Hook, Line, but Not Sinker
A circle hook alone offers no guarantee that all redfish will be snagged in the corner of the jaw. The traditional rig consists of 18 to 24 inches of heavy monofilament with a circle hook on one end and a heavy barrel swivel on the other. This leader-and-hook combination is weighted to match the locale: fish-finder rigs with pyramid sinkers for high-energy surf zones or Carolina rigs for less tumultuous areas like deep holes in tidal rivers. Tip the hook with cut mullet, a backed blue crab or a fresh chunk of menhaden, and you're in business.
When a red drum comes tight on acircle hook, it's usually hooked in the corner of the mouth. Yet if there is slack in the line, a common situation when fishing from an anchored boat, the hook can be swallowed and lodge in soft tissues, injuring the fish. North Carolina captain Owen Lupton came up with a variation on the traditional circle-hook rig that solves this problem. When Lupton and others began pioneering the rich waters of the Pamlico Sound estuary for pre-spawn adult redfish, they quickly discovered that an unacceptable number of the fish released during their nighttime fishing expeditions were not surviving.
Lupton discovered that shortening the leader to a few inches between hook and weight dramatically reduced injuries, and the "Lupton Rig" quickly became the standard for Tarheel drum anglers. State law now requires anglers to use shortleader circle-hook rigs when fishing in Pamlico Sound and its tributaries during summer and early autumn.
Nowadays, Lupton's rig, marketed as the Majik Drum Rig, is available in North Carolina tackle shops and through online vendors. If you want to build your own, here's the recipe:
Attach your choice of circle hook (with barb mashed down) to a foot of 80-pound-test leader with a reliable knot or snell. Three inches above the hook, carefully crimp a sleeve, being cautious to avoid damage to the leader.
Slide on a plastic bead, a 2-ounce egg sinker and another plastic bead. Finish the leader with a 150-pound-test barrel swivel or a surgeon's loop attached snugly against the second plastic bead.
For a surf-fishing variation of this rig, just substitute a nylon-sleeve fishfinder rig for the egg sinker, and attach a pyramid weight matched to the conditions. Downsize the hook, weight and leader, and you've got an effective terminal rig for juvenile reds.
Next time you have a date with a bull red, try this circle-hook rig. Your hookup ratio will improve and so will your confidence that the fish you return to the water will survive.
About the Author: Capt. Spud Woodward lives in Brunswick, Georgia, and serves as director of the Coastal Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. An avid saltwater angler and professional fisheries biologist, he has studied the habitats and biology of redfish for more than 20 years. He's a regular contributor to local, regional and national publications and enjoys teaching others about fishing and conservation.