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 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?