Cape Charles Drum Expedition

by Chris McCotter

If you’ve ever thought about catching red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) or it’s cousin the black drum (Pogonias cromis) Cape Charles, Virginia is one location you should add to your bucket list.  

  Located just across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel complex on Virginia’s eastern shore, this is a saltwater angler’s paradise with excellent fishing for rockfish, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, the above-mentioned drum species, flounder, spade fish, sheepshead and various other smaller fishes. 

  Over the past couple years, I have been fortunate enough to be invited by the Deane family to tag along on their annual fishing trip to Cape Charles to target black drum and whatever else may be biting for that matter.  

   This year’s trip was scheduled in May, and the weather brought us rather unwelcome east/northeast winds and mild temperatures that were a bit cooler than in previous years. 

   As repeat visitors, our group has gained insights on the best strategy – including locations and bait – to target these incredible fish.  We concentrated most of our fishing around the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel area, using blue crab and sea clams for bait.

 Our days started early with a 5 o’clock alarm to get breakfast and coffee – no time for sleeping in when targeting drum. Each day, we made the short drive to the Cape Charles Town Harbor and Marina where we docked the boat for the week.  

  We spent the first couple days fishing several locations using live bait and casting various lures, with a little trolling involved. Trolling typically yields Spanish mackerel or bluefish.  

  Day One and Two netted a couple sharks that ate our baits; trolling brought in a few bluefish for the frying pan, which was a tasty end to a day on the water.

 On Day Three, the winds picked up but that didn’t stop us from making the progress on cracking the code for catching both the black and red drum.  

  Most days during the trip were 8-12 hours on the water…this day was no different!  

  Towards the afternoon with an outgoing tide, one of the bait rods bent over double!  

   As everyone grabbed rods to clear the lines, Eric Deane took control of the rod and began to battle the fish.  When it was all said and done, Eric landed and released a giant bull red (red drum).  

 On the morning of Day Four, the winds continued to blow east/northeast and it was a little cooler leaving Cape Charles Marina.  

  We arrived at our first destination, got all the lines in the water, and began the waiting game.  It didn’t take long before one of the rods began to dance. As I picked it up, I could feel the fish biting on the other end.  

  At this point, I slowly reeled down while lifting the rod and the fight was on!  It took several minutes then the fish surfaced just behind the boat – it was a black drum!  After a short fight, the fish was in the net and aboard the boat by 7:30am. 

  As Hard Merch says on Wicked Tuna, “Over the rail and in the pail.”  This one went in the icebox.  

  We were all thinking the same thought, “What a way to start the day!”  

  Staying true to the location and what we learned fishing the first several days, we stuck with it all day.  

  It wasn’t until around 5:30pm that one of the rods bent over double.  

  Charlie Deane was up to bat and the fight was on. After several runs by the fish on the other end, Charlie was able to bring a 46” red drum into the net.  The fish was measured, pictures taken, and put back into the water to be revived and successfully released.   

  With everyone super excited, lines were immediately thrown back into the water with high hopes.  

  It didn’t take long before another rod went off; it was Carrol Deane’s turn on the rod.  As I was helping to clear rods, the rod I grabbed bent over as soon as I pulled it from the rod holder…we have a DOUBLE!  

  Carrol Deane and I successfully landed giant red drum and again they were successfully released after measurements and pictures.  

  On that fourth day in about 90 minutes (between 5:30-7:00pm), our group caught five keeper black drum that were put in the ice box.  We also caught four Bull Red’s all being 46-49’ that were successfully released.     

  When it comes to tackle and setups for black and red drum, we used several combinations of spinning reels sized from 4000 to 6000 paired with a 7’ medium and medium heavy rods.  

 Our reels were spooled with 30lb braid and tipped off with a 60lb leader.  We used Fish Finder rigs with sinker slides, live bait heavy-duty 5/0 circle hooks, and weights varying between 2-4 oz. depending on the tide (note: you want to keep your bait on the bottom, no bouncing).  

  On this trip, we found that fresh sea Clams and live blue crabs provided the best results.  

  We all had a blast during our trip with pictures as proof of our success! We made some great memories and have already started making plans for next year’s adventure.  I greatly appreciate the friendship and invitations from the Deane family over the years for this annual trip. 

  If you plan on fishing for drum this summer, keep in mind the daily limit per angler is three fish between 18-26”. Anglers may keep one black drum per day over 16”.

  Next time you are planning to go fishing on the Eastern Shore, I recommend you consider Cape Charles. You will find great fishing, incredible places to eat, local shopping, and plenty of vacation rentals (Latitude Adjustment highly recommended). Tell them Cordell sent you. 

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