a tag as long as we were within half a mile.  We had the river gridded with different listening positions so that we could effectively search entire sections of the river and Pamlico Sound for the faint sound of a “ping”.   

After we heard the “ping”, we would slowly head in that direction, trying to get closer so that we could hear the tag more clearly and identify from the sequence of pings exactly to which fish we were listening.    After we identified the fish, we tried to get as close as we could to document the habitat and water quality conditions that the fish was utilizing.   This was difficult, because when we got within a 100 yards and often much further in shallow water, the idling boat would “push” the drum.  

The deepest parts of the Neuse River are not much deeper than the deep-end of a swimming pool.  Imagine a school of big drum swimming around in a giant swimming pool.   Consider that they spend most of their year in the open ocean, so when they get in this skinny water, they can be a bit spooky.   Now run an outboard at pretty much any speed through the swimming pool and the drum are going to go the opposite direction.   Idle that motor ever so slowly and they may just casually swim out of the way, but when you run it hard enough to push a wake or get on plane, those drum are going to run

If you are within 200 yards of a school of drum and running your motor, they know you are there.  
If you come within 300 yards of another boat, you are affecting their fishing, so at the very least, be quiet  and just idle.    Also, try not cross the chum slick of another boat, that’s where the drum he will be catching will most likely be coming from.    The courteous thing to do would be to slowly idle off to the side or bow, ideally after being invited.  

This is only a tiny segment of the rant that is coming.  Maybe in little pieces and spelled out it will be easier for the knuckleheads to get it through their thick heads.

 I look forward to telling you about those first fish that we tagged and what we learned.  More to come. 

It must have been the weekend

Some of the dit dots that come over here to fish still think that they are in Morehead City, New Bern, Washington or Wilmington.....scratch that, they don't think at all.    The water is not much deeper than a swimming pool, but they think that running hundreds of horses over their head and over the shoal won't hurt a thing.   Here's another report from Friday evening:

"Read your report, last Friday was even better for me. Unfortunately, at least 3 different times I was hooked up with drum early, and had retards see us (less than 100 yards away). First guy does loops around us mid-plane. Sets up 200 yards to right, 30 minutes later second guy was 100 yards off my bow. Third guy, this is unbelievable, set up within 100 yards off our left. I was trapped!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Pics from this past week and a mini rant

Thanks for asking, but I still haven't finished the drum rant.   Fishing has been good, double digit days for some, struggles for others, but most of us getting what we need.   Still some tarpon around.  Here are some pics from this past week, but first a mini-rant:

So Capt. Justin Haddock is anchored up and hooked up on the shoal, lined up with several other boats.   An arriving boat calls on the radio to his buddy as he plows across the shoal halfway on plane, "Hey, where do I need to set up?"    The reply was, "Fall right in behind that guy (Justin), he's hooked up."

Really?   Are they just that stupid?   What's wrong with that scenario and in how many ways?

Here are some pics and comments that we've received this week.    We've also had some guides who have had some tough trips and NO, I'm not sharing those comments, but I appreciate them and we are learning from the good, the bad and the ugly.

"Hi Anna,
Just wanted to send some fish pics. We had a great time. Please show these to Justin and tell him thanks again for a great day of fishing!

Buck and Holly
P.S. He is also a great photographer"

A couple of pics from last Friday's fishing with Brian.  We caught “a handful” of big drum, most were this size and a few of the females were smaller.  The first pic is my oldest son Wade with the first catch!  This one was 42" .   I'll get you their info for the citations.

Again, Brian was pleasant to fish with and worked hard.  After we were chased back to the dock with the first storm many would have went back out just a few miles and piddled away the evening.  Not Brian...he took us 23 miles down the river to try his best to catch fish when we went back out. He is good at it and seems to still like it!
Steve " 


Happy clients, thanks again.

'George and Anna,
Attached are pics of Anne Claire's two citation drum on 8-24 along with a father/daughter double. Yes I know her fish could eat mine.  Great day!  As always thanks, for the great time and great fishing!'

We had a great time!   Thanks again for taking the time to take us out." 
Kelly and Bill "

"George & Anna,
 Just a note to thank you guys for another great trip!
 Capt. Brian fished hard and put us on the fish.   We got ours....!!
 We’re looking forward to seeing you down in Costa Rica in February.
Thanks again,
 John & Eric"

Friday, August 23, 2013

A long one

Capt. Mitch Blake was the top boat in the 3-boat trip that he was working for Down East yesterday, pretty work Mitch. 

Greg, Brian and I were out chasing silver, I got mine, they got what they needed with the drummies

Thursday, August 22, 2013

George & Anna,  
Wanted to thank you again for a great day fishing with Capt. Greg yesterday.  Kam had a good time and we got some beautiful pics to remember the trip.  George, The tag # you wanted to know about is D38370.  Capt Greg did a wonderful job.
                             Tell him thanks again!   
                                                                        Thanks! Warren 


I just got word that the drum you caught was tagged on Nov. 21, 2001 at Ocracoke Inlet.....probably by Capt. Norman Miller. 

Thanks for the kind words, 

Reference Letter

Can any of you folks who have fished on the Dragin Fly write a reference letter for Capt. James Smith?

We're trying to get him certified as an IGFA approved captain.

Shoot me an e mail and I'll pass it along.



P.S.  The morning bite was non-existent.  We saw a few, caught a big drum and are taking a siesta.   Doing research for my drum rant, it's coming.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

when they decide to bite.....'s good to be there.

Tom Cat, Capt. Greg, Capt. Extreme Brian and myself were all hooked up at the same time with tarpon,   we lost ours, Greg lost his, Brian and Tom Cat got theirs.    Between the 4 of us, we put more than 10 tarpon in the air, all this afternoon.

Don't worry, the rants are coming

Here are a few pics in the meantime:

 To the West
 To the East

No bait goes to waste

George, this is Don,  thank you very much for the bait. 
Good to see you.


I just wanted to tell you thanks for a fun half day of fishing.  Captain Greg was GREAT and my 7 year old, Owen, had the TIME OF HIS LIFE fishing with him.  The weather was lousy, the seas rough, but when you can catch a fish that's almost as big as you are.....Priceless.  This picture says it all.  What a grin!  This is how our sporting heritage will be preserved!  Thanks again.  We will fish with you in the future!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Tagged drum gets tagged.

Check out the old tag in it's dorsal.

Thanks for the pic Big Dipper.

Hate that you left when you did, the tarpon we caught put on a great show.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The red wave has arrived......

.......just ahead of the drum rant, don't worry, it's coming.  Been busy fishing some long days and a multi-boat double yesterday.    With 16 people fishing and 4 guides, we all had our limit of's been a while since I've cleaned that many puppy drum at one time.

Looks like this August nor'easter has really fired things off with the big 'uns as well.   Capt. Brian Harrington had a "double digit" day.   To slow down the action, he scaled back to only fishing two rods.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Despite the crappy weather......

......I got to put another one in the air yesterday and caught a few big drum.   Love fishing in the rain.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

EXTREMEly unusual openings

Capt. Brian and I had a two boat trip that just cancelled, we're holding deposits, but would rather be fishing.   I have filled my days, but working on getting Brian fishing on the Extreme Measures for Saturday, Sunday or Monday.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

I was starting to get a complex.

Glad to have gotten that bite this morning, good to put my hands on one of the silver rascals.   Also a handful of drum.   Yeah, yeah, more on the drum rants later, they're coming.

Monday, August 12, 2013

How Joe Ward makes the day

"7 & 9 year olds tag teamed this 48" old drum on a trout rod !" -----Capt. Joe Ward

Wanna be a guide?

Wanna be a guide?   I would love to have been able to squeeze you on my rig this morning, helping me swat green heads off of 5 yr old, 5 yr old, 7 yr old, dad and granddad.  Absolutely super nice folks and I feel really, really bad because I just couldn't give them what they wanted.    It's  hard to entertain 3 kids AND make a successful day of catching fish, especially under tough conditions.  Yes it can happen, but it wasn't happening this morning.  I pulled together an entertaining morning with the kids, which included all kinds of marine life pulled up in a cast net, marine biology lessons and a lot of hands on experience int he live well, but I couldn't turn this into a successful fishing day for the dads.  

As we're starting out in the harbor tossing a cast net the kids are all into it, looking for flips, dad is all over them, sit down, be quiet, don't shout, calm down.....  I make the tactical error of  telling dad, "Don't worry about them, let 'em be kids, they all have life jackets on, what could go wrong??"   nuthin, till one of the little buggers somehow gets under your arm and twisted and tangled by the multitude of buckles hanging off of the life jacket.......caught up in a cast net  just launched with enough speed and trajectory to still open the net, despite a five year old attached to it in three locations on it's torso and one in his right shoe lace.   

After bait and child was retrieved, we charge out under slick calm conditions.......conditions conducive for catching tarpon and sight casting giant red drum......two of my two favorite things to do......NOT of which  would be teaching 2 grown men how to fish AND keeping 3 midgets out of my live well now turned into the Maritime Minnow Chamber of Torture.   Six hands, occasionally a foot and one very beat up dip net traumatizing, maybe 30 menhaden, a couple pinfish, small spots, a shrimp and one clawless crab that was getting the worst of it. 

 I pull up to the first spot, hook up a 3 inch live menhaden on a Carolina rig and toss it behind the boat, stick the rod in the rod holder, then baited another one.   I cast that one out and handed it to the customer.   Picked up the first rod from the rod holder and was to explain to the customer how to work the bait back to the boat, when I felt that a flounder had already gulped down my menhaden.   I raised the rod, it bent over and I handed it to the loudest kid who enthusiastically reeled it to the net, a nice 16 incher.......I shit you not.......that was the last decent bite we had all morning.  

Next spot, nuthin, then nuthin, then no bait, catch more bait, charge off across the river to Turnigan Bay, land of the green head flies.....and you know what we caught?   Nuthin.   Plenty of baby pinfish and baby bluefish and that probably would have been fine if I just  had some little baby hooks.  That would have been perfect for the kids.....and it's what I should have done......but it wasn't going to work for the dads who wanted some more of those keeper flounder.   

To rub coarsely ground sea salt into my open wounds left by the phantom tarpon I have been chasing under gale conditions........ the radio is burning up from Tom Cat, Mobile East Marine and  The Big Dipper talking about their double header tarpons and expressing their frustration about  getting wiped out by 40 pound drum busting on the surface.  

The only thing that I am getting wiped out by is green head flies.   Hot, still, no wind and the only thing that I've got biting are pinfish and green heads.   Sunburn was setting in and it wasn't going to get better.   Four hours was all I could take and I brought them back to the dock.   The kids had a great time, dads.....not so much. 

Again, super nice folks and the kids were great, the part about throwing one of them in the drink with the cast net was funny, but he never got wet.  

Drum Rants to follow, give me a day or two to catch up, but it sounds like we need to have some more conversation on these dumb drum tournaments and some drum fishing etiquette.  


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why make it easy? NO NUMBERS

No sense in trying to catch those guys when it's calm, I pick my days when it's blowing SW 20+. .....not too good for me yesterday, maybe better today. 

Thank you Tom Cat for sending these pics and reminding me what they look like!!!!

Tom Cat, Bull Pen and Big Dipper put up some impressive numbers this week, into the double digits of tarpon releases.  

About the numbers.......this is a notice and a reminder that as in years past, we will NOT be posting numbers of drum that we catch this year.   After everyone on the boat has caught one or two trophy fish, that is usually enough, you've caught a handful, that means that everyone has caught at least 1.....or usually 5 for the boat.    An excellent day would be a double digit day or 10 for the boat.   That's where it stops.   It's not a competition and I don't want to turn this fishery into a competition.  

I'll turn this into a full on rant later, but let me make it absolutely clear, I do not support in any way tournaments targetting old drum or red drum over 27 inches.   This fishery, taking place on spawning fish, should not be turned into a competition.

There are those uniformed armchair fisheries managers out there who do not want to see this fishery exist and would prefer that no one targets them.   The proliferation of Old Drum Tournaments could give them the ammunition needed to implement more unnecessary regulations.  
Go participate in the fishery responsibly, use Owen Lupton Old Drum Rigs or a variation with a large circle hook and a 5 inch leader with a pegged 3 oz sinker, catch a couple, but don't get "excessive".......otherwise someone may end up defining  "excessive" for you.  

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Air traffic control

The hear that folks at Cherry Point were receiving false alarms over the past few days.   It appears that all the tarpon put in the air by Bull Pen, Tom Cat and the Big Dipper were misinterpreted by their radar engineers as missile launches coming from the Pamlico Sound.   Hope they got that glitch straightened out.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Fishing with Capt. Greg

"George, we had a great trip with Capt. Greg. Caught our limit and Lee Dukes a triple tail (picture to follow) which is new to us.  Disregard the sun protection, the drum was the star of the trip."

flounder gigging report

Good trip.  Nice boat - wide beam, forward platform and rails. 9 or 10
fish mostly 15-17.   Missed a couple.  Ronnie is full of stories which
adds to the trip.   My son is ready to go again.

Thanks.  FB

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Did I get my fish today?

When I arrived on the scene this morning, Bounty Hunter said that I was getting there too late and  that he already had his bite.   I asked him if he got his fish.  He sent me this picture and asked me if I though that this was considered a caught fish.
Yup, I'd say that you got that one.    I did not get my bite.   After about 5 hours I went to the Neuse and I did not get my bite there either.   Wilbur's streak has ended.  Three years in a row ain't bad, I just hope that it doesn't take 15 more years to catch the next one.

Capt. Greg got his bites today, 13 of them, including a BIG drum, 2 yearlings too big to keep and the rest were just right for the Dinner Club, 4 of them were honored guests, the rest are still available for another evening.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Costa Rica NOW

Handfull of sails, daily shots at marlin, tunas, big dorado…..and this is what’s happening inshore.   Not bad for a the Green Season