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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
, 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.
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.
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.
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
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.