Catching Black Drum 101

The Black drum is a chunky, high-backed fish with many barbels or whiskers under its lower jaw for tasting things to eat. Younger fish have four or five dark vertical bars, but these disappear with age. The bellies of older fish are white but coloration of backs and sides can vary. Fish from Gulf waters frequently lack color and are light grey or silvery. These fish are the largest species in the drum family, growing over 100 pounds when fully grown.

Black drum.

When to Find Black drum

In the springtime – around March and April -- schools of very large fish, often in excess of 30 pounds, can be found tailing, feeding and schooling in patterns very similar to redfish, and also within the deep channels inside the inlets. 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. In the wintertime, you will find the smaller fish – the best ones to eat, by the way – in the residential canals in Florida 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.

Where to Catch Black Drum

All the drum 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.

Tackle for 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 with medium power 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 even want to catch them on a five-weight fly-rod.

Spinning Tackle for Black Drum

In shallow waters, a solid spinning outfit is perfect for catching smaller and medium-sized black drum up to 20-30 pounds. A medium reel capable of holding 15-to-20-pound test line is recommended for the shallows, where you can let the fish run to tire itself out, and no structures are in the way. In deeper waters such as the shipping channels and bridges, spinning tackle can also be used, but much heavier gear is required, spooled with at least 30-pound test line.

Spinning reel for black drum.

Conventional Tackle for Black Drum

For deep water and fishing near structures, nothing is better than a solid conventional rod-and-reel combo. Conventional tackle has much greater leverage than spinning tackle, which allows you to pull heavy fish away from the structures that may cut your line. It also helps pull up big bruisers in deep shipping channels which may be as deep as 60 feet, so you can use all the help you can get. Heavy-duty or larger baitcasting reels are also good. Heavy baitcasting reels can generally cast farther than spinning reels, so they also come in handy when sight-fishing tailing schools on the flats, where you can cast far to not spook the fish with the boat if you do not have a Power-Pole anchor.

Black drum baitcasting reel.

Flyrods for Black Drum

A solid 10-to-12 weight flyrod is recommended for catching Black drum on fly. A nice solid backbone in the heavy-weight rod will allow you to reel in these big bruisers, and will also allow you to cast a heavy-sinking line and fly. The sinking line and fly is definitely a must to get the fly to the bottom where the fish are feeding. In addition, the heavier the line and flies, the farther you can cast. You really need a far cast for fly-fishing drums, because the less spooked they are, the more likely they are to bite.

Baits for Black Drum

Natural baits are by far the best method for catching Black drum. Good baits include blue crabs, shrimp, clams, mussels, and anything else that puts off a good odor and taste. One trick if you’re not getting bites is to break open or pinch the baits, allowing more scent to be released into the water.

Black drum baits.

Lures for Black drum

Artificial lures can be a successful method of catching Black drum with a little skill and a lot of patience. Since these fish rely heavily on smell and taste, the best artificial lures are the soft plastics that are scented with natural flavors. These baits can be used similarly to how you would use live baits, by casting among schooling fish, or drifting along the bottom of deep channels and backwaters.

The Online Fisherman

GHM logo