Red drum (Sciaenops)
Red drum have a range of possible coloration, from deep blackish-bronze to reddish-copper to silver. Coloration is generally dark on the back and light on the upper two-thirds of the side, then turning white on the lower one-third of the side and on the belly. They have long bodies that are more streamlined than their cousin the black drum. One of the most distinguishing marks on this species is a large spot on the upper part of the tail base. Occasionally, more than one spot may be found, but a lack of spots is extremely rare.
Red drum have a blunt snout and small head, two dorsal fins and a tail fin with a flat back edge. Like other members of the saltwater drum family, red drum get part of their name from the drumming sound they make when they rap a muscle against their swim bladder. This noise is sometimes audible above water but is more often heard when unhooking a landed fish.
Red drum have several different feeding patterns. They often hide behind structure and ambush prey. They will also feed in schools at or near the surf, around shallow reefs and in bays. Another technique is to use their down-turned mouth to vacuum food from off the bottom. While doing this, the red drums tail is bent upwards and often sticks slightly out of the water. Red drum eat a variety of fish, including Atlantic croaker, pinfish, mullet, menhaden and flounder. They also consume crabs, shrimp and sand dollars.
Red drum are found in the western Atlantic from the Gulf of Maine to northern Mexico, though they are rarely seen north of the Maryland coast and are most abundant in the Gulf of Mexico.
Occurring most often over sand and sandy mud bottoms in coastal waters and estuaries, red drum are both an inshore and offshore species. They commonly inhabit estuaries and tidal passes, large flats, canals and the surf near shore; offshore, they are often found near wrecks and rigs. They may spend their entire life in the river or estuary of their youth or migrate annually to offshore areas, a migration common for adult red drum during the winter.
Red drum are also flexible concerning the level of salinity and temperature of the water they inhabit. They are comfortable in both the open seas and in exclusively freshwater environments. The latter is especially true of juvenile red drum. Their optimum temperature range is quite wide, from 50 to 90 F.
- The red drum is the state saltwater fish for North Carolina. Ten of the top 16 largest red drum were caught off the coast of this state.
- The all-tackle record for red drum is a 94-pound, 2-ounce fish caught off North Carolina. The fish was reported to be 53 years old.