Black drum exist from New York south along the Atlantic seaboard to Florida and throughout the Gulf states to Mexico. In the Gulf they can be found in all bay and inshore waters and offshore waters.
Black drum are typically found in or near brackish waters. However, the species is extremely adaptable and most bottom types brackish estuarine areas out to deeper waters. They have a high level of temperature and salinity tolerance.
Black drum are members of the croaker family and have the ability to produce drumming sounds. Thye are heavy-bodied, high-backed fish with many barbels under the lower jaw. Smaller fish typically have 4 or 5 wide vertical black bars contrasting with a grayish body. On older, larger fish the bars are faded or absent. The belly is generally whitish. Their teeth are rounded and they have powerful jaws that are capable of crushing oysters and other shellfish. Drum are a large, long lived fish, reaching sizes approaching 100 pounds and living up to 40 years.
Maturing at 24 inches or so, and 4 to 5 years of age, drum generally spawn from January to April. They’re prolific, with larger females producing upwards of 60 million eggs. Spawning occurs in or near passes and in open water channels during evening hours. They will spawn in depths from 10 to 150 feet. Preferred temperatures for spawn are 60 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit in highly oxygenated waters. Once spawned, the eggs are out to sea by currents where they hatch. The young drum then make their way back to the estuaries and marshes where they grow.
Young black drum feed mostly on marine worms and small fish. As they grown, they switch over to primarily oysters, clams, and mussels. Drum feed with their heads down slightly, running their whiskers over the bottom in search of food items. Once a tidbit is located, the drum stops and uses suction created by its gill covers and mouth to inhale the item which is then crushed by its pharyngeal teeth. The shell is separated and ejected from its mouth.
Black Drum in Florida
Courtesy of FWC
-High arched back
-10 to 14 pairs of chin barbels
-Gray or black colored body in adults with the young have 4 to 6 vertical black bars
-Cobblestone-like teeth are capable of crushing oysters
Black drum are an inshore fish common to bays and lagoons. They are bottom dwellers and often found around oyster beds. Black drum may also be found offshore.
The largest member of the drum family, black drum spawn nearshore in the winter and early spring. They feed on oysters, mussels, crabs, shrimp and occasionally fish. Black drum may live to 35 or more years.
State Record: 96 lbs, caught near Fernandina Beach
Fishing Tips and Facts:
The vertical bars on juvenile black drum,Sciaenops ocellatus, are somewhat similar to those on sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus; and spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber.
Food Value : Good, especially smaller fish. The flesh of large black drum tends to be coarse. Black drum, especially larger ones, often have had infestations of a larval tapeworm in their flesh. Often called a “spaghetti worm”, it is really a parasitic tapeworm of sharks and is using the drum as in intermediate host. If the drum is eaten by a shark, the larval worm becomes a reproducing adult in the shark. While they may look unappetizing, they are harmless to humans, even if eaten raw.