Freshwater Drum

Last week I went down to the lower Chesapeake Bay and did some fishing in the coastal estuaries and tidal rivers. I ended up catching some spot and a stingray, but mostly croaker, a small fish of the Sciaenidae family  related to the much larger Red Drum caught further out. Most of the drum fish are saltwater inhabitants and habit the eastern coast along the shoreline, and are mainly south of New York. One species of this family is different though and can be caught in the heart of New York.

The freshwater drum is the only species of the Sciaenidae family to reside in freshwater it’s entire life and can be caught in the lakes and rivers of New York. The other month I caught my first freshwater drum in the Mohawk River, and after catching another close relative the other day I figured I’d write about this curious fish and give at least a little advice on how to catch one. Here are some tips:

Freshwater drum

Do your homework first
Not every lake or river has freshwater drum. They usually reside in large rivers and lakes where they need the space to spawn, so don’t expect to catch them in your local town pond. Even in bodies of water where they are known to live in (i.e. Hudson and Mohawk Rivers) they can have spotty localized habitats, so it’s worth researching hot spots before going out.

Try fishing below dams and at locks
Right below Lock 7 on the Mohawk River is a place where I took my first drum. It seems a lot of these fish congregate in these areas, probably because zebra mussels and crayfish are so ubiquitous. I haven’t seen anyone catch them in the slower parts of the river, although I’m sure they occasionally do migrate in schools throughout these sections.

Look for surface activity
Drum will splash at the surface like carp. If you see a lot of jumping fish that are silver colored and are of medium to large size, there is a good chance it’s drum. Bass and walleye rarely exhibit this behavior in large numbers.

Use worms or crayfish
Drum have evolved to feed on crustaceans. While they will likely take an artificial lure, live bait will yield the best results. Using a crayfish might be more effective than a nightcrawler, but make sure to restrict it as they like to slip under rocks even when hooked. Keep your bait on the bottom.

Try jigging with bait
Drum do feed by sight, so using a flashy jig with a worm might hook on to fish quicker than just letting bait sit on the bottom. Try lifting your jig several feet off the bottom and drop it down and wait for a hit. Let it sit for several seconds and repeat the process.

Bring medium to heavy gear
Drum get big. They average at 18 to 20 inches in size, but some can get up to 20 lbs. The world record is over 50 lbs! You probably won’t catch a fish that big, but make sure to use thicker line and a stout rods and reel. It also helps when fishing in the craggy areas they seem to like.

Ultimately freshwater drum aren’t the flashiest gamefish, but they can grow big and provide good sport. Few people target them exclusively, but knowing how to catch them can provide you some excellent fishing when located and a good fish to bring to the table too.


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