An hour before the workday ends, I can’t sit still. I look out the window at my boat and trailer hooked to my truck. The weather forecast predicts clear skies and calm winds. A tide change at dusk further stokes my excitement: perfect conditions for targeting big red drum.
As soon as the whistle blows, I’m out the door. In less than an hour, I’m launching my 20-foot Jones Brothers center console at Eastern Shore of Virginia National Wildlife Refuge. As I step off land, I take a deep breath. Salt marsh, mud and sea spray fill my lungs. I exhale the tension of my day.
There’s no wind. The current is rushing out, but the water is still high as I weave through the channel under the bridge at Fisherman Island. When I motor into the open Chesapeake Bay, I turn left and slow down.
Jogging the boat along the edge of the island, I alternate between searching the surface of the water and checking my Garmin echoMap side-imaging sonar.
Fisherman Island is a 3-square-mile punctuation mark at the end of the
Eastern Shore peninsula. As soon as the water temperature hits 60 degrees, schools of red drum move onto the flats and sandbars. I keep an eye out for a big red blob on the surface, an indicator of a school of giant redfish. On my fishfinder, the drum show up as unmistakable dots and dashes.
I keep two medium-heavy, 7-foot Shimano Terez rods matched to 5000 Sustain FI reels spooled with 50-pound PowerPro braid and an arm’s length of 50-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon ready for action. One rod is rigged with a 3-ounce Meat Hog bucktail and the other is armed with a 4½-inch LiveTarget Menhaden swimbait. Both lures are slathered with Pro-Cure Menhaden scent.
While I search for fish, I leave one of the lures trolling 25 yards behind the boat. The other rod is ready for a quick cast. The boat putt-putts around the edge of the island from bayside to oceanside.
I’m looking for fish in the distance when I notice a large swirl. A half-dozen copper and gold streaks scoot out from under the boat. I’m surrounded by giant drum.
I grab the casting rod and lob the lure away from the boat. Before I can flip the bail, line is disappearing from the spool. I come tight, and the fish takes off. The rod bends heavily as the reel whines.
I kick the boat out of gear just as the trolling rod bends over with another big drum. I loosen the drag on the reel in the rodholder and turn my attention to the big fish at hand.
It’s their fight that makes people call them bulls. The fish screams off 50 yards of line, then turns and runs at me. I go from holding on to frantically cranking a half dozen times before the fish is just below the boat.
I work the bull to the surface twice, only to have it take off again. When I finally get the fish to the boat’s side, I scoop it out of the water and drag it over the gunwale. I unhook the fish; killing a red drum over 26 inches is against the law in Virginia, so I lower it back over the side of the boat. It kicks and disappears into the green water.
I turn my attention to the second rod and, after another knock-down, drag-out battle, slide the second trophy fish onto the deck.
The sun is now too low for sight fishing and the current is breaking down. I anchor the boat just outside the breakers, safely in the slough but within casting distance of the white water.
I stow the spinning rods and pull down four medium-heavy Shimano Tallus boat rods. They have Torium 20 reels spooled with 50-pound braid and a 25-foot top shot of 50-pound monofilament. I slide a plastic bead and 250-pound snap swivel over the top shot and make a 6-inch surgeon’s loop in the end. The loop is pinched through the eye of an 8/0 Owner circle hook and doubled over. I clip a 6-ounce pyramid sinker to the snap swivel and bait up with a whole blue crab.
I cast each bait to a different location on the bar. As the final minutes of sun light the west, the current begins to rush in, and the rising tide covers the bar.
I barely have time to take in the scene before two of the rods buck and shutter. I wrestle one rod out of the rod holder and loosen the drag on the other. With the fish pulling, I hold on tight and wait for an opportunity to gain line.
My arms will be sore and my eyes will be tired at work the next day, but I won’t mind one bit.
This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue.