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Black Drum Fish: How to Fish for Black Drum + Tips

The black drum fish is a blast to catch!

Black drum are a delicious cousin of the red drum that should be found ranging from the Chesapeake Bay to the coastal waters of Texas and Mexico. 

This beautiful bottom-feeding fish can be an incredible catch for all skill levels and also a tasty treat for those who enjoy a saltwater culinary masterpiece. 

With the world record holder coming in at 113 pounds, drums will range from brackish estuaries to the open water of the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. 

Small to midsize drum are delicious, while the larger members of the species tend to be riddled with worms and less than desirable. 

Use this guide to help you catch more. We’ve covered where they live, what they eat, and much more.

Let’s get fishing.

black drum fish on a boat
A monster Black Drum caught by Capt. Kelley Source: Capt. Kris Kelley

Overview

Drum fish is called ‘drum’ because of the loud and distinctive drumming sounds it makes. It makes that noise by rapping muscles against the swim bladder during the breeding season to attract mates.

Considered to be a popular sport fish, the black drum fish has been in huge demand. Stricter restrictions placed on the endangered red drum sparked this.

Drum fish are bottom feeders and remain inshore in salt or brackish water. They like to hang near jetties, pier pilings, channels, bays, and estuaries. They’re found in the western Atlantic Ocean waters around Massachusetts and southern Florida. You can also find them across the Gulf and north of Mexico.

Black drum are a delicious cousin of the red drum.

Black drum spawn from April to the early days of June.

Drum are bottom feeders by nature, with inferior mouths which face downward. They are almost exclusively crustacean-eating creatures. With crushers in their throat, they will munch on just about anything with a shell. 

They are nocturnal, which means they often feed at night. However, pursuing these fish in a boat at night can be dangerous, not for the novice angler. 

As migratory creatures, drum prefer warm water. The smaller ones can push into actuaries or lower salinity water, while the larger ones tend to be in the golf or Atlantic, where the salinity levels are higher.

They are often confused with the sheepshead. The black drum shares both a diet and environment with its bottom-feeding companion. However, the drum grows much larger while the sheepshead and has barbels beneath their chin. 

Both species’ diets consist of crustaceans, small fish, mollusks, and other bottom-dwelling creatures that provide an easy slow-moving meal. They inhabit hard, rocky bottom areas near docks, bridges, and oyster beds.  You’ll often find young black drum in shallower portions.

Black Drum Fish Facts

Scientific NamePogonias cromis
Common Name(s)Black drum, big drum, grey drum, drumfish, sea drum, gray drum
FamilySciaenidae (same family with red drum, weakfish, spot, spotted seatrout and Atlantic croaker)
Identifying CharacteristicsHas a short, deep and stocky body, an arched back and a slightly concave tail. The lower jaw has several barbells, and it has like pavement-like teeth in the throat. Dark gray to black coloring. Younger ones have 4 or 5 dark vertical bars on the body.
Depth Range10 m
HabitatCan be found in oyster beds, bridge pilings, and docks down the Atlantic coast, from the waters around Massachusetts, Texas coast, southern Florida as well as across the Gulf of Mexico
LimitsCheck your local regulations

Black Drum Habitat

Black drum fish can be found inshore along sandy bottoms in brackish or saltwater. Look for the fish near piers, breakwaters, jetties, estuaries, marshy areas, and shorelines.

Juvenile drum fish remain in estuaries that have muddy bottoms while the adults favor channels and shoal areas. Adults prefer to remain in estuaries that have salinity ranges from 9 to 26 parts per thousand.

How to Catch Big Black Drum
 

How to Catch Black Drum Fish

Fishing for black drum is different from fishing for red drum because they are larger and stronger. Most anglers can catch fish with bottom fishing methods that are used in the surf and inshore fishing.

Bottom rigs that are baited with clams are one of the most common fishing methods to catch a black drum in the mid-Atlantic where the fish is predominant.

