A July morning last year I was on the flats and it was no different than any other, mullet and mudminnows (or gudgeons) were swimming everywhere. As I stealthily poled my boat across the flats I noticed the shoulder wakes of several puppy drum. I quickly traded my pushpole for my flyrod and cast just ahead of the torpedo like wakes. After a few strips, wham! The drum took the fly and headed for deeper water. After a quick battle I released a lovely 6-pound fish. In less than an hour I boated about ten Puppy drum on this flat. This story sounds just like any other inshore red drum trip, except this one takes place in Virginia Beach.
Yes, I said Virginia Beach, for several years local fishermen have been taking inshore puppy drum (term for juvenile Red Drum) on artificial and live bait. However in the last few years a few dedicated saltwater flyfishermen have discovered a productive fishery in Lynnhaven and Rudee Inlets. This fishery gets started in early May and can last into mid-October. I have fished both locations but prefer Lynnhaven because it has more areas to fish. However, the techniques described here will work equally well at both locations.
The puppy drum inside Lynnhaven and Rudee Inlets can range from 2 to12 pounds, so I prefer an 8-weight fast action rod. These fish can make knuckle-smacking runs so a reel with a decent drag is recommended. When fishing shallow flats a floating line works well, however I prefer to use intermediate or sinking lines. My favorite pattern is the bend-back tied with black bucktail and gold and red flash. The bent hook makes the fly virtually weedless and the exposed hook shank “clicks” as it crosses shells and rocks. Puppy drum feed on mullet, minnows, crabs, and snapping shrimp, the latter two make similar clicking sounds that drum can key in on. I also like simple streamer with plastic worm rattles tied in on the shank or tied in mylar tubing behind the hook bend. Clouser patterns tied in crab and shrimp colors also work well. I prefer the darker colors because they contrast well in our commonly turbid waters.
The most popular technique is to sight cast to tailing or feeding fish. Puppy drum are very spooky, so stealth is very important, poling a boat or wading is the best way to approach the alert fish. Look for the pale blue tail fins; it is a tail-tale indicator that you have red drum. Another good indicator of feeding fish is nervous bait; look for darting minnows and surface breaking mullet. Watch the bait and how it moves and adjust you retrieve to match their motions. If you spot puppy drum on the move, try to cast about five to six feet ahead of the fish. When casting for Puppies be careful not to present the fly to hard or let is smack the water on the cast, it’s a sure fire way to spook the fish. Retrieve the line in short quick strips with intermittent pauses (fish usually take the fly at the pause). Lynnhaven Inlet is full of oyster reefs, so search around these areas at high tide for feeding puppy drum. In some situations sight casting is impossible, such as windy or when fishing deeper waters. In these situations anchor your boat and cast in to channels and let the fly drift or swing down current before the retrieve. Remember to slow down you retrieve against currents and allow pauses and let the fly drift back with the current, most baitfish struggle to fight currents so the fly should do the same. Lynnhaven Inlet has several water front homes with deep-water access, some locations with as much as 12 feet of water under the docks. When the current is running, areas around these docks can be very productive as well. This type of fishing requires a full sinking line or a shooting head (I use a 350-grain shooting head). I anchor my boat just about 50 feet out from the docks and cast slightly up current. I allow the fly to drift back with the current and when the fly starts to swing, I start a very slow retrieve with several pauses. Strikes usually occur on the pause or when the fly starts to swing, Try these techniques and I guarantee a productive trip.
Lynnhaven and Rudee Inlets offer inshore red drum fishing that mirrors most southern and gulf-coast states. The easy access and close location should offer great opportunities for mid-Atlantic flyfishermen. Lynnhaven is also kayak friendly, wading is also possible but you need a boat to access the most productive flats. To add to the mix other species such as Croaker, Summer Flounder, Speckled and Gray Trout, Bluefish, Stripped Bass, and Spanish mackerel also visit Lynnhaven and Rudee Inlets.
About the author
Cory Routh has been an avid flyfisherman for several years. Cory is currently serves as the Virginia Saltwater Recreational Fishing Development Projects Coordinator with the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. He is a member of the Virginia Coastal Fly Anglers (VCFA) and instructs flycasting and flytying. For information about instruction or VCFA contact Cory at 757-403-0734 or check out the VCFA website at: www.vcfa.org.