Red Drum in Rhode Island

This week, Snug Harbor Marina in Wakefield, Rhode Island reported a truly remarkable catch: A 48.9-pound red drum caught by Brad Thompson. Brad was fishing a chunk of bunker from a Rhode Island breachway, hoping for a big striper, when the monster red drum hit.

Red Drum Rhode Island
Snug Harbor Marina in Wakefield, Rhode Island is reporting that this 48.9-pound red drum was caught in Rhode Island waters.

Red drum are an exceptionally rare catch in Rhode Island waters. In fact, these days red drum are rarely reported north of Delaware – but that’s not always been the case. In the early 1900s, “channel bass,” as red drum are also called, were a common catch for surfcasters in the waters of South Jersey, particularly from Corson Inlet, Little Egg Inlet and Barnegat Bay. In the Field and Stream article “The Prize Channel Bass of Corson’s Inlet” by R.M. Helfenstein, published in 1913, the author poses in the lead photo with a 47-pound red drum and writes of catching a mix of black drum and red drum from the New Jersey surf. In the 1916 article “Surf-Fishing at Little Egg Inlet” by Herbert K. Savage, the author describes catching 108 ½ pounds of channel bass in 55 minutes while fish swirled on the surface and “a big fellow, who must have weighed a full fifty pounds, swam by with his back out of the water not more than twenty feet from where we were standing.”  (Thanks to F+S blogger Joe Cermele for sharing the classic Field and Stream articles.)

Red drum would occasionally venture as far north as the south side of Long Island, but even then it was rare enough to make the pages of the New York Times. On August 7, 1910, the Times reported a blitz of channel bass on Long Beach that started on a Sunday afternoon when a 20-pounder was landed. By the end of the day, a number of channel bass in the 30-, 40-, and 50-pound class, and one 60-pounder, were landed.

Red drum have made a big comeback in southern waters since crashing in the 1980s. Could the catch of a big, mature red drum in Rhode Island waters be a sign that the species is expanding its range, and perhaps we’ll see a return of the trophy red bull fishing in the Northeast? Is it a sign of global warming? Or is it just an anomaly, like the occasional tarpon, cobia or even manatee that has wandered into southern New England waters?

More importantly, was that red drum alone… or was he part of a school of bull reds like the ones that invaded Long Island in early August over 100 years ago?

11 on “Red Drum in Rhode Island

  1. Leo

    This is definetly the sign of global warming and oceanic currents shift.
    Last year I caught small yellow jack in the mouth of bass river when fishing for blues.

  2. mike d

    WHAT!!!! i would love to catch one of those…..maybe we can get a seasonal fisherie going on here in a few years

  3. Jodi Thompson

    Congratulations to my husband on the biggest catch of his life! This should be counted as a record in RI, as it is the biggest Red Drum ever caught there. It shouldn’t matter that there isn’t a category, the waters are warming, climates are changing. I don’t think this is the only red drum we are going to see. Obviously its time to make a new category, starting with Brad’s catch!

  4. Don

    I live in Florida and have caught redfish since I was 4 years old I could remember when they closed gill nets and by the time I was 10 the fishery was completely different, I think that the population is growing so much that the bull reds are moving north, and has anyone checked the weather tempatures from 1910 because at the turn of the century we went through a rise in temperature Florida had one of it’s largest hurricanes at this time

  5. Gfishin

    For such an anomaly, one would think it might be a good idea for a release???

  6. Luis

    Great catch I lived in Florida and they are awesome fish for sport and dinner i think that one should have been released when reds get that big the meat is tough.

  7. Craig

    A buddy and I were fluke fishing the SW corner of Block Island last August and several times had big fish (40-48″) follow our fluke rigs right up to the boat. We could clearly see that they were not Striped Bass. We both thought that we saw Redfish or Red Drum but didn’t think that they came this far North. Reading this tonight has confirmed my suspicions, I now believe that they were Reds.

    1. Jimmy Fee

      I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of black drum as far north as Block Island, but every summer, at least a couple fluke fishermen in NJ and NY have stories of encountering black drum over reefs and even hitting the rigs.

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