Black drum (Pogonias)
Black drum are characterized by their high-arched backs and numerous barbels that hang from the lower jaw. The barbels serve as feelers for the fish, aiding in its search for food. Adults have dusky to black fins and tails on a silvery body. The younger fish referred to as puppy drum, possess 4 to 6 vertical bars and are sometimes mistaken for other species. The dorsal fins of the black drum have 11 spines, 20 to 22 dorsal rays, and 41 to 45 scales along the lateral line, which runs all the way to the end of the tail. The large, silvery scales are very difficult to remove. The black drum has large cobblestone-like teeth in the throat, allowing it to easily crush oysters and barnacles. Typical of all drum species, the tail is shaped like a broom.
Black drum are native to the western Atlantic Ocean and, in North America, they occur from southern New England to the Gulf of Mexico. Major concentrations are found in the Chesapeake Bay area and the tidal waters of Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas.
Black drum also inhabit South America, ranging from southern Brazil to Argentina.
The black drum is an inshore, bottom-dwelling fish common to bays and lagoons. This species prefers sandy bottoms in salt or brackish waters, especially near breakwaters, clam and oyster beds, pier pilings, high marsh areas and shorelines. Although these fish are suited to a wide temperature range, black drum generally do not survive long in waters colder than 37 F. Likewise, the species can adapt to varying levels of salinity, with the younger fish preferring freshwater areas. During the first three years of life, the black drum appears to migrate very little, generally residing in estuaries. Mature adults may move further offshore, but frequently return to the estuarine system.
Adults form large schools in the spring and migrate to spawning grounds near the mouths of rivers and bays when the water temperature reaches 57 to 67 F. The drumming noise characteristic of the drum family is typically associated with spawning. It is used to locate and attract a member of the opposite sex. The noise can be so loud at times that it can actually be heard above the surface of the water.
The female can lay up to 6 million eggs. Fertilization is external, and black drum do not guard their eggs.
Black drum are fundamentally bottom feeders. The smaller fish feed on marine worms, shrimp, small crabs, and small fish. Larger drum feed on crustaceans and mollusks, with a preference for blue crabs, shedder crabs, shrimp, oysters and squid. Generally, the fish enters estuaries to feed on a rising tide, and then leaves as the tide drops.
Black drum are known to be very strong fighters and often reach impressive sizes. The best time to fish for the black drum is when the tide is about half to three-quarters out, after the fish have come inshore and begun feeding. They are caught primarily on natural baits, such as shrimp, squid and crabs, though some anglers cast slow-sinking mirror-sided lures or bump the bottom with fast-sinking spoons, bucktails or nylon jigs. Black drum tend to mouth the bait, so anglers need to wait several seconds before setting the hook. Spinning, bait-casting and conventional rods and reels with 15- to 20-pound monofilament line and 2/0 to 4/0 hooks are typical tackle selections.
- The flesh of the black drum is white, flaky and easily separated from the large bones. It is most often prepared in soups and chowders.
- Spaghetti worms are common in the larger black drum. Although the worms are not harmful to humans, many anglers release the larger fish.
- Black drum roe is a highly prized delicacy.
- The large, silvery scales of the black drum are often used in fish jewelry.