Freshwater drum, often overlooked by anglers, are actually one of the strongest and most delicious fish you can catch in freshwater. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll show you how to catch freshwater drum and share some mouthwatering recipes to fully appreciate these tough fighters.
Freshwater Drum: A Hidden Gem
Freshwater drum, also known as croaker, grinder, or gray bass, are native to North and Central America. Despite their wide distribution, they are most commonly found in the large lakes and rivers near the Appalachian Mountains. In fact, they inhabit more than 40 percent of the freshwater lakes and rivers across the United States. These fish have gained popularity not only for their flavor but also for their impressive fighting abilities.
Range and Habitat of Freshwater Drum
Freshwater drum have one of the largest ranges of any freshwater fish in North America, spanning from Hudson Bay to Panama. In the United States, their range extends from the Atlantic Coast to central Wyoming and beyond. These fish thrive in deep, cold water, particularly in large rivers and lakes. They prefer substrates such as gravel beds, rocky outcroppings, and sandy bottoms.
Feeding Habits of Freshwater Drum
Freshwater drum are opportunistic feeders and will devour almost anything in their path. They have molar-style teeth that allow them to crush the shells of mussels, clams, and crayfish. Interestingly, they are the only native North American fish that can eat invasive zebra mussels, thus helping to control their population. Additionally, the crushed shells of these mollusks create an ideal environment for other fish species to lay their eggs.
Best Baits to Catch Freshwater Drum
When it comes to bait selection, freshwater drum are not picky eaters. They will bite on a wide variety of options. Nightcrawlers, crickets, shad, shiners, and crawdads are all effective choices for live bait. If you prefer lures, consider using lead head jigs, spinnerbaits, or spoons. The key is to experiment and find what works best for you.
Seasons for Freshwater Drum Fishing
The best time to catch freshwater drum depends on the season and your location. In the spring, drum spawn in slow-moving pools adjacent to fast water. Look for eddies or areas of slow-moving water near the main channel. Live bait such as worms, shiners, and crawdads are highly effective during this time. In the summer, drum seek deeper sections of lakes and rivers. Try dropping your bait into deep river channels or near rock outcroppings. Fall is similar to spring, with drum migrating up tributaries and feeding heavily before winter. And speaking of winter, drum will be found in the deeper sections of lakes, up to 60 feet below the surface.
Best Time of Day for Freshwater Drum Fishing
In the summer, early mornings and late afternoons near sunset are the prime times to catch drum. During winter, drum bite all day since they reside in deeper water. The best time of day to catch drum depends on the season and latitude. In general, early mornings and evenings are the most productive.
Tips for Successful Freshwater Drum Fishing
- Bass lures, such as ned rigs and dropshots, are effective in catching drum too.
- Focus on the water depth, as drum prefer deeper sections in the summer.
- Pay attention to the structure, as drum are often found near gravel beds, sandbars, and rocky outcroppings.
- Look for evidence of crayfish, mussels, and zebra mussels to locate drum.
- Fish along strong currents, as drum wait for an easy meal in still waters.
- Try using jigs typically used for walleye, with a slow retrieve and occasional jerks.
- Fish during sunrise and sunset for increased chances of success, especially in the summer.
- Simplify your approach by fishing with a hook and bait on the bottom for a relaxing experience.
- Set the hook as soon as you feel a bite, as drum tend to swallow the bait quickly.
- Don’t overlook shorelines, especially those with rock outcroppings and sandy pockets.
Handling Freshwater Drum and Their Edibility
When catching and releasing freshwater drum, avoid grabbing them by the gills. Instead, use a net to safely remove them from the water. For photographs, support the fish’s belly and hold the upper jaw gently. If you plan to keep and cook the drum, you’re in for a treat. Freshwater drum have firm white meat, are bone-free, and easy to fillet. They are particularly delicious when grilled. Try pan-frying or broiling them for a delightful culinary experience.
For detailed recipes, here are two mouthwatering options:
Pan-fried Freshwater Drum:
- Dip an 8 to 10-ounce fillet in beaten egg.
- Roll the fillet in a mixture of Panko bread crumbs, cayenne pepper, and black pepper.
- Fry the fillet in a hot skillet with olive oil until golden brown.
- Arrange four 8 to 10-ounce drum fillets on an oiled baking pan.
- Mix Dijon mustard, fresh cilantro, peppercorns, and white wine.
- Pour the mixture over the fillets and broil for about 10 minutes.
Remember to handle the fish with care and release any undersized or unwanted catch responsibly.
Now that you’re armed with the knowledge of catching and cooking freshwater drum, it’s time to hit the water and enjoy the thrill of landing these tough fighters. So grab your gear, follow these expert tips, and savor the incredible taste of freshwater drum. Happy fishing!
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