Call him red drum, redfish, channel bass, drumfish, he is a stocky, barrel-chested fish—game, powerful, with a throat paved with stony teeth for crushing shellfish and two curious agatelike stones encased in either side of the head. The scales are large and glistening and a wondrous golden or red-copper color. He hits a lure with great speed. If you are using a six-or nine-thread line and try to stop him before he has finished his first run, it's goodbye tackle.
Part of the joy of channel-bass fishing is the trip by boat from the causeway down Roanoke Sound to Oregon Inlet, a run of an hour and a half through narrow marshland waterways where lazy herons rise and flap away, kingfishers dive and the banks are living museums of fowl and reptile. Then a placid spin on the broad sound while concentrating on tackle, including a thorough inspection of reel, reel seat, reel lock, star drag and release, guides, tip and line. When there are 55 to 60 pounds of irritated fish on the end of a line, it is no time for things to go wrong mechanically.
A DRAMATIC APPROACH
The approach to Oregon Inlet and the passage through is always dramatic, for the area is invariably in a froth and turmoil no matter what the state of weather or tide. The transition from the placid sound to the boiling caldron of the flats at the mouth of the inlet stirs the blood and whets the appetite for excitement. This roil, too, is one of the hunting grounds for channel bass, as well as the calmer stretches of coast north and south. For there they frequently come in pairs to nose for food on the shallow, breaker-crumbled bottom. Fishing the mouth of the inlet calls for a cool and knowledgeable guide and master, good nerves, balance and muscles and a cast-iron stomach on the part of the fisherman.
When you see the antics of neighbor and rival fishing boats in this boil-up on a day when there is a bit of sea running, rolling half under, climbing crests, vanishing into hollows, pitching, bucking, running bow or stern half out of the water, or dropped sickeningly 10 to 12 feet as a giant wave races away, it is hard to credit that you in your own whipsawing craft are taking and surviving the same beating.
I've done my best trolling for channel bass with a Huntington Drone lure, or a No. 7 Pflueger Record Spoon, the favorite of the guides at Manteo, though I have also found the medium-size crimson-and-white Bass-Oreno lure a killer. You troll constantly through rough water and smooth, looking to pick up the odd ones while always attempting to locate the school and run through them. Grand slam is to catch a school on the feed in the shallows at the mouth of the inlet where it will have driven a shoal of menhaden or some other small bait fish.
The excitement when this happens is indescribable. A thousand or more copper-colored fighting fish are concentrated in a small area, dyeing the pale-emerald waters blood-red with their flashing, charging bodies as they swirl and strike in every direction. Over them wheel and scream as many wildly hysterical gulls, dive-bombing the fragments of fish torn by the ravaging bass, keying the fisherman's nerves still tighter with their incessant clamoring as they whip the surface of the waters just above the feeding drum to a milky froth.
Add to this the whining of the reels and the cries of "Strike!" from excited fishermen and the shouts of the captains to one another as their boats come too close, for every guide in the vicinity naturally moves into this wild, chaotic area, sometimes as many as a dozen or more attempting to haul their lines through the vortex.
Now every rod holds a fish, sometimes three and four to a boat; lines cross and tangle and are cut; tempers are lost with fish, elbows and shins are barked in the tossing boats. Gear is lost overboard in the excitement, narrow escapes abound and the tempo of the tumult mounts. Never mind what lure you have on at this time; the hungry bass will strike at anything that moves and then turn and run.
Into the shallowest water moves the shoal of frantic bait fish, plunging into the crisscross line of breakers and rip currents, after them the churning channel bass, over them the shrieking, swooping gulls. Following all come the joyously cursing anglers in what is surely offshore fishing's most enthralling hour.