Chris Dollar Outdoors: Red Drum, a magical fish for anglers

The wind was relentless, losing the number of days the stench smelt, thus thwarting any attempts to hunt.

The Corsica River spilled over its banks and flooded the public parking lot near my kayak shop. We quickly exhausted all the cliched weather saying, and luckily the talk turned to fishing. We’re done with the basics – snakeheads, current state of the rockfish, menhaden.

The man I was talking to next started picking out my mind about the red fish in the skinny waters. My eyes lit up. I absolutely love Chesapeake salt marsh fishing for red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus).

Even if the fishing is slow, you can’t help but enjoy the show of nature. Ospreys, willets, egrets, skimmers, and herons abound. Look closely and you might see a swamp hawk dangling impossibly low in the sky, roaming the holes in a dash of black needles for an easy meal.

Who knows what invisible gems were hidden in the green Spartina? (Note: If you travel deep into the swamps of the Chesapeake Bay during the height of summer, in Joseph Conrad style, beware: it is not inconceivable that diabolical hordes of Cape Verdean flies can carry you away.)

Along the Atlantic range, the red drum also responds to slick bass or bass channel. Small ones are called puppy drum, and large ones are called bulls. This makes sense because bulls can reach lengths of nearly five feet, go up to 90 pounds or more, and live up to 60 years. However, the mosaic painted on its tail makes the red drum magical. These marks differ in hue and composition. No inks are alike.

Chesapeake fishermen can find red sailing in oyster clumps, bog spots and rips, and lawn flats. I’ve caught puppy kegs in clear water like gin, or roasted like two-day-old coffee. Which, in my experience, makes them different from their cousins, the trout, which don’t like dirty water.

Red fish also catch throughout the tidal cycle, although fishing varies at each specific location. I capture the crest of the outgoing tide at the mouth of a river or swamp intestine. Look for nervous water where the bait will last. Hunting puppy drum is a stealth game and you can easily scare your quarry if your style is not cool.

Red fish will feed on crabs, shrimp, and fish, so we’re pretty much the same in that sense. This means that you have to carry a variety of different baits, from soft plastic and cork pop to twitch baits and spoons. In recent years, I’ve mainly cast twitch baits, like the MirroLures Popa Dog and Heddon’s Super Spook, Jr.

Of course, I’m no fool, so I also fish a soft plastic paddle and imitate the three- and four-inch shrimp. Minnow-like flies, crabs or shrimp, tethered in a back-bending manner so that they point upward over grass beds, corals or tree stumps, are most effective. Spin or bait clothes in the seven-foot range loaded with a 12 to 14-pound test braid line work well. Eight-weight flying clothing is your best bet.

Where are they, you ask? Where are they not, that might be a better question. I’ve caught them in Eastern Bay and around Poplar Island as well as the Bay Islands – Watts, Tangier, Smith, Foxes, Bloodsworth and Martin. Lynnhaven, Honga, Piankatank, Annessemex and Mobjack Bay all have plenty of red fish as well.

We’ve come a long way since the early 1980s when the culinary phenomenon known as red-black fish nearly wiped out this popular game. Today, biologists note gaps in data about the adult population (ages four and over), which make the whole picture of health cloudy to stock. That’s all the more reason to relax on this special sport fish.

Fishers continue to lead the way for expanding conservation ethics by supporting and demanding reasonable fishing restrictions for commercial and recreational fishermen in all coastal states.

One last tip. Just when you think the sting will never work, that’s when you should be ready. Like a key, a new tide could carry a pumping up of prey, and suddenly the waters could burst as bait fish tossed through the air. Now that’s why I hunt rouge.

Until May 23: Turkey spring season. Bearded turkeys only. Filming hours until May 9 are half an hour before sunrise until noon. Shooting hours from May 10 to May 23 are half an hour from sunrise to sunset.

May 18: Annapolis Angels Club. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. Eric Zlokowitz of MD DNR will address invasive species. American Legion Post #7, 1905 Crownsville Road.

June 4th: The 19th Annual Kent Narrows Fly & Light Tackle Championship. Register at ccamd.org/kent-narrows-fly-light-tackle.

June 11: Save a fish, build a reef. CCA Virginia Fundraising Dinner. Live and silent auctions. 6 p.m. at Arlington-Fairfax Elks Lodge. Tickets at [email protected] or (703) 626-2668.

June 25-26: 4th Annual Saltwater Kayak Fishing Tournament. Ocean City, Maryland. Register at fishnpaddle.com.

Send calendar lists, news and photos to [email protected].

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