Although anglers fishing for spawning red drum in the western Pamlico Sound are subject to interact with a few bulls during July, August is when the fishery reaches its flash point. That’s when guide Mitchell Blake of Chocowinity, N.C., grabs an arsenal of artificial lures and prospects the tributaries from the Pungo to the Neuse River.

“In July, those fish are primarily in the sound,” said Blake (252-495-1803), who runs Fish IBX Charters. “It seems like they transition into the rivers in August. Any shoal or point is subject to hold fish at a given time.  

“In the Pungo River, the area from the artificial reef all the way out to the mouth is good. Pamlico Point to Oyster Creek in the Pamlico River is a fine spot. In the Neuse River, Bay Point and Maw Point are two excellent spots — and Brown Island Shoals. But more important than any of it is the bait.”

According to Blake, big drum need a steady food supply to stay happy, and finding the largest masses of menhaden or mullet — that can be in stretches from 1 to 3 miles long — is the key. Once attained, he dissects the area for ambush points.

“You’ll find drum in some of the largest transitions from deep to shallow water and near hardbottom like oyster beds, usually in 5 to 15 feet,” Blake said. “I’m looking for low-traffic areas where I don’t think the fish have been disturbed. They don’t like to be messed with.”

Once Blake feels the prerequisites are met, he selects a lure to chunk, only resorting to cut mullet in extreme wind or instances where low levels of drum are present. Under calm conditions, he prefers to start with a walk-the-dog style topwater bait like a Zara Spook, noting that this is particularly effective when fish are around mullet schools. If the wind gets up or the big drum are around menhaden, he switches to a 1½-ounce Rat-L-Trap and yo-yo’s the bait through the school. But he still holds reverence for the bait that converted the fishery from cut bait to artificial lures.

“You can’t outdo a popping cork,” he said, “and the Blabber Mouth popping cork will out-fish anything. I’ll use a 5 ½-inch Yee Haw swimbait under it on a ¼-ounce jighead with a stout, razor-sharp, 7/0 to 8/0 hook.”

Blake said lure color isn’t nearly as important as action and sound, but he will often use gold. He spools 4000 to 5000 class spinning reels with 40-pound braided line and uses a 1- to 2-foot section of 40- to 50-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon leader.