How one Hatteraswoman has made drum fishing a family tradition
She gazes across the watery landscape. She knows it well, can trace its contours in her mind’s eye. The wind begins to rise, stirring the seas into a froth and whipping her salty locks around her face. The drum are out there beneath the surface, beneath all the turmoil. After years of experience, she knows it. Her senses are on high alert. This is what stokes her inner fire.
For Rodanthe native Mickey Warren, there is no more special time than the fall, especially when it comes to drum fishing.
Colloquially known as channel bass (but not actually related to bass) or red fish, red drum is the official saltwater fish of North Carolina. It is appropriately named, as the male will make a drumming sound with its swim bladder during spawning season. With spots on its tail to fend off predators, these bottom dwellers love to eat baitfish and shellfish and gain their copper-colored scales in accordance with the amount of sediment in the water.
Once fall approaches, schools of red drum begin to migrate out of backwater estuaries and head for the ocean, where they will eventually make their way south to spend the winter in warmer waters.
Drum fishing is best on Hatteras Island in the fall. These fish pack a punch and leave those on the other end of the rod twitching for their next opportunity to real in a “slob.”
“It’s an adrenaline rush,” Mickey says. “It’s a lot of fun to catch these fish, especially off the beach because they fight harder, head for deeper water and will try to go in every direction.”
Whether it’s off a pier, in a secret slough down the beach somewhere or in her beloved spot at Cape Point, Mickey has been honing her skills since the age of 5.
“Every day after work my dad goes fishing,” she says. “He started taking me as child and I learned very quickly from him that you have to have a lot of patience because there are days when you don’t catch anything.”
With decades of experience, the father-daughter duo knows which conditions are most likely to make their trips end in success. “Usually we look for a southwest wind with rough water because the fishing will be favorable at Hatteras Pier or the Point,” says Mickey. “And any fresh-cut bait like sea mullet will do the trick.”
She heads out armed with a 12-foot surf rod, a circle hook to ensure the fish is hooked properly and a sand spike for stability.
Regulations for drum fishing are stringent. The fish were once classified as “overfished” and N.C. Marine Fisheries set out to help the species recover. Their guidelines state that anglers may keep one drum per person, per day within the slot limit of 18 to 27 inches. Any fish outside of that size slot must be released. And any drum caught outside of 3 miles offshore must also be released as those are federal waters.
Even with the strict regulations, the fervor for drum fishing doesn’t seem to be slowing. When the bite is hot, anglers are shoulder to shoulder vying for their chance to reel in a citation. At Cape Point, vehicles line up like ants on a log.
“It’s exciting because you never know what you might see,” Mickey says. “We’ve caught a 124 pound tarpon and seen really big sharks off the Point. You just have to go for it and your hard work will eventually pay off.”
As one of the few women in her fishing peer group, Mickey’s experience with fishing was a bit intimidating at first, but now she wouldn’t change a thing. Her talent is tried and true and she can hold her own among the best.
“It’s been a great way to bond with my dad, and now my daughter, Hattie, already loves to fish,” Mickey says. “We live in an awesome place. Don’t be afraid, go fish!”