A joint analysis of tag return and telemetry data should improve estimates of mortality rates for exploited fishes; however, the combined approach has thus far only been tested in terrestrial systems. We tagged subadult red drum (Sciaenops ocellatus) with conventional tags and ultrasonic transmitters over 3 years in coastal North Carolina, USA, to test the efficacy of the combined telemetry - tag return approach. There was a strong seasonal pattern to monthly fishing mortality rate (F) estimates from both conventional and telemetry tags; highest F values occurred in fall months and lowest levels occurred during winter. Although monthly F values were similar in pattern and magnitude between conventional tagging and telemetry, information on F in the combined model came primarily from conventional tags. The estimated natural mortality rate (M) in the combined model was low (estimated annual rate ?? standard error: 0.04 ?? 0.04) and was based primarily upon the telemetry approach. Using high-reward tagging, we estimated different tag reporting rates for state agency and university tagging programs. The combined telemetry - tag return approach can be an effective approach for estimating F and M as long as several key assumptions of the model are met.