Free spawning occurs mostly in February, March, and April, with some later spawning occurring in June and July. 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. It takes a full year to promote the growing of the Larval drum to reach six inches. The fish grows an additional 6 inches in its second year with a maturing drum gaining 16 inches in its third year of life.
This image from the Examiner newspaper is an excellent visual of the best-eating version of black drum -- the smaller fish you find in the residential canals in the wintertime, and almost anywhere you find redfish (their cousin) throughout the rest of the year. Big versions of these beautiful Croakers are found on the flats in the springtime and under the big bridges during the hottest summer months, where you can catch them on chunks of blue crabs.
The black drum has no canine teeth but does have pharyngeal teeth, which are used to crush crabs before swallowing. 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 worms, while feeding in a head-down position. This process is called "tailing" and creates small craters in the bottom.
Where to Catch Black Drum
All the croakers species are in our waters all times of the year. Black drum are around all year, although they are found in different places at different times of the year, and their sizes can vary considerably. You will catch them on grass flats, in residential canals, and in deeper channels around the big bridges.
When to Catch Black Drum
In the Springtime – around March and April, schools of very large fish – often in excess of 30lbs – can be found tailing and feeding and schooling in patterns very similar to redfish. They can even be seen tailing, as we mentioned. Look for clouds of mud in otherwise clear water, and there are likely big black drum in the neighborhood. They repeat these patterns in the fall, so look for them on our shallow grass flats again in September and October. But they are not seasonal.
As the water warms into the summer months, these large fish have moved into the deepest water they can find where structure provides them the crustaceans that comprise the largest percentage of their diets. You will find them alongside all the big pilings on every big bridge on both coasts.
Their cousin the redfish is commonly targeted, and taste almost identical to the black version when they are under five or eight pounds.
In the wintertime, you will find the smaller fish – the best ones to eat, by the way – in the residential canals here in Tampa Bay and in all inland waters. They can be caught underneath the docks right along with redfish, but are more likely to be in the deeper channels, and nearer to the openings and open water where you'll find residential canals and docks.
Tackle for Catching Black Drum
In the backwaters where you have to fish alongside of docks and other residential structure, the smaller version of what can be a very big fish can be caught on relatively light tackle. A seven-foot spinning rod is fine in most cases. If you're fishing docks and underneath other structure, a shorter rod – and perhaps even a conventional rod so you can gain leverage on bigger fish – might be better suited. Tackle for these fish is like tackle for any sports species – there are people who want to catch them on a five-weight flyrod, as silly as it might sound.
How to Catch Black Drum
- Black drum are much like redfish in how they hit and where they hit. Their mouths are on the bottom of their heads, and they're bottom feeders. They will "roll" to the side and grab a bait near the surface, but they are far more likely to hit things on the bottom. Try a fishfinder rig with at least four feet of fluorocarbon leader to put shrimp or crabs on or near the bottom.
- They will not pick a bait up and run like a snook, and many times the first thing you will notice is a slight bump as the fish touches the bait with their mouths. Lower the rod, take up the slack, and lift. You should be using circle hooks, and you do not have to set the hook hard on these fish.
Release what you are not going to eat. That said, when the fish is small, it's one of the best eating fish you can find in local waters.
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