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Black Drum

Pogonias Cromis


Bull Drum (30 or more pounds), Common Drum, Oyster Cracker, Banded Drum, Butterfly Drum (under a pound in weight)

Family: Sciaenidae (Drums or croakers) Order: Perciformes (perch-likes) Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)

Description: The scientific name of the black drum is derived from the Greek words pogonias, meaning “bearded,” and cromis, “to grunt” — and for good reason. The name “Black Drum is derived from the fact that they utter a loud grunting sound when excited. Black drums are capable of producing tones between 100 Hz and 500 Hz when performing mating calls. They have a large and elaborate swim bladder that, by using special muscles, can resonate to produce the croaking or drumming sounds. The species has conspicuous 10-14 sensory chin barbels and they use these to detect bottom-dwelling prey. Adults have an high arched back and they have dusky to black fins and are silver with a brassy luster in life, changing to dark gray after death. Young drum possess 4 to 6 black vertical bars, and may be misidentified as juveniles of closely related species. 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.

Similar Fish: This fish is a member of the croaker family and is related to the Atlantic croaker, red drum, and spotted sea trout.

Where Found: Eastern United States. The preferred habitat is coastal waters including bays, sounds, and inlets where salinities range from near fresh to sea strength. They are commonly found near bridges, piers and other manmade structures. Black drum (Pogonias cromis) occurs along the coasts of the Gulf of Mexico and the western Atlantic Ocean. The Atlantic portion of the stock most commonly ranges from the Chesapeake Bay south to Florida. The largest numbers occur along the Texas coast in Corpus Christi Bay and Laguna Madre. They thrive in water so shallow that their backs are exposed, and also in the Gulf waters more than 100 feet deep. They are found in extremely warm shallow flats of the Laguna Madre during summer and survive better than many other fish in freezing weather. They are attracted to freshwater runoff of creeks and rivers, yet can live in waters twice as salty as the Gulf of Mexico. This adaptability makes the black drum available to more anglers than any other bay fish.

Life Span: Black drum are long-lived, with fish from age 7 to 57 years old observed in Chesapeake Bay.

Size: Black drum is the largest member of the drum family, Sciaenidae. Maximum adult size is 5½ feet long with a weight of 146 pounds. 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.

Chesapeake Bay Record: lbs,

Freshwater Record: lb. oz. by, where, when

World Record: lbs, “long and girth ", by

Bait used: 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.

Tactics to catch: Medium tackle. Surf casting is very productive for both red and black drum. Large drum gather in schools before spawning and this is probably the best chance many people have to catch a 30-40 lb. drum. 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.

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. Many lines and leaders have been broken retrieving these fish.

Climate (water temperature range): 70 to 75 degrees - preferred water temperature range is.

Spawning habits: Black drum spawn at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay and seaside inlets of the Eastern Shore usually between April and early-June. Mature fish may contain over 30 million eggs. After spawning, black drum spread out within the Bay and will migrate southward in late fall. Juveniles, usually distinguished from adults by their 4-6 vertical bars, prefer shallow, nutrient-rich waters typical of tidal estuary habitat. Young-of-the-year black drum will remain in this environment until they reach approximately 2½ inches, when some will move to deeper Bay water. Tagging results from the Gulf coast show limited black drum movement during their first three years of life. It is believed that young black drum migrate from estuarine habitat to offshore habitat at age four along the Texas coast, when they are sexually mature. These mature adults return to estuarine habitats only for spawning.

Table food: Many anglers maintain that black drum less than five pounds, cleaned and prepared properly, may be better than so-called "choice" fish. Fish taken in cold weather before spawning tend to be fatter and in better condition than those caught in summer after spawning. Drum weighing more than five pounds usually has coarse flesh and the larger the fish, the coarser the flesh. Rather than eating these larger drum, anglers are encouraged to release them to spawn and fight another day. Do not let your fish die on the stringer. Cut its throat and let it bleed. This removes much of the blood from the flesh and helps reduce spoilage. Do not let your fish bake in the sun on the bank or on the bottom of the boat, or let it slosh around in an oily bilge. Clean it and put it on ice. Rather than scale your drum, skin it. The skin contains most of the "fishy taste," so why save it? Besides, the scales of drum are tough and not easily removed. Do not throw away the throat. It is easily skinned and is the best part of the fish. Drum can be prepared in many ways, but are probably best rolled in cornmeal and fried. The flesh is solid white and not dry or oily. Remember, the main difference between excellent and poor fish is not the kind of fish, but the way it was handled and prepared.

Consumption Concerns: "Spaghetti worms" common in spotted sea-trout are present in larger drum and, while unappetizing, they are not harmful to humans.

Feeding habits: Black drum feed on the bottom. Food items include clams, mussels, oysters, crabs, worms, and some fishes. They can crush these items by using their cobblestone-like teeth, Strong throat teeth or pharyngeal tooth plates.

References and or Links:

Chesapeake Bay Program

State of Maryland DNR


Big Fish

Texas Parks and Wildlife

Edited by Sam

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