Fish Post

Tidelines – August 15, 2019

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While I didn’t get a chance to sit in on any sessions of Capt. Andy Bates, of Capt. Andy’s Guide Service, at this past year’s Morehead Saltwater Fishing School, I did get to enjoy a front row seat to his teaching and coaching talents on a half day trip out of Oriental looking to hook my two oldest boys into some big red drum on popping corks.

The four of us—Andy, me, Owen (14), and James (13)—left the Oriental town docks and headed upriver. The season was still a little early and reports of fish were scattered at best, so I asked Andy why go so far up the Neuse River that we could see the bridge in the distance.

“That’s where the fish are at,” he told me, enjoying the matter-of-factness of his reply. He then went on to explain, confident that that there were still fish holding on the ledges in the area, “We’ve been on fish here the last couple of days. There’s been lots of bait around, and these drum are big and they have to eat constantly to build and keep their energy, so if you don’t have bait, you’re not going to have drum.”

We pulled up to no bait visibly on the surface like there had been the last several days, but Andy was marking clouds of bait under the boat. We were on a point that came out from shore with good ledges on either side of the point. The first ledge was a drop from about 5’ to 9’, and then another 100 yards or so out it dropped again from 9’ to 13’.

My boys had been bait fishing for big red drum before, but today’s plan of throwing popping corks had me a little nervous. I wasn’t sure of their patience, of their stamina, of their strength, but Andy, again, had confidence.

As we trolling motored a little closer to the spot where he wanted to start working the water, he gave James and Owen his four basic instructions for popping cork success.

First, they needed to try and make long casts away from the boat. Then, they needed to make a single loud pop, as this pop would be imitating another large red drum feeding. Third, it was important to give the fish time to get to the bait and eat the bait, so Andy likes a 6-10 second pause between pops, making sure to keep slack out of the line while you’re popping and pausing.

Finally, once the cork goes under, they weren’t to try a “Bill Dance” hookset (not that my boys would get that dated reference)—the only thing they needed to do when the bobber goes under is reel the line tight so that when the big red drum turns to run, the hook will bury in the corner of the mouth.

Andy’s directions were simple, concise, and purposeful, but I especially liked how he followed up those simple instructions by helping the boys improve in all the aspects of their fishing game.

James immediately needed help with casting, as the medium-heavy rods, 5000 reels, big corks, and big soft plastics on a 26” leader were heavy and clumsy for a kid with little casting practice.

Andy started by showing James how to hold the line in a better position for casting, and then encouraged him by repeatedly telling him not to be afraid to hurt the rod—telling him to really sling it out there with all the muscle you have.

For both boys, he demonstrated how to use your hips to get a good, single pop. The popping cork rigs for big drum are too big themselves to work with just a twitch of the hands, as it takes more of a body motion to make a pop strong enough to work.

Owen Hurley with his first citation drum caught unassisted. The 45″ red drum hit a soft plastic under a Blabber Mouth popping cork fishing a ledge with Capt. Andy Bates, of Capt. Andy’s Guide Service.

Luckily, several fish cooperated, so Andy also got to coach the boys on how to fight a big fish at the end of a rod and reel.

On James and Owen’s first fish each, Andy worked hands-on with them. He guided them on how to put pressure on the fish and when to put pressure on the fish (when to reel, and when to let the fish go), often times putting a hand on the rod himself to help keep the rod tip up, give the rod a little more backbone, and keep the kids from tiring out.

What was rewarding to me as father, though, wasn’t that the boys picked up the skills immediately. Their casts started out short, their pops struggled at times, both boys took breaks from the workload of casting and popping, and both boys needed help bringing fish to the boat.

The rewarding part was seeing the boys put in the time and effort to improve, and then seeing them rewarded for that time and effort. James’ casting probably improved 10-fold over the course of the morning, and he was easily the best on the boat at popping. Owen’s success culminated with his third successful release of the morning, a fish he brought to the boat in less than 10 minutes and completely unassisted.

Andy pointed out on the run back to Oriental, “Their confidence level increased dramatically, and once that confidence increases, you’re going to do everything better. You’re going to fight the fish better. You’re going to work the bait better. Everything’s better when they’re confident.”

Andy Bates, of Capt. Andy’s Guide Service, will be targeting big red drum into the beginning of October, meeting clients in either Oriental or on the Beaufort side of the Neuse River (more convenient to Morehead-area anglers). Then he transitions to kings, big spanish, and false albacore off Atlantic Beach, before transitioning again into sea duck trips as a duck hunting guide in the lower Neuse (starting around Thanksgiving).

James Hurley, flanked by brother Owen and Capt. Andy Bates of Capt. Andy’s Guide Service, with one of the four citation red drum he caught (and released) using popping cork rigs in the Neuse River.

You can look him up online at, or give him a call at (252) 497-6981.

Andy and I agree. We think everyone—kids and adults alike—could use a little boost of confidence, especially when the vehicle to deliver that confidence is the big bend and heavy pull of a citation red drum making a popping cork disappear.