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What is a Black Drum?

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison

A black drum is a bottom feeding saltwater fish that can grow quite large. It is a member of the Pogonias family of fish and is related to the Atlantic croaker and spotted seatrout. It can be found in the Atlantic Ocean, near the coast of North and South America, and in the Gulf of Mexico. Black drums have both commercial and recreational value. The smaller ones are edible and are often served in restaurants in the southeastern U.S.

These fish prefer to live in near the coast in water that is somewhat brackish, such as inlets and estuaries, where they feed on seafood such as oysters, shrimp, crabs, mollusks and smaller fish. They rummage through the muck at the bottom of these areas in search of food, leaving indentations in the sediment as they pass through. This makes it easy for fishermen to track large schools of black drum fish. In colder weather, they head into deeper water and are more difficult to locate as well as more likely to be preyed upon by sharks and other large fish.


Black drum fish usually weigh between 25 to 40 pounds (11-18 kg), but have been known to get as large as 100 pounds (45 kg) and can live for 35 years or longer. Their backs are highly arched and they have between 10 and 14 pairs of sharp chin barbels. The teeth of these fish are strong enough to break through mollusks and oysters. Mature fish are silvery gray or nearly black in color with large scales. Younger black drums have darker bands of color on their sides.

Depending on their location and the temperature of the water, these fish spawn near the shore at various times throughout the winter and early spring. Females can produce millions of eggs which may hatch within 24 hours. The vast majority of them will die or become food for countless predators.

Fishermen catch the sluggish black drum quite easily and often by accident. They become trapped in nets and trawls, or take the bait that was meant for other species of sport fish. While the smaller black drums are edible, the older, larger fish have a coarse flesh of poor quality. Their flesh may also contain spaghetti worms, which these fish may get from eating dead sea creatures. These are harmless to humans but very undesirable, and as a result, large black drums are nearly always caught and released.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Black Drum and where can it be found?

The Black Drum, Pogonias cromis, is a bottom-dwelling marine fish native to the Atlantic coast of North America, from New York to the Gulf of Mexico. It inhabits estuarine and coastal waters, often found around oyster beds, piers, and bridge pilings, thriving in both high salinity and brackish environments.

How can you identify a Black Drum?

A Black Drum can be identified by its high-backed body, gray or blackish color, and barbels or whisker-like organs under its chin, which it uses to detect food. Juveniles display distinctive vertical stripes that fade as they mature. Adults can grow quite large, with some reaching over 100 pounds and measuring more than 5 feet in length.

What does the Black Drum eat?

Black Drums are opportunistic feeders with a diet consisting mainly of mollusks, crustaceans, and small fish. They use their robust pharyngeal teeth to crush hard-shelled prey like oysters and crabs. According to studies, their feeding habits contribute to the health of oyster beds by controlling oyster predators.

Is the Black Drum good to eat?

Yes, the Black Drum is considered good to eat, with a mild flavor and firm flesh. Smaller Black Drums, typically under 15 pounds, are preferred by anglers for their taste and texture. Larger specimens tend to have tougher meat and may carry parasites, making them less desirable for consumption.

What is the lifespan of a Black Drum?

Black Drums are known for their longevity, with some individuals living up to 60 years. They reach sexual maturity at 4-5 years of age, ensuring a long reproductive lifespan that contributes to the stability of their populations. This remarkable lifespan is one of the reasons they are a popular species among recreational fishermen.

Are Black Drums endangered or threatened?

Currently, Black Drums are not considered endangered or threatened. They are a common target for both commercial and recreational fishing, but management measures have been put in place to ensure sustainable populations. Regulations typically include size limits and bag limits to prevent overfishing and maintain healthy stocks of this resilient species.

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