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BLACK DRUM

 

     
 

Other Names
Sea Drum, Saltwater Drum, Gray Drum, Drumfish, Striped Drum, Tambor

Similar Fish:
The vertical bars on juvenile black drum are somewhat similar to those on sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus; spadefish, Chaetodipterus faber; red drum, Sciaenops ocellatus.

Description
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. 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.

Where Found
The black drum is found along the Atlantic Coast from New York through Florida including St. Augustine. This species can adapt to a wider range of habitats than any other important food fish. They thrive in water so shallow that their backs are exposed. They are found in extremely warm shallow flats during summer and survive better than many other fish in freezing weather. They are attracted to freshwater runoff of creeks and rivers.  Drum are found in the clearest waters in St. Augustine Florida on the sand flats and in the muddiest waters of a flooding slough.

How To Catch
Black drum fishing can be enjoyed by anyone visiting St. Augustine.  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. 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 in Saint Augustine. 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. 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.  For those unable to catch their own, black drum are harvested commercially in the St. Augustine area throughout the year. These drum can be purchased in stores and fish markets.

Spawning
Unlike spotted seatrout that spawns only in the bays, and red drum that spawns only in the Gulf, black drum will spawn in either bay or Gulf or in the connecting passes. Free spawning occurs mostly in February, March, and April with some later spawning occurring in June and July in St. Augustine. Larval drum are found in the surf and along bay shorelines in March and April, and by early summer one-half to one-inch juveniles are common in shallow, muddy creeks, sloughs and boat basins in St. Augustine.

Growth
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.

Food and Feeding
In St. Augustine young drums feed on maritime worms, small shrimp, and crabs and small fish. Larger drum eat small crabs, worms, algae, small fish and mollusks. Barbels (or whiskers) are used to find food by feel and smell. Drum often dig or root out buried mollusks and worms while feeding in a head-down position. This process is called "tailing" and creates small craters in the bottom which anglers call "drum noodles." Experienced anglers can detect the recent passage of a school of drum by the presence of many "noodles." The black drum has no canine teeth like those of the spotted seatrout, but does have highly developed pharyngeal teeth (in the pharynx or throat) which are used to crush mollusks and crabs before swallowing.

Movements
When food is plentiful and water conditions acceptable in St. Augustine, movements are small, but long migrations in search of food and more desirable habitats have been recorded. Spawning migrations and movements toward freshwater flow are also notable.

Eating Quality
While some prefer flounder, red drum, snapper, or some more glamorous fish, many anglers maintain that black drum less than five pounds, cleaned and prepared properly, may be better than many of these 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 have coarse flesh; the larger the fish, the coarser the flesh.

 

 
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