Since black drums are carnivores, anglers use natural bait such as shrimp, crabs, squid, and smaller fish. Some are also commonly caught with spoons, plugs, flies, and jigs in conditions that are favorable for artificial bait. Use a stout tackle to hook this fighter when it is hooked, one with a 30 to 40-pound line and heavy terminal gear.

Bait

As anglers, choosing the right bait in conjunction with the environment and drums’ diet is an important part of achieving success in fishing for these delicious creatures. 

Crabs

Crabs are often top of the list for black drum angling. Cut in half or quarters; blue crabs can be incredibly effective, while smaller crabs can be placed as a hole on the hook. 

Shrimp

Shrimp are also an excellent choice for drum. Live or dead, these two natural baits are surefire ways to attract the species you’re looking for.

Soft Plastics

Black drum, for the most part, prefer live bait. However, soft plastics can be used effectively to lure in bottom-feeding drum. When bounced along the bottom, realistic-looking soft plastics can be successful. 

Spoons

Spoons will also be successful. However, note that neither of these has the same success rate as live or natural bait, while cut bait will work in select circumstances as well.

Insider Tip: When beating your hook with crabs, cracking the carapace or shell helps the scent of the bait to be released into the water which will attract drum.

Rigs

The rigs used to catch black drum are fairly standard and relatively uncomplicated. A standard Carolina rig will work just fine in deeper water. This rig allows the bait to be moved about by the current along the bottom while being fixed by the sinker. 

In shallow water, slip rigs are also effective. However, a circle hook, small split shot, and leader could be a simplistic setup to lock your bait into one place and wait for the prowling predator to come up on your offering. 

A jig head may also be successfully implemented with a live shrimp in shallow water.

Insider tip: Using a leader with your light tackle whether it is heavy-duty fluorocarbon or even a steel one is an excellent addition to any angler’s rig.

baby black drum fish
Up close and personal with a baby black drum. Source: Jeff Miller

Black Drum Fishing Tactics

Here’s a shorter version:

  1. Break open your bait if you are in a prime spot to catch black drum but aren’t getting a bite. Pinch the head of the shrimp or break open the crab bait to release its scent and flavor in the water and entice the fish into biting.
  2. If you are looking for large schools of black drum, fish for it early in the morning. As the day wanes, the fish travels into deeper channels to get to cooler water.

As previously mentioned, black drum are nocturnal predators, and therefore often use their sense of smell far more than their sense of sight. 

Surf Fishing

Finding proper lighting for this is crucial. Angling from a well-lit bridge, pier, or inlet can yield incredible results. 

As not all anglers have boats, finding access to areas where black drum may reside is imperative. Utilizing bridges and docks are an easy way to angle for these tasty fish. 

Bridges and docks provide shade, structure, and protection against currents. It’s the perfect place. 

Fishing the structures of tide side will yield the best results, as the bait naturally drifts into the structure rather than away from it. 

Surf fishing for Black drum is an incredibly effective way of angling for the species, however, it’s important to implement heavier tackle than using a light tackle. 

The black drum will be the largest fish species aside from sharks that anglers may encounter out there, so the proper tackle is a necessity. 

Before and after storms, drum may be found in the wash or near shore after the bottom has been stirred up.  Utilizing large bait that will stand out to the larger fish that prefer the higher salinity water is imperative to successfully surf fish.

Depending on the location in which you angle, the tackle will vary. However, a solid choice all around is a 7-foot medium action rod which has a 20-pound braided line on a 3000 4000 series reel. 

When surf fishing, you might want to beef up their equipment and tackle, but for the most part, the standard listed above is completely adequate for bringing in large black drum.

Sight Fishing

During low tide, fish tend to concentrate on the edges and sometimes can even be sight fished for. When the tide is high, the drum will disperse and are damn near impossible to locate. 

When fishing in shallow water for black drums, it’s essential to recognize that the fish can be easily spooked. Drum search shallow water for easy meals such as oysters and crustaceans. These oyster bars and reefs should be approached with stealth, and anglers should never motor directly on top of their fishing hole.

Insider Tip: When sight fishing for black drum, try not to cast on top of the fish, but rather place the bait in the drum’s path to not spook the fish.

River Fishing

River mouths or estuaries could be an advantageous position to fish from for black drum. Rivers will oftentimes empty into bays, and in the deeper holes situated within these estuaries black drum tend to congregate. 

The amalgamation of structure and flow provides the perfect feeding spot for hungry bottom feeders like the drum. 

Black drum are delicious and equally as fulfilling to angle for. Ranging from the northeast to the Gulf of Mexico, these large relatives of the red fish are a commonly sought-after species for both novice and experienced anglers alike. 

Selecting the right location and the correct tackle and bait can be crucial in individuals bringing in the perfect saltwater dinner or a trophy drum. Night or day, these fish are a fun catch and a sure-fire way to enjoy putting fish on the table.

Black Drum Fishing Tips

  • Black drum fish depend on their sense of taste and smell to hunt for prey rather than sight. That is why this species will bite natural bait more than the artificial variety.
  • They like to face incoming currents on moving tides, so make sure that the bait flows in the same direction.

Seasons

While the black drum fish can be caught all year, it is more abundant in some months than others. The biggest adults come together in deep passes and inlets to spawn between February and April.

So if you want to catch a big one, target the fish in deep water along the edge of a channel during these months. Make sure that you drift bait in the direction of the moving tide. That way, it will drift near their mouth rather than the tail.

How to Clean Black Drum Fish

  1. Wash the fish and lay it on a piece of clean plywood or cardboard. Scale the drum fish using a garden hoe to get the tough scales off.
  2. Cut behind the gills and down the back right near the dorsal fin.
  3. Cut from the top and then down around the ribs. Lift the fillet and cut it out.
  4. Cut the fillet in steaks if needed but remove the skin from the meat first.
  5. Ice in plastic bags immediately and use black drum recipes.

How to Cook Black Drum Fish

Avoid black drum over 15 pounds. Compared to the smaller-sized fish, older fish doesn’t taste as good. As for younger fish, you can easily spot them. They have 4 or 5 dark vertical bars on the body.

We’re sharing a simple recipe below if you plan to cook your catch.

  1. Season both sides of the black drum steaks or fillets using your choice of seasoning.
  2. Heat a cast-iron skillet on medium to high heat and sprinkle some olive oil as well as two tablespoons of butter on it.
  3. Once the butter melts, place the seasoned fillets in the skillet and cook for 5 minutes on each side or till done.
  4. Squeeze the juice of 1 lemon on the fish as it cooks.
  5. Use a metal spatula to cut open the fillets to check if they are done. The cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fillets.
  6. Serve with lemon wedges.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is black drum good to eat?

Drum fish is not bony, but it doesn’t have a lot of meat either. Yet, the flesh has a mild, sweet flavor that is firm and flaky as well, which makes it quite delicious.

Do black drum have worms?

Spaghetti worms are quite common in saltwater fish in the drum family, so yes, the black variety can have them as well. You may find them while filleting your catch.

How large can black drum get?

Large black drum can be as big as 40 pounds in weight and can live up to 35 years.

Insider Advice

Black drum do not need complex rigs or fishing techniques, but this fish does put up a strong fight when it is hooked. Make sure that you have someone with you while fishing so you don’t go overboard while lugging one on deck!

Jacob Pelle
Fishing Expert
Jake Pelle is a third-generation outdoorsman and Eagle Scout. He grew up fishing ponds and rivers in South Louisiana and Mississippi and graduated to fishing brackish/marsh and coastal waters for redfish, drum, and speckled trout. When not on a flat range, he can be found with rod and reel in hand searching for the next greatest fishing hole in South Louisiana.
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Articles » Fish Guides » Saltwater Fish » Black Drum Fish: How to Fish for Black Drum + Tips

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