When anglers hear the word puppy drum, they instantly assume fingerling redfish. Small, feisty juvenile redfish that aren’t ready to be caught yet, not worth the bait, tackle, or time it would take to catch. This is inaccurate.
Puppy drums, or Rat Reds as some call them, are redfish that sit between 16 and 31 inches. Though nowhere near fully grown, these reds can put up quite the fight and still bring the thrill to anglers with lighter tackle.
These juvenile redfish still require a deft hand, a solid drag, and an enthusiastic angler to bring them into the boat.
Baby redfish incubate in their eggs for about 24 hours before hatching. Upon their arrival into the big blue, they grow an average of 0.5mm each day for their first year.
In total, it takes them about four years to achieve reproductive maturity.
Most redfish will be between 10 to 17 inches within the first year, on average 14. By two years, they will be between 18 and 24, ranging from 36 pounds, and by three years, they will be pushing the cusp ranging from 20 to 28 inches and nearing the 10lbs mark.
Once over 16 inches and under 31 inches, these redfish are usually referred to as puppy drums or Rat Reds.
Once they surpass the 31-inch mark, these redfish are referred to as “Bull Reds.” Growing to lengths over 50 inches and surpassing weights of 90lbs, Bull reds have reached sexual maturity and can live in excess of 40 years.
While Bull Reds prefer open water, puppies tend to stay a little closer to home.
Inhabiting shallows, inlets, passes, and structures nearshore, puppy drum can be found at the intersection of three things: the abundance of food, shallow water, and some structure.
The only deviation from this is their habitation of the surf zone on beaches facing the ocean.
All drums are primarily bottom feeders, which is true of puppy drum. Carolina rigs and jig heads can work wonders for puppy drums when angling at the bottom of the water column.
Baited with crabs, shrimp, cut bait, and sandworms, these setups can be deadly for bottom fishing.
Because the bottom of the water column primarily plays to the Redfish’s sense of smell, the more pungent bait, the better.
Even heavily scented plastics can work, but natural baits are serial killers in the depths.
When angling for a puppy drum in the middle of the water column, an angler should look to incorporate sight, smell, and sound. Soft plastics are a favorite for puppy drum.
Scented, colorful and vibrant, retrieving these soft plastics can be a sure-fire way to bag a few puppy drum in the middle of the water column.
A popping cork can also be incredibly effective in conjunction with plastics on the straightforward cast and retrieve. Baited with shrimp, crab, or plastics, popping corks can be a great addition.
Angling for puppy drum on the water surface can be incredibly exciting. Plugs, diving stick baits, and even popping frogs can bring the topwater action from zero to below in a split second.
On the water’s surface, the two biggest attractors are sight and sound. Lures that generate lots of movement and pop, chug, or rattle will have the highest success rate.
Rapala, Hedon, Yo-Zuri, and Shimano make excellent topwater lures that are perfect for hungry puppy drum.
Anglers in search of puppy drum should use the following:
- Medium Action Rod
- Spinning Reel (high quality with the adjustable drag)
- 12 to 20-pound Test Braid
- 15 inch to 20-inch Leader (fluorocarbon)
- Carolina Rig
- Popping Cork
- Jig Head
- 5/0 Circle hook or Treble Hook
Tricks of the Trade
- Puppy drum almost always school. This means if there’s one, there’s bound to be more. Wait out more than a few catches to see if you can snag a few of its buddies.
- Size limit is fundamental; depending on your state, the definition of what’s legal will vary. However, most puppy drum are legal to catch and keep.
- Puppy drum love structure and shallow flats. Finding the intersection of oyster bars or reefs and shallow water where you can see the tips of their tails and fins judging from the water is a gold mine.
- Water conditions play a massive role in the success of angling for a puppy drum. Murky water may not be the time to throw something up top, while clear, calm water with a significant amount of action on the surface may be perfect for a Rapala.
Can you eat a Puppy Drum?
The answer is absolutely. Puppy drums are not only delicious, but they tend to be better to eat than their more prominent parents.
While bull reds may have consumed pollutants or heavy metals such as mercury in their system from life in open water, the puppy drum has not been exposed to many environmental factors.
Also, bull reds tend to be wormy, usually having multiple parasites on their large, bony frame. Alternatively, puppy drum or rat reds do not have as many parasites and tend to have more tender flesh with a less”fishy” taste.
Juvenile redfish, puppy drum, or rat reds are all synonymous with the hard fighting and delicious game fish that occupies shallow coastal waters ranging from the shores of Texas to up the Atlantic seaboard.
While puppy drum may be better eaten than their bull red relatives, it’s important to pay attention to the state regulations in which you’re angling, as size does matter in this case.
Know your limits, pun intended. As always, stay safe and good luck out there on the water.