Popping for North Carolina Bull Redfish

Pitching corks/artificials and topwaters for North Carolina’s giant redfish.

April 9, 2015
Big redfish in green water
Pamlico Sound’s big reds swim beneath bait schools, often harassing them and chasing them up to the surface. Jason Arnold /

Pamlico Sound (North Carolina) bull redfish grow to enormous sizes. Historically they’ve been caught using dead bait and circle hooks, but captains like Richard Andrews from Tar-Pam Guide Service now target them using popping corks/jerk baits and topwater lures. I joined Andrews and Grady-White Boats (based in North Carolina) for a late-September trip to target these big reds. Here is a taste of the experience and a few tips for hooking these beasts.

50-plus-pound redfish and two fishermen
This 50-plus-pounder certainly brought smiles to angler Charlie Adams (left), a marketing and ad representative for Grady-White, and Capt. Andrews. Eighteen of the current 24 IGFA line-class world records and the all-tackle-record red drum — a huge 94-pounder — all came from North Carolina waters. Chris Woodward
Our crew of seven fished from two Grady-White 251 Coastal Explorers. This new breed of crossover boat blends the best attributes of a bay boat with the stability and ride of an offshore vessel. Chris Woodward
Like the ocean, Pamlico Sound stretches toward an empty horizon. Its 1.5 million acres dwarfs Rhode Island. The bait schools that hold big reds often congregate near the mouths of rivers that empty into this vast bay. The fishery usually peaks in August and September. Chris Woodward
One of the preferred baits for this type of fishing: a Z-Man Scented Jerk Shadz. Chris Woodward
The tackle appears deceptively light for this fishery, but the medium-heavy rods and braided line keep fights short so the bulls can be quickly released. Chris Woodward
Woman angler casting a fishing pole
Shelley Tubaugh, Grady’s vice-president of marketing, makes a cast to one of the many roaming bait pods in the sound. The reds (and other species) follow the bait. Chris Woodward
Ripping the popping cork through the water with force creates enough noise and white water to make the redfish investigate. Chris Woodward
Angler casting a fishing rod in North Carolina's Pamlico Sound
Capt. Richard Andrews, casting from the bow (at our request), uses a trolling motor to navigate between bait schools that create ripples at the surface. Seeing these schools usually requires fairly calm conditions. Chris Woodward
Angler popping a spinning fishing reel
Once you spot a bait school, every angler casts and retrieves around and through the school, using a sharp pull of the cork through the water, followed by a pause, then reel. Chris Woodward
Two anglers fishing spinning reel North Carolina's Pamlico Sound
Angler Charlie Adams puts some pressure on our first bull red of the day. Chris Woodward
Angler netting a bull redfish in a fishing boat
Capt. Richard Adams nets a 40-plus-inch bull red he caught off the bait schools. Chris Woodward
Angler removing a hook from a redfish before releasing fish
Andrews works quickly to remove the hook, then gently handles the big fish for photos and video. Chris Woodward
Bull red drum held by angler and fisherman with spinning reel and fishing rod
Even though this bull doesn’t match the same brute size of its larger brothers and sisters, it was a thrill to catch. Normally, the reds just absolutely smash the bait, and the hookup is immediate. Chris Woodward
Angler releasing a redfish into North Carolina's Pamlico Sound
Through tagging studies, redfish have proven themselves hardy survivors. However, a quick fight, proper handling and efficient release help ensure their continued health. Chris Woodward
Bull redfish at the sea surface
A bull redfish makes one last dive attempt as it nears the boat … and the net. Chris Woodward
Big redfish caught on a popping cork
Big redfish don’t always grow greatly in length as they age, but their head and “shoulders” gain in girth. Chris Woodward
Big red drum hooked on a fishing line
It takes a big net to capture a large red drum. Chris Woodward
Angler reaching fishing net off side of fishing boat
Capt. Richard Andrews reaches out to net an incoming redfish. The lower freeboard of the 251 allowed him to get closer to the water and stretch farther toward the fish. Chris Woodward
Angler pulling netted redfish into Grady-White fishing boat
Capt. Richard Andrews puts his back into the work, lifting a big bull redfish into the Grady-White. Chris Woodward
Fishing on Grady-White 251 Coastal Explorer boat
An angler from our buddy boat snapped this photo with his cell phone. The author is busy photographing a redfish at the bow of the second Grady-White 251 Coastal Explorer. Courtesy Grady-White Boats
Bull redfish hooked with fishing lure
The head of this bull red measures out wider than the gunwale. Chris Woodward
Angler releasing bull redfish while fishing
During the peak months for this bull-redfish season (August and September), captains can release double digit numbers of fish. Chris Woodward
Reviving giant bull redfish
At the boat, this bucketmouth bull red is quickly revived before release. Chris Woodward
Angler releasing a redfish into North Carolina's Pamlico Sound fisherman holding spinning reel combo
The bay bottom is terraced in Pamlico Sound, Captains follow the contour lines. If they can’t find bait schools, they sometimes simply cast to the breaks. Chris Woodward
Fisherman releasing redfish
Another bronze beast slips back into the sound. Chris Woodward
Best jerkbaits and swimbaits fishing tackle redfish fishing Pamlico Sound
Jerkbaits and swimbaits work well under cup-faced popping corks. Topwaters, such as the white Sebile Splasher (right), also catch fish when conditions are right. Chris Woodward

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