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    Saltwater Fishing Tips for Drum Fish

    How to Catch Drum Fish in Saltwater

    The drum fish is a common, standard-looking ray-finned fish. They have a long, rounded body and a notch or groove between their ray and spine.

    Most drum species are bottom-feeders that prey on mollusks and crustaceans, using their chin barbels to sense food and pharyngeal teeth plates to crush shellfish. They can “vocalize” by vibrating muscles attached to their swim bladder, but some, like the California corbina, lack this ability.


    Drum fish are found year round wherever there is abundant food and water movement. They move up or down the bay and Gulf coast as temperatures change, seeking food in shallow or deeper water. They are most active at night and early morning.

    Drum of all sizes feed in the nutrient-rich, sandy to mud bottoms of estuaries and tidal creeks. Their diet consists of a variety of crustaceans and bivalves. Small juveniles cluster in seagrass beds to grow up; older ones roam in tidal creeks and channels and near structure.

    The red drum (Pogonias cromis), also known as channel bass, is native to the Atlantic Ocean from Massachusetts to the Gulf of Mexico and has a distinct black mark on its tail. It belongs to the order of ray-finned fishes, Perciformes. Its closest relative is the California kingcroaker (Pogonias cavalla), but it lacks the swim bladder of its relatives and does not produce a croaking sound.


    Black drum are nearshore fish found in bays, lagoons and over mud and sandy bottoms; they also can be found offshore in the Gulf. They are a bottom-feeder, consuming mollusks and crustaceans such as shrimp, oysters, blue crabs and speckled crabs. They can grow to over 100 pounds and can live almost 50 years.

    The characteristic drumming sound is produced by a special structure in their body cavity that is connected with their swim bladder. Two elongated muscles move the sac to make the noise when they are excited or stressed.

    They spawn during summer and autumn, usually in shallow waters and in estuaries; broadcast spawning allows fertilized eggs to float to the surface and hatch into tiny nymphs. The nymphs develop into mature adults in a few years. Juveniles stay in bays and estuaries until age three or four, then leave to overwinter in deeper offshore waters before returning to nearshore areas in spring.


    Drum are opportunistic eaters, grazing in schools along the bottom. They eat a variety of baitfish, with cut fish (preferably squid) and shrimp the most popular. They are also willing to hit artificial lures, especially rigged with scented tails like Strike King’s Redfish Magic or Gulp! Using a gold spoon or spinnerbait on a 14-ounce jig head improves the odds.

    Drum spawn in bays and Gulf waters, but most mature in their first year. They are long-lived, with males reaching sexual maturity at a slightly smaller size and younger age than females. Drum weighing over five pounds have coarse flesh, so anglers are encouraged to release them rather than consuming them. Larger drum also tend to have an infestation of a parasitic tapeworm, colloquially called “spaghetti worms,” in their tail meat. While unappetizing, spaghetti worms are not harmful to humans. They are picked up by drums from infected copepods they ingest while foraging over algae beds.


    Black drum are a prolific species, a female spawning eleven to sixty million eggs over a 14-week spawning season. They spawn in bays and Gulf waters near tidal inlets and pass channels. They are known to make a distinctive “drumming” noise during spawning.

    Eggs hatch within 24 hours and produce larvae of 2.2 mm standard length. They are initially fed rotifers at concentrations of 5-10/ml until the zooplankton population has reached equilibrium with the feed, which is then switched to Artemia nauplii at concentrations of 7-10/l.

    During the larval phase, black drum require a diet containing 40 percent crude protein, 5-7 percent fish oil, 7 percent crude fiber, and vitamin and mineral premixes. They grow to maturity between 12 and 27 inches, with males reaching sexual maturity at a slightly smaller size and younger age than females. They are long-lived, with some individuals exceeding 45 years in the wild. Their tails have a prominent ocellated spot, which gives them their name.

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