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Fish Tales: The Bull Red Drum That Got Away

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
Townhall Media/Gabriella Hoffman

Avid anglers like me often feel pressured to catch big fish. 

I must confess: I sometimes fall prey to wanting accolades or gaining favor with colleagues and followers whenever I post trophy fish catches.

In today’s digital age, posting a grip and grin is seen as a rite of passage. It earns one respect, decent social media engagement and even a slew of new followers. 

While catching such a noteworthy fish can make or break a trip, I’ve also realized the importance of learning from the so-called “failures”: the snags, the lost catches, the missed bites and “one that got away.” 

A bull red drum I recently hooked up and lost in the Lower Chesapeake Bay challenged me to adopt this way of thinking for future fishing pursuits. 

The Allure of Red Drum

The red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) is a sought-after sport fish commonly found in the Chesapeake Bay down to the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s marked by vibrant red-silver scales and a black spot (or false eye) on their tails to deceive would-be predators. 

Per the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, this species belongs to the drum family known for making large croaking noises called “drumming.” Moreover, the red drum can live an average of 35 years—with the oldest recorded one coming in at 62 years old. 

I first learned about the species in September 2015 while fishing with my friend and freshwater fishing guide Debbie Hanson and her husband, Captain Greg Stamper, of Snook Stamp Charters

Since then, I’ve seen friends hook up and release monster drums in Venice, Louisiana, and Charleston, South Carolina. Naturally, I became eager to join their ranks.

In Virginia, these redfish are very special. Their management falls under the oversight of our state’s Marine Resource Commission. 2020 regulations stipulate anglers may only possess a maximum of three fish in the 18-to-26 inch category. Smaller or larger fish must be released back to the water—a nod to conservation best practices.

Locking Down the Trip of a Lifetime

During a recent vacation to Hampton Roads, Virginia, I had the opportunity to chase after these redfish with Captain Josh Saunders of Peake Tide Fishing. 

He told me his wife came up with the name as an homage to the Chesapeake Bay—his home waters. 

Our mutual friend, Tiffany “Snookie” Risch, connected us. She told me he’s the ultimate red drum whisperer. And it was quite apparent after seeing the pictures displayed on his Facebook and Instagram accounts.

The Redfish That Got Away

One morning in late August, we charted off from the charming town of Kilmarnock—a town situated in Northern Neck. 

From the get-go, Captain Josh was eager to put us on the board.

Our guide diligently navigated his boat from one spot to another. His talent to locate schools of fish was innate. Any observer can see this young charter captain, detail-oriented and a hard worker, knows this fishery very well. 

After getting settled, we dropped our lines and got our pump action on. 

After catching some bluefish and missing some bites, Captain Josh said it was time to get ready. The GPS then lit up. We finally stumbled upon them. It was showtime.

I dropped my plastic jig lure until it reached the bottom, reeled up some line, and began pumping. Some moments later, I felt a huge tug on my line. Then the rod tip bent. 

This is a big one, I thought. Maybe a fish in the 30-40 pound category? It had to be the case. For me, a petite woman, it felt really heavy! 

My time to wrestle a bull red drum had come. And I couldn’t squander the opportunity. 

So many emotions flowed through me. Excitement. Nervousness. Doubt. Talk about an adrenaline rush!  

Stay focused, I told myself. Do as you’re told and follow the fish!

Yet, despite all my might and willpower, I let up. I was overpowered. I valiantly fought but was losing. Then, in a split second, the tug was no more. 

Redfish-1, Gabriella-0.

Admittedly, this defeat was soul-crushing. It harkened back to a May 2019 Florida fishing trip where I lost my first tarpon. 

Lest we forget, fish are capable of cleverly plotting their escape. If fishing were always easy, it’d be catching. And there’s more inherent value to the sport than reeling in something to show for or take home.


I learned some valuable lessons from this recent excursion.

It taught me to be more humble. It taught me to confidently enter battle against a fishy opponent, win or lose. And it taught me to recognize how this incredible creature—a bull red drum—can withstand any challenge and endure. 

I’ll get you next time, red drum. Get ready. 

Town Hall readers interested to book a charter with Captain Josh Saunders can inquire online and follow Peake Tide Fishing on Facebook and Instagram.


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