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Fresh Water Drum

Blog by: David Coulson 7/27/2015

Colorado, with its diverse landscape, provides opportunities to fish for many different species.  By my count, there are in excess of a hundred, many of which are “catchable” if you set your mind to it.

Limiting the list to “sportfish,” those that interest most anglers, fifty or so is probably about it, not including endangered or threatened species such as the Colorado pikeminnow.  Too bad we can’t fish for them, especially the pikeminnow, a fish that’s known to reach 40 pounds or more. Pikeminnows take lures, flies, and bait aggressively, they’re hard fighting and good table fare. What more could one wish for in a sportfish?

When determining the sporting qualities of fish, edibility is probably the determining factor for most species.  After that, good looks (think trout versus catfish), ease of catch, cultural bias, and fighting ability all play a role in deciding the worth or sporting quality to anglers.

Trout are highly prized by many.  Let’s face it, they’re a pretty fish, easy to catch, put up a decent fight, and are edible.  Personally, trout doesn’t appeal to my palate.  I much prefer eating walleye, perch, and white bass/wiperCatfish, sunfish (including black bass), northern pike, and drum also make a good meal.  Some species, such as carp, suckers, and chub, are considered edible, but boniness, flavor, and cultural bias keep them from most tables.

As I fish primarily for the fun, releasing the majority, I’m primarily interested in the challenge of getting the fish to take a fly and their fighting ability.  Consequently, many of the so called rough fish hold great appeal. Carp and drum are two such species.

While I somewhat understand the distain for carp, they’re reportedly bony, strong flavored, not exactly pretty, and there is a strong negative cultural bias against them in the US, I don’t understand why freshwater drum are viewed in the same light.

Maybe it’s due to their body shape.  They are a deep bodied fish with a high back, similar to, but more prominent than, the common carp.  Plus, they have an inferior mouth with rubbery lips that give a rough impression of a sucker or carp 

Freshwater drum actually belong to the drum family, a huge family of sportfish, including sea trout, weakfish, croakers, white sea bass, and red drum.  It’s the only freshwater member of the family. Native to North America, it is one of the more widely distributed fish on the continent. 

Drum does not appear to be native to Colorado.  They were first stocked in Bonny Reservoir during the fifties, with later stockings occurring in other South Platte and Arkansas River drainage reservoirs.  Today, reproducing populations exist in Jumbo, Jumbo annex, Prewitt, North Sterling, and Jackson Reservoirs

Freshwater drum readily take a variety of lures, flies, and baits.  These bright silver chunks are hard fighting fish.  Further, they’re good eating and grow quite large.  While Colorado’s state record is a bit over seventeen pounds, the national record exceeds fifty.  I don’t know about you, but big, hard fighting, predatory fish have a lot of appeal.

While I occasionally fish specifically for drum, primarily at Jumbo Annex out east, the truth is they’re rare enough that most of my catch has been incidental when fishing for other species, such as bass, walleye, or carp.  To date, my largest fish have been twenty inches, coming from Prewitt and Jackson Reservoirs.

I wish drum were more common. However, they’re considered “rough fish”. Even Colorado Parks and Wildlife lumps them in with suckers and carp in the record book and there’s no limit on them. That’s too bad as they’re a unique fish with great sporting qualities. 

First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan Sunday Explorer section July 26, 2015.

Blog content © David Coulson
Blog Comments
kottob, 7/27/2015 12:57:58 PM
Good article. We caught a bunch of them last summer around 15-25 inches in JM. We knew they were Drum but didn't know if they were good eating so we released them. I looked at them the same as carp and sucker due to the DOW lumping them in the same category, as you stated above. Wish I knew more about them, would've kept some to eat.
Lloyd Tackitt, 7/28/2015 5:47:48 AM
I sometimes target them. I know of one place in my section of river where I can find them. The technique I use is similar to the technique used for red fish. I use a sinking line and a weighted wooly booger or crayfish initiation, or a hellgrammite imitation. I let it sink to the bottom and then strip it back in short jerks spaced about three seconds apart. I'm trying to stir up some silt each time. Seems to work pretty well. They are terrific fighters that stay down low on the bottom and pull like a John Deere tractor.
ColoradoOutdoorsman, 7/28/2015 12:36:03 PM
Definitely one of my favorite gamefish! In Minnesota I would catch these guys jigging for wipers on 1/4 once kastmasters and even catch them on lures I was throwing for pike. It was always fun to stalk them when they're on top of the weedbeds with the paddle boat and drop a meal worm in front of the biggest ones face and watch them inhale it like a bass. They're the hardest fighting fish I've caught for their size. Can we just dedicate a lake in Colorado to rough fish? Just have it full of drum, carp, and bowfin. That would be awesome.
David Coulson (Flyrodn), 7/28/2015 1:21:18 PM
Well, other than bowfin, Jackson might be the closest thing we have to a Rough Fish fishery. I go there mainly for the carp, as its a water where they readily take flies, or at least enough of them to make for good days of catching.
Kolorado KingFisher, 7/28/2015 1:44:57 PM
hey hey hey Dave...trout are better looking than catfish? That's a matter of opinion, lol. Regarding drum, I have wondered for years how it can be that freshwater drum get no love whatsoever, in fact you may be the first person I have ever heard of that targets them occasionally...and yet their saltwater duplicate in almost every way except color, the redfish, gets heralded as one of the best sportfish in the US??? It really makes no sense to me.
Dangly, 7/28/2015 2:31:43 PM
I agree, aside from brookies and spawn browns, catfish ARE better looking than trout. Also, its unfortunate that wipers don't taste like burning tires, might be better fisheries around if they did.
Ajax5240, 7/28/2015 4:00:58 PM
Nice unique catch there Dave! Dangly, that's funny! Imagine if eyes were bad table fare too!
fishmohr, 7/28/2015 4:11:19 PM
This spring caught a drum that was 28 pounds and 36 inches in Tennessee. It owned me for 20 minutes on light tackle. Sure was fun.
Attila64, 7/29/2015 11:51:48 AM
I like taking the smaller ones 14-10 inches, scale them and gut them then fill cavity with corn and chopped onions then wrap in foil and cook on the grill or a camp fire. Very delicious fish.
cheekmeat, 8/9/2015 9:07:55 AM
If you want to get your drum on... fish grayrocks reservoir this fall....lots of willing 3 pound drum to catch!! In years past, ive caught plenty vertically slabbing spoons....especially a crippled herring in 30 fow. Change the treble hook out for a j hook and thread half a crawler on it. Good luck!!
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