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 Texas
The black drum is a chunky, high-backed fish with many barbels or whiskers under the lower jaw. Younger fish have four or five dark vertical bars on their sides but these disappear with age. The bellies of older fish are white but coloration of backs and sides can vary greatly. Fish from Gulf waters frequently lack color and are light gray or silvery. Those living in muddy bay waters have dark gray or bronze-colored backs and sides. Some are solid silvery gray or jet black. A length of six inches is reached in the first year, 12 inches the second and 16 inches the third. Increases of about two inches per year occur after that. The largest black drum on record weighed 146 pounds. The Texas record taken by a sport angler is 78 pounds but most bull drum caught weigh 30 to 40 pounds.
How To Catch
Black drum fishing can be enjoyed by anyone at almost any time. It is a relaxing outing compared with other types of fishing which require experience, expensive tackle, boats and related equipment. Anyone can catch a drum, whatever their skills or finances. Tackle can be rod and reel, trotline, hand line or cane pole, and bait is inexpensive. Fishing can be done from piers or from the bank and the entire family can join in.
Black drum are rarely taken on artificial baits since most feeding is done by feel and smell. Cut fish, squid and shrimp are used, with peeled shrimp tails (preferably ripe and smelly) the most popular. Since feeding is done on the bottom, the basic technique is simple - put a baited hook on the bottom and wait for the drum to swallow it.
The tackle to be used depends on the size of the fish present. For small drum, light tackle is more sporting but for 40-pounders, heavy rods with plenty of backbone are needed. Use a strong single hook with line and leader of appropriate strength. For more sport, try light tackle using a single drop with no sinker, allowing the bait to move along the bottom with the current. If the bait will not sink, a few split shot on the leader will help. The absence of weight increases the fight of the fish. A conventional bottom rig with sinker and one or more drops with single hooks is most common for bank and surf fishing or for fishing from an anchored boat.
Drum will often "mouth" the bait for some time before swallowing it, so anglers must wait until the fish moves off with the bait, then jerk the rod tip up to set the hook. Drum neither jump often nor make long racing runs or any of the other things a great sport fish is supposed to do, however they are powerful and will fight all the way in. Many lines and leaders have been broken getting fish into the boat or on the bank.
For those unable to catch their own, black drum are harvested commercially from Texas bays throughout the year. These drum can be purchased in stores and fish markets for about half the cost of the "choice" fish.