Red Drum Tournament reels plenty of anglers in

Dick Jones

November 4, 2010

Sometimes, the weather just wipes you out on a fishing trip. This past weekend at the N.C. Beach Buggy Association Red Drum Tournament, the weather did just that.

It wasn’t that the weather was stormy or raining. In fact, the weather was really nice, comfortable with just a light wind, and that was the problem.

“I hate flat water,” Greg Griffin, a consistent winner from past tournaments, told me this week. Griffin went without a fish, though he did have two class winners, in his entourage.

Red drum like rough weather. They like current, big waves and a crashing surf. The light winds and calm surf had an adverse effect on the fishing.

This year, only 12 red drum were landed in the entire tournament of almost three days of fishing. Last year, more than a hundred were caught. It wasn’t that the number of anglers was down. In fact, this year, there were 326 anglers fishing from all over the Eastern United States. There was also a lot of beach to fish with fewer turtle closures than normal this year.

Even though there are numerous women and youth anglers, the NCBBA Red Drum Tournament is no event for faint-hearted anglers. The tournament begins at 12 a.m. on Thursday and ends at 4 p.m, on Saturday. Many anglers fish the whole 64 hours of the event and many more only take short naps during low tide or daylight hours. Red drum favor night time and, of the winning fish, every one was taken in the dark except one puppy drum taken in twilight, at 7:11 p.m. on Saturday.

Not only were most of the fish taken at night, this year, the northern end of the tournaments range produced the winners. Every winning fish came from north of Ramp 27, much farther north than normal. The beaches at Hatteras are constantly changing and the structure of the Northern Beaches provided better holes this year.

This year’s winner was Steve Merrick of Millsboro Delaware. Steve caught his 47 1/2” drum at 4:50 a.m. on Friday. Steve is a long-time drum fisherman and placed second overall in a tournament about 10 years ago. Steve’s fish was the first of two 47 1/2” drum on Friday. Since Steve’s fish was first, it was the winning fish.

Jan Ellis of Eldersburg, Md., won the Ladies category with a 43 1/2” fish on Friday night. Jan’s been fishing for a long time but has taken it seriously for the last five years or so. Her fish hit at about 9 p.m. It was the largest drum she’d ever caught and the fish’s stamina surprised her.

“I’ve caught a 36-inch drum and there’s a lot of difference with one that big. He was strong, I was exhausted by the time I got him in,” Ellis said. “The rules require that you land your fish without assistance and, once I got him in close, it seemed to take forever before I could get him on the beach.”

One of the things that makes this tournament difficult is that, since all drum over 27 inches have to be released, it’s necessary to judge the fish as soon as it comes out of the water. That goal was accomplished this year with 32 judges who were stationed at intervals on the beach with cell phones. When a fish is on, the judge gets a call and makes his way to the angler for the measurement. In the tournament, all red drum must be released alive to count.

The Red Drum tournament is a centerpiece surf fishing event for individual anglers at Hatteras. The Tournament began in 1984 just a week after David Deuel caught the current world record on Avon Beach Nov. 4 of that year. His fish weighed 94 pounds, 2 ounces and was 57 inches long. The two biggest fish in this year’s event were 47 1/2 inches. The prize or $250,000 was offered to the angler who could best Deuel’s record. It’s not likely that his record will be broken in North Carolina since anglers can only keep fish between 18 inches and 27 inches. The one time in the year when a new record is possible is the three days of the drum tournament because the organizers always have an IGFA certified scale available during the tournament.

While most Outer Banks tournaments have a long waiting list, the NCBBA Tournament almost always has room up until right before the event. It’s a great experience for anyone and a fund-raiser for a great organization. It’s an event that the most seasoned anglers enjoy and a beginner can enjoy. A few years ago, an angler showed up at Frank and Fran’s, the tackle shop that serves as headquarters for the event, with his first ever drum. Frank suggested he enter the tournament, he did, and won the event with his second ever drum.

About NCBBA: This was the second year for the NCBBA to run the tournament and it’s a great funding opportunity for an organization that tirelessly strives to make life better for anglers and the folks on the island. In recent years, environmental groups that used to be mainstream organizations have become quite radical and are paying millions to law firms like the Southern Environmental Law Center to restrict access of our National Parks to average people. In the last few years, these groups have sued the Parks Department in attempts to close the beaches down, not just to motorized vehicles but to pedestrians, as well. In addition to the normal activities of the NCBBA, like Operation Beach Respect, a series of beach cleanup weekends, they have spent considerable sums just trying to keep the beaches open because of all the environmental law groups that are trying to close them to the public. (See

